From The Maester’s Desk: Fire Made Flesh


The article contains spoilers from ASOIAF.

Zaldrīzes buzdari iksos daor.

The dragons are a big part of what makes Game of Thrones stand out from the pack. There are dozens of period dramas with intricate costumes and believable recreations of medieval cities, but how many of those have flying, fire-breathing weapons of mass destruction?

It was a risky bet, to be sure, both for George R. R. Martin himself and David Benioff and D.B. Weiss too. People who could’ve been interested in the political aspect of the story, but aren’t big fantasy fans, surely were turned off. And in the particular case of the screen adaptation, if they had a goofy appearance or looked fake, their scenes just wouldn’t work. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case, as episodes like “The Spoils of War” show.

The dragons from A Song of Ice and Fire (and Game of Thrones) are four-limbed: two bat-like wings and two hind legs. George made this choice considering there aren’t six-limbed animals (four legs plus wings) in real life, and as Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson confirmed, the biology is sound.

Now, I know of the never-ending “wyvern” debate. It never fails to appear whenever a dragon is depicted this way on-screen. It happened with the Harry Potter dragons, with the Reign of Fire dragons, with Smaug and obviously with Dany’s children too.

I think people should give it a rest. As obvious as it may sound, these are magical, nonexistent creatures, so there’s not a scientific consensus on what makes a dragon “a dragon”, and bringing some heraldry art up doesn’t cut it. Most Japanese dragons appear as elongated, wingless creatures, and they all can fly. Shenron from Dragon Ball? Haku from Spirited Away? And yet you don’t have many armchair scientists coming out of the woodwork to decry that they are named “dragons”, because they don’t have wings.

King's Landing Dragonpit 7x07 (2)

Moving on; Martin’s dragons aren’t that different from the traditional aspects we’ve come to expect: they have hard scaly bodies, sharp teeth and claws, horned heads, strong tails and a gargantuan size. In fact, they never stop growing as long as they have freedom and food. Balerion the Black Dread was believed to be capable of eating a mammoth whole (if we are to take that statement literally and not as an exaggeration). If kept chained or under a roof, their natural growth is hampered, if not outright stopped.

Their bulk, thick hides and ability to scorch their enemies make them especially fearsome and dangerous in battle, but they aren’t invincible. Dany learned this the hard way when Bronn managed to hit Drogon with a bolt from Qyburn’s scorpion, and later when Viserion was felled by the Night King with an ice spear.

They are also vulnerable to the fire of their own kind, as it happened during past events like the Dance of the Dragons.

Details are somewhat scarce when it comes to the art of training and riding dragons, however. In the case of Daenerys, it’s easy to accept her as a dragon rider because she has taken care of them since the moment they hatched, and formed a bond. Dragons aren’t simple animals, but highly intelligent creatures that can sense when their human riders are in danger, and they can’t be ridden by just anyone, like most horses.

But we don’t know who made the first attempt to ride a dragon, and how was this knowledge passed on to future generations. Or if being of Valyrian descent is a requirement. Targaryen bastards (or “dragonseeds”) have been able to bond with dragons and ride them, so it seems like pure Targ blood isn’t needed at least. There aren’t dragon riders from other Houses, however, and that’s unlikely to change even in future books (I’m not really a fan of the “dragon has three heads” theory that includes Tyrion as a rider, and if Jon does ride, it wouldn’t be a surprise since his pops was a Targ) or the HBO spin-offs.

There are many notorious dragons in the ASOIAF saga, of all sizes and colors. The only ones that have appeared on-screen are those that belong to Daenerys, however. Other important dragons, such as Balerion the Dread, have either been mentioned by name, appeared as skeletal remains (the skulls, mostly) stored below the Red Keep or have been animated in the “Histories and Lore” features from the Blu-ray releases. What follows is a brief list of some of these magnificent creatures:

Balerion (The Black Dread)

[Balerion] Forging The Iron Throne by Lindsey Burcar.
The largest and perhaps the most famous of all dragons, he was Aegon the Conqueror’s mount, a fearsome beast with scales as black as night and fire of the very same color. Born in Valyria, he survived the Doom and was used by Aegon in the Conquest of Westeros. During the battle known as the Field of Fire, Balerion (along with Vhagar and Meraxes) steamrolled those who opposed Aegon. Four thousand men were cooked alive, and House Gardener (previously the rulers of the Reach and owners of Highgarden, before House Tyrell) ceased to exist.

