Who is Daemon Targaryen? What to know about Matt Smith’s ‘House of the Dragon’ character

Image via HBO / House of the Dragon (2022)

Here’s everything you need to know about Daemon Targaryen, the main lead that British actor Matt Smith is portraying in HBO’s House of the Dragon.

We can find every sort of archetypal character in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. From evil politicians to ignorant peasants to valiant paragons, Westeros packs the whole high fantasy shebang. But where Martin triumphs in characterization is where few of his fellow authors have dared venture, and fewer still successfully.

The Game of Thrones writer takes pride in his ability to develop morally grey characters, individuals that are neither virtuous nor willfully malevolent. Martin also wants to keep reminding you that evil is a matter of perspective, and one man’s atrocious crimes may be another’s only means to survive in the harsh cultural and sociological landscape of the Seven Kingdoms.

When it comes to grey characters though, perhaps none of the author’s creations hammer all of these concepts home as well as Daemon Targaryen does in Fire & Blood. Yes, Tyrion Lannister is a great example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and his brother Jaime Lannister is currently going through arguably one of the most well-written redemption arcs in fiction in the Game of Thrones book series, but so far as nuanced story beats and character decisions that might throw off every reader or split opinions down the middle are concerned, Daemon Targaryen is a treasure trove of magnanimous proportions that never fails to dispense mindboggling twists or unexpected developments.

Now, the character is finally making his live-action debut later this year in House of the Dragon through Doctor Who alum Matt Smith. But what should we know about him and his legendary exploits before diving into the long-anticipated Game of Thrones spinoff?

Long live Lord Flea Bottom!

Daemon was the son of Baelon Targaryen, who himself was the fourth born child of King Jaehaerys I Targaryen. At the age of 44, Baelon dies after sustaining an injury on a hunting trip, which essentially leaves Jaehaerys, the longest-serving monarch of the Targaryen Dynasty, without a direct heir. When Jaehaerys himself dies, Daemon urges his brother Viserys (Paddy Considine) to take the throne despite high ambitions of his own.

In his youth, Daemon was described as being incredibly handsome and dashing, with sword-fighting skills that gave him renown as one of the best warriors to ever live. He was also one of the greatest Dragonriders in Targaryen history, with his serpentine creature Caraxes going down in history as the dreaded Blood Wyrm. Daemon was knighted at the age of 16, whereupon King Jaehaerys also gave him Dark Sister, a sword of Vayrian steel that served as one-half of House Targaryen’s two ancestral weapons, the other being the infamous Blackfyre.

In 97 AC, a few years before House of the Dragon takes place, Daemon married Rhea Royce — heir to the Runestone, the seat of House Royce — in the Vale of Arryn. The prince despised his wife and the Vale of Arryn however, even going so far as to refer to her as the “bronze bitch” since the ancient monarchs of House Royce were known as “bronze kings.” Their inconsolable marriage led to Daemon taking several lovers and even frequenting almost every brothel in Flea Bottom.

As mentioned earlier, Daemon was a highly ambitious man, so he didn’t just campaign for Viserys’ claim to the throne out of brotherly love. At the great council of 101 AC, after the death of King Jaehaerys, Daemon supported his brother’s contention due to his younger age, knowing that he would eventually become the Prince of Dragonstone and even succeed his brother as the king of the Seven Kingdoms.

Daemon had an adventurous spirit that clashed with his ambitions to hold sway in the king’s court. He was appointed the Master of Coin for a year from 103 AC to 104 AC and even the Master of Laws for six months after that, but the fact that he found governance monotonous helped the Hand of the King, Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), to convince the king to remove him from the Small Council on both occasions.

The Targaryen prince then became Commander of the City Watch and thrived in that role. At the height of his charge, Daemon ordered two thousand loyal men, which infuriated Otto since it essentially made Daemon more powerful than he had ever been. The Prince of the City, as he called himself, upgraded the guards’ equipment and gave his watchmen golden cloaks, which is the reason they went on to be known as Gold Cloaks in the future.

