House Of The Dragon: The Backstory Of Baelon The Brave Explained

Spoilers for episode 4 of "House of the Dragon" follow.

In the world of "Game of Thrones," when a conversation is preceded by a long monologue explaining past historical events that don't seem relevant, you should probably have your guard up. Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), Hand of the King and faithful (if ambitious) servant of King Viserys (Paddy Considine), learned that lesson the hard way in last night's episode of "House of the Dragon."

Upon learning of Princess Rhaenyra's (Milly Alcock) incestuous tryst with her uncle Daemon (Matt Smith) from a child spy, the second-in-command reluctantly paid Viserys a visit to inform him of the sordid details. Viserys reacted, well, like any father would upon learning that his own brother had such lecherous intentions for his daughter, essentially shooting the messenger and angrily sending Otto away. Thus sprouted the first crack in Otto Hightower's otherwise fruitful service as Hand of the King, with the next fracture ultimately proving too difficult to ignore.

In the penultimate scene when Viserys removes Otto from the position, the king namedrops an intriguing figure who should be familiar to anyone who's read George R.R. Martin's "Fire & Blood," the in-universe historical novel from which "House of the Dragon" is based on. His father, Baelon the Brave, was once lined up to be the heir to the Iron Throne ... until a frustratingly mundane death upset the balance of power in the Targaryen dynasty and helped lead to the Great Council to decide the matter of succession.

Though unseen and unheard of until this moment, the shadow of Baelon casts a long shadow over the events of "House of the Dragon." Here's everything you need to know about the would-be king's backstory.

Fit for a king

Born the second son of King Jaehaerys (portrayed by Michael Carter in the opening scene of the "House of the Dragon" premiere) and the younger brother of the heir Aemon, Baelon wasted no time proving that he was destined for greatness.

He quickly earned the nickname "Baelon the Brave" when he visited the Dragonpit of King's Landing as a mere child and, armed with a wooden stick sword he liked to play with, allegedly went right up to a resting Balerion the Black Dread (the massive skull of whom we've seen displayed by candlelight in one room of the Red Keep) and hit the dragon right on the nose. Described in "Fire & Blood" as "quicker and fiercer" than his brother, he attempted to outdo Aemon at every turn by earning his knighthood at the age of 16 and striving to become a dragonrider — a rite of passage for the boldest Targaryens — immediately afterwards by claiming the fearsome dragon Vhagar for himself. Three years later, he married his own sister Alyssa and eventually became father to a pair of sons named Viserys and Daemon.

Baelon spent the next decade furthering his legacy and eventually earning the title of Prince of Dragonstone, avenging his brother Aemon's tragic death in battle and stepping up in his absence to become the next heir to the throne.

The seeds of civil war

Unfortunately, this is also where the seeds for the Targaryen war of succession to come would first be planted.

Before Aemon's death, his firstborn daughter Rhaenys (portrayed by Eve Best in "House of the Dragon") strengthened her controversial claim to the throne as her father's heir by marrying Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) and becoming pregnant with a child of her own. Upon the death of his son Aemon, Jaehaerys was faced with the choice of passing over Rhaenys (and her unborn child, possibly a boy) in favor of Baelon, the strongest male claimant to the throne but a second son to the king, nonetheless. Though most assumed that Baelon's ascension to Prince of Dragonstone and his subsequent appointment as Hand of the King to his father rendered the debate moot, the prickly topic was able to be put off a bit longer ... until Baelon's own death, at least.

Described both in "Fire & Blood" and by Viserys in "House of the Dragon" as death from a "burst belly" (in our modern terms, likely a burst appendix), Baelon's passing couldn't have come at a worse time.

Here, we finally catch up to the events covered in the opening moments of the prequel series. King Jaehaerys called for a Great Council to decide mainly between Rhaenys, the king's firstborn son's child, and Viserys, the descendant of the king's second-born son. Baelon was beloved by the common people and perceived as the no-brainer heir to the throne. But his passing at the age of 44 threw the entire line of succession into doubt all over again, igniting the course of events that are still unfolding in the ongoing series.

The apple falls far from the tree

Though hardly unfit for the Iron Throne, especially in comparison to his dangerous and absurdly petty brother Daemon (Matt Smith), Viserys has proven to be a capable but oftentimes outmatched Targaryen king — particularly when viewed next to his forebears such as his famous father, the "Spring Prince" Baelon.

When Viserys invokes his father's name while talking to Otto Hightower, viewers of the show sadly miss a ton of (fictional) historical context that Paddy Considine and Rhys Ifans nevertheless do their best to bring as subtext in every one of their line readings. Otto vividly remembers the day of Baelon's death, not least of all because that allowed the king the freedom to pick Otto as the replacement Hand of the King. Though he served Jaehaerys and eventually Viserys loyally and with sound advice, Viserys own insecurities and flaws rise up to cloud his own judgment ... with a crucial assist by Princess Rhaenyra, who all but goads her father into making such a drastic move with Otto and, in the process, removes one of her own political rivals from the picture.

A warrior, a dragonrider, and a hero to the masses, Baelon was essentially everything that his son Viserys is not. The king we're left with instead leaves warfare to his troublesome brother Daemon, barely musters up the energy to ride his horse to hunt for a white stag (let alone ride a dragon), and has a daughter who is nicknamed the "Realm's Delight" but who himself is perceived as a mere stopgap to the Iron Throne.

"House of the Dragon" is a rare case where the backstory leading up to its current events might just be as compelling as its own story.

New episodes air every Sunday night on HBO.