Drogon Knew

Charles Pulliam-Moore May 31, 2019. 20 comments
Daenerys and Drogon arriving to Motherboy 2019 in style.
Image: HBO

The miraculous births of Daenerys’ dragons changed Game of Thrones’ balance of power and brought true magic back to the lands of Westeros and beyond. With the trio of mythical creatures by her side, Daenerys was all but certain that she would be able to claim the Iron Throne and revolutionize the Seven Kingdoms. And why not? Everything about the dragons’ existences pointed to that being her destiny, and for a long while, that very much seemed to be the case.

But with Game of Thrones’ series finale came the (wholly unsurprising) revelation that the rule of queen Daenerys, first of her name, yada-yada-yada, was not meant to be, and the Targaryen scion was doomed to a tragic fate she never saw coming. When you look back at Daenerys’ rise to power knowing how she eventually falls, though, it’s interesting to consider whether her children—Drogon especially—were at least partially aware of their interconnected destinies or if Daenerys might have seen warning signs about the future in her dragons’ actions.

From the moment the dragons emerge with their mother from a still-smouldering funeral pyre in Game of Thrones’ season one finale, the winged reptiles are fiercely loyal to Daenerys in a way befitting newborn animals desperately in need of protection from the outside world. Despite their vast potential power, the dragons are largely defenseless in their immature years due to their relatively small size and need for guidance from someone capable of teaching them the basics about being dragons. It isn’t until Daenerys shows them how to cook things by breathing small jets of flame that they’re able to begin living off meat and hunting for themselves, and their growth really begins to take off. Together, Daenerys and the dragons come to represent a small, but transformative force in Game of Thrones’ larger world, and people begin to realize that they’re something to be reckoned with.

By Game of Thrones’ fourth season, Daenerys has become a formidable power player thanks to the help of her khalasar and the newly-acquired army of Unsullied, and her dragons have finally become large enough to be a rather substantial threat to anyone foolish enough to look at them funny, lest they wish to end up being torn to shreds. At this point, the dragons are well into their adolescence, accustomed to wandering off on their own, and their personalities have become distinct enough that people are able to differentiate between them for reasons beyond their varying colorations. In George R.R. Martin’s novels , Drogon is distinct among the dragons partially because of his overall larger size and more aggressive temperament compared to his brothers, but also due to Daenerys’ belief that he’s the reincarnation of Balerion the Black Dread, Aegon’s dragon whose breath forged the Iron Throne.

That aspect of Drogon’s mythos doesn’t factor into HBO’s Game of Thrones, but the dragon does display a curious degree of knowingness and independence the others do not; in retrospect, it’s one of the show’s more notable bits of character development.

At one point in the weeks leading up to Daenerys’ taking of Mereen, the Khaleesi witnesses Rhaegal and Viserion fighting with one another over a freshly killed animal. When the two smaller dragons drop the carcass before her and Drogon, the larger dragon wastes no time in getting in on the action. As Daenerys attempts to keep the beasts from squabbling, she’s shocked and alarmed when Drogon suddenly snaps and bears his teeth at her, prompting Jorah Mormont to explain that no dragon can truly ever be tamed.

In the moment, Drogon’s outburst came across as the sort of snap one might expect from an impetuous (teenaged?) monster warning its very human mother to leave it alone while it’s attempting to eat. But looking back on the fight, you can almost see it as foreshadowing about the kinds of conflicts Daenerys would soon find herself in as a result of her newfound status as the breaker of chains. Like Drogon, Daenerys is more than willing to fight to the death for what she wants. When Drogon snaps at her, though, it’s a reminder that she’s just another human playing the game of thrones and if she isn’t careful about how she goes about it, she could easily end up being taken off the playing field by any one of her equally ambitious opponents.

Drogon snapping at Daenerys.
Image: HBO

As the fourth season continues, Drogon’s insolence towards Daenerys continues to escalate and he begins acting out in ways that make it difficult for her to assure her new subjects that she can actually control him. While Daenerys is easily able to replace a man’s goats after Drogon incinerates them, she’s forced to take drastic action after the dragon kills a child, the sort of thing none of the dragons had ever previously done (though they’d certainly killed humans upon her explicit command). In response, Daenerys makes the difficult decision to chain Rhaegal and Viserion up and lock them away for fear that they’ll follow in their brother’s footsteps and Drogon makes a point of simply leaving Mereen before his mother can shackle him as well.

It’s here that Drogon’s actions really begin to feel as if they’ve begun to take on a larger significance as an element of Daenerys’ story, as her falling out with him coincides with her being confronted with the many difficulties that come along with being a ruler. While the young ruler is eager to roll out her new policies abolishing Mereen’s slave trade and fighting pits, she finds that forcing a society to bend to her will by playing the game of politics is easier said than done, no matter how well-meaning she may well be. Similarly, she also finds that Rhaegal and Viserion are none too understanding about why she’s imprisoned them, and when she attempts to check in on them both, they immediately attempt to attack her.

From here, Drogon spends a significant amount of time far away from Mereen and at one point is seen flying over the ruined Valyrian Peninsula. There are any number of reasons as to why the dragon might have been drawn to the place where the Targaryen family first rose to prominence as legendary dragon tamers but of course, none are ever given. But the juxtaposition of Daenerys’ troubles in Mereen and Drogon’s sabbatical is still interesting when you look at it as a glimpse of what’s to come.

From the moment Daenerys and Drogon are reunited after she’s driven from Mereen by the Sons of the Harpy, the Dragon Queen’s star is generally ascendent as she recaptures her lost city and sets her other two dragons free from their confinement. After reestablishing her power in Mereen, and making a strategic alliance with the Greyjoys to use the Iron Fleet, Daenerys is finally able to set a direct course for Westeros, and for a while, her dragons’ personalities recede into the show’s background as other characters’ feelings about them become more important to the plot.

As more and more of Game of Thrones core characters interact with Daenerys, the dragons’ role in the series becomes increasingly symbolic because they’re embodiments of their mother’s might. To Daenerys’ foes, like Randyll and Dickon Tarly, the dragons are harbingers of death and destruction, but to her newfound allies like Jon Snow , they’re a sign that humanity might still have a shot at defeating the Night King’s ever-growing army of wights steadily marching south toward the Wall.

While the first knowing look Drogon and Jon share in season seven contained some of Game of Thrones’ most heavy-handed foreshadowing , the moment stood out by reminding us the dragons are still intelligent, sentient creatures with feelings of their own that Daenerys isn’t necessarily privy to. But it also held an added, distinct significance because of the way we began to see the beginnings of Daenerys’ turn toward unnecessary brutality regarding her enemies and insecurity about her overall power in Westeros.

As satisfying as it was (for us) to watch Daenerys command her dragons to roast her enemies alive, it forced Game of Thrones’ characters to consider the very real possibility that she, like her father before her, could become a dangerous, domineering force in the world. At this point in the series, Drogon, Viserion, and Rhaegal are all generally obedient to Daenerys but, again, Game of Thrones went out of its way to make clear that the dragons have an unknowable interiority to them, suggesting that they’re all just as aware as everyone else that their mother is changing. Daenerys, for her part, seems unaware of how the shift in her tactics changes the way people see her, but before she has a chance to really stop and consider that, shit truly begins to hit the fan when Viserion is killed in battle by the Night King .

One would think that after witnessing one of her dragons being murdered in battle by a spear, Daenerys might consider taking more precautions to keep them safe—like outfitting them with some armor, or at the very least being more careful about when and where she takes them out flying. But only weeks after Viserion’s death, Drogon and Daenerys watch in horror as Rhaegal also bites the dust after being shot down by a carefully-aimed scorpion bolt. Odd as Rhaegal dying seemed, it made sense as Daenerys’ focus by then was squarely on ensuring that she would be the one to sit on the Iron Throne, something she’d become so obsessed with that it was still one of her top priorities even when the world was being faced by a very real, apocalyptic danger.

When the Night King and the White Walkers were still an impending threat, Daenerys seemed not to understand that bickering over whether Winterfell would pledge allegiance to her was a monumental waste of precious time. But even once the dead were finally out of the way, it was her eagerness to take King’s Landing that led to Rhaegal’s untimely end and, one imagines that on some level, Drogon understood that.

In the end, Daenerys accomplished an important part of her goals that were set forth way back in Game of Thrones’ earliest seasons. For a brief moment, the Iron Throne was hers, and she became a queen the way she’d always promised her children she would. Drogon fulfilled his role in Daenerys’ destiny, but he also witnessed his mother’s gradual shift toward darkness and watched as his two brothers died as a consequence of her decisions in pursuit of the throne.

Drogon destroying the Iron Throne.
Image: HBO

Drogon sleepily acknowledging Jon after waking up from a nap beneath a pile of snow isn’t the most arresting thing that happens in Game of Thrones’ finale episode, but it’s an important part of the heightened, Shakespearean way that Daenerys dies. Everyone close to Jon and Daenerys know the truth about who Jon is, and that truth is the last real thing standing between Daenerys and her goal. Even though it’s obvious, Daenerys still can’t see the fact that fighting for the Iron Throne has fundamentally changed her as a person and turned her into the kind of villain she once vowed to destroy. Believing that fire can’t burn dragons, Daenerys tried to set the world ablaze, never stopping to think of how her actions might come back to haunt her, no matter how many times her advisors and loved ones attempted to temper her flames.

Both Jon and Drogon knew that Daenerys had to die to prevent her from becoming a worldwide threat, but the dragon’s perspective gave him a unique understanding of the situation. In one way or another, Daenerys was always going die in because of the Iron Throne, but it’s her single-minded, determined, and ultimately vicious quest for it that leads to her literally dying before it. It’s something that defined Daenerys and her relationship with her dragons, and it’s why in the end, Drogon knew that this was how things were likely to to play out.

Drogon, in particular, showed a willingness to attack anyone (including Daenerys) if and when he felt at all challenged by them, which makes the level of restraint he shows after realizing that Jon’s killed Daenerys that much more noteworthy, because it’s not as if the dragon isn’t obviously devastated and enraged. Drogon could have easily burned Jon alive on the spot for what he did, but his choice to instead burn the Iron Throne to the ground is nothing if not an expression of his understanding that the Throne is the source of his grief. Again, Drogon’s actions are written with a heavy-handedness that makes your eyes roll in the moment. But in the larger context of the show, it feels a lot like the dragon accepting that by knowing his mother better than any of Game of Thrones’ other characters, he innately understood that one day, he would end up carrying Daenerys off into the sky as they traveled to a place where no one was ever likely to find them ever again.

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