It is said Balerion forged the Iron Throne with his flames, melting the swords of the defeated enemies of Aegon.

It died of old age, after living nearly two hundred years.

Balerion’s skull appeared in the second episode of Season 7, “Stormborn”. While big, its size is more comparable to Drogon’s than what’s described in the books. The why can be interpreted in two ways: either much of what is said about him consists of exaggeration and embellishments, or it was a matter of practicality on the show’s part.



Ridden by Rhaenys Targaryen during the War of Conquest. She was named after an old Valyrian god, and had beautiful silver scales and golden eyes. Her awe-inspiring appearance shouldn’t deceive you, however, she was every bit as dangerous as Balerion and Vhagar.

Meraxes and her rider both met their demise after attempting to conquer Dorne, when a bolt from an scorpion went through one of the dragon’s eyes and made it fall to the ground.

Dorne remained unconquered, despite subsequent attempts by other Targaryen rulers that came after Aegon I.

It is possible Qyburn got the inspiration to commission his scorpion from this event, and if the Golden Company brings more scorpions with them, Dany should be extra careful to avoid their dragons ending up like a shish kebab (perhaps some armor would help? Wun Wun anyone?).


Visenya on her dragon Vhagar by John McCambridge.
Visenya on her dragon Vhagar by John McCambridge.

Ridden by Visenya during the War of Conquest. Vhagar was the second largest dragon of the trio, and the one that saw most battles during its lifetime.

Its color remains unknown, though it is portrayed as a grey dragon in the HBO’s “The Dance of Dragons” featurette. It was during that Targaryen civil war that Vhagar was killed, in the Battle Above the God’s Eye (a lake near Harrenhal). Said duel was fought between two dragons, Vhagar and Caraxes, and their riders (Aemond and Daemon, respectively) and ended with the death of all four of them.

“Thus passed the last living creature from the days of Aegon’s conquest.”

Meleys (The Red Queen)


Meleys was an old female dragon, ridden by Rhaenys Targaryen (not to be confused with the sister of Aegon I). Her scales were scarlet and the leathery membranes of her wings were pink. Her claws and crown of horns were the color of copper.

She met a tragic end (along with her rider) in the Battle at Rook’s Rest, which took place during the Dance of the Dragons. There she faced against Vhagar and Sunfyre at the same time, and couldn’t win the fight. It is implied that if she fought Vhagar alone, Meleys could have had a chance, but it was not to be. The Red Queen was torn apart, but not before gravely injuring Sunfyre and his rider, King Aegon II.

Sunfyre (The Golden)


Considered the most magnificent dragon to have ever lived because of his shiny scales, the color of beaten gold. His wings were had a pale pink color, and was large enough to be a force to be reckoned with.

Aegon II Targaryen was his rider, and they both fought in the Dance of the Dragons civil war.

Sunfyre was considerably injured in the Battle at Rook’s Rest, after battling Meleys. One of his wings was nearly ripped off his body, and therefore rendered unable to take flight. His rider suffered from burns so bad that he needed more than a year of recovery sedated with milk of the poppy.

Sunfyre eventually recovered from his wounds, though his wing healed badly and remained in a weird angle. He could still fly, but not as well as before.

After returning to Dragonstone (where Aegon II was hidden), he saw one last battle, this time against the dragon Moondancer, a smaller, slender pale green female dragon.

Poor Moondancer didn’t stand much of a chance, despite her speed, and was blinded by Sunfyre’s flames and later killed when both creatures fell to the ground. She did manage to maim and mortally wound Sunfyre, however, crippling him permanently.

Sunfyre remained in the ground and died six weeks later as a result from his wounds.


58 Drogon closeuo

The largest and most powerful of Dany’s dragons. His scales are shiny black, with streaks of vivid scarlet matching his wings and horns. Because of his bulk and black color, he’s considered to be Balerion “born again”, but Daenerys named him after his deceased dothraki husband Khal Drogo.

His aggressiveness and rebellious attitude (snarling at Daenerys, and leaving her side for a while) confirmed Jorah’s words that dragons are never really “tamed”, but nonetheless he returned to Dany and is currently, apart from one of her children, her best and most dangerous war asset.

Drogon has helped Dany win some of her biggest victories, such as the taking of an Unsullied army (“A dragon is no slave”), the destruction of the Good Masters’ army that had Meereen under siege, and the attack to the Lannisters’ loot train and the obliteration of their army (in what was a smaller scale “Field of Fire”).

There are more battles ahead for both Drogon and Daenerys: against the Night King, and Cersei too. If he survives, he may go the way of Balerion and outlive Dany, dying later of old age after hundreds of years. It is just as likely that he’ll die against one or the other enemy, but surely not before he helps her mother win the war for the Iron Throne.



Named after Rhaegar Targaryen, he’s one of the three dragons born on the Dothraki Sea.

His scales are dark green, the color of moss in the deep woods. His teeth are black, and his  eyes are the color of bronze.

He’s a rather enormous dragon, his head described to be bigger than a horse, but his growth (same as with Viserion) was interrupted (unsure if temporarily or permanently) after he was chained inside a Pyramid in Meereen. As a consequence, him and his brother are smaller than Drogon, who was able to roam free.

Both in the novels and the show his role is modest and he doesn’t see as much action as Drogon, but that may change in the final season. Now that Jon was officially revealed to be a Targaryen, maybe he’ll get to ride Rhaegal into battle? Seems appropiate, considering that the dragon was named after none other than his real father.


706 - Beyond the Wall - Frozen Lake - Wight Viserion

The last but not least of Dany’s fire-breathing children, he was named after her brother Viserys and sports a beautiful cream-and-gold hide (at least when he was young, his adult version was almost indistinguishable from Rhaegal at times). His horns and eyes are the color of molten gold, exactly like the contents of the pot that killed Viserys.

Storywise he has been pretty much chained along with Viserion (no pun intended) and the action he’s seen has been limited. However, a big twist came with the sixth episode of Season 7, when he joined the ranks of the undead army as a terrifying undead dragon.

His blue flame was able to destroy a part of the Wall and allow the Night King’s forces to march into Westeros, and is poised to be one of the biggest threats our heroes will have to face in the final season of the show.

He seems to be faster than his brothers, and will surely be impervious to pain, so no amount of scorpion bolts will slow him down in any way (unless someone makes dragonglass bolts?). It is unclear, however, if he’s vulnerable to fire like the rest of the wights, or if he’ll be able to resist attacks from his living brothers.

If Viserion isn’t killed (yet again, the poor bastard) before the Night King, then it’s safe to assume that the Night King’s death will be what brings him down, along with the rest of the army of the dead. I see a “Destroy the Mothership” situation playing out here, but I’m not bothered by it to be honest. Because it actually makes sense, unlike most movies in which soldiers just give up because their leader went down.

Depending on how the big battles of Season 8 (and those in the books) play out, the future of the dragons as a species may be decided. Dany’s children may very well be the last of their kind; though there could be eggs somewhere, no one apart from her was able to bring these magical creatures back from their apparent extinction.

I have a feeling that sadly both Rhaegal and Drogon won’t make it to the end, joining the rest of the fantastic creatures that are now gone from the world, namely the giants and the Children of the Forest, and also the Others/White Walkers (because there’s no way they’ll win, right?). I’d be more than happy to be proven wrong, however!


  1. Hodor…

    Dude…how could you not love stories with dragons?! I’m one of three people in the world who still watches reruns of Reign of Fire. I’m curious to see if they do a spinoff without the dragons. I bet it doesn’t do as well because of it.

  2. Love the dragons, which will make it all the more painful if/when they die. Still hurting over Viserion’s death and we didn’t even get to know him/her much at all.

  3. The dragons are a big part of the GOT lore and popularity, hopefully the prequel will be either Aegon’s conquest or Dance With Dragons. In the end of season 8, i feel like all the Dragons will perish along with Night King and Wight Walkers because magic will be done with and the realm will be starting fresh.

