These poor old dragons have really been through the ringer. First, with Drogon in episode four of season seven on Game of Thrones; the fearsome firebreather was wounded in battle by Bronn and the scorpion ballista, leaving many fans temporarily anxious about his ultimate fate.
This reminder that dragons aren't, after all, indestructible, also raised important questions about the future of the show's three beasts, and the future of the (increasingly power-hungry) Daenerys. Where exactly, after all, would the Mother of Dragons be without her dragons?
Everybody: feel sorry for Jaime and Bronn..— Shwetha Gopalan (@Shwescarward) August 7, 2017
Me: why kill the horses... omg not drogon too... #gameofthrones
If her reaction to the Night King ice-javelining poor Viserion out of the sky was any indication, it is a true thorn in the side in her quest to be an emotionless ruler.
True, she initially refused to use her terrible triplets to raze King's Landing to the ground – but, as we have now seen many times, she isn't above raining fire on her enemies if needed. And a scene from episode five, not to mention her previous "promise" to Varys, suggest that she also isn't above punishing traitors with their deadly breath.
It's not all about muscle, either. Daenerys's status as a true Targaryen and the rightful ruler of Westeros is intimately connected to the fact that she was the one who hatched the dragons in the first place. On a simple, instinctive level, we believed from that moment that she deserved the Iron Throne, not just because of her birthright, but because she was the one who had managed to bring these mystical beasts back to a world where they'd been extinct for generations.
If she should lose them, her status would be irrevocably damaged – and, more importantly, one possible line of defence against the encroaching White Walkers wiped out. But just how worried should we be?
Here's a quick guide to the dragons of Game of Thrones.
What are the dragons' names?
In the show and books, Danaerys names her three dragons Drogon, Viserion and Rhaegal. Drogon is named after her husband Khal Drogo, while Viserion is named after her brother Viserys and Rhaegal after her eldest brother (and Jon Snow's secret real father) Rhaegar.
How long do dragons naturally live for?
According to Westerosi history, as detailed in both the HBO television show and George RR Martin's books, some past dragons lived for centuries, meaning that Daenerys's remaining two may well outlive their mother if allowed to fulfill their natural lifespans. The famous Balerion the Black Dread, for instance, was essentially the most monstrous dragon in known history: he lived to the grand old age of 200, had a wingspan that could cover an entire town in darkness, and reportedly died of old age.
In the show, alas, his skull would later suffer the indignity of being used as target practice by Qyburn when demonstrating his dragon-killing new weapon to Cersei. Show some respect, Qyburn!
How big can they get?
Pretty huge, by all accounts. As demonstrated by Balerion, the size of a dragon is a reflection of its age – they never stop growing – and its access to space. 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. Rhaegal and Viserion who hatched at the same time than Drogon were considerably smaller than their sibling, around half his size after being locked under Meereen's great pyramid for almost two years at an early stage of their development.
We also know from the books that, after the Targaryen rulers began housing their dragons in a giant roofed enclosure known as the Dragon Pit, none of the imprisoned beasts ever reached the size of those who had preceded them.
How can they be killed?
While dragons are tough, they certainly aren't impossible to kill, and have been dispatched in a number of different ways in the past, with some stories suggesting that the animals' eyes are a vulnerable target. As Qyburn himself says: dragons are powerful, but not invincible.
A she-dragon named Meraxes, for example, who was used alongside Balerion during the original Targaryen invasion of Westeros, was killed after being struck in the eye by a bolt fired from a scorpion weapon, presumably similar in design to the one used by Bronn in the show.
Other dragons have been killed by their brothers and sisters, as different Targaryens (each bonded to a different mount) vied for the throne. One poor beast was even crushed by the collapsed roof of the Dragon Pit.
According to Martin's books, a persistent myth claims that attacking the gullet, one of the few places not protected by the thick scaly hide, is the best way to bring down a dragon. Others claim that the underbelly is the weakest area.
Tyrion Lannister, however, states in the novel A Dance With Dragons that these tales are definitely not true, and reiterates that "the eyes were where a dragon was most vulnerable. The eyes and the brain behind them".
Fascinatingly, given recent developments in the show, he also comments on the efficacy of arrows and scorpions against dragons, as he watches people prepare weapons in case of attack:
If anyone had thought to ask him, Tyrion could have told them not to bother. Unless one of those long iron bolts chanced to find an eye, the queen's pet monster was not like to be brought down by such toys. Dragons are not so easy to kill as that. Tickle him with these and you'll only make him angry.
