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The Untold Truth Of The Dragonriders From Game Of Thrones

Few things on HBO's "Game of Thrones" are more iconic than Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons — Viserion, Rhaegal, and Drogon. It's a gamechanger when, in the Season 1 finale, she emerges from the fire with three hatchlings and thus marking her as the Mother of Dragons. These mythical creatures continue to be a sign of her power as she makes her way around Essos, conquering cities and growing her army in later seasons. When she finally climbs atop Drogon's back and rides him for the first time, she becomes the first dragonrider in over a century. As "Game of Thrones" fans know by now, Dany's story ends in flames and blood, but HBO is not done with dragons. 

Soon, the upcoming prequel series "House of the Dragon" will rewind the clock two hundred years. And, if the name didn't tip you off, you can bet there will be a whole lot of dragons in it, despite their conspicuous absence in the first trailer. The Targaryen family ruled over the Seven Kingdoms for centuries with their many dragons, the height of their numbers existing during the time period of "House of the Dragon." In the new series, it won't just be the would-be ruler riding a dragon — it will be experienced handlers known as dragonriders wielding dragons for their own gain.

Much of the story of "House of the Dragon" is inspired by George R.R. Martin's companion books, "The World of Ice & Fire" and "Fire & Blood," which detail the history of his world and the Targaryen family, in particular. So much of the dragonrider lore comes from these books, too, which may or may not remain canon in the HBO series. Here's a breakdown of all we know about dragonriders.

Dragonriders are all descended from the Valyrian dragonlords

Until proven otherwise, only people of Valyrian dragonlord descent can be dragonriders. Long before the events of "Game of Thrones," the Valyrian Freehold in Essos was ruled by dragonlord families who used some unknown form of magic to tame dragons and exert their will over them. The Targaryens are one of these families and the only ones to survive the Doom of Valyria — a mysterious event that wiped out the city and everyone within it — when they move to Dragonstone with five dragons before it occurred. The Doom killed not just the people of Valyria, but most of the world's dragons as well.

The Valyrians were known for their silvery hair and purple eyes, the same features every Targaryen has. They also had a culture of incest, as they believed keeping their lineage "pure" gave them the ability to control dragons. The Targaryens continue this tradition, often marrying brother to sister. Despite this practice, not everyone of Valyrian ancestry can ride a dragon. Two other Valyrian families, House Velaryon and House Celtigar, settle on islands near Dragonstone before the Doom, but neither clan are inherently dragonlords. However, the Velaryons sometimes marry Targaryens, resulting in children who become dragonriders with the surname Velaryon.

The Sowing of the Seeds revealed new dragonriders

HBO's "House of the Dragon" will delve into a bloody time in Targaryen history: the civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons. It all begins with Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, who is promised the Iron Throne when her father dies. Her younger half-brother, Aegon II, challenges her claim, thus sparking a devastating feud. Rhaenyra's war with Aegon II is bound to be just as messy with its politics and violence as "Game of Thrones," but with the added bonus of dragons on both sides of the war.

This event sparks an interesting moment in the history of dragonriders. Rhaenyra has several dragons on her side but lacks riders. So, her son puts out a call to the people of Dragonstone: Whoever can successfully mount and ride one receives knighthood and riches. The royals bank on the fact that there are illegitimate Targaryen children — nicknamed "dragonseeds" — living on the island who would be able to ride one of the dragons.

In a great event called "The Sowing of the Seeds," plenty of people submit themselves to claim a dragon. Most are killed or maimed, but a few, presumably of Targaryen blood, succeed. Among the successful are Hugh Hammer and Ulf the White, who later betray Rhaenyra and spoil her opinion of all dragonseeds; Addam, who is later legitimized as a Velaryon; and a 16-year-old girl named Nettles, who claims Sheepstealer, one of the three wild dragons living on Dragonstone. Outside of these four illegitimate offspring, who admittedly are of unknown ancestry, every Dragonrider since the Doom of Valyria has had the last name Targaryen or Velaryon. That Targaryen blood is why Jon Snow can ride Rhaegal, the dragon whose name is styled like his father's, in "Game of Thrones" Season 8.

Dragons will only bond to one rider at a time

The relationship between a dragon and its rider is an exclusive one. In order to ride a dragon, a dragonrider must connect with it in some way. Nettles did this by bringing Sheepstealer a sheep to eat each day. However, no one could successfully bond with either of the other wild dragons, Grey Ghost or the Cannibal.

Additionally, a dragon will not let anyone ride them except the dragonrider they're bonded with unless their rider is also on their back. As such, a dragonrider can bring a passenger on the dragon but cannot leave that person up there alone for fear of the dragon violently rejecting them. However, if a dragon's rider dies, the dragon can form an attachment with a new person. Several dragons have bonded with various Targaryens, as dragons live far longer than humans. Balerion, the great dragon whom Aegon the Conqueror used to conquer Westeros, had four different riders before his death, including Aegon's son.

Similarly, a dragonrider never rides a dragon if they do not share a bond. This explains why Daenerys only ever rides Drogon, but neither Viserion nor Rhaegal, in "Game of Thrones." In theory, a rider could bond with a new dragon if theirs dies, but there is no record of it happening. The link between a dragonrider and dragon is so important to the Targaryens that they would place unhatched dragon eggs in the cradles with their babies to encourage an attachment.

Dragonriding is a tool of war

At the heart of it, dragonriding is all about power. Dragons are massive creatures with great ability to cause destruction, unrivaled by anything else in the world. The "tamed" dragons are used by the Valyrian dragonlords in war to take control of other lands. Likewise, the Targaryens only conquer the Seven Kingdoms and forge the Iron Throne because of their ability to control their dragons. Balerion uses his own fire to fuse the swords together into the throne. It's not until House Targaryen loses all of their dragons that Robert Baratheon and his allies can overthrow them.

Daenerys does the same with her trio of dragons on "Game of Thrones." However, there are some differences between the HBO show and the "A Song of Ice and Fire" books in terms of how she uses her dragons to achieve power. Even when her dragons are young and small, they give others a reason to ally with her (some become enemies, admittedly) as she rides with them around Essos. Drogon is crucial to her final act of domination over King's Landing, as she instructs him to completely burn down the city.

Dragons are seen as one thing: creatures of war. Dragonriding, then, is not about the thrill of flying but the ability to control such a formidable weapon. This ultimately enables the dragons' downfall, as most of the world's last dragons died in the Targaryen civil war, leading to their extinction over a century before Daenerys' petrified dragon eggs hatch. However, the books contain hints that the maesters are responsible for the deaths of the last few dragons due to a suppression of magic.

Dragonriders may be functionally extinct

At the end of HBO's "Game of Thrones," there is only one dragon left in the world, Drogon. Similarly, there is only one living Targaryen, Jon Snow. In Season 8, Jon bonded with and rode Rhaegal, but the green dragon was killed, which means, in theory, he could ride another dragon. However, even if Drogon hadn't flown off into the sunset with Daenerys' body, it seems rather unlikely that the dragon would bond with the killer of his previous rider. Of course, there is the possibility an unknown person with Targaryen ancestry is still alive — an illegitimate child, perhaps a few generations removed — that could possibly bond with Drogon. Alternatively, if Jon were to have children, they'd have a good chance at being able to ride a dragon, if only they could find Drogon and bond with him.

Unless more dragons miraculously appear, though, it seems likely that the dragonriders are no more. Then again, that's what everyone thought before Daenerys emerged from the ashes with a dragon hatchling on her shoulder.