Shakespeare once said, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” We believe that Viserys I Targaryen also realized that, especially towards the end of his reign. When Viserys was made King by the Great Council, he didn’t know exactly what he was signing up for. He didn’t know how that one decision would change his entire life. Throughout the tenure of his kingship, he discovered a lot of things about himself. He discovered facets of his own personality that he didn’t know existed. Viserys was made to sit on the Iron Throne during a time period that could be considered the Golden Era of the Targaryen Empire. The dynasty had completely established itself, and for almost half a century, peace and prosperity had prevailed. Viserys didn’t have any formidable adversaries. He didn’t have any great battles to fight. He just had to run an already flourishing kingdom. And that is why maybe he was a bit different from the kind of ruler King’s Landing had seen earlier. Viserys was not a conqueror. He was an academician of sorts. His interests lay in history books, in art, craft, philosophy, etc., rather than in politics and bureaucracy.
At the very beginning of “House of the Dragon,” we see Viserys reacting and conducting himself in a manner that could be easily mistaken as him being an escapist. It raised questions about his ability to administer an entire kingdom. Lord Corlys told him about the rising rebellion in the Stepstones and how they needed to crush it before it became a headache for King’s Landing, but Viserys was more interested in conducting a tournament. It felt as if he didn’t have the courage to accept the fact that a conflict could arise in his kingdom. Most of the time, Viserys wanted to shy away from his responsibilities. He didn’t want to come out of his comfort zone. It always felt as if dealing with the affairs of the state drained his energy. That is why he depended on Otto Hightower way too much. Otto also took full advantage of it and guided the King to make decisions that served his interests. It would be unfair to say that Viserys was a weak king per se, but it also couldn’t be denied that he was a tad bit timid and apprehensive in his approach. He was somebody who could be easily influenced.
When it came to making political decisions, he lacked foresight and often didn’t have a firm standpoint. He swayed in whatever direction people wanted him to. It was not that he was incapable of dealing with matters of policy and administration. But he was unwilling to meddle in affairs and put his mind to it when he didn’t have any interest whatsoever. Until and unless the issue became indispensable, Viserys refrained from getting bothered by it. He loved his brother, Daemon Targaryen, but time and again, he denied him the position that he deserved. Daemon would have been an excellent hand for the King. But Viserys’ judgment was always influenced by Otto, who knew that it served his best interests if Daemon was kept away from King’s Landing.
Though it is debatable, we are inclined to believe that Viserys came from a progressive school of thought. He had let his wife die just because he needed a male heir for his kingdom. Some would say that he possessed extremely patriarchal sensibilities, which is actually not entirely false. He was bred in a male-dominated society, and it was inevitable that he would be no different. But again, he contradicts those notions when he makes Rhaenyra the heir to the Iron Throne. Maybe the deaths of his wife, Aemma, and then of their newborn son, Baelon, changed something inside him and forced him to have a different point of view. Personal loss and grief bridged the gap between the two genders that was created by society and somewhere balanced the scales. He had a lot of reverence for the age-old traditions, and he was the kind of man who liked going by the book. But still, he went against those unsaid customs and made his daughter the heir. Rhaenys had once said that people would see the kingdom burn but would never accept a female ruler sitting on the Iron Throne. Though the idea of anointing his daughter as the heir wasn’t born inside Viserys, he very graciously accepted it because, contrary to the opinions of others, he believed that women were equally capable, if not more.
A turning point in Viserys’ life came when he married Alicent Hightower, daughter of the Hand of the King, Otto Hightower. Otto was able to create a rift between the King and his brother. The alliance also had an adverse impact on the relationship he shared with Rhaenyra. The King lacked conviction, and often he couldn’t see through the intentions of men around him. Probably the biggest mistake of Viserys’ life was that he was never able to understand his brother. He never kept him by his side. He never had a heart-to-heart conversation with him. Daemon potentially could have become his strongest ally, but he left him to fend for himself. Viserys chose to take a neutral stand when Daemon went to fight the Triarchy. Daemon needed his brother desperately, but Viserys failed to realize that.
