Game of Thrones: the cruel, fiery history of the Dragonpit

Lela London
A scene from the season finale of Game of Thrones season 7 - but what does season 8 have in store?
A scene from the season finale of Game of Thrones season 7 - but what does season 8 have in store?

The Dragonpit of King’s Landing provided a dramatic backdrop for some tense negotiations in the season seven finale of Game of Thrones – but what is it, exactly?

Though the show has suggested it may have contributed to the decline of the dragon-riding Targaryens, the simple answer is that it was originally something of a protected playpen for dragons.

According to George RR Martin’s books, the structure was an “immense domed castle” with a domed roof intending to keep its fire-breathing inhabitants from escaping in its heyday.

The problem, of course, is that caging dragons is never a good idea – at least as far as the dragons themselves are concerned (easily-roasted smallfolk and their unfortunate children may well disagree).

In Martin’s world, the size of a dragon is a reflection of its age – they never stop growing – and its access to space. Yet according to the Game of Thrones wiki website, only free-range reptiles will reach their full potential: “If dragons are chained or confined into an enclosed space for long periods of time it can hinder their growth and their overall size.”

Jon Snow and Tyrion in the Dragonpit - Credit: HBO
Jon Snow and Tyrion in the Dragonpit Credit: HBO

Consequently, some of the oldest Targaryen dragons, such as Balerion the Black Dread (used by Aegon the Conqueror to help him take Westeros, and seen in the show in skull-form), grew to an immense size. The unlucky beasts that came later, after the pit was built, were much smaller.

Likewise, it’s evident that Drogon – who has never been locked up – is far larger than Rhaegal and the undead Viserion in the TV show.

Chaining a dragon and placing it inside an enclosure, no matter how large, will always impact upon its growth.

In the books, Ser Barristan Selmy spoke of the Dragonpit: “A cavernous dwelling it was, with iron doors so wide that thirty knights could ride through them abreast.

"Yet even so, it was noted that none of the pit dragons ever reached the size of their ancestors. The maesters say it was because of the walls around them, and the great dome above their heads.”

Later, another character – Quentyn Martell (cut from the TV show along with most of the Dorne-led plot) – has a similar reflection after being told that Viserion and Rhaegal are “smaller than the queen’s monster”, realising it must be because of their imprisonment.

“None of the dragons born and raised in the Dragonpit of King’s Landing had ever approached the size of Vhagar or Meraxes, much less that of the Black Dread,” he thinks.

Rhaegal, Viserion and Drogon are the prized dragons of Daenerys Targaryen
Rhaegal, Viserion and Drogon are the prized dragons of Daenerys Targaryen

Why does the Dragonpit need to be in ruins?

The books describe the Dragonpit as a blackened ruin with vast iron doors and a collapsed-in roof. They explain that it was partly destroyed after a mob of King’s Landing commoners rose up against their Targaryen rulers – many years before the events of Game of Thrones – and decided to slay their “demon” dragons.

(If you found poor Viserion’s death upsetting, you might want to skip the next part of this explainer.)

At the time of the revolt, Westeros was in the throes of a Targaryen civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons and only four dragons were being housed in the pit.

The rioters, who were under the influence of a mad prophet known as The Shepherd, broke into the pit and brutally attacked three of the chained dragons inside. This prompted them to unleash their fire and turn the entire pit into a blazing inferno.

After three of the poor creatures were dispatched, a fourth – named Dreamfyre – tried to escape by flying directly upwards. Sadly, she ended up bringing part of the roof of the dome down with her and getting crushed to death.

A fifth dragon (we did warn you – this is not a happy story) perished after a young Targaryen Prince tried to ride her to the Dragonpit in an attempt to halt the chaos. The dragon in question – Syrax – shook off her inexperienced rider (dragons will generally only allow themselves to be ridden by one living human at a time) before flying down to attack the dragon-murdering mob, bravely refusing to fly away to safety.

the dragonpit
the dragonpit

Where was it filmed?

The show created an impressive imagining of the pit – one that reflects the idea of a once-great monument reduced to ruins – by using a Roman amphitheatre located in the Roman city of Italica (near Seville in Spain). 

Historians say the amphitheatre was once an appropriately Targaryen-esque attempt at showing off. Designed to raise the importance and status of the town, it could seat up to 25,000 people – even if the actual population of Italica was less than half of this.

You can read more about the show's incredible filming locations, including this amphitheatre, here).

The Dragon Pit! Locally known as Italica! #gameofthrones #seville #spain

A post shared by Debbie (@debbieblack1) on Aug 29, 2017 at 1:54am PDT

Will the Dragonpit be in Season 8?

Without a doubt. During filming, Spanish newspaper Los Siete Reinos reported on the arrival of body doubles for Peter Dinklage and Sophie Turner, placing Tyrion and Sansa at the Dragonpit in season eight.

Later on, Dinklage visited Aponiente (a high-end restaurant in Cádiz, which is close to Seville) with showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. With no other directors spotted, could this suggest the Dragonpit shoot is for the series’ showrunner-directed finale? 

Additionally, fan site Watchers on the Wall shared photos of Turner, Dinklage, Maisie Williams (Arya) and, shockingly, Vladimir Furdik (the Night King) nearby.

Beyond the stars themselves, the shoot dates for the Roman ruins began on April 23 and continued until May 19 (remaining closed to dismantle the set until May 28, which is an usually long time to clear out).

Itálica’s four week shoot quadrupled the length of its season seven counterpart (which accounted for more than 25 minutes of the finale) and the only time production lasted longer in Spain was at Malpartida for the battle in “Spoils of War”.

It’s fair to say we should expect some major moments in and around the Dragonpit in season eight, but a battle (of bodies or beasts) is unlikely as no extras were called to set and Drogon’s wings are larger than the pit itself.

Catch up on Game of Thrones season 1-7 now with a 14 day free trial with NOW TV