HBO’s latest spin-off, “House of the Dragon,” has often referenced Maegor I Targaryen, more commonly known or feared as Maegor the Cruel. We’ve often seen Otto Hightower plaguing King Viserys’ mind by trying to turn him against his brother Daemon, saying that he’ll be the next Maegor the Cruel if he’s allowed to stay in Westeros. In one of the episodes, we see Princess Rhaenyra slipping into the attire of a page boy and entering the city’s bowels unbeknownst to Sir Criston Cole through a series of tunnels built in the Red Keep. It was Maegor who had ordered the construction of such tunnels. But why? Let’s find out.
Who Was Maegor The Cruel?
Maegor I Targaryen referred to commonly as “Maegor the Cruel,” was one of the most heinous and brutal Kings to ever reign in the Seven Kingdoms. Maegor was born of the enterprise of King Aegon, also known as Aegon the Conqueror, and his spouse Queen Visenya Targaryen. For centuries, the Targaryens had followed the tradition of their Valyrian forebears and wedded brother to sister (where feasible) to maintain the purity of their lineage.
Maegor took after Aegon and became a powerful swordsman. Young Maegor was so skilled in swordplay that he became a fine knight just at the age of sixteen. Soon afterward, the young warrior was bestowed with the legendary Valyrian sword named “Dark Sister.” The sword was later passed down and finally came into Prince Daemon’s possession. Maegor was ambitious and had his eyes on his father’s flying beast, Balerion. His obsession with Balerion prompted him to not bond with any Dragon other than the Black Dread.
Why Such A Harsh Moniker?
Maegor had a natural talent for combat and was an exceptional swordsman. He excelled in the art of fighting, won several tournaments, and was considered one of the best warriors of his day. His soft exterior hid a ruthless and violent monster who sought out bloodshed and destruction and relished the idea of becoming the undisputed ruler of his domain. His brutality on the battlefield and treatment of his conquered foes were often cited as examples of his ruthlessness. Maegor was argumentative, easily offended, difficult to pardon, and frightening when angry. He was an inflexible, obstinate man. Even as a young child, he had a preference for using force rather than talking things out. Even though Maegor had a lot of friends and acquaintances when he was growing up, he never became close to any of them.
When he was three years old, he got his first blade and immediately became adept at using it. Some say he promptly used the blade to slaughter a cat, but others cast suspicion on this account. Nevertheless, when Maegor was just eight years old, he fatally murdered a palfrey that had booted him and hacked half the flesh off of the servant for not obeying him.
Aenys’s Ascension And Megor’s Exile
Aenys’s accession sparked a great rebellion by the Faith of the Seven. Aegon’s courage and commitment to the Faith won him the kingdom, but the idea of his incestuous sons succeeding him was too much for the people to bear. On the other hand, Maegor had finally managed to bond with the Black Dread. Aenys was miles away from being a powerful ruler and desperately needed assistance, which he found in Maegor. Maegor was promoted and made the Hand of the King. However, his power was short-lived; he was exiled as Aenys came to know of his illegitimate marriage with Alys Harroway. Although Aenys had a named heir, Maegor seized the crown upon his death in 42 AL after Visenya sent for him to return from banishment. A trial of seven was organized when Maegor confronted Ser Damon Morrigan, commander of the Warrior’s Sons, which concluded with Maegor being the lone survivor.
The problem was that Maegor was so severely injured that he spent days being unconscious. Following his recovery, he rode up on Balerion and murdered everyone who opposed him and completely obliterated the Sept of Remembrance. This was only one of many examples of his cruelty, ferocity, and barbarity that led to his being nicknamed “Maegor the Cruel.” Under Maegor’s rule, the punishment for any crime, whether it be stealing a loaf of bread or plotting against the crown, was the same. Maegor’s reign saw a massive decline in population as he murdered tens of thousands to cement his authority and power over the Seven kingdoms. He wouldn’t negotiate or show compassion. He burned down any rebel troops who dared stand in his way. It appears that owning a dragon has its advantages!
The Construction Of The Keep And Maegor’s Death
After becoming King, Maegor took a great interest in the construction of the Red Keep. His fascination with the structure grew with time to the extent that he entrusted his father-in-law, Lord Lucas Harroway, to run the kingdom as his hand while he oversaw the making. It was under his supervision that a fortified fortress, afterward known as Maegor’s Holdfast, was created inside the castle itself, with hidden passageways and tunnels dug beneath the bowels of Aegon’s High Hill. In addition, he had a total of four layers of torture chambers built within the catacombs.
Like others before him, Maegor’s tyranny, too, came to a halt. This city was flooding with people and nobles dying to overthrow him and end his reign once and for all. All those loyal to Maegor in his hour of need joined the rebellion. When the King appealed to the surviving faithful nobles for help, none came to his rescue. He was even betrayed by his Kings Guard, the ones who had sworn to protect the King with their life. The forces finally arrived at King’s Landing, and sooner or later, they would attack the helpless city. But to everyone’s surprise, the body of Maegor was discovered on the Iron Throne itself, where he had been seated the night before.
His death is shrouded in mystery; several accounts in the annals suggest either poisoning or being killed by the Iron Throne. According to some, Maegor was sitting on the throne anxiously, living his final hours as King before the rebels took over his kingdom and his crown. Instead of getting captured and paying for the crimes he had committed over the years, Maegor chose to die with dignity and used one of the still-sharpened blades of his throne to cut his wrist and bleed to death. After his death, Jaehaerys, the named heir of his brother, seized his rightful place and presided over the Targaryen Empire for the next eighty years.
Sir Otto Hightower often said that Daemon Targaryen would be the next Maegor the Cruel if he wasn’t kept in check. As you would recall, upon his arrival from the City’s Watch, Daemon and his loyal Gold Cloak massacred hundreds of innocents just to strike the fear of the crown into the hearts of others. When criticized for his actions, Daemon defended himself by saying that it was necessary rather than justified. Later in the book, Daemon married Queen Rhaenyra, who grew up to be rapacious, spiteful, and vengeful, earning the title “King Maegor with Teats.”
If there had been no Maegor Targaryen, the people would have seen Daemon as a skilled and capable ruler. They may have gambled that Daemon would make positive changes once he assumed control of the Seven Kingdoms. Though Maegor and Daemon share the same interest in violence, Daemon is able to direct his brutality in a way that benefits him, unlike Maegor. He is intelligent, brave, confident, and more capable compared to his brother Viserys.