‘Game of Thrones’ Theory: Do Dragons House the Souls of Dead Targaryens?

     April 17, 2019


In 1996, author George R.R. Martin published Game of Thrones five years after he first began work on it. Over the next decades, his seminal work would become a pop culture flashpoint culminating in the television series on HBO. But Game of Thrones is so much more than just great stories. Like the genre greats before him, Martin has fleshed out his world into a sprawling history covering thousands of years. He’s even co-written two books — The World of Ice & Fire and Fire & Blood — which detail the history of Westeros, Essos, and beyond. But he does all this with a narrative voice. Each piece of lore is told from the perspective of the Maesters of the Seven Kingdoms, rudimentary scientists, and dedicated scholars collecting knowledge.

This puts Martin in a position of strength as he juggles the many moving pieces of creating an entire planet’s worth of history. Every piece of information is filtered through the biases and blind spots of the Maesters, giving Martin wiggle room if needed to change details later down the line. Martin does leaves clues to the true history, giving fans trails of breadcrumbs to follow and interpret, but gives little in the way of definitives. It is up to the reader’s discretion if they believe the land used to be ruled by gods and monsters, or if it is merely legend.


Image via HBO

This leads us to the dragons. While I believe GRRM knows all the intricate details of his beasts, the people of his universe do not. Wildly conflicting information exists about every aspect of dragons, from their origins and mating habits, to their relationship with the Targaryens and other noble houses of Old Valyria, to their extinction is shrouded in purposeful mystery. Are dragons a natural species or the product of dark magic? Are they mostly extinct because magic is leaving the world, or is magic leaving the world because dragons are mostly extinct? Today, however, let’s focus on the connection between dragons and the “blood of Old Valyria” and how new information from an interview Game of Thrones sound designer Paul Fairfield.

Speaking to Joanna Robinson of Vanity Fair, Fairfield talked about her process when giving voice to Drogon in the Season 8 premiere episode “Winterfell.” Audiences noticed Drogon seemed to disapprove of Daenerys’ relationship with Jon Snow. Fairfield agreed, and went a step further:

“My story of Drogon is he’s the reincarnation of Khal Drogo, [Dany’s] hot husband from Season One. That relationship I always have in mind when choosing Drogon’s [sound] palette.”


Image via HBO

Fairfield is quick to couch this statement as merely her own interpretation, but for this Song of Ice and Fire fan, it was a lightbulb moment. If the overarching battle in Game of Thrones is between the forces of ice — which include the Night King and his minions — and the forces of fire, it would make sense to dovetail each factions power set. If the North has wargs, what is to stop other groups from utilizing this “mind-melding” ability to their own ends? In fact, if looked at through a lens of warging, some of the puzzle pieces about dragon history start to snap into place. A quick refresher, a “warg” is a person (or Child of the Forest) who can project their mind into the body of an animal, thereby controlling the creature.

So is it possible that dragons house the souls of the dead, transferred through magical means? Yes, completely. Putting aside the many alternate origin myths, Valyrians and dragons appear near-simultaneously in the historical record. Allegedly, the Valyrians were but “humble shepherds” who discovered dragons living inside the volcanoes around which the great Valyrian civilization would be founded. Somehow, these lowly peasants were able to commune with dragons, leading to the rise of an empire that would extend throughout most of Essos. Peeling back millennia of Valyrian propaganda raises an interesting core: Valyrians made dragons.

In A Feast for Crows, it is revealed that two creatures similar to dragons pre-date the species: wyverns and firewyrms. Several wyvern sub-species are native to Sothoryos, the Game of Thrones analog to Africa. The winged creatures resemble dragons in many ways, but they do not breathe fire.  The largest species only grow to thirty feet and they have beaks instead of mouths, but other than that the biology lines up. As for firewyrms? They are massive underground tunnelers that live in the same volcanoes Valyria grew up around, the Fourteen Flames. Fire-breathing and deadly, they can carve through solid rock. Though wingless for obvious reasons, from the neck up there is no discernible structural difference between dragons and firewyrms. Readers know from the same novel that firewyrms were still being encountered by those enslaved by the Valyrians to work the mines beneath the volcanoes all the way up to the Doom of Valyria.


Image via HBO

Like most myths, the kernel of truth to the origin of dragons may be hidden within the Valyrian legends. Perhaps the ancestors of the Blood of Old Valyria did find creatures living in the Fourteen Flames, but they most likely weren’t dragons. And ancient Valyrians weren’t “humble shepherds” but in actuality sorcerers and dark magic users, including the arcane blood mages. While there’s nothing concrete tying Valyrians to Asshai and the Shadowlands, both cultures are known for their dabbling in forces most would leave to the gods. Regardless, it is highly suspicious that a mysterious race of magic users appeared fully formed west of the Bone Mountains that bisect Essos just shortly after the lands east of the mountain range were decimated by some unknown enemy from the North. Odder still they would happen to find a creature capable of laying waste to, say, an undead horde of ice monsters.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Valyrian bloodmages mixed together wyverns and firewyrms to create dragons. How does that tie to the idea that dragons are infused with Targaryen souls? George R.R. Martin has made it very clear that blood magic in his world requires human sacrifice to work. In the first novel, the witch Mirri Maz Duur takes the life of Daenerys’ in utero son Rhaego in return for saving Khal Drogo’s life. In retaliation, Dany sacrifices Mirri Maz Duur in a pyre from which the dragon eggs hatch. In A Storm of Swords, Melisandre attempts to sacrifice King Robert’s bastard son Edric Storm to in attempt to use the “blood of kings” to “wake the stone dragons.” Cersei Lannister’s fortune was told by Maggy the Frog using a drop of the future queen’s blood. If blood magic is truly responsible for the creation of Valyrian dragons, it would take a massive sacrifice to keep the spell together. Valyrian sacrifices.

This is where it starts to get weird. In George R.R. Martin’s most recent book Fire & Blood, there is a section dedicated to Princess Aerea Targaryen, who lived approximately 250 years before the events of Game of Thrones begin. Her life was one of tragedy, but for our purposes, we need to focus on her death. At the age of twelve, Princess Aerea mounted Balerion the Black Dread and attempted to run away from home on the oldest living dragon in the world. Instead, she could not control the beast and went missing. There was no sign of the princess or the dragon, despite a massive manhunt that covered the Seven Kingdoms and parts of Essos. Two years later, Princess Aerea and Balerion returned with disturbing injuries.


Image via HBO

It was upsetting enough to see the largest creature in the world sporting old healed-over wounds, but Princess Aerea’s condition was fatal. Nearly falling off Balerion’s back, the girl was emaciated and covered in the tattered clothes she’d left in. She was boiling hot and things moved unnaturally under her skin, causing her to cry out in pain. The royal Septon, named Barth, did his best to save her, but Aerea died within hours of her return. Though it was quickly covered up, Aerea’s death was preceded by her body cooking from the inside until smoked. Alarmed, the Septon put the girl in a bath of ice. It was a mistake. Instantly small “slimy, unspeakable” creatures burst from the princesses body to escape the cold. One, as long as a man’s forearm, shrieked as it died in the cold water of the bath. Septon Barth speculated that since dragons given free reign tend to return to their home, Balerion has taken Princess Aerea back to the ruins of Old Valyria. It was one of the few places no one searched for the missing royal because no one who goes near Old Valyria ever returns, including an army of tens of thousands of men. That indicates someone, or something, still lives there.

Let’s say you’re a descendant of Old Valyrian bloodmages living in the smoking ruins of your ancestors’ empire. One day, the world’s oldest dragon lands in his former home along with a child that is the “Blood of the Dragon.” Let’s say your people are known for mating monsters with humans to create new species. Let’s say you capture this young Princess. Now what? Now, you use her in dark rituals to try and jumpstart the second age of Valyria. An incubator of sorts. There have long been rumors of Valyrians born with tails, wings, and other accouterments of dragon biology, though none have ever been seen beyond infancy. Perhaps only those born “close enough” to being a true dragon were honored with merging with an egg. Perhaps putting the soul of a Valyrian into a dragon kept them loyal to the blood and impossible to weaponize against their creators.

Seen in this light, the Valyrian custom of inter-marriage makes sense. If the continuation of the dragon species is literally tied to the “Blood of the Dragon” it would be imperative to keep the bloodline as close to the original DNA genome used in the spell as possible. Marrying brother to sister does just that. It would also explain why the slow extinction of dragons came after the Doom destroyed Valyria. With only the Targaryen bloodline remaining, there wasn’t enough magic left to propagate the species. As the Targaryen royals intermarried with the noble houses of the Seven Kingdoms, the bloodline diluted to the point that the magic could no longer be sustained. Only another sacrifice, like the one made by Daenerys, would be enough to jumpstart the species again.


Image via HBO

Yet if Valyrian blood is needed to create dragons, how did Khal Drogo’s death trigger the birth of Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion? I don’t believe it did. I think the sacrifice of Daenerys’ son Rhaego was the true catalyst. Mirri Maz Duur was the blood sacrifice but Rhaego was the soul. Remember, though stillborn, the son of Dany and Drogo was near term. He was born “monstrous” with wings, a tail, and dragon scales. All obvious signs of being the “Blood of the Dragon.” If this holds true, it is not Drogo that is housed inside Drogon, but Rhaego. Fitting, since the Dothraki prophecy states Rhaego would be “the stallion that mounts the world” and Dany once had a vision of her son opening his mouth and fire emanating forth. It would also explain Drogon’s fierce devotion to Dany, moreso then Rhaegal and Viserion who were named for Daenerys’ brothers.

But Rhaegal does seem to be partial to someone. The only son of his namesake: Jon Snow, a.k.a. Prince Aegon Targaryen VI, is the trueborn son of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Lady Lyanna Stark. If the theory that dragons are infused with the souls of dead Valyrians, Rhaegal could very well be the avatar of the late Prince Rhaegar. That would track with why Rhaegal warms up to Jon as quickly as he does. Following that thought through to the end, it would even make sense that Viserion, merged with the soul of the prickly Prince Viserys, would be arrogant enough to take on the Night King’s army and lose.

Regardless of the details (and whether or not this connection is ever explicitly made by the HBO series), looking at the relationship between dragons and the Valyrian dragonlords from a distance reveals numerous coincidences and patterns too deliberate to be mere happenstance. Whether manipulating the dragon genome to be in a semi-permanent warg state with the “Blood of the Dragon” or not, the ties that bind the two together cannot be natural.

For more Game of Thrones, check out these recent articles, as well as our theories deep-dive: