The Real History of Game of Thrones: Daenerys Targaryen

If one looks past her dragons, Daenerys Targaryen is clearly based on several major historical figures, which may foretell the endgame.

Possibly the most popular Game of Thrones character, Daenerys Targaryen can often seem the most fantastical as she flies into audience’s hearts. Riding dragons into battle and raining hellfire below, she’s a fierce genre icon… But one with very real historical roots. While unlike Tyrion Lannister (who is clearly based on a specific person called Richard III), Daenerys is an amalgamation of several influences, and they are as startling as they are prescient on how things could end. And like much else, it begins with a battle between families about who was the rightful heir to the House of Plantagenet’s throne. Who would win the War of the Roses?

Henry VII

The man who defeated Richard III and put the final nail in the coffin of the Lancaster/York flower party was also one who returned from a near 20-year exile. To win the crown, he crossed the narrow English Channel and brought an army of foreigners with him to the gates of his long lost homeland. Sound familiar yet?

Henry VII was born Henry Tudor to Edmund Tudor and Lady Margaret Beaufort. Like the orphaned Dany, Henry never knew his father, because he died three months before the child’s birth when his Lancastrian red rose wilted in the captivity of the Yorkist’s white. But more important to Henry than his Tudor name was his mother’s heritage. The great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt and his third wife (i.e. longtime mistress), Henry’s claim to fabled Plantagenet blood was dubious at best. But like a Targaryen slave girl whose family was long overthrown, the claim was good enough to get the job done with the right support.

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Henry found it in his Uncle Jasper Tudor, who joined the boy in terrified exile of Yorkist rulers in 1471. Following the second rise to power of Edward IV (Richard III’s brother), Jasper and Henry Tudor lived in self-imposed exile in Northwest France. Henry was 14. It is there that he made inroads with French powers and created allies while turmoil spread in England.

When Richard III called himself king in 1483, and his sweet nephews were never heard from again, outrage grew against the impish monarch. And with support coalescing around Henry, he had to move into the French court for support. After an initially failed crossing that, like Dany, continually prolonged his absence, Henry’s French and Scottish army landed in Wales With his loyal uncle, Henry amassed an army of 5,000 that also included Welsh, English and the maternal grandparents of missing Edward V. In 1485, he quickly and decisively defeated Richard III in the Battle of Bosworth Field, bringing the War of the Roses to a definitive end. The Tudor Dynasty was born.

For fans of Game of Thrones, this seems inevitably the course charted for Daenerys Targaryen. She never knew her father, who was slaughtered by Jaime Lannister after Robert’s Rebellion had destroyed the Targaryen Dynasty. And like Henry, she knew little of her homeland in early life as her nickname “Stormborn” comes from being spirited away during a nightmarish sea voyage across the Narrow Sea to Essos… where she has remained some 15 years (or 22 on the show) ever since. But like Henry, she is building an army of foreign followers from the Dothraki, the Unsullied of Astapor, and the freed slaves of Yunkai. In some ways a father figure (or a creepy uncle), Ser Jorah Mormont mentors her along the way. It thusly causes the mind to wonder.

Could Daenerys winning the Iron Throne be the endgame? It seems probable considering this is “A Song of Ice and Fire,” and her dragons feel destined to melt icy White Walkers coming south. And though it is impossible to imagine how the circumstances would dictate the battle, a final war between Tyrion and Daenerys would surely play well in the ratings. Also, Henry’s final diplomatic solution for tying off the civil wars was marrying Elizabeth of York, Edward IV’s daughter and niece to Richard III. A Lancastrian’s son marrying a Yorkist’s daughter who was also his third cousin.

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As it is now official that Jon Snow is her nephew, the war ending by a Stark marrying a Targaryen of the same blood connects the dots all the more. Then again, incest on this show, especially in the Targaryen House, goes further than British history…

The Ptolemys

When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, his Macedonian bodyguard and general, Ptolemy, liked the place. A lot. Hence, when Alexander surprisingly died (or was poisoned) in 323 BCE, Ptolemy made sure he got Egypt when the commanders carved up the massive territories. Like the Targaryens, the Ptolemy family ruled a foreign land as transient monarchs for nearly 300 years between Alexander’s death and future Roman Emperor Augustus’ gutting of the family tree in 30 BCE They achieved this by keeping it in the family. Deep in the family.

The Ptolemaic rulers were the last line of pharaohs in Egyptian history and their warped family tree is one propagated by more sibling incest than all of premium cable combined. Every Ptolemaic King took the title King Ptolemy, and most married a sister of the name Berenice, Arsinoe, or Cleopatra. The most famous and well-known Cleopatra of history is, in full-title, Queen Cleopatra VII. She too was forced to marry her kid brother, Ptolemy XIII, who was at least seven years her junior.

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The marriage between the boy king and teenage bride was not a happy one, particularly because Cleopatra proved to be more popular. Ptolemy’s attempts to supplant and eventually kill his sister/wife ended with the arrival of Gaius Julius Caesar. Already outraged by Ptolemy’s barbaric treatment of Roman Consul Pompey Magnus, it did not take much for Caesar to side with Cleopatra. Her welcoming him into her royal bed likely did not hurt. Ptolemaic incest ended when Caesar defeated Ptolemy’s army and the boy drowned in the Nile while retreating. Meanwhile, Cleopatra gave birth to Caesar’s son, Caesarion.

Daenerys Targaryen is also the product of three hundred years of incest. There is also an old saying in Westeros that every time a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin to decide if the child will be sane or mad. Incest does that. However, like Cleopatra, Dany never seemed to appreciate how touchy-feely her brother was. So much so, she did not shed a single tear when her lover and father to her unborn child, Dothraki leader Khal Drogo, drowned the putz in fiery melted gold. Ouch.

So it seems Daenerys has more than a few influences in Game of Thrones.

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David Crow is the Film Section Editor at Den of Geek. He’s also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. Read more of his work here. You can follow him on Twitter @DCrowsNest.

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