Yes, no, we will not be reading The Winds of Winter, the sixth installment in a Song of Ice and Fire, any time soon. I know. It's been a long wait. I want to see if Jon Snow comes back as a zombie ice wolf too. But fans of Ice and Fire will still have some new reading material this fall, because Maester George R.R. Martin has deigned to give us Fire and Blood, a brand new book on the history of House Targaryen. And if you know even a little bit about the Targaryens, then you know that this book is going to be all about one thing: dragons (also incestuous sibling marriage).
Specifically, we can count on getting some more details on the Dance of the Dragons, the civil war that almost tore Westeros apart (before the several other civil wars that did tear it apart). If you're a nerd like me who has already read The World of Ice and Fire and the "Dunk and Egg" novellas, then you probably have some vague idea of the various succession conflicts in Westerosi history. If you're a fan of the HBO show then you're probably wondering what the hell I'm talking about.
So here is a brief explanation of the Dance of the Dragons, and what it could mean for our favorite ASOIAF characters.
About a hundred years after the Targaryens first rolled up in Westeros with their dragons and their superiority complex, the whole dynasty nearly fell apart. See, King Viserys I was ruling the Seven Kingdoms (except for Dorne, which was doing its own thing). He was a peaceful and benevolent king. People were pretty jazzed about the royal family at the time. And everybody loved Princess Rhaenyra, the king's only child and the de facto heir to the throne. The law technically stated that only boys could inherit the kingdom, but lil' Rhaenyra was brought up to rule, attending council meetings with her daddy and learning all about dragons and fantasy government.
BUT THEN, as with every good princess story, the queen passed away, and the king remarried. The new queen Alicent Hightower was young and hot and ambitious. Rhaenyra got along well with her stepmother at first, but then Alicent started having children of her own... and she wanted one of them to take over the throne. Specifically, she thought her oldest son Aegon (pretty much all Targaryens are named Aegon) should become the next king, since he was the oldest BOY and therefore the legal heir.
The other nobles of Westeros started to pick sides in the succession dispute, calling themselves the "Blacks" and the "Greens" (because one time Rhaenyra wore a black dress to a party and Alicent wore green). Viserys tried to shut down the controversy by marrying Rhaenyra to a distant Targaryen cousin, and then to her own uncle, which pissed off her champion knight/kind of boyfriend, Criston Cole.
But when King Viserys finally died, Queen Alicent swooped right in and crowned her baby boy, King Aegon II. Basically everyone on the small council was cool with it because he was a BOY, except for the Master of Coin, who was promptly murdered by Alicent's new BFF, Ser Criston Cole.
Over on Dragonstone, a pregnant Rhaenyra was so upset to hear that her throne had been nabbed that she went into early labor and lost the baby. This only fueled her anger, and so she gathered her husband and sons and other supporters and had herself crowned queen as well.
In true GRRM fashion, what follows is a whole lot of very detailed battles and family alliances, but it wasn't long before the whole realm fell into war. And war, of course, meant freaking DRAGONS attacking each other for years on end. The Seven Kingdoms were divided against each other, with everyone recognizing a different monarch. Rhaenyra's husband sent two hit-men to murder King Aegon II's eldest son, but the Greens continued to hold King's Landing as Criston Cole led the charge to squash rebels throughout the land.
As Rhaenyra and Aegon II duked it out for control of Westeros, both sides started to lose key players — and Rhaenyra's crew found themselves down several dragon riders. They sought out "Dragonseeds," or kids who might have some degree of bastard Targaryen blood, to try to pair them up with the riderless dragons. They ended up with four totally new dragon-riders, including a common girl named Nettles who vanished with her dragon and never returned at some point in the war.
George is going to have to fill us in on every last detail of the Dance of the Dragons with Fire and Blood, but the upshot was that, after years of destruction and the death of nearly every Targaryen dragon, Rhaenyra's son Aegon III ended up on the Iron Throne. He married Aegon II's daughter, bringing the Greens and Blacks together to start healing the continent.
The Targaryens were united and in charge again, but they'd lost countless family members in the process. They were never able to raise dragons again, either, and when the last of their surviving dragons died off, that was it for a hundred years.
So... what does that mean for our buds in the main plot of A Song of Ice and Fire?
Martin is clearly interested in exploring the ways in which petty family disputes can utterly decimate a kingdom (see: all of English history). But he also seems invested in showing us how sexist laws can lead to unnecessary violence, and how the best suited rulers rarely win the day.
This history is important, because as fans barrel towards the end of a Song of Ice and Fire, they might get to see some grim echo of the Dance of the Dragons between Dany and Jon: Sure, they're getting along in the TV show right now, but both of them are "legal" heirs to the Targaryen throne. Will Dany's gender stand in her way, as it did for Rhaenyra? Will dragon be pitted against dragon the moment that the Targaryens come to power again? ...or is Westeros finally over self-obsessed dragon rulers who are likely to burn the whole country down in they get into a fight with their sibling?
We'll have to wait to find out. But Fire and Blood might give us some pretty strong hints.