“The Queen Who Never Was” is a title that is not easy to carry. It is a constant reminder of the ambition that never fructified, along with a mockery of having it in the first place. It is not just a title, but a taunt disguised as a reminder of the consequence of not knowing one’s place, which in this case was that of a woman in a man’s world. Rhaenys Targaryen was the first child of her father, Aemon Targaryen, and was considered to be his heir. Her grandmother had named her “our queen to be” upon her birth. That is why being called “the queen who never was” had to sting all that much more.
A look at the entire Targaryen history, or even the kings of the entire world, would reveal that it is not often that birth and temperament come together in a ruler. True monarchs care about their people, and that is what qualifies them for the throne. It’s as much about the populace as it is about power and ambition, if not more. Rhaenys recognized this. Like her grandmother had titled her, she was the “queen to be,” but the first time her succession was overlooked was not for Viserys but for her uncle Baelon. When Rhaenys’ father passed away, Baelon was declared as Jahaerys’ heir. Rhaenys did protest back then, and she had plenty of support as well from prominent houses like Stark and Baratheon, but it was all to no avail. When Baelon passed away, it was time for the deciding choice between her and Viserys. Again, she had support, but Viserys was chosen at a rumored tally of 20 to 1. This must have been a check for Rhaenys about the absolute resistance of the world to seeing a woman on the throne. It is common sense that a good ruler would care about the people. But this incident proved to Rhaenys that it wasn’t about being good; it was about being a man.
It has been said somewhere that the true act of leading a kingdom is a thankless job. It is very easy to be bad at it, but it takes a lot to even be moderate. Rhaenys was a queen by her temperament as much as she was by birth. The latter could be denied, but the former could never be taken away from her. She could have started her own civil war to claim the throne. She had the allies for it, but she knew that plunging the Kingdom into a state of unrest was not what she wanted. Come to think of it, Rhaenys and her daughter Laena were both exceptional women. They were strong enough to see things for what they were and yet be true to themselves. Laena showed remarkable strength when she chose to lead her life and her death on her own terms. It also takes a great deal of emotional intelligence to accept that letting go of the Iron Throne is the right thing to do, as was demonstrated by Rhaenys. Imagine if she had actually been crowned queen with Laena as her heir after. It would have meant decades of peace and prosperity. If only the world was not so short-sighted as to let it be a matter of gender.
Rhaenys did not have a bad life. She had a husband who acknowledged and celebrated the fire within her, and they were true companions to one another. She had two beautiful children who were good people, not to mention that her family was the second most powerful in all of Westeros. She made her peace with her life and decided to move on. Of course, there was the issue of Laena Velaryon being overlooked in favor of Alicent Hightower as the choice for the queen. There was wisdom in the choice due to Laena’s young age, but even then, her family had been slighted a third time. It would not be a good look if she still cared about ties with the Iron Throne. It might have looked like there was hope after all when Rhaenyra was wed to Laenor Velaryon. Rhaenys was aware of the true nature of her son, as was Corlys Velaryon. But while her husband chose to just consider the optics of the situation, that of his blood finally sitting on the throne, Rhaenys, who had long come to understand the treacherous nature of power, was more concerned about the kind of life he would have. As far as Laena was concerned, we know from the books that marriage with Daemon was the better alternative to having her previous betrothed. In the series, no such thing was shown, but it was implied that Daemon had been a good husband to her. He had given up on his wars and politics, even when it was clearly straying away from his true nature. It is possible that he did that because, like Rhaenys, he decided to appreciate what he did have instead of what he could. He had loved Laena, in a way, and taken good care of her. Rhaenys knew that and was happy for her child. Yet she ended up losing her.
From what little we saw of Laena and Laenor, we can deduce that it was the daughter who had inherited her mother’s wisdom and resilience. It had to have taken something away from Rhaenys to lose her, followed closely by the loss of her son. We have questioned time and again why Rhaenys and Corlys continue to support Rhaenyra despite being convinced that she had Laenor murdered. Knowing their son’s true inclinations, they must have accepted that their grandchildren were only theirs in name. Corlys was happy with the technicality of it, but Rhaenys had accepted it for the sake of greater peace and an understanding of Rhaenyra’s right to live her own life. But the supposed death of Laenor?