The crime rate took a massive nosedive under Daemon’s watch, mostly due to the fact that he handed out harsh punishments to thieves and other petty criminals. The character also spent a lot of time in Flea Bottom, getting acquainted with every cutpurse, gambler, and sex worker in the city slums. This dark reputation that Daemon worked up eventually led to the people giving him the title of Lord Flea Bottom, even though he still insisted that everyone call him the Prince of the City.

Heir for a day

As said earlier, Daemon helped his brother gain the Iron Throne in the hopes of being named the Prince of Dragonstone, but Viserys never acquiesced to that wish. This obviously infuriated Daemon, especially given the fact that the king had no male heirs of his own. With the rivalry between Otto Hightower and Daemon burning up into a frothing mess, the Hand suggested that Viserys name her daughter Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) as the heir to the Iron Throne.

Knowing that it would only pointlessly escalate things, the king was reluctant to address the issue of his heir, waiting for his wife Aemma Arryn to bear him a male successor. Tragedy dogged Aemma’s second birth, however, with the queen dying in childbirth but bringing Baelon Targaryen to life. Alas, even Baelon dies a day after birth, which devastates the king. Daemon, who had once again been spending time in ill-famed parts of the city, drunkenly japed about Baelon being “heir for a day.”

Whispers of this insolence reach the king’s ears, which pushes Viserys over the edge and gives Ser Otto Hightower what he wants. The king decides to name Rhaenyra both his heir and the Princess of Dragonstone. This in turn enrages Daemon to the point that he resigns as the Commander of the City Watch and flies off with his dragon Caraxes to Dragonstone, even skipping Rhaenyra’s anointment ceremony in the Red Keep.

Daemon Targaryen in House of the Dragon

It’s still unclear if House of the Dragon will remain completely loyal to its source material or take certain liberties to accommodate the different medium. As George R.R. Martin himself is overseeing the project, we can expect a lot of these background details to translate into the television series as well, though the fact remains that at the end of the day, this is a TV show and the peculiar narrative structure of Fire & Blood — albeit easy to follow in the context of the book itself — might prove problematic in an adaptation of this scale.

For instance, we already know from the trailers that Viserys has named Rhaenyra as his heir, so does that mean the story will follow Daemon after his resignation from the City Watch? In the time that follows, the Prince of the City launches an invasion of the Stepstones with the help of Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), not only naming himself as the king of the Stepstones but also bringing his crown as a tribute to Viserys and a gesture of reconciliation.

HBO has also refused to elaborate if an actress has been cast to bring Aemma to life on the small screen, further reaffirming speculation that the series will start sometime between 110-111 AC, when Daemon returns to the court after his conquests and rekindles old enmities.

Whatever the answer to the question of timeline, Daemon is one of the most integral characters to the narrative of House Targaryen, even in the infamous Dance of the Dragons that brought the dynasty into a ruin of their own making.

The person who’ll portray him through all these mischievous feats of chivalry and devilry is Matt Smith, the actor best known for his time as the 11th Doctor and Prince Philip in Doctor Who and The Crown, respectively. Neither the Raggedy Doctor with his arms flapping about nor the respected late husband of Queen Elizabeth have anything in common with the adventurous troublemaker, but if there’s one thing we know about Matt Smith, it’s that he always gives each role his one hundred percent, so fans of A Song of Ice and Fire can rest assured that Daemon is in good hands.

If you wish to learn more about the character, you can read snippets from Fire & Blood, though there’s no telling if any of them will venture into spoiler territory. Martin has also written a novelette about Daemon called The Rogue Prince, detailing the life of the titular daredevil during the reign of Viserys I Targaryen. That short story definitely spoils certain story beats from House of the Dragon, so be forewarned if you can’t possibly wait for a few months when the HBO series makes its highly-anticipated debut on August 21.