What sex are Daenerys's three dragons, and could they ever mate/lay more eggs?
In the show and books, Daneerys's gives her three dragons male names – Drogon, Viserion and Rhaegal, after her husband and two brothers – and they are referred to as males.
It is hinted elsewhere, however, that correctly sexing a dragon is quite a complicated task, due to the fact that the animals have no external genitalia, meaning that Daenerys may not be entirely sure about whether her three are really all male.
It has also been suggested, by Maester Aemon of the Night's Watch (a Targaryen himself), that dragons could have the ability to change sex, a little like some real-world fish and frogs.
An often-cited paragraph from the books, in which Aemon quotes the scholar/septon Barth (author of Dragons, Wyrms, and Wyverns: Their Unnatural History) reads as follows:
No one ever looked for a girl..It was a prince that was promised, not a princess. Rhaegar I thought … the smoke was from the fire that devoured Summerhall on the day of his birth, the salt from the tears shed for those who died. He shared my belief when he was young, but later he became persuaded that it was his own son who fulfilled the prophecy, for a comet had been seen above King’s Landing on the night Aegon was conceived, and RhaegarTargaryen was certain the bleeding star had to be a comet.
What fools we were, who thought ourselves so wise! The error crept in from the translation. Dragons are neither male nor female, Barth saw the truth of that, but now one and now the other, as changeable as flame. The language misled us all for a thousand years.
Daenerys is the one, born amidst salt and smoke. The dragons prove it.
That said, the context of the speech – in which Aemon is talking about Daenerys, her dragons, and the legendary hero known as The Prince Who Was Promised – makes it unclear whether the "neither male nor female" is referring to the prophecy, and the gender of the promised saviour, or to the changeable sex of the beasts themselves.
It is also possible, of course, that he is referring to both, and pointing out that, just as dragons can change sex, "changeable as flame", language itself is unfixed in nature.
If true, this suggests that one of the show's dragons could conceivably become female at some point, and perhaps even lay some eggs. All things considered, however, it's a bit of a tenuous link, and so far there's been no hint in the show that anything like this could happen.
We also don't know, for sure, if dragons really do mate, and if this is how their eggs are fertilised, or if all eggs laid by female dragons have the potential to hatch, regardless of the involvement of the male.
Biologically speaking, this seems unlikely - but we are, after all, dealing with a fictional magical creature, meaning that anything is technically possible.
If Daenerys's dragons never breed or lay eggs, does this mean dragons will eventually die out once again?
Not necessarily. We know that the eggs that the only three living dragons in the world came from, after all, were at least many centuries old (and possibly even older), due to the fact that they were fossilied when they were first given to Daenerys. We also know that, while they are rar and incredibly valuable other unhatched dragon eggs still exist in the world.
It is therefore conceivable that either Daenerys or some one else could hatch more eggs in the future, using older eggs.
Hatching an egg, however, appears to require the use of intense, fire-generated heat and, it is implied, a blood sacrifice.
What about wild dragons?
In the Game of Thrones world, while dragons were originally wild, they were tamed by the ancient Valyrians of Essos, who included the precursors of the Targaryen rulers of Westeros. All living dragons, save for a few belonging to the Targaryen family (who used them to invade Westeros) were wiped out in a long-ago event cataclysmic event known as the Doom of Valyria.
Daenerys's trio are consequently believed by most to be the only living dragons. Even if one is now not so 'alive'.
That said, of course, it's worth noting that, in Game of Thrones, characters only know a small fraction of their world. In addition to the continents of Essos and Westeros, of which we've seen a fair part, there is a whole other landmass known as Sothyros, and, according to maps drawn by Martin, another called Ulthos. Who knows what could be out there?
Is Viserion dead?
As you'd expect, theories on each side abound. Those who believe he is dead (see: straight death shot, falling into freezing water, being turned into an 'undead dragon', et al) have a lot to call on in their favour. On the other hand, if the magical fire-breather was simply near death and Night-Kinged into a White Walker-like zombie dragon to control his mind, there may be more to the story.
The script by Game of Thrones creators Dan Weiss and David Benioff, doesn’t actually call Viserion a wight dragon or an undead dragon - simply an “ice dragon” - and specifies that the Night King did the same thing to the dragon "that he did to Craster's sons", which - if you remember - was a touch-triggered transformation into a White Walker (the Night King simply raises his hands to turn the dead into wights).
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