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Who can ride a dragon? House of the Dragon and the Targaryens, explained

The Targaryens are the best-known dragonriders in Westeros. That doesn't mean they're the only ones.

With a title like House of the Dragon, you know what you’re getting into: lots of fantasy royalty with platinum blonde wigs riding CGI dragons across the skies of Westeros.

The prequel (and first spinoff) to HBO’s Game of Thrones offers an in-depth look at Targaryen history roughly two centuries before the events spurred by the dynastic family’s fearless heir Daenerys. In Season 5, when Daenerys mounts Drogon and successfully rides him, she becomes the first person capable of taming a dragon in over 150 years. but how did the Targaryens lose their dragons? And why were the Targaryens the only ones able to ride dragons in Game of Thrones anyway?

House of The Dragon covers a crucial period mentioned several times throughout George R. R. Martin’s various books: the civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons. Hopefully, the prequel will provide answers to these dragonriding mysteries. But for now, here’s what we know about dragonriders based on Game of Thrones and its source material.

Who are the dragonriders in House of the Dragon?

The Targaryens are just one branch of dragonlords in the Valyrian family tree.

The Valyrians were humble shepherds until about 5000 years before the events of House of the Dragon when they stumbled upon volcanoes in their homeland of Valyria where dragons laid their eggs. With the help of magic, the Valyrians used dragons as a weapon of war and bonded with them. These bonds were maintained within the Valyrian bloodline by ensuring children were given a dragon egg upon birth, making the dragon imprint on the child as soon as it hatched. Dragons, who had longer lifespans than humans, were also passed down as inheritance, which is one of the reasons the Targaryens were famously and proudly incestuous.

With dragons on their side, the Valyrians grew quite prosperous. The Targaryens in particular rose to prominence after the mysterious “Doom of Valyria,” a cataclysmic volcanic event that destroyed Valyria and the other branches of the Valyrian family tree, who were either roasted by the Doom or destroyed by their dragons in the chaotic aftermath. The survivors, led by the Targaryens, left their old home to conquer Westeros.

While the general consensus within the world of Game of Thrones is that only those with Valyrian or Targaryen blood in their veins can tame a dragon, the validity of that assertion is ambiguous.

Princess Rhaenyra with her father, King Viserys I Targaryen. HBO

Conversely, not everyone who comes from the dragonrider bloodline is capable of steering a dragon. In the books, a character named Quentyn Martell tries to mount one of Daenerys’ dragons. Because of his distant Targaryen ancestry, Quentyn was confident he could hop right on. Instead, he was fried to a crisp.

As in the source material, House of the Dragon may show the Targaryens obsess over protecting their skill from other branches of the Valyrian tree that might still be out there, as well as any usurpers who attempt to hatch and master a dragon.

We may also see Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (played by both Milly Alcock and Emma D’Arcy) call for a dragonriding audition during her power struggle with half-brother Aegon II Targaryen (Tom Glynn-Carney). Her goal was to attract descendants of dragonlords, dubbed dragonseeds, brave enough to try claiming a dragon.

George R.R. Martin’s novella The Princess and the Queen implies that some successful applicants weren’t actually dragonseeds. However, it’s also possible those applicants had dragonseed blood without knowing it. House of the Dragon may leave the issue of who can or cannot ride dragons obscure, or it may provide a definitive answer.

What happened to the dragons in House of the Dragon?

The Targaryens’ downfall is linked to the dragons that gave them power in the first place. By keeping their dragonriding bloodline “pure,” generations of incest led to madness among Targaryen nobles, including Daenerys’ father, the Mad King Aerys II Targaryen.

This madness led to sadism and pyrophilia, among other unsavory traits. Rhaenyra’s reign as queen is short-lived, and King’s Landing riots when her grip on reality and her people begins to slip. Four of her dragons are slaughtered in the chaos, while Rhaenyra’s dragon, Syrax, died in the final moments of the civil war. Other dragons simply vanished, apparently abandoning the Targaryens.

With so many dragons lost, the species began to suffer. After the civil war, the dragons that hatched grew smaller and smaller until they were the size of cats. The last dragon belonging to House Targaryen died before the events of Game of Thrones.

While we still don’t know the specific events that House of the Dragon will cover, it will undoubtedly portray the fall of the Targaryens and the loss of their remaining dragons. So don’t get too attached to any of the prequel’s big lizards.

House of the Dragon airs Sunday, August 21 on HBO.

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