The dragons, co-creator Ryan Condal tells ET, are very integral to the show.
While the Game of Thrones spinoff, House of the Dragon, is focused on House Targaryen and the political intrigue surrounding who sits on the Iron Throne, there’s another fiery element to the prequel series that cannot be overlooked: the dragons.
Based on George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood, the series, which is set 200 years before the events of the original series, follows the in-fighting and drama surrounding a battle of succession. It’s also set at a time when dragons -- and there are 17 in total -- were massive and formidable assets, all but guaranteeing the Targaryens’ continued reign over King’s Landing in Westeros.
As co-creator and executive producer Ryan Condal tells ET, “They’re integral to the show. They’re sort of inextricably linked to this story, particularly where it goes.” While it’s unlikely the series will see all 17 appear on screen (“I can’t promise that”), Condal says “that you’ll see a majority of them.”
“The trick with this is to use the dragons as a storytelling device. It’s not just raw spectacle and dragons for the sake of dragons. They are a part of the story, they are the source of Targaryen power and supremacy, they’re a tool of deterrents and of fear, and eventually, they become a tool of war,” the showrunner continues. “And how those tools of war are employed is a big part of how the story is told and where the story goes.”
He adds, “Insofar as that goes, the dragons play an extricable part in the show. You will see them being used to drive the story forward and not just flying around because we can.”
With that said, here’s a look at the dragons seen on season 1 and a breakdown of their relationships with their respective dragonriders, as detailed by stars Matt Smith (Daemon Targaryen), Milly Alcock (Rhaenyra Targaryen) and others.
King Viserys Targaryen
Dead by the start of the House of the Dragon, Balerion (aka Black Dread) was ridden by several Targaryen family members before Viserys (Paddy Considine) became the last to take the reins.
While Viserys has reverence for the creatures, “he has a completely different relationship with them [compared] to the other Targaryens,” Considine says. “Viserys fears the power of the dragons, personally… They have the potential to destroy the world. These things, they’re like nuclear weapons.”
“So, Viserys is very, very responsible about them. Also, he understands that without them the Targaryens would not be the power that they are at this point in history,” the actor continues. “So, he’s not a silly man and he understands it. He just doesn’t use it. He’s not a tyrant… He fears their potential and that in the wrong hands, it could cause massive destruction.”
As for the Balerion skull, which was first seen in Game of Thrones before reappearing in the prequel, co-creator and executive producer Miguel Sapochnik explains the great detail that went into making one that more realistic on screen.
“The thing that I hated more than anything else was the Balerion skull in the original show. I used to walk past it and think, ‘That’s not a f**king skull.’ It would [make] me so mad. And so finally, when it came that we had to have a Balerion skull, I was like, ‘I can do this,’” he says, revealing that he ended up designing the updated version of the skull that appears on House of the Dragon.
And then Condal inadvertently upset Sapochnik after the new one was made. “They built the skull and then they put it up and I walked in front of it and I was like, ‘This is great. It looks just like the original.’ And he’s like, ‘No, it’s not anything like the original,’” Condal recalls, before seeing photos comparing the two. “And I finally understood what was bothering Miguel. Our skull is very cool.”
“And black, because dragon bone is actually black,” Sapochnik adds.
Prince Daemon Targaryen
A notorious warrior who has been in charge of the King’s Watch, Daemon (Smith) is ruthless and has a chaotic temperament. And, unlike some members of his family, he is unafraid to wield the wrath of his dragon when needed.
“Well, the dragon itself is sort of cantankerous loner -- a bit like Damon in many respects. He’s obtuse, he’s difficult, but if you’re in, you’re in and if you’re out, you're out,” Smith says. “And I think what’s beautiful about their relationship is there’s a real deep affection between the two of them, dragon and dragonrider.”
He adds that Caraxes is what Daemon is like. “When he’s very close to you, he’d do anything for you. He’s got a very, very deep sense of loyalty, particularly to his dragon.”
Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen
As a passionate dragonrider, it’s not surprising that a young Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock, while Emma D’Arcy portrays an older version) has more interest in taking the air with Syrax than contemplating the issues of the kingdom overheard as she serves wine to her father, King Viserys, and his inner circle.
