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‘House of the Dragon’ Episode 9 Mailbag: If You Dracarys, Do We Not Burn?

Spoiler-free answers to questions about saying “no thanks” to the throne, how many kingdoms are in the Seven Kingdoms, why Jace and Luke aren’t stronger boys, and burning Targaryens

HBO/Ringer illustration

Only one more episode remains in House of the Dragon’s first season, after a divisive ninth installment that crowned a new king. But what happens when a Targaryen king doesn’t want to rule? Could Aegon II have died from a burst of fire from Rhaenys’s dragon?

It’s time to answer your questions in the ninth Dragon mailbag. To appear in the last Season 1 mailbag, message me at @zachkram on Twitter or next week after the Dragon finale airs.

Daniel asks: “Why wouldn’t Aegon abdicate the throne? He doesn’t want it … but it’s not even talked about or considered. Abdication was very common in Europe, is it not done in Westeros?”

No Targaryen king ever abdicated in peacetime. However, there are concrete examples of a potential king passing up a chance at the Iron Throne. About a century after the events of Dragon, Maester Aemon turns down an opportunity to be released from his maester’s vows and become king. This selfless decision allows Aemon’s younger brother, Aegon V—Egg of Dunk and Egg fame—to ascend unopposed.

A generation later, Prince Duncan—King Aegon V’s eldest son and heir—is betrothed to a Baratheon. But while traveling in the Riverlands, he encounters a woman named Jenny of Oldstones, later the subject of a beautiful song that Podrick sings in the only good episode of Thrones Season 8. Duncan loves Jenny, no matter her ignoble background, and when the combined authorities of the king, high septon, and Small Council force him to “choose between the Iron Throne and this wild woman of the woods,” The World of Ice & Fire says, he follows his heart.

As Barristan Selmy thinks in A Dance With Dragons, “The Prince of Dragonflies loved Jenny of Oldstones so much he cast aside a crown.” It’s Westeros’s version of Edward VIII leaving the British throne for Wallis Simpson, only if Edward had made that choice before becoming king.

Of course, the examples of Aemon and Duncan occur after the events of Dragon, so Aegon doesn’t have these precedents to consult—but Aegon himself flirts with a similar notion this episode, hoping to run away from King’s Landing rather than attend his own coronation. Yet once he wears the crown, with Blackfyre in his hand and a cheering crowd below him, he sure seems thrilled to be in such a powerful position. Even if abdication were a regular occurrence in Westeros, that taste of royalty might have changed Aegon’s once-hesitant mind.

Notice I said “in peacetime” above, however. Wartime comes with more examples of kings relinquishing their thrones. Back before Aegon the Conqueror united Westeros (except for Dorne—more on that in a moment), the continent was composed of individual kingdoms, each with its own ruler. But faced with Aegon’s dragons and certain destruction, some kings, most notably Torrhen Stark (known forever after as the King Who Knelt), set aside their royal claims.

Within Targaryen family history, there’s the possible precedent set by Maegor the Cruel—an abdication of sorts. Late in Maegor’s reign, amid all sorts of chaos we don’t have time to explore in detail here, Jaehaerys—a younger brother of Aegon the Uncrowned, whom Maegor had jumped in the line of succession to usurp the throne—put forth his own claim to the throne. A number of powerful houses sided with the young Targaryen challenger; Maegor’s days were clearly numbered.

But they came to an end earlier than expected, when Maegor died from wounds he suffered while sitting on the Iron Throne one night. Maegor was allegedly alone in the throne room, and Fire & Blood says the culprit behind Maegor’s death was never identified, though some theorized that the king “took his own life, twisting the blades as needed and opening his veins to spare himself the defeat and disgrace that surely awaited him.”

That’s a long way of saying: Yes, Aegon would in theory be allowed to decline the Iron Throne in the first place. But once he accedes to his mother and grandfather’s dictates and becomes the king, there’s no backing out unless an unwinnable war forces his hand.

Wesley asks about Viserys and Aegon being “referred to as ‘Lord of the Seven Kingdoms’ in this show. But wouldn’t it be Six Kingdoms since Dorne still has yet to join the Seven Kingdoms?”

The Westeros we know from Thrones actually includes nine regions, because George R.R. Martin likes to make his fictional world as intricately confusing as possible. Like some NCAA conferences whose names reflect their makeup when they were founded—hi, 10-team Big 12!—the realm is called the Seven Kingdoms because that’s how many existed at the time of Aegon the Conqueror’s conquest:

  1. The North
  2. The Vale
  3. The Westerlands
  4. The Reach
  5. The Stormlands
  6. Dorne
  7. The Isles and Rivers, ruled by House Hoare

After the conquest, Aegon split the Hoares’ holdings into the Iron Islands (ruled by House Greyjoy) and the Riverlands (ruled by House Tully). That makes eight “kingdoms.” He also established the Crownlands, with King’s Landing as its capital, giving Westeros nine distinct regions south of the Wall.

Despite all of that numerical hopscotch, the Targaryen monarchs—and later, Robert, Joffrey, and so on—were always called “Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms” for consistency’s sake, both before and after Dorne joined the collection.

For a non-NCAA real-world comp, the term “Seven Kingdoms” is linguistically like “Holy Roman Empire,” which was neither holy nor Roman nor an empire. The Seven Kingdoms aren’t individual kingdoms anymore—there’s only one king—and even if they were, there wouldn’t be seven of them.

Nathaniel asks: “Why are Jace and Luke such wimps? If Harwin Strong’s genetics were dominant enough to determine their appearance and throw succession into chaos, why are his kids sized more like hobbits?”

Hobbits? I think you’re asking about the wrong IP fantasy show. (We have plenty of harfoot-inclusive Rings of Power coverage if you desire.) But your point is well-taken—and I think this portrayal is an unfortunate byproduct of the confusing age quandary I mentioned last week.

After the time jumps, it seems like the show is lumping most of the next generation of Targaryens together in a tight age cohort (except young Joffrey, who must have been aged down to 6 years old, given that we see and have a firm timeline for his birth). Showrunner Ryan Condal said on the Inside the Episode segment after Episode 8 that the kids are “in the 17-to-21 age range.”

That’s a major change from the source text, because at the time of Viserys’s death in the book, Alicent’s children are:

  • Aegon, age 22
  • Helaena, age 20
  • Aemond, age 19
  • Daeron, age 15 (Daeron hasn’t been so much as mentioned in the show yet, but Martin says he is “down in Oldtown, we just did not have the time to work him in this season”)

Rhaenyra’s children with Laenor/Harwin, meanwhile, are:

  • Jacaerys, age 15
  • Lucerys, age 14
  • Joffrey, age 12

The only reason Jace and Luke are smaller than their uncles in the book is this age gap. In fact, in Fire & Blood, Jacaerys’s physique is actually one of the reasons people think Harwin Strong is his father. At one point in the text, Jace is described as “a large, strapping lad”; at another, he and Luke are described together as “strong and strapping lads, skilled in arms.”

So other than the fact that the show evidently shrunk the age gap between Alicent’s and Rhaenyra’s kids without also reducing their size differential, I can’t explain why, say, Aegon and Aemond so easily beat Jace and Luke in their fracas in Episode 8. I suppose it makes the latter seem more like underdogs against the greens, which would also fit the show’s decision to tilt audience sympathies in the blacks’ favor.

Michael asks: “Daenerys says in Game of Thrones that ‘fire cannot kill a dragon’ and we see her survive intense heat throughout that show, implying that Targaryens have immunity. How does this impact the current show? Are we supposed to believe that some of Team Green may have survived Meleys’ fire breath if she had attacked?”


Sorry to yell at you with an all-caps answer; I’m actually just quoting George R.R. Martin, who exclaimed as much when addressing this “common misconception” during a chat all the way back in 1999:

TARGARYENS ARE NOT IMMUNE TO FIRE! 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 her brother sure as hell wasn’t immune to that molten gold.

Daenerys survived the flames when her dragons were born thanks to a mysterious, magical mix of Mirri Maz Duur, sacrifice, and dragon eggs. Yet while Thrones decided to make Daenerys completely immune to fire to explain this experience, it’s more of a onetime thing in the books. During Drogon’s rescue of Daenerys from the fighting pit in Meereen, for instance, Daenerys thinks, “If I run from him, he will burn me and devour me.” Later, after escaping, she observes that due to Drogon’s flames, “Her skin was pink and tender, and a pale milky fluid was leaking from her cracked palms, but her burns were healing.”

And even if Daenerys were completely immune, her family sure isn’t. As Martin says in his chat answer, her brother Viserys died with a face full of molten gold, on both page and screen. And he’s far from the only Targaryen throughout history to show his susceptibility to intense heat.

Aerion Brightflame, one of Maester Aemon and Egg’s older brothers, thought he was a dragon in human form, drank a cup of wildfire to prove it, and died. The so-called tragedy at Summerhall involved a fire that killed a whole bunch of people, including Targaryens like the aforementioned Aegon V and Prince Duncan. And Jon Snow—secretly a half-Targaryen—burns his hand when he throws burning drapes onto a wight at Castle Black. The damage is so severe—the text says “his cracked red skin oozed fluid, and fearsome blood blisters rose between his fingers, big as roaches”—that he still feels lingering pain books later.

Heck, earlier in Dragon, Laena—who, remember, is Rhaenys Targaryen’s daughter—dies when she asks Vhagar to immolate her. This method of death is a show invention, so Dragon clearly wants to tell its audience that Targaryens are quite vulnerable to dragonfire. Had Meleys unleashed her flames, the greens would have died.