“As Daenerys Targaryen rose to her feet, her black (dragon) hissed, pale smoke venting from its mouth and nostrils. The other two pulled away from her breasts and added their voices to the call, translucent wings unfolding and stirring the air, and for the first time in hundreds of years, the night came alive with the music of dragons.” – So read the ending lines to “A Game of Thrones” where Daenerys first hatches her fiery firstborns. It’s spectacular, marvelous, miraculous, mostly because of the breasts. It’s arguably the first moment in “A Song of Ice & Fire” where the gritty realism and court politics give way to the wonderous and the fantastical. But how did Daenerys accomplish this feat where, for over a hundred years, other members of her family tried and failed in spectacular fashion? How did the birth of dragons work?
The Magic, The Sorcery, The Whatever-you-want-to-call-it
The mechanics of magic in “A Song of Ice & Fire” are purposefully left opaque. George R.R. Martin commented on this in an interview with John Hodgman saying: “I think fantasy must contain magic. Magic, sorcery, whatever you want to call it. But it has to be handled very, very carefully. It’s like salt in a stew where you add a little salt and it makes your stew, or whatever, taste better. You add too much salt and that’s all you can taste is the salt and it overwhelms the whole thing.” as well as “…the spells. I try to handle those very carefully and dance around them. Even with a character like Melisandre. Is she really doing magic? Or is she bluffing in some sense? What’s going on? I try to give a little subtlety and ambiguity there.” So it’s not surprising then that what lead to the birth of Daenerys’ dragons too is left quite vague. It’s also not surprising that Martin would use a stew metaphor. At least not if you’ve read some of his dinner scenes.
In fact going one step further Martin said about the birth of dragons specifically, in a chat with Event Horizon from 1999: “The birth of Dany’s dragons was unique, magical, wonderous, a miracle. She is called The Unburnt because she walked into the flames and lived.” But lest you shout “god is the answer” immediately, being the irreverent heathen that I am, allow me to shit on that for you.
A miracle in this context seems code for an incredible coincidence if nothing else. A complex confluence of numerous events. A spell for which the recipe is unknown. And, in fact, it seems unlikely to have been a miracle in the sense of divine intervention. Aside from being himself an atheist and taking what I would call a rather dim view of religion (or at least religious extremism), Martin has deconstructed divine intervention in several of his stories. One such example being in his short story “And Seven Times Never Kill Man!” where *spoiler alert* the religious cooks, the Steel Angels, end up being manipulated through what seem like religious visions. In short, in Martin’s stories: if it looks like a miracle and quacks like a miracle it’s probably quackery.
But if it’s a magical ritual, then what does it entail? What does it do? Well, for this we need to look back at an important event in the first book: the catatonic state of Drogo and the death of Rhaego. And to understand that we need to understand the spell used on the intrepid horselord. And for that we need to understand what Mirri wanted and for that… well, let’s just say we have quite the journey ahead of us.
Mirri and the Maester Factory
When Drogo gets stabbity stabbed doing some good ol’ fashion pillaging and raping for his wifey, he quickly finds out that getting stabbed is not conducive to your health. Despite being treated by Mirri the wound gets infected, either intentionally because of what Mirri did or, perhaps more likely, because Drogo ripped off the bandage, shoved dirt in the wound and got plastered every night after, despite being told by dr. Duur not to drink alcohol. This means that by the next chapter Drogo the wise is on the brink of death and a scared Dany comes to Mirri and asks her to save him. She says that “only death can pay for life” and asks for Drogo’s horse. She breaks out the disco balls and does some light dancing with shadows and this gifted healer… does not deliver on much healing. Drogo is alive, yes, but just mildly less energetic than before. In fact, he gives Hoster Tully a run for his money. Both are about as animated as a pair of potted plants.
So what? She tries, she fails, she sucks. No big mystery there. Some people are just doomed to fail massively at every single thing they do, except annoy you like a pesky little fly. But this result is odd, since interestingly enough, this attempt at wresting life from the hands of death is connected to another, arguably, more succesful attempt: Robert Strong.