Viserys always harbored a sort of insecurity inside him. He doubted his own capabilities. He knew he was the accidental ruler. People openly called Rhaenys the “Queen Who Never Was,” but what they refrained from saying was that Viserys was the “King Who Never Should Have Been.” Viserys often questioned whether history would remember him. He didn’t know if he had made any contributions from his end. A ruler is remembered for the battles he has fought. Viserys knew that he had done no such deed. He had never seen a battlefield. He used to take a back seat whenever the opportunity to create an impact knocked on his door. He had done nothing to refute the fact that he was not a spineless leader. A ruler who lacks judgment is like a seer who lacks foresight. In both cases, credibility can never be established.
It is said that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Viserys, in his last days, had learned quite a lot from his shortcomings in the past. That lack of conviction had miraculously dissipated, and there was a newfound quality of self-assertion that was seen inside him. Maybe Viserys had an urge to put things straight and do the one right thing that he could be proud of. In the 8th episode of “House of the Dragon,” Viserys probably did the most “kingly” act of his entire life. It was nothing less than an act of heroism. It was the kind of act of which folklore is made. Viserys defied every notion with which his personality and character had been associated throughout his life. It was an act that probably had the power to wash away all his sins. It was an act of unparalleled bravery. It was an act that would have made Aegon, the conqueror, be proud of him. Viserys knew that if he didn’t take a stand for his daughter, Rhaenyra, then her son, Lucerys Velaryon, would not be allowed to sit on the throne of Driftmark after Lord Corlys. He knew that the scavengers had once again gathered around King’s Landing, and if not kept in check, they would prey upon the very foundations on which the Targaryen empire was built. Viserys’ condition had deteriorated beyond measure. He was being given the milk of poppy on the orders of Alicent and Otto Hightower, so that he could endure the pain. But it left him feeling drowsy most of the time. But that day, the mighty King made a decision that he didn’t want to be in an inebriated state. He wanted to feel the pain. He wanted to make the correct judgment. He wanted to stand alongside his own blood. He wanted to show Otto and the other rebels that even in that deplorable condition, he could still roar like a dragon. He was a dragon rider, and he decided to act like one.
Viserys entered the court where the matter of succession of Driftmark was being heard by Otto Hightower and Queen Alicent. Otto was shocked to see the King. He couldn’t utter a word. Viserys’ weak demeanor camouflaged a resilient spirit. His body might have been in a fragile state, but his huge shadow was impregnable. Even though he had hidden his face behind a mask, his determination was evidently visible. He limped and struggled and made his way to the Iron Throne. He looked at Otto and mumbled the words that Rhaenyra and Daemon had been desperately waiting to hear since they came to King’s Landing. The King said, “I will sit on the throne today.” Otto had no option but to step down and accept the authority of the Targaryen ruler. His brother, his blood, his one true ally, Daemon, held his hand and enthroned him. He placed the crown on his head as if to say that Viserys would always be his King. Viserys ended the dispute, and Daemon even ended the man (Vaemond Velaryon) who was the reason behind it. Lucerys Velaryon was made heir to the throne of Driftmark.
That day, Viserys Targaryen won. He claimed his first victory. He had always feared that history wouldn’t be kind to him. He was scared that his legacy would be lost in oblivion. He harbored that insecurity till his last breath. We don’t know how history will perceive him and his reign, but we know for sure that on that day, we saw a man who stood by his own kin. We saw a man who was ready to sacrifice everything for it. We saw a man who never left his daughter’s side, no matter how perilous the situation became. We saw love. We saw brotherhood. And most of all, we saw a man of stature. Maybe Viserys was, in fact, the accidental King who shouldn’t have ever sat on the Iron Throne. Maybe he wasn’t an able administrator, but in those final moments of his life, he lived up to his name. Viserys I Targaryen took his last breath and left for a heavenly abode. History tells us that his legacy was kept alive by Viserys II Targaryen, who sat on the Iron Throne and became the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms.