Please be aware there are MAJOR SPOILERS for Game of Thrones through S6 E6, “Beyond the Wall”.
Seriously, this is your last spoiler warning.
RIP Viserion. We barely knew ye.
OK, have you caught your breath? Because, holy wow, that’s how you deliver on the high-stakes expectations of a penultimate Game of Thrones episode. In a season that’s been fairly low on high-impact casualties, “Beyond the Wall” delivered the classic Thronesian gut punch we were all waiting for, and it was heartbreaking (even if it was narratively pretty messy.)
Surprise surprise, the Westerosi Seven Samurai’s obviously terrible plan turned out to be a terrible plan, leaving Jon and the rest of his team stranded “Beyond the Wall” with little hope of survival. Thankfully, they’ve got a spry young athlete like Gendry on the team, who was able to sprint away and get a raven out to Daenerys in time to save their asses. Well, at least the fan favorite asses — RIP Thoros and Uncle Benjen. But the biggest loss of the night came in the episodes final moments when the Night King picked up an icy spear and struck down one of Dany’s dragons, Viserion. Well, shit.
It was, no doubt, a dramatic moment in its own right, but this is Game of Thrones, and they weren’t finished. Viserion’s lifeless corpse was pulled from the water, where the Night King did his thing, transforming one of Dany’s children into an ice dragon. Yeah, that’s right. I said ice dragon. What a time to be alive.
A lot of us had a pretty big hunch this was coming, for a few reasons. We always knew the dragons were an ace in the hole for the Mother of Dragons & Co. in almost any combat situation. It’s too neat. It made her too invulnerable. We saw that play out in the Loot Train battle, and accordingly, Dany’s confidence in her conquest abilities was leaning into hubris, which can never survive for long in Game of Thrones. In short, it was time for Dany to take a hit and a big one. She may have lost tactical battles to the Lannister forces this season, but the Loot Train battle proved those were little more than irritations compared to the force of her literal firepower. But that battle also enforced the idea that the dragons were also vulnerable. Qyburn’s ballista may have failed to kill Drogon, but it wounded him.
And narratively speaking, who better to bring down a dragon but the Night King himself? We didn’t know exactly what effect dragon fire would have on a White Walker — only dragon glass and Valyrian steel have proven capable of killing them so far, but it would be mighty anticlimactic if Dany swooped in on her dragons, torched the White Walkers and ended thousands of years worth of conflict in a single battle. Unless of course, the White Walkers could fight fire with… ice. Ice dragons. Yessss.
If you’re wondering, there’s definitely precedent for the creatures in the books. The series dropped hints this could be possible earlier this season when we saw wight giants marching in the Night King’s army, and it laid further track for undead creatures earlier in this episode with the attack of the wight Snow Bear. However, aside from these cues, Viserion’s transformation comes out of left field on the series. But mentions of the legendary creatures are sprinkled throughout the books. Jon, in particular, often remembers the tales of ice dragons he heard from Nan, often conjuring up the image of the creature when things are “cold as the breath of the ice dragon”.
There are also mentions of ice dragons in the Shivering Sea (sounds about right), a largely uncharted body of water above Essos, where most sailors are too afraid to travel. In the books, Maester Margate (who’s basically an ice dragon truther) describes them as “colossal beasts, many times larger than the dragons of Valyria, are said to be made of living ice, with eyes of pale blue crystal and vast translucent wings through which the moon and stars can be glimpsed as they wheel across the sky.” And as you probably expect, they breathe ice instead of fire, cold enough to freeze a man solid. But hold up, because that might mean that Viserion isn’t a proper ice dragon at all, which is here described specifically as an entirely different breed than Dany’s Valyrian dragons. This is reinforced in a lengthy passage in A World of Ice and Fire.
We saw Viserion’s eye turn blue, but that happens to all wights, and we don’t yet know the full scope of his appearance or what exactly his powers will be. Does a wight dragon breathe fire or ice? Will Viserion’s yellow skin turn to a pale crystalline blue? If he is slain, does he melt away into a pool as the ice dragon’s are said to? Or does his body need to be burned like the other wights? We’ll have to stay tuned for those answers. After all, these passages all come from the books, and the show is clearly playing by its own rules at this point.
One last fun bit of trivia on the ice dragons before we look ahead at what Viserion’s death means for the future. This bit was a favorite of Ice Dragon theorists for a long time. Two decades before he wrote Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin penned a short story called (drum roll) The Ice Dragon. The story shares a lot of similarities with the Song of Ice and Fire universe, but it also has plenty of differences in mythology. Plus, Martin explicitly stated they don’t share a world. However, as an early work, The Ice Dragon seemed a likely (perhaps unintentional) testing ground for some of Martin’s ideas and interests. It’s a fun and sweet story, and you should read it, but it doesn’t hold the answers for what comes next on Game of Thrones.
So let’s speculate wildly, shall we? Now that the ice/wight dragon theory has come true, that clears the path for two other major fan theories that have been brewing in the lead-up to end game. One, The Wall has to come down. We’ve all known this for a long time, it’s the only thing that makes sense for the story’s forward progression. The question was how. After how things played out in “Hold The Door”, I was convinced The Wall would fall due to Bran’s magical connection with The Night King. But there was another vocal contingent that thought The Wall would come down due to some dragon action. That seems like it may be the more likely theory now that the big bad has one on his side.
The second theory? Well, that one involves dear Bran too. Game of Thrones book readers have long tied themselves in theoretical knots over prophecies, visions, and dreams. Martin likes to lay a lot of track for his reveals, but perhaps none has so occupied the hivemind as much as these five simple words: “The Dragon has three heads.” The triptych motif has been laid throughout the mythology of the dragons: The Targaryens conquered Westeros with three dragons, their sigil bears the three-headed dragon, and of course, Dany returned dragons to the world with her three gifted dragon eggs. Then Dany heard those words — “The Dragon has three heads” — in her prophetic walk through the House of the Undying and the fandom has raged ever since trying to determine who the three dragon riders will be in the current timeline.
There’s a wildly popular fan theory that Tyrion is a secret Targaryen and it’s well-backed by book evidence. However, now that Viserion is all dead and blue-eyed, the normal means of mounting three dragon riders are pretty much out anyway. Enter Bran Stark, skinchanger and Three-Eyed Raven. Bran is incredibly gifted at warging, or skinchanging if you want to get real nerdy with the verbiage (warg is wolf-specific, technically), aka transferring his consciousness into another creature. In the past, they’ve all been living creatures and there’s no textual evidence to suggest you can skinchange into the dead or undead, but if anyone is that powerful, it’s Bran. Now that the scales have tipped even further in favor of the Night King and his undead army, it might fall upon the weirdest Stark to turn the tables in a critical moment. Or maybe he’ll just keep creeping everyone out and literally doing nothing with his superpowers.
Either way, goodbye Viserion, the yellowy dragon, aka “one of the ones who’s not Drogon.” Sorry you spent so much time locked up in that cave and thanks for not eating Tyrion.