“What’s nice is that Syrax and Rhaenyra kind of share a temperament. They’re both volatile and unpredictable and stubborn,” says D’Arcy, who uses they/them pronouns. “I think for Rhaenyra, who I think is, from a very young age, actually grappling with the legacy of her family and where she fits into that story, the dragons are really bound up with Targaryen identity.”
They add, “Obviously, on the one hand, they are a kind of nuclear weapon that has allowed this family to hold power for such a long time. Simultaneously, that becomes emblematic in itself of what it is to be of this cloth.”
Alcock, meanwhile, reveals that Sapochnik told her “they started basing the personalities of the dragons off of animals and that Syrax was based on an eagle, which [she] thought was really interesting.”
Princess Rhaenys Targaryen
While Rhaenys (Eve Best) is known as the “Queen Who Never Was,” it doesn’t take away from the fact that she herself is also a dragonrider. Her dragon, Meleys, is also known as the Red Queen because of her scarlet hue and makes her fearsome debut in episode 9.
“I think the dragon is almost like an extension of her, like a part of her spirit,” Best says of the relationship between the princess and her dragon. “It feels almost like they’re linked in some way. The dragon almost represents the wild part of her.”
While the actress hadn’t seen any footage of herself as Rhaenys riding Meleys prior to that episode, she described the surreal experience of filming scenes with the CGI creature. “Well, it was weirdly alive,” Best says. “You know, it kind of had a strange life of its own because it was a big – I don’t know how to say it – but it was a big machine and it made these amazing noises.”
She adds, “I was kind of in love with it by the end.”
Ser Laenor Velaryon
Before being married off to Rhaenyra, Ser Laenor Velaryon (Theo Nate), the son of the Sea Snake, was seen riding Seasmoke in episode 3.
“He loves to ride this dragon. He loves to go to war. He loves to be in battle. He’s his father’s son, do you know what I mean? He’s very much thrives in these environments,” Nate explains. “So, for him to be on the back of Seasmoke, saving the day, he couldn’t have written it any better himself.”
When it came to filming that scene, the actor says it “was amazing. Honestly, so much fun.”
“It’s like this massive bucking bronco,” he continues, revealing that he was “strapped in, like really high off the floor.” And once he was in place, “it’s essentially like a slow roller coaster. I wish it was faster, but it was one of my fondest memories from filming.”
Aemond Targaryen and Lady Laena Velaryon
Nicknamed Queen of All Dragons, Vhagar “is the largest dragon in the realm, twice the size of Caraxes. Her scales are a deep jade,” HBO writes. “Named after a god of Old Valyria, she was ridden by Queen Visenya Targaryen during the conquest of Westeros, and later claimed by Laena Velaryon (Savannah Steyn, Nanna Blondell and Nova Fouellis-Mose). After Laena's death, Aemond Targaryen (Ewan Mitchell and Leo Ashton) answered Vhagar's call, becoming her rider, much to the dismay of Laena's children.”
According to HBO, “Vermax is a younger dragon, bonded from birth to Jace Velaryon (Harry Collett and Leo Hart). He has olive green scales and pale orange wing membranes.”
Also known as the Golden, HBO writes that the dragon ridden by Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) “is the most eye-catching dragon in the realm. His golden scales glisten when the sun shines upon them.” As for Dreamfyre, “although Helaena Targaryen (Phia Saban and Evie Allen) has a bond with the dragon, she rarely rides [her].”
While it’s unclear which of the others will fly through the series, Condal teases that “you'll see a plurality of them,” with nine distinct dragons confirmed by Sapochnik. With that in mind, the other dragonriders on House of the Dragon include:
- Baela Targaryen (Bethany Antonia and Shani Smethurst) who rode the young Moondancer
- Lucerys Velaryon (Elliot Grihault and Harvey Sadler) whose dragon was Arrax
- Rhaena Targaryen (Phoebe Campbell and Eva Ossei-Gerning) who rode Morning
House of the Dragon airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO and HBO Max.
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