The Fleshy Giant
“Marwyn, he named himself. From the sea. Beyond the sea. The seven Lands, he said. Sunset Lands. Where men are iron and dragons rule. He taught me his speech.” Mirri says about her former teacher, Marwyn. A name which should sound quite familiar to any ardent reader. But Mirri is not the only one who benefitted from the Mage’s mad mentoring.
“The archmaesters are all craven at heart. The grey sheep, Marwyn calls them.” this line is spoken by the delightful Qyburn just before Cersei gives him The Mountain to do with as he wills. During this conversation he also talks of “…aspiring to surpass…” Maester Ebrose at healing and how “…I understand the nature of life and death better than any man in Oldtown.” Firstly, the way he talks of Marwyn suggests they thought alike and may have been friends. Secondly, the way he talks of death, and exhibit Strong himself, suggest that his words are no politician’s idle chatter.
We don’t know exactly how Qyburn brought The Mountain back, but it seems to have involved some type of magic. George’s favourite kind, the kind requiring lots of delightful blood and death. I would propose that Qyburn shared this information with Marwyn and that Marwyn in turn, being the amiable chap he is, shared this information with Mirri who then tried to use a similar method on Drogo. Except that it worked just a little less well on Drogo. Why? For some very mysterious reason that I will shortly proceed to happily do my very best to spoil for you.
Maegis Gonna Maege
Now your first reaction might be to say it didn’t fail. That what happened was Mirri’s intent all along. She didn’t actually want to heal the horselord, she wanted revenge. She does say “He lives. You asked for life. You paid for life.” and then goes on a lengthy tirade about how having your people slaughtered en masse might not put you in a helping mood. Women, amirite? This seems fairly persuasive and might well be true, but there is an alternate possibility: Mirri was trying to get into Dany’s good graces rather than had a hankerin’ to commit suicide by Targ-rage.
This perspective on Mirri’s motives is well-argued by Youtuber Preston Jacobs in his video “A Song of Ice and Fire: The Dornish Master Plan Part 2” but to briefly go over some of the evidence: She is connected to Marwyn and Marwyn seems to be on Daenerys’ side. Furthermore Lady Dustin complains that healers, which is what Mirri was, only heal to get into our good graces and then… who knows what they do. Other healers throughout the story, like Qyburn and Moqorro, seem to do exactly this. So if healing Drogo was Mirri’s plan, then what went wrong? Granted, Robert Strong is not the most personable of fellows, but he’s a lot more spritely than was Drogo. This is, I would suggest, where those loveable lizards come in.
It may be the case that the reason why nobody seemed to be home in Drogo’s thick skull was because his body had become an empty vessel. That his soul, or whatever life force animates people in “A Song of Ice & Fire”, had gone into a dragon egg. Wait, hold on… what? How? Why? When? Where? Watchu talkin’ ’bout, Analyze? It all has to do with the mommy of said lizards.
Elio and Linda of Westeros.org, in this video on resurrection, make the convincing argument that when Jon is resurrected in “The Winds of Winter” it may be that nobody will be home either. Jon’s final word before his death is “Ghost” and we know from Varamyr Sixskins that skinchangers can slip into the bodies of their bonded animals upon death. So what happens when someone slips into another being’s body and their body is then resurrected? Does their soul snap back to their body like a ball on a piece of elastic? Do they have to find their own way back? Is something else needed? Must you sacrifice seven sweet kittens and gulp down a dozen doughnuts to bring them back? What about someone who’s not a skinchanger at all and can’t normally jump bodies? If the effects of both Jon’s resurrection and Drogo’s revival end up being the same, with Jon’s body left in a catatonic state, then it seems quite possible to me that this is because the underlying process is the same or at least similar.
We know that “only death can pay for life”, we hear it again and again, but why can only death pay for life? Maybe death can only pay for life, at least in the case of dragons, because there is something needed to animate these dragons. And what is needed is a person’s life force or soul. Maybe this is what Targaryens, or some of them, can do that allows them to hatch and bond with dragons. They have an innate magic that allows those closest to them upon death to inhabit nearby eggs and the familial bond persists. While skinchangers can put their own souls inside of animals, maybe Targaryens can put the souls of others, loved ones, into dragon eggs.
This is in a Name!
