A favorite line of ours says that those who deserve power are the ones who have never sought it. It is the thought that comes to our mind when we think of Rhaenys Targaryen. This correlation might strike you as being odd as she had once carried an ambition to sit on the Iron Throne. But that stemmed more from a self-acknowledgement of her capabilities than a desire for power. She knew she had it in her to lead Westeros in a better direction and to greater heights. Alas, the rest of the kingdom chose to be blind to this. Women during that time did not exactly have a lot of options when it came to picking a direction for their lives. Being chosen as the Queen would have meant that she lived the life of her choice, a luxury barely afforded to a woman in Westeros. Sadly, Rhaenys was not the exception to the rule.
There is a comparison that can be drawn here between Rhaenyra and Rhaenys Targaryen. Rhaenyra had never specifically wanted the throne. She had only ever wanted to escape the fate of her mother and live a life where she was free to follow her heart. Such a path did not necessarily lead to the throne, but when it was assigned to her, she recognized it as the only way for her to ever have some agency in life, not to mention it was the first time she was acknowledged by her father. Other than this one aspect, their childhoods were pretty much similar. Rhaenyra was called the Realm’s delight, and Rhaenys herself was the beloved daughter of her parents. She was considered to be the natural successor to the throne, unlike Rhaenyra, whose coronation was a surprise to many. Also, Rhaenys picked who she wanted to marry. But Rhaenyra did not have much of a choice in the matter, with her finally going with Laenor as the most convenient option for everyone. But there is one stark difference between both women. Rhaenys became privy to the depth of the misogyny in her world after she was denied her birthright. But Rhaenyra was aware of it from early on. She had seen her mother suffer and knew that she could just as easily be subjected to the same fate, hence her open declarations of not wanting that life. When she was chosen as her father’s heir, not once did she think it would be an easy journey. Maybe that is what gave her the strength to persevere, whereas Rhaenys had to readjust an entire life that she had planned for herself.
But unlike Rhaenyra, Rhaenys always had the support of her husband. Rhaenyra’s first marriage wasn’t for love, and it would be a long time before she would find Daemon next to her. Rhaenys was not dealt a good hand by fate, but it was still better than most. She had a husband who loved and respected her, and she reciprocated those feelings. She was not the Queen, but she did belong to the second most influential house in the kingdom and did not lack anything. There was a wisdom in her that allowed her to make peace with letting her ambitions for herself take a backseat. She was the “Queen that never was,” but she learned to carry it with grace and look to the future instead of dwelling in the past. But her husband did not share her logic, for he was a man, after all. And there is a certain kindness in the way the world treats men when it does not deny them what they want because of their gender. Corlys Velaryon was ambitious, and he had found his match in his wife. He certainly loved her with all his heart. However, it did not hurt that when they married, she was still considered the heir apparent. When she was denied that he was hurt not just for his wife but for himself as well, as he saw it as an affront to the House Velaryon, another one in a long list. It was probably he who kept the spark of ambition alive in Rhaenys. She had given up hopes of being the Queen, but there was still a chance that her blood would sit on the throne. That is what gave her the appropriate enthusiasm to put forward her daughter’s name for marriage with the King. But it was denied.
Despite the wisdom of that rejection, Rhaenys probably came to see and accept the will of the Gods that neither she nor her blood will ever have the throne. But she made a conscious choice not to spend her time consumed by it. She had a good life, and she was going to live it, throne or no throne. Her family was her everything and she loved them with all her heart. She recognized the goodness in her children and just wished for them to have happy lives. When her daughter wished to marry Daemon Targaryen, she knew it was the best course of action. Though it was not shown in the series, Laena was previously betrothed to someone else who was a wastrel by nature. When Prince Daemon showed up, he insulted him until that man challenged him to a duel, which the Prince easily won. Rhaenys had no way of knowing if Daemon was really a good choice, but he was not a bad idea either. Maybe she believed that it would be better for her daughter to stay away from the power struggles of the court. The loss of her daughter was a great blow for her. As for Laenor, Rhaenys was aware of his true nature and maybe even accepted it. She knew he couldn’t escape this life the way Laena could. She knew the responsibility that came with being the Prince Consort and wasn’t ready for him to face the disappointment of such a life, but it was something she had to accept. When she believed that he was dead, Rhaenys was left with very little in the world that she cared for. She cared for her husband and loved and protected her granddaughter, the last memory of her beloved Laena. And she would fight for them. Rhaenys knew, just as much as Corlys, that Rhaenyra’s children were not of Velaryon blood. But unlike her husband, she exhibited a passive acceptance of it instead of active support. This was another sign of the extent to which she had given up her quest for power. All she wanted was a good and happy life for her family.
In “House of the Dragon,” Episode 8, we see that Rhaenys has been without Corlys for six years now. She has taken over his duties in his absence, and we don’t doubt that she has done a fantastic job at it. But, like always, the world doesn’t want to see a woman in power. As soon as there is word of Corlys’ ill health, Vaemond makes it known that he is next in line for succession. This takes us back to a discussion Rhaenys had with her husband in Episode 7. She tells him that his true heirs are Laena and Baela, but he chooses his grandsons, even though their legitimacy is in question, just because “history remembers names, not blood.” Like we said before, Rhaenys has distanced herself from the plays of power and, therefore, does not contest her husband’s wishes. But when Vaemond makes his ambitions known, she senses danger. Rhaenys still wants a secure future for her granddaughters, and that would be highly unlikely if her brother-in-law were to take control of Driftmark. She blames Rhaenyra for her son’s death, so her best choice is to check the flow of the tide and make her move accordingly. At King’s Landing, when her former daughter-in-law offers her sons in marriage to Laena and Baela, something must have clicked in Rhaenys’ brain. She cares about her kin, and this would be a fantastic way of ensuring their safety. But she still could not commit to it, mainly for two reasons. One, she wanted to withhold from Rhaenyra, even if it was only for a few hours, the satisfaction of knowing that she would get her way, as an act of petty revenge for what she believed had happened to her son. Second, she could not be sure that Rhaenyra’s petition would win, considering the Hightowers were the ones she assumed would pass the judgment. At a time like this, open support for Rhaenyra would jeopardize her and her granddaughters’ safety. Therefore, she held her tongue.
It may have been that she planned on advocating for herself to be the Lady of Driftmark, but we doubt she believed in the cause herself, considering the disappointment she had faced in the past. Rhaenys is one of the most level-headed characters on the show. It is in her actions at the court in the 8th episode that we understand why out of everyone, she was the most suited for power. She understood the true nature of it and knew that it was a heavy burden to bear. But when it came to it, she carried it well. For that, she will always have our respect and admiration. We have previously also shown our love for her children, Laena and Laenor. They both clearly take after their mother. Good for them. Corlys needs to stop vying for the throne and see that he already has a queen by his side. His name may be etched in the books, but even those end up in the forgotten dusty stretches of a library one day. Rhaenys was termed the “Queen that never was.” But she still managed to be the Queen of every heart that she came upon. She was certainly ahead of her time, and, in a different era, she might have been acknowledged for that. Let’s hope she gets that one day, in this world or the next.