  4. Eric Womack,

    I’ve been thinking something along these lines as well.

    That would also mean the death of the direwolves 🙁

    And perhaps all those who have been resurrected by the Lord of Light too.

  5. I read the books (all of those published, so far) and I enjoyed them for what they were but I love the show so much more (well, everything after episode 4.2, I loved. Every episode before episode 4.3, I kind of just tolerated😏). And honestly, I couldn’t care less about the political drama. It was way too #LongInTheTooth for my tastes. Three books/seasons of “…But I’m the rightful ruler of Westeros…” was quite enough for me (too much, actually). And not for nothing but if I wanted made-up political drama, I’d just watch CNN.

    Concerning the show’s dragons, though, they truly are the best dragons I’ve seen on screen so far. Before Game of Thrones, my pick for best on-screen dragon(s) went to the film, Reign of Fire (2002) starring Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey. And GoT dragons completely demolish those. So they really did them right IMO and they don’t have any competition as of yet.

  6. Mr Derp,

    “And perhaps all those who have been resurrected by the Lord of Light too.”
    I hope you don’t mean Sandor too.😩
    (According to Brother Ray’s description, Sandor was clinically dead and starting to decompose when he found him.)

  7. Ten Bears: According to Brother Ray’s description

    Not really. He said he smelled and had bugs all over him so he thought he was dead… and then he coughed. He was surprised to find him alive and didn’t do any “hair washing” to resurrect him. He then said he reckoned he was going to die several times in the next several days, but didn’t. He was never dead, just fevered, infected and I imagine already smelled bad before he was gravely injured. Sandor just said he’s a hard fucker to kill and that “hate” kept him going. (For the record, I don’t believe he died in the books either. IF he ever does actually rejoin that story from the assumed gravedigger position we may hear a similar account of what happened.)

  8. Mr Derp,

    Yes, i think they will be gone too… i hope Dany and Jon will both be alive in the end with all the carnage that will certainly happen because most of the people we have been watching for the last 7 seasons will probably be gone.

  9. Great dragon lore rehash. Thx! Also, thx for the Reign of Fire mention. To me, that 2002 film was far ahead if its time with live motion VFX. I still get the same chills watching it on blueray today as I did in the theater. I absolutely enjoyed how they were awakened – a mining operation gone horribly wrong, leading to existential ramifications. Plus, the kid perspective was amazing. I once imagined someone trying to ride one of those hellish beasts in RoF but that would be lunacy.

    I’m so happy to be able to compare/contrast the two. Watch the final dragon scene of RoF (charging toward MM malevolently) and compare it to how Drogon approaches Jon. Two different contexts and intent but similar in style.

    I’m glad for both the combat and non-combat, cognizant VFX scenes with the dragons in GoT. Great vision and lore have been combined to tell this tale. I love how GoT stands with the greats on this matter and numerous others.

  10. Ten Bears:
    Mr Derp,

    “And perhaps all those who have been resurrected by the Lord of Light too.”
    ______________________ I hope you don’t mean Sandor too.
    (According to Brother Ray’s description, Sandor was clinically dead and starting to decompose when he found him.)

    Nah, I think Sandor was healed through natural means, at least as far as I know, so I don’t think he’d be included.

  11. Clob,

    I think the show changed the book (Elder Brother’s ?) figurative definition of death and re-birth, and made Sandor’s death a physical one. Ray loaded Sandor’s body into his wagon to give him a proper burial, and was freaked out when Sandor coughed. (My tinfoil equivalent to Jon Snow gasping for air.)

    Brother Ray’s insistence that the “reason” Sandor’s still here – that god(s) isn’t done with him yet and “has plans for Sandor Clegane” – mirror Beric’s words to Jon that they’ve been kept alive for “a reason.”

    Look, you know I’m a Sandor fanboy. (Hound Dog?) Let me cling to my flimsy Sandor Ahai theory for just a little while longer, until it’s likely blown out of the water in S8. Until then, I prefer to view Sandor as undergoing a spiritual as well as physical resurrection.

  12. The dragons of GOT are the best I’ve every seen, and the battle beyond the wall when Dany arrived to rescue Jon and company and Drogon battle against the Lannister was amazing done.