In the case of Daenerys I would fervently argue that these people were Drogo, Viserys and Rhaego. All three died near her while the eggs were already in close proximity to her. And, perhaps as a coy hint at this process from Martin, their names are reflected in the names of the dragons: Drogon, Viserion and Rhaegal. Maybe they’re named not just after people, maybe they were named that way by the author because, hold the fucking phone, they are those people.
But the delicious breadcrumbs that point to this might’ve left an even longer trail. Not only do they seem to share the names of the dead, but also to some extent their personalities. Drogon is consistently shown to be dominant and aggressive. He’s the biggest of the dragons, a true fighter. When Daenerys’ people try to take him captive after the death of the child, they… do not succeed. And where does he flee to? The Dothraki sea, the place Drogo called home. Viserion on the other hand is captured fairly easily. Fitting for Viserys, who was not exactly the warrior type. He also has a general conceited and regal air about him. He’s covered in golden scales and is, at one point, found by Dany sunning coiled around a tree resting on his own royal tail.
The Sun Sets on Summerhall
I suspect it is this aspect to the birthing of dragons, the sacrifice of human life, that caused Aegon V’s attempt at hatching dragons to fail. For those uninitiated, it seems likely that one of the previous Targaryen kings, Aegon V, attempted to hatch dragons at Summerhall. Not only was he obsessed with returning dragons to the world, Egg even shows some of this in the Dunk & Egg novellas, one might even say he had a fiery passion for it, and he had a lot of the same ingredients (minus the comet which may have acted as a magical catalyst in lieu of other dragons around who may also act as magical catalysts).
Aegon had dragon dreams and Targaryen blood. He had his pyromancers light a large fire. He had dragon eggs, seven of them to be extraordinarily and unnecessarily precise. And, perhaps most importantly, he had a female Targaryen heavily pregnant with a child: Rhaella Targaryen pregnant with Rhaegar (note the naming-similarity with Rhaego, just fyi).
In Daenerys’ hatching her child tragically did not survive, but Rhaegar did. Maybe because when Aegon found out what he had to do, perhaps when the flames spoke to him, he refused. Aegon, being the caring and good person he was courtesy of his past hoboness, could not bring himself to sacrifice his unborn grandchild or anyone else for his ambitions and so his efforts failed where Daenerys’ succeeded.
Who spoke to him in the flames? Maybe no one, maybe he found out some other way. Maybe it was the Red God (probably not). Maybe it was Aang in the oddest cameo in fictional history. Or maybe it was someone who also spoke to him in his dreams. Maybe it was the beloved cousin he sent to the wall.
Those of us who’ve been paying attention know from Melisandre’s chapter in “A Dance with Dragons” that Bloodraven can see through the flames. And he does seem to be using abilities like the sending of dreams to recruit people like Bran (and maybe Euron). Not to mention, he’s a pretty ruthless guy historically. Always willing to do the worst stuff for the greater good. So perhaps he thought the hatching of some fiery dragons might be quite a boon in the fight against the icy creatures. Maybe he was up to his old tricks.
The details of Summerhall were deliberately left vague in the books and even in “The World of Ice & Fire” they are obscured. This suggests that whatever happened there is extremely important to the future of the books and, I suspect, part of that has to do with partially uncovering this exact process. That it has to do with Bloodraven’s desire to “save the world” (as he sees it) and the horrible sacrifices that entails.
Author’s Note: Thank you to Elio and Linda of Westeros.org for giving me the idea for this article with their video on resurrection.
- To Burn or Not to Burn – Why There is Power in King’s Blood
- We Hoped to Kind of Avoid the Expected – Subversion in the Long Night vs. the Red Wedding
- Mechanics of the Impossible – Magic in the Originals & Vampire Diaries Universe
Copyright: The images used in this article are screenshots taken from the episodes of the show. We are allowed to use them under section 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976. Game of Thrones is created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, belongs to HBO and was inspired by the book series “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R.R. Martin. Final image from the book “The World of Ice & Fire” written by George R.R. Martin in collaboration with Elio M. Garcia Jr. and Linda Antonsson “The Destruction of Summerhall” by Marc Simonetti.