Who is the Mad King in Game of Thrones? Targaryen history explained (2024)

These events occur nearly 200 years prior to the events of Game of Thrones and the stories of Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow.

However, one figure who loomed large in the history of the House of the Dragon was the figure known as the Mad King.

So, who was he and what role does in play in the history of Westeros?

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Who is the Mad King in Game of Thrones?

The individual known as 'The Mad King' is King Aerys II Targaryen.

Through his marriage to sister-wife Queen Rhaella Targaryen, Aerys was the father of Queen Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and her older brothers, Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen (Wilf Scolding) and Prince Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd).

Due to the long-running Targaryen practice of incestuous marriages within the family, this appeared to take a toll on the health of some offspring in the line.

Upon his ascension to the Iron Throne, Aerys was a beloved king and was known for being a just, peaceful and respected ruler.

However, as the years went by, Aerys succumbed to madness after he was imprisoned in a rebellion known as the Defiance of Duskendale and returned violent retribution on his perpetrators after he was rescued by his sworn Kingsguard knight, Ser Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney).

Who is the Mad King in Game of Thrones? Targaryen history explained (1)

In the years that followed, Aerys grew more spiteful towards his Hand of the King and old friend Lord Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), even knighting Tywin's heir Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to the Kingsguard, meaning he could no longer inherit Casterly Rock and could never marry or produce heirs, leaving Tywin with his daughter Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and shunned dwarf son Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) to inherit.

Following the alleged abduction of Lady Lyanna Stark (Aisling Franciosi) by Rhaegar, who had set aside his wife Princess Elia Martell of Dorne for her, Brandon Stark headed to King's Landing to seek justice, but was accused of treason and arrested.

When Lord Rickard Stark visited to negotiate his release, he too was arrested for treason and he demanded a trial by combat. Aerys declared that fire was the champion for House Targaryen and had Rickard suspended from the ceiling with a fire beneath him while he slowly burned.

Brandon was brought out to witness this with a strangulation device around his neck and a sword just out of reach. As Brandon struggled to save his father, he strangled himself to death, while Rickard burned alive.

Who is the Mad King in Game of Thrones? Targaryen history explained (2)

The brutal murder, which was witnessed by the whole court, prompted House Stark, House Baratheon and House Arryn to rebel against Aerys in a war to usurp the Mad King.

In the decisive Battle of the Trident, Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen was killed in battle by his love rival Lord Robert Baratheon of Storm's End.

In the aftermath, Lord Tywin Lannister - now replaced as Hand of the King by Lord Jon Connington - led an army to King's Landing and Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover) persuaded Aerys to let the army in - but once inside, the Lannister troops sacked the city.

Ser Gregor Clegane, one of the Lannister bannermen, raped and murdered Princess Elia Martell and also killed her children.

In throne room, Aerys ordered Ser Jaime to kill Tywin and bring him his head and also set about ordering his pyromancer Rossart to initiate a plot to destroy King's Landing with the caches of Wildfire that were stored beneath the city.

Who is the Mad King in Game of Thrones? Targaryen history explained (3)

In response, Ser Jaime murdered Rossart before the orders could be followed, before returning to the throne room and murdering Aerys himself by driving his sword through him and slitting his throat.

Afterwards, Lord Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) entered the throne room to find Ser Jaime sat atop it. The throne was potentially there for Eddard to take, but instead it was Robert who came to the throne and he pardoned Jaime for his crime.

However, thereafter Jaime was known as the 'Kingslayer' for turning against his Kingsguard vows for the common good of the people.

In the aftermath, Queen Rhaella gave birth to Daenerys on Dragonstone during a storm, earning Daenerys the nickname 'Stormborn', but the Queen died in childbirth.

Who is the Mad King in Game of Thrones? Targaryen history explained (4)

We also later learned that Rhaegar had annulled his marriage to Elia and married Lyanna, producing a son also named Prince Aegon Targaryen who was born in Dorne. Lyanna died in childbirth but made her brother Eddard swear to protect her son. Eddard hid the secret of Aegon's true identity from a vengeful Robert and raised him in Winterfell as his own bastard son, Jon Snow.

Afterwards, Daenerys and Viserys were spirited away to the Free Cities to escape the wrath of King Robert Baratheon, who aligned himself with Tywin by wedding his daughter Cersei.

These events occurred 17 years before the central events of Game of Thrones began and 172 years after the prologue of House of the Dragon.

Aerys II Targaryen is a descendant of King Viserys I Targaryen.

Who played Mad King Aerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones?

King Aerys II Targaryen was portrayed by actor David Rintoul in Game of Thrones.

The character only appeared through brief visions experienced by Bran Stark in the series.

The Scottish actor is best known for his stage work and his role as Mr Darcy in the 1980 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, along with voice work in the children's shows Peppa Pig and Captain Pugwash.

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Who is the Mad King in Game of Thrones? Targaryen history explained (2024)

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