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‘House of the Dragon’ Episode 6 Breakdown: Dragons, How Do They Work?

A spoiler-free deep dive into “The Princess and the Queen,” featuring info on how to hatch and bond with a dragon, what we missed with Laena and the Strongs, the latest on Larys, and more

Getty Images/HBO/Ringer illustration

One week; 10 years—House of the Dragon has jumped forward a decade. That temporal leap brings a lot of changes, including former children who have rapidly become teenagers. Some of these new princes and princesses have dragons, and some don’t, which brings up an important question: How do Targaryens get their dragons, anyway? Let’s look at what we know:

Deep Dive of the Week: How to Claim Your Dragon

The extended Targaryen family has exploded in the last 10 years. From Alicent and Viserys we get Aegon, Helaena, and Aemond. From Rhaenyra and “Laenor” we get Jacaerys, Lucerys, and Joffrey. And from Daemon and Laena we get Baela and Rhaena. That’s eight new Valyrian-blooded nobles to keep track of. However, not all of them are dragonriders.

In this episode, we learn that Aegon has a dragon, and see Jacaerys’s young dragon Vermax. We also learn that Baela has a dragon, though that one—Moondancer—goes unseen. It’s implied that Helaena and Lucerys are bonded with dragons, as Alicent mentions her surprise at the hatching of Rhaenyra’s children’s “eggs,” plural, and Aemond seems to be the odd one out among his siblings. So Aemond and Rhaena are confirmed to be dragonless. Those two take their lack of dragons particularly hard, prompting Alicent and Laena, respectively, to comfort them in this episode.

The origins of the relationship between Targaryens and dragons is poorly understood. Dating back to Old Valyria, dragons were thought to have some relationship with the Fourteen Flames, a chain of volcanoes around the Valyrian peninsula. The Valyrians say that dragons “sprang forth” from the Fourteen Flames, but dragon bones have been found in areas of the known world far from the Valyrian peninsula, and maesters in Westeros believe that dragons once roamed the continent.

Even if dragons once roamed much of the world freely, the Valyrians are the only ones to have tamed them. How did they do it? In A Dance With Dragons, Daenerys notes that to ride their dragons, the Valyrians of old would use “binding spells and sorcerous horns.” That explains only how Valyrians controlled their dragons in the air, not how they bonded with them. Septon Barth (who was hand of the king to Jaehaerys) wrote that he believed bloodmages in old Valyria used magic to alter wyverns and create dragons. Some ancient tales link the dragons to Asshai, claiming that an unnamed people brought the creatures to Valyria from the Shadow Lands. And the ex-Valyrians themselves believe they were actually descended from dragons, and that it was their kinship with dragons that allowed for the bond between them.

Whatever the exact nature of the relationship between the Valyrians and dragons, that knowledge was lost after the Doom of Valyria, a cataclysmic event that completely destroyed the Valyrian Freehold within hours. The Targaryens were the only dragonlords to survive, having fled the peninsula years earlier after one Targaryen had a prophetic dream of the coming apocalypse. They resided on Dragonstone—but they apparently didn’t bring a comprehensive history of dragonriding with them.

Like Old Valyria, Dragonstone is home to a volcano: Dragonmont. The steam that rises from the volcano’s vents is what gives Dragonstone a constantly smoky, foggy appearance. The castle at Dragonstone wasn’t built by the Targaryens, but by other Valyrians before the Targaryens ever got there, as a western outpost for the Freehold. This location next to a volcano, it seems, was picked intentionally. And by the time of Viserys’s reign, Dragonmont’s lairs and caverns are home to wild dragons—as well as many unhatched eggs. It’s known that dragons thrive on Dragonstone.

When the Targaryens fled to Dragonstone, they brought with them five dragons, one of which was Balerion, the dragon that Aegon the Conqueror would later ride to Westeros. New dragons hatched on Dragonstone as the Targaryens spent a century there before the Conquest. But how Targaryens like Aegon, Visenya, and Rhaenys paired with their dragons is largely unknown—Fire & Blood largely skips over those details to get to the conquering.

As the book describes how the Targaryen dynasty got going in Westeros, we learn more about how dragon and rider were matched. King Aenys, for example, was a sickly babe when he was introduced to Quicksilver, a hatchling. After those two bonded, the young prince’s condition improved. However, his brother Maegor waited to claim a dragon until their father, Aegon, had died, so that Maegor could call dibs on Balerion the Black Dread. It isn’t until the account of how Rhaena Targaryen—the daughter of Aenys—placed eggs in the cradles of Jaehaerys and Alysanne that we learn of Targaryens getting matched with eggs, rather than dragons who had already hatched.