    The other dragon which was depicted well was the Hobbit dragon Smaug by Weta Digital. I remember who he slivered over the gold treasure. I heard somewhere that Weta are doing GOT Dragons. Can anyone confirm that for me?

  13. Whoever designed GoT’s dragons did a fabulous job. The dragons’ physiology is obviously based on avian anatomy, and even their behavior must’ve been modeled after pet birds “bonded” to their owners. I’ve had pet birds most of my life. They have emotions and unique ways of expressing them; they sense when someone is a “friend” or a stranger; they can be very protective of “their” human. Every little idiosyncracy in a companion bird is captured in the way the dragons interact with each other and with people on the show. Somebody must have done his or her homework.

    But for the fire and the teeth, I could almost envision my lovebird as the scaled-down, biological descendant of CGI dragons instead of dinosaurs.

    Great job!

  14. I adore dragons. I get it that they are fantastic beings but any thing that shows up so consistently in the myths and legends of the world, might possibly have been real. GOT has handled the dragon element with a lot of class and certainly all of the dignity that one would expect of a dragon. Like I said, I adore dragons. (Blame Anne McCaffrey)

  15. Ten Bears,

    Yep, very true. The dragon CGI on GoT is top rate and the best I’ve ever seen.

    Its strange that dragons feature in many ancient myths and legends and from all over the world? In China especially, but whether those breathed fire I very much doubt! Gasoline and living creatures don’t mix very well, haha 😀

    I suppose the prehistoric creatures which resembled them the closest were the flying reptiles (pterosaurs) that were around in the Triassic/Cretaceous period (228 to 66 million years ago). The largest having a wingspan of some 30/36ft. However, early fossils of these creatures were not discovered until the 1800’s and the myths and tales regarding dragons go back hundreds of years before that time.

    So it really is a mystery why these mythical creatures become part of folklore in medieval history?

  16. MCH,

    There are like 14 studios that do VFX for Game of Thrones. Not sure how many work on the dragons. Pixomondo is the main one for dragons I think, at least initially. I don’t think Weta has done any of the dragon work but they did do the wight polar bear last season.

  17. This is a great article. Thanks for your homage to the dragons. They are one of the reasons I became a crazed fan of the show and the books. Their presentation in the show is first rate. Until GOT, I’d always viewed dragons in literature and mythology as being silly, but I love the lore Martin has created around them in his story, which gives them the quality of sentient beings.

    Aegon The Conqueror and his sister’s dragons had the most charming names! How could one not be in awe of such creatures after that back story?

    Even if Dany’s dragons are killed, I believe dragons will not be extinct again in GOT. That scene in which Tyrion unchains Rhaegal and Viserion haunts my imagination. Most caged animals would have rushed to freedom immediately upon being freed, but those two did not. They mysteriously and amazingly turned their backs to freedom and receded back into the darkness of their lair. Why?? I keep asking myself. Why? I believe they did so because one of them changed sex and they procreated while in captivity. I’m hoping their are dragon eggs and maybe baby dragons in the pyramid.

    My GOT pipe dream is that Daario will discover the eggs/dragons, bond with them and set sail for Westeros to find and help Dany. In my thoughts I see his ship approaching and on the masts and rigging, I’m seeing a kaleidoscope of baby dragons accompanying him, anxious to see their parents and grandmother. 🙂

  18. Ten Bears,

    Septon Ray didn’t worship R’hllor. He was a priest of the 7. Your “lord of light” had nothing to do with it. Also, note the discussions by several others (10Bears, etc.): Sandor was never dead.

  19. Jack Hamm,

    Had not thought of that.

    The one I keep thinking about is they were on dragonstone a long time just hanging out. Did they really not procreate during that whole time?

  20. I think people should give it a rest. As obvious as it may sound, these are magical, nonexistent creatures, so there’s not a scientific consensus on what makes a dragon “a dragon”, and bringing some heraldry art up doesn’t cut it.

    Yes, thank you! I don’t know why, but the internet is filled with pedants trying to outdo each other. In fact, the best way to get attention for something you write is to deliberately make a basic mistake and wait for the corrections. It’s kinda funny.