Our guess is that she chose to look at the bigger picture. Rhaenys knew that all was fair in war. She had understood that Laenor could not be the support that her daughter-in-law needed. Hence, she had made her move. She would probably never love Rhaenyra or even feel any warmth or sympathy for her. But she understood her motivations. Because again, Rhaenys’ was a mind trained to see the bigger picture. The same heart that had been willing to have a 12-year-old married to Viserys for power understood why her son had to leave the picture for the sake of somebody else’s ambition.
When Rhaenyra was first declared the heir to the Seven Kingdoms, Rhaenys warned her that the people would not accept a woman on the throne. We now know that it was a way of preparing her for the hardships to come instead of a taunt. Over the years, Rhaenyra had her birthright questioned time and again, first due to her gender and then due to her supposed “lack of morals.” She was a proud woman, and it is entirely possible that she learned that her father’s word was not enough for her succession. She would have to prove herself every single day. As she says in the episode, she would have to earn the inheritance that had been bestowed on her. We see it when she refuses to kill the white stag in “House of the Dragon” Episode 3 and later on when she demonstrates her ability to pick her battles, like leaving for Dragonstone. She understands the burden of the crown but is not afraid to wear it.
Rhaenys carried some animosity towards Rhaenyra for Laenor, but when she offered to wed Baela and Rhaena to her sons, it was an indication of good intentions that nudged Rhaenys towards seeing Rhaenyra as something other than a villain. Rhaenys cared about Westeros. That is why when Viserys died, she knew that Rhaenyra was the better choice of the lot. Aegon was a wastrel of a person who would squander everything in sight. Aemond was just a cold-blooded, sadistic killer. Her cousin’s daughter was clearly the better option. She may not have believed in the future being fair, but she knew the ideal course of it. She had been willing to let go of her throne for Viserys, in part because he himself was not power-hungry. He had just taken what fate had given him. But Alicent and Otto Hightower were ruthless. Rhaenys knew that they shouldn’t be at the helm of things.
When she observes Rhaenyra showing restraint, she sees herself reflected in her. Years ago, the choices she had made to not fight further for the throne were exactly what was making Rhaenyra show caution right now. Rhaenys felt understood. She had not given up on the throne for lack of ambition or the absence of a fighting spirit. She had done so for the greater good, something that she saw someone else exhibit for the first time, and that too, a woman. Rhaenyra had also made good on her promise to take in Baela and Rhaena, so she knew that her ex-daughter-in-law could be counted on. Maybe there was a hint of satisfaction when she saw the conflict between her and Daemon, the same conflict that Rhaenys had endured with Corlys countless times due to his limitless ambition.
When Corlys came back after six years, he was a changed man. He had seen the world, he had his adventures, and he had paid the price for his ambitions by losing both his children. He wanted nothing more than to retire to a life of peace and quiet with his wife. Ambition has always ruled the Velaryons, but duty came first for Rhaenys, and that couldn’t be retired. Like Rhaenys, he was convinced that Rhaenyra had killed his son, but just like his wife, he looked past it for the future of his grandchildren. He wanted out of the game, as had his wife for years, but sadly, this was the time to play the hardest. Corlys was a good man who, for all his faults, cared about the realm. Rhaenys lets him know that standing by Rhaenyra was the need of the hour because that was the only way to make sure that there was a future for the Kingdom. They both did not know at that point whether a war would happen. It was still a state of dissent, and it was entirely possible that Rhaenyra would let go of her claim. And that, right there, was why they needed to stand by her. The Velaryon house, for all of its pride and ambition, was no less royalty than the Targaryens. And Rhaenyra was more of a queen than Aegon II could ever be. It wasn’t just about where the power was but where it should be. Corlys had too much pride to go back on the oath he had sworn to Rhaenyra, acknowledging her as the heir, which he still stood by in his heart. It can also not be discounted that her succession would mean that Jacaerys Velaryon would be her heir. His reasons could have been multifold, but we believe that it was a matter of right and wrong for him, and he chose right, with a little nudging and a reality check from his wife.
Rhaenys knew that it was Rhaenyra’s restraint that was preventing a war from breaking out and keeping peace in the Kingdom, the exact thing that Rhaenys wanted. She had to acknowledge that Rhaenyra was acting like a true queen instead of just another power-hungry claimant to the throne. Such an attitude demands respect, which Rhaenys gave. It takes a queen to recognize another, and that is exactly why Rhaenys supported Rhaenyra. Because she was the better choice because she trusted her to keep the Kingdom together and because it was the right thing to do. Whatever the future, this right here was one queen fixing the crown of another, and history will remember them for it.