A year ago this week, Tyrion Lannister gave his now-famous speech, Bran became Bran the Broken and the king of Westeros, Jon Snow ventured north, and Game of Thrones came to an end. In honor of the conclusion of the last piece of monoculture, The Ringer will spend all week looking back on Thrones—focusing not just on its final season, but celebrating its entire eight-season run, reminiscing about its host of memorable characters, and pondering where some of them may be one year later.
It’s midnight at the edge of the Forest of Qohor and a rangy Volantene sellsword who smells like last year’s shit is telling me that Drogon hasn’t been feeling well lately. “He has a cold,” the sellsword says, between mouthfuls of stew which also smells awful, though still better than he does. “I don’t know if dragons get colds, but you know what I mean. Acting weird. Not himself. Leave me alone or I will stab you with this sword.”
The last dragon in the known world is not himself. A lot has changed for him in the past year. He’s gone from liberator to genocidaire to reptilian refugee to burgeoning cult icon. He’s lost his brothers Viserion and Rhaegal (one to the Army of the Dead, which is forgivable, the other to Euron Greyjoy, which is not). He’s lost his mother at the moment of her great triumph, and with her, any semblance of a divine purpose other than indiscriminate sheep slaughter. Drogon—this one-of-a-kind creature of old doomed Valyria, this living weapon that so effortlessly and efficiently leveled King’s Landing and burned thousands alive just because Daenerys Targaryen reacted poorly to the sound of some bells—is majorly bummed out.
And now we’re here in Qohor—the least fun Free City—to see whether this dragon is ever planning to return to Westeros. And if he is, to stop him. How? No clue.
We’re supposed to see Drogon tonight, but there are concerns about his health and his mood and there are also concerns about Maester Balemure, my companion on this half-baked fact-finding mission. Maester Balemure has been chugging cut-rate Ghiscari and is drunk yet again. He’s showing off his maester’s chain to a Dornish spearman, slurring a verbose but somehow incorrect explanation on what the pewter link on his chain implies. The Dornishman doesn’t care. None of them do. Only the captain of this company, Ser Robar Rivers, half Blackwood and half farm boy, bothers to humor Balemure.
Ser Robar Rivers is, of course, the preeminent convert of the newest religion sweeping Essos: Drogonism. “Religion,” though, is a stretch. “There’s no Holy Book, no priests, just a bunch of guys who think dragons are fucking amazing and deserve to be worshiped,” Rivers summates. “Have you ever seen one? They are literally insane. They’re just big snakes with wings and they breathe fire! Fire! What do you need that for? And there’s only one left, so yeah, I guess that’s pretty much the main reason why he’s our new god. And you know I’m a warg, right? I’ve mentioned that, right?”
He has. About a hundred times. Robar Rivers insists that he is the bastard son of one of Lord Blackwood’s “very, very dumb” younger brothers, and is, like the family he claims, a follower of the Old Gods, who also professes to have some moderate abilities in what maesters call the higher mysteries. It’s all posturing of course, but if Rivers wants to convince me he’s able to skinchange into Drogon because the Old Gods are his secret pals, well, that’s between him and his weirwoods.
Ever since the death of Daenerys by Jon Snow—5-foot-8, at most—Drogon has been on a world tour. It started innocuously enough. Fishermen in Dragonstone reported the beat of leathern wings and a feeling of “unease, sort of like there’s a dragon kind of close.” Then, sheep began to vanish in remote Pentoshi farmsteads. Huge mounds of droppings were found in artfully arranged circles in Lys. Before long, all nine Free Cities had reported sightings of the great beast. Usually, these sightings were not benign; most seemed to thematically match the Targaryen words: fire and blood.
“He really liked burning the Iron Throne,” Robar Rivers told me when first we joined the Sons of Drogon, “Like, he thought that chair was an ugly piece of shit. So yeah, burning the Iron Throne was, like, a super meaningful moment for him.” From there, it seems, Drogon decided he’d like to burn more things of that nature. “Thrones, statues, anything that people like looking at. Destroying things via fire is his only real personality trait, but after the Iron Throne he got ambitious. Too ambitious.”
Rivers comes by this knowledge via his aforementioned warging “abilities.” He claims not to be strong enough to control Drogon (not that he’d want to!), but that he can “slide” into Drogon’s skin from time to time, and in some primitive way, glean his motivations, his feelings, and most importantly, his desires. “I will level with you: The main thing to know about Drogon is that for the most part, he just wants to burn things. Burn, burn, burn. Ninety percent of his thoughts are fire-related.
“But once I heard him thinking about how easy it was for Euron Greyjoy to kill Rhaegal. How could Rhaegal die so easily? It doesn’t make sense. How is that goofy pirate Euron, who dresses like a complete dumb idiot, so good at sneaking up on dragons with a huge crossbow? And how was he so accurate? When would he have practiced this? Anyway, Drogon didn’t even really like Rhaegal. Viserion, yeah—Viserion was chill—but Rhaegal? No way. He thought Rhaegal was boring. Again, this isn’t a big thing for him, his real passion is burning shit.”
And burn shit he has. Drogon’s trajectory has taken him all over the known world, and some say beyond. After unceremoniously dropping the body of Daenerys Targaryen into the Smoking Sea of Old Valyria, the mighty beast turned back west and scorched the Titan of Braavos and the House of Black and White. His flames liberated the Norvoshi from the tyranny of the Bearded Priests. He then flew all the way to the Bay of Dragons and coated Astapor and Yunkai in dragonfire, mostly just for “love of the game” (and a very basic opposition to the institution of slavery). He next flew to Qarth and burned up some blue-lipped warlocks for nostalgia’s sake. He’s lit the grass of the Dothraki sea aflame, burned stray Ibbenese whalers, stole crops from Archons, Princes, Magisters, and peasants alike, and has even begun to occasionally terrorize the peaceful Island of Naath. The Unsullied who settled there for a never-ending summer are not pleased.
But along the way, Drogon amassed a cluster of devotees, most notably Robar Rivers and the Sons of Drogon, who follow Drogon around as best they are able on these pillaging tours. Part army, part cult, part groupies, these self-admitted “dragon freaks” are primarily former sellswords from the Gallant Men, the Second Sons, and the Jolly Fellows, but there are others in the camp, too: former red priests, disgraced septons, tattooed fools, escaped slaves, and now, two maesters on a mission from the Citadel, one of whom is drunk and showing off the pewter link on his chain.
“Does he mean to return to Westeros?” I ask Robar Rivers as we both stare distastefully at Maester Balemure. The would-be warg laughs, and laughs, and then catches his breath, and then laughs some more before he finally answers, wiping a tiny pretend tear from his eye.
“He doesn’t mean to do anything. He’s a dragon, dude! He’s literally 8 years old. He’s gonna be alive burning things for two hundred more years. He’s gonna be bigger than Balerion the Black Dread. He’s going to make Balerion look worthless. But I’ll tell you one thing you might like: Your little creepy king freaks him out.”
“King Bran the Broken?”
“Yes, obviously. That frail nerd boy gives Drogon the creeps.”
“He gives me the creeps too,” I admit, meaningfully.
“He’s very, very creepy,” Robar Rivers says. “Not sure how he became king. Kind of seems too creepy for a job like that.”
“I agree,” I agree.
There is one last stipulation before we begin our trek.
“When I take you to Drogon, don’t say dracarys, OK?”
“It is extremely rude and off-putting for people to make him burn things on demand. He’s not a toy.”
“Oh, I should have asked you before, and don’t get offended, but you aren’t a Faceless Man, are you?”
“Cool. That’s cool. Anyway. Are you ready to meet our god?”
Ser Robar and a few of his Sons of Drogon lead the drunk Maester Balemure and me through the edges of the forest to a clearing. Half a dozen goats drift with us, a sacrifice to appease the hungry god. It seems as though it has been night forever. Then, the sun begins to peek through a stubborn horizon and we are on the outskirts of a massive limestone grotto carved out of a cliff face by the Rhoynish centuries ago. There he is. Without a care in Essos.
He’s huge. He’s everything. The night folds in around him. You can read all the scrolls and stare at all the skulls but nothing prepares you for this moment, the moment he unfolds before you. The Queen’s Beast, Balerion the Dread Reborn, the Winged Shadow, Drogon the Burny lies in repose. A beast of fire made flesh. Black and red scales gleaming in the moon. Steam rising from his massive serpentine shape. The only known living dragon in existence. The last bit of gods damned magic left in this tired world.
His eyes flicker open, and the Sons of Drogon prostrate themselves. I follow suit. Those eyes never leave me.
He’s beautiful. Beautifully alone in the universe. We all are, but he knows it at least. It’s the only truth he knows. That and hostility. Robar Rivers’s eyes roll away and are replaced with white, as he wargs (or pretends to warg) into Drogon. His pupils are safely back an instant later.
“I’ve seen his mind. It’s incredible. I can’t begin to describe it,” Rivers says to me, “You want to know what he’s thinking?”
Drogon stares at me with those inferno eyes. His tongue hangs loosely. I can see his teeth, curved daggers of black diamond. I nod, hell yes, of course I want to know what Drogon is thinking. I came all this way, after all.
“He’s wishing he could burn some more children and eat them,” Robar whispers to me.