- This page is a stub, to aid navigation - it contains information from a prequel pitch that hasn't formally aired. As such it should not be considered full "canon" to anything yet.
The Young Dragons were the newer, younger aristocracy of Valyria - families that started out as common soldiers during Valyria's wars of conquest, becoming powerful warlords rich in plunder and lands from defeated nations.
Valyria began as a small community of humble shepherds, who discovered dragons nesting in the volcanoes around their homeland and learned to master them as beasts of war. As a new power on the rise, young Valyria was ruled by the descendants of the original chieftains and priests of those shepherds, now known as the "Sphinxes" - while the descendants of the shepherds themselves became soldiers, securing at sword-point what the dragons won with fire. As the centuries passed, Valyria expanded into a vast realm, and contended with other great superpowers for domination over much of Essos (and even parts of Sothoryos). First the Valyrians fought the old Ghiscari Empire to their east in a series of five great wars, and then centuries later, they conquered the Rhoynar city-states to the west. When the dust settled, the Valyrian Freehold ruled half of the known world.
During these outward waves of conquest, descendants of common soldiers became generals, and descendants of generals became powerful warlords with dragons of their own, growing rich on plunder, land, and slaves. They became new members of the dragonlord aristocracy, rising close to the Sphinxes in power - if not prestige, as the Sphinxes scoffed that these "young dragons" could not claim to match the purity of their own ancient bloodlines. More centuries passed, and the Valyrian senate became split between these two factions, the older and younger aristocracy: the Sphinxes versus the Young Dragons - those that claimed their rights by blood, and those that won theirs on the battlefield.
The Young Dragons were the less conservative of the two factions in Valyria's senate. They didn't follow traditional Valyrian incest marriages as strictly as the Sphinxes - given that they weren't the most prestigious bloodlines to begin with, they didn't have as much drive to keep them "pure". Even if they married brother to sister, they were never pure enough for the Sphinxes. Coupled with interacting more often with subject peoples out in the provinces, several of them even married outright foreigners (it was uncommon, but not unheard of). The Sphinxes, however, discriminated against the children resulting from any such mixed-race unions: even if they bonded with and rode dragons, mixed-race members of the Young Dragons were never "real" Valyrians in their eyes.
Because they spent more time out in the conquered provinces, the Young Dragons tended to pick up cultural practices here and there from subject peoples. Some of them stopped following the original Valyrian religion, but picked up local religions - or adopted new cults that sprang up within their domains (the Black Goat of Qohor, the Pale Child Bakkalon, etc.). Valyria considered religion to be more personal than in Westeros, however, and tacitly tolerated myriad different faiths within the Freehold. Even most Sphinxes never considered religion a matter of state policy, thus it wasn't a source of direct conflict between them and the Young Dragons.
For that matter, with regard to gender and sexuality, Valyrian society as a whole was as tolerant as the Rhoynar: even among the Sphinxes, women were dragon-riders as often as men were, and same-sex relationships were openly accepted. Thus this was not a source of friction between the Sphinxes and the Young Dragons.
- "The Young Dragons' POV character" - a mixed race female dragon-rider, with black skin but platinum-blonde/white Valyrian hair. Even successfully bonding with a dragon wasn't enough to convince the Sphinxes that she is a "real" Valyrian.
- House Targaryen of Dragonstone - a minor family of the Young Dragons, long considered relatively unimportant even by the other Young Dragons
Behind the Scenes
Just as the War of the Five Kings is loosely inspired by the War of the Roses in Medieval England, the civil wars leading to the fall of Valyria seem loosely inspired by the civil wars that ended the Roman Republic. In this regard, the "Young Dragons" seem to take inspiration from the "Populares" faction of the lower aristocracy, the faction of Marius, Mark Antony, and Julius Caesar.
Marius exemplified the "New Men" rising in the Roman senate after their conquest of the Mediterranean, a general who rose in power leading Rome's armies until his strength rivalled that of the "blue blood" aristocrats back in the capital. Indeed, the Young Dragons are explicitly described in the Series Bible using the term "New Men" - which actually originates from the Latin, "Novus homo". Mark Antony similarly faced accusations by conservative Romans that he was picking up too many "foreign" customs - of the Greeks and Egyptians in the eastern Mediterranean. Julius Caesar himself is not the most fitting example: though he did come to lead the Populares in the generation after Marius, in a historical irony, the Julii family were actually one of the oldest families of the Roman senate (Caesar switched sides to the Populares as a political expedient).
The name "Young Dragons" might also be a reference to the real-life political term "Young Turks" - which originally referred to the vibrant new nationalist movement in the Ottoman Empire during its last decades, and which by extension later became a broad term applied in any nation to a rising group of young and ambitious politicians who want to upset the status quo.
The Young Dragons war banner is specifically a precursor of the later design used by House Targaryen as their personal family sigil. Prior to the Doom, it was the symbol used by the entire faction.
In the books
George R.R. Martin's current publications haven't directly mentioned the Sphinxes and the Young Dragons. The World of Ice & Fire sourcebook (2014) briefly mentioned civil wars between different factions of dragonlords:
- "At its apex Valyria was the greatest city in the known world, the center of civilization. Within its shining walls, twoscore rival houses vied for power and glory in court and council, rising and falling in an endless, subtle, oft-savage struggle for dominance. The Targaryens were far from the most powerful of the dragonlords."
This also established that the Targaryens were actually a relatively minor dragonlord family for most of Valyria's history - this was not a later invention by the Empire of Ash prequel. While it is different that the pre-Doom Targaryens were in the faction that wasn't very strict about blood purity and incest, it cannot be totally unexpected: given their minor status at the time, they probably weren't one of the more prestigious families, with a bloodline worth preserving at all cost.
It is odd, then, that Daenys Targaryen herself ultimately had an incestuous brother-sister marriage: what provoked this change is one of the questions Empire of Ash will have to answer. Alternatively, the Targaryens might just have been one of the more moderate families of Young Dragons: many of them still follow the original Valyrian religion, many of them still practice incest marriage, they just aren't as zealously strict about it as the Sphinxes.