    Loved the post. It’s difficult to imagine the story without dragons. I suppose it’d still be interesting, in its own way. I have no idea how Dany would handle her many problems, but it’d be fun to watch.

    The VFX team is quite talented. That scene with Drogon and Jon was unforgettable. There was so much detail in that short moment, one can almost believe dragons exist. That eye blinking… I mean, come on!

  21. zandru,

    Ray didn’t know who the god or gods were. He said it might very well be the Lord of Light, whoee disciple, Beric, had told Sandor the very same thing Ray was telling Sandor:

    Ray: “No, there’s a reason you’re still here.”
    “… the gods aren’t done with you yet.”

    Sandor: “I’ve heard that before. Man was talking about a different god, though.”

    Ray: “Well, maybe he was right. I don’t know much about the gods.”

    Sandor: “You’re in the wrong line of work.”

    Ray: “Oh, there’s plenty of pious sons of bitches who think they know the word of god or gods. I don’t. I don’t even know their real names. Maybe it is the Seven. Or maybe it’s the Old Gods. Or maybe it’s the Lord of Light. Or maybe they’re all the same f*cking thing. I don’t know. What matters, I believe, is that there’s something greater than us. And whatever it is, it’s got plans for Sandor Clegane.”

    I still maintain that Sandor, who was left for dead and seemed dead, underwent a “resurrection” by the same god(s) keeping Beric alive.
    (Allow me to indulge my tinfoil theory for now; before we know it S8 will be upon us and I’ll likely be forced to toss it in the scrap heap.)

  22. Black Raven,

    “So it really is a mystery why these mythical creatures become part of folklore in medieval history.”
    It is kind of strange, isn’t it? If virtually all dinosaurs were extinct long before humans came along (because of an asteroid slamming into the earth that f*cked up the atmosphere, according to prevailing scientific theory), and their fossils weren’t discovered until the 1800’s, why do dragons pop up in medieval folklore and myths?
    That’s a really good question. 🤔

  23. Ten Bears,

    Yep, it sure is! One of the world’s unsolved mysteries along with many myths and legends. Then again, if we knew all the answers to things like that, life would be pretty mundane and uninteresting 😛

  24. Ten Bears,

    Well, there’s no compelling reason for you not to indulge in your own theory! After all, few have any idea of what B&W have in mind for the Season 8 Thrilling Conclusion, and only the editors, continuity checkers, proofreaders, and quite possibly voice artists know what’s in George RR’s mind!

  25. zandru,

    I know what’s in George RR’s mind: “New York Jets at home next Sunday against the New England Patriots, and then at the Miami Dolphins the week after that.”

  26. Whilst I love the overall story I really can’t say I’m too bothered about what happens with the dragons, in fact I feel they need to die for narrative purposes, all magic must end in order to conclude the story is how I feel.

  27. The dragons will die.

    They’ve already outlined how they are incompatible with ruling Westeros peacefully, but that Dany would be reluctant to lock them away as necessary since she’s too close to them and considers them key to Targaryen rule/exceptionalism.

    The question, as far as I’m concerned, is whether Dany will die with them.

    Right now she and the Night King are like a reflection of one another – Both immune to fire. Both riding dragons. Both foreign (and yet not foreign) invaders. Both leading an army of converts that would collapse upon their death. Representative of ice and fire respectively.

    I figure both will have to die, or at least have their power nullified, by the conclusion of the story.

  28. Clob,

    Yes, I believe Sandor never died. Interestingly, his brother did and was brought back by the Lords of Death (not Light).

  29. Ten Bears,

    Sure you can! But I think the seeds are laid that he’s had a death wish and will finally die by a significant battle in which he saves someone vital to the future of Westoros, like Jon.
    The other fellow, brought back by Lord of Light will die by Night’s King. That is pretty much a given by the foreshadowing. His death is also likely to save Jon… . or Danearys.

  30. Ramsay’s 20th Good Man,

    It’s possible she dies. I am thinking Sansa and Gendry procreate, and Brienne and Tormund procreate. Really, there isn’t much talk about who’s line will carry on. Danearys’s baby, we expect to be in line for throne, but other than that, who’s left to start new noble lines?

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