That brings us to the current era of the Targaryen dynasty. Fire & Blood, however, is a bit inconsistent on how Targaryens in this era bond with their dragons. The book says that during the reign of King Viserys, it became “customary for the fathers and mothers of newborn princelings to place a dragon’s egg in their cradles.” Yet the book also implies that Aegon, Helaena, and Aemond didn’t receive eggs in their cradles, as Aegon’s dragon, Sunfyre, hatches at Dragonmont. While all three of these kids could have had eggs in their cradles that didn’t hatch—if what Laena says about half the eggs not hatching is true, the coin flip could have come up tales three times in a row—it’s unlikely.

Things are different for Rhaenyra’s children. All three of her sons get an egg in the cradle, “by royal decree,” per Fire & Blood. But the book presents this as being less about tradition and more about quieting rumors about the boys’ parentage. “Those who doubted the paternity of Rhaenyra’s sons whispered that the eggs would never hatch,” Fire & Blood continues. “But the birth in turn of three young dragons gave the lie to their words.”

This line in the book is echoed by Alicent in this episode, when she tells Viserys, “It’s a wonder to me their eggs ever hatched.” But the logic in both the book and the show is bizarre. Sure, Rhaenyra’s children are not the trueborn sons of her husband, Laenor, but the eggs don’t know that. Rhaenyra’s children have virtually as much Targaryen blood as Alicent’s do.

And the blood certainly seems to be important. Throughout all this history, the only dragonriders we learn of have Targaryen ancestry. Even Valyrian blood alone isn’t enough—while the Velaryons trace their lineage to Old Valyria, they were not dragonriders. Laenor and Laena have mounts because their mother is Rhaenys Targaryen; Corlys himself is dragonless.

But why do some eggs hatch and some don’t? Why do some dragons take riders and others don’t? The bottom line is that the magic that binds dragon to dragonrider is about as mysterious to the Targaryens as it is to us. After the dragons go extinct, a number of dragonless Targaryens go on to accidentally get themselves killed trying to revive the species. There is just a lot of opacity here, even though dragons are at the center of this universe.

Quick Hits

RIP, Laena

Laena isn’t served well by House of the Dragon’s time jump. She very briefly flirts with Daemon at Rhaenyra’s wedding in Episode 5, and by the opening of this episode, Laena and Daemon are themselves married with two kids and a third on the way. Plus, she’s riding Vhagar, the largest and oldest dragon in the realm. Laena must be a special kind of badass to tame two of the most ferocious beasts in Westeros, yet we don’t really get to see any of that.

Fire & Blood doesn’t have much more info to share on Laena. The book stresses that Laena loved flying—in her final moments in the book she goes to Vhagar to attempt one last flight, not to self-immolate. It also emphasizes her friendship with Rhaenyra. Laena, Daemon, and Rhaenyra would all frequently fly together in Fire & Blood, and Rhaenyra is actually present for the birth depicted in this episode, having flown to Laena to help attend to her through the pregnancy.

On House of the Dragon, Laena and Rhaenyra virtually never interact with each other. And now the show is moving on from her character entirely.

What were Daemon and Laena doing in Pentos?

Daemon meets Laena a little differently in Fire & Blood, and the book’s version of events may explain how the couple came to find themselves across the Narrow Sea in this episode. In the book, Daemon is in exile from King’s Landing and ruling his small “kingdom” of islands in the Stepstones when he receives word of Rhea Royce’s death in a hunting accident—for which it seems impossible for him to have been present. He flies back to Runestone to lay claim to Rhea’s inheritance and is exiled from the Vale as well. From there he doesn’t have many places left to go, and before making his way back to the Stepstones he stops in Driftmark to visit Corlys, one of the few people in Westeros who would welcome him.

There he meets Laena, falls in love (or at least in love with the idea of a good match to save his failing reputation), and asks Corlys if he can marry her. But Laena is already betrothed to a derelict Braavosi. Daemon insults the Braavosi so provocatively that he has no choice but to duel the prince, and Daemon cuts him down. He marries Laena a fortnight later.

Here, Daemon and Laena find themselves in a sort of limbo. Daemon’s marriage requires him to abandon the Stepstones—which, as this episode details, causes issues for the Iron Throne. Daemon was already in exile after the rumors regarding him and Rhaenyra, and he’s only made things worse by marrying Laena and ditching the place he was supposed to defend for his brother.

So Daemon and Laena flee Westeros and basically go on a tour of the free cities, with stops in Pentos, Qohor, and Norvos. It’s in Pentos that Laena finds out she’s pregnant and gives birth to their twin daughters, Baela and Rhaena. And it’s also in Pentos that the prince of the city asks Daemon and Laena for help in defending against the growing power of the Triarchy—an alliance among the cities of Lys, Myr, and Tyrosh—to the south.

After Baela and Rhaena are born, however, the stories diverge. In Fire & Blood, Daemon and Laena return to Driftmark after the birth of the twins, and Daemon reconciles with Viserys when he asks permission to bring the girls to court for a royal blessing. At High Tide, Rhaenyra frequently flies with her uncle and his wife, becoming close with the two. Thus the birth depicted in this episode happens on Driftmark, not Pentos.

All of this is to say, don’t expect Daemon to stick around in Pentos. He already seemed less than happy there when Laena was alive, and there are many more exciting things happening back in Westeros.

RIP, Lyonel and Harwin

Lyonel and Harwin don’t benefit from the time jump either. We miss almost all of Lyonel’s time as Viserys’s hand, as well as the entirety of Harwin’s relationship with Rhaenyra. Now both are dead, thanks to Larys—of whom we’ve also seen very little.

There is a great irony to Lyonel’s and Harwin’s demises. In Episode 3, while on the royal hunt, Lyonel counsels Viserys on Rhaenyra’s marriage prospects. Viserys assumes Lyonel will put forward his son, Harwin, as a match for the princess, much as Otto Hightower put forward his own grandson. Lyonel instead pushes for Laenor, which is the match that ultimately ends up taking place. This was seen—by Viserys as well as, I suspect, much of the audience—as proof of how sage and selfless Lyonel’s counsel was.

Yet if Rhaenyra had married Harwin instead, the Seven Kingdoms may have been in much better shape. Yes, that decision would have meant spurning the Velaryons yet again—and they aren’t good enemies to have—but it also would have meant trueborn children and therefore a more secure claim to the throne for Rhaenyra. And while the Strongs don’t boast the might of the Velaryons, they do control Harrenhal, making them a powerful enough house to marry into the royal family. Plus, if Viserys had also followed Lyonel’s advice to himself marry Laena—icky as that would have been—then the realm really would have been secure.

From what little we saw of them, Lyonel and Harwin seemed like decent people. But decent people don’t often thrive in Westeros.

Larys’s sigil

This episode closes on one of Fire & Blood’s mysteries. F&B narrator Maester Gyldayn doesn’t know who started the fire at Harrenhal—no one does—or if it was truly just an accident. But there are several suspects in the books, including Daemon, Viserys, Corlys, and Larys himself.

This episode both confirms that it was Larys and shows how he covered his tracks. Larys is a “confessor” for King Viserys—which basically means he is a court-sanctioned torturer. As such, he’s able to arrange the release of several inmates from the Red Keep’s dungeon, on the condition that they help him with his family problems—and that they also give up their tongues.

But while Larys takes these elaborate steps to prevent anyone from learning of his scheme, he also gives these assassins a pin with the very symbol he has on his walking staff:

What is that emblem, anyway? House Strong doesn’t have an animal-themed sigil like the Starks’ direwolf or the Lannisters’ lion, and the other Strong characters aren’t seen with this thing. It appears to be personal to Larys.

My first guess is that this is a honeybee, based on this musing by Mushroom in Fire & Blood: “Was there ever a man as devious as the Clubfoot? Oh, he would have made a splendid fool, that one. The words dripped from his lips like honey from a comb, and never did poison taste so sweet.”

But apparently it’s a firefly:

There’s no connection between Larys, House Strong, and fireflies. For that matter, there’s no connection to fireflies and anything significant in Westeros. Fireflies are occasionally described in the books, but just as a way for George R.R. Martin to set a scene.

This leaves the sigil in the same place as Larys’s motivations: completely shrouded in mystery. Hopefully we’ll learn more about both soon.

Westeros’s complicated genetics

Viserys tells a story in this episode about how a black stallion and a silver mare produced a chestnut foal to try to deflect Alicent’s accusations about Rhaenyra’s children. Unfortunately for him, genetics in Westeros seem a bit less complicated than they do in real life.

Harwin’s dark brown hair has completely overwhelmed Rhaenyra’s own genetics, producing three brown-haired boys. This echoes how, in Game of Thrones, Ned was tipped off to the true parentage of King Robert’s children because every Baratheon who’d ever married a Lannister had produced children with black hair, while Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen had the blond hair associated with House Lannister. (This was also confirmed by how all of Robert’s bastard children resembled him, but his “trueborn” kids didn’t have his look.)

Meanwhile, the same hasn’t been true for Alicent’s children. Alicent has deep auburn hair, yet all three of her children have the bright platinum locks of House Targaryen. What are the chances that Rhaenyra would go 0-for-3 on silver hair while Alicent would go 3-for-3?

It may seem like whenever someone’s parentage is in dispute, their hair is there to give them away. But the truth is a bit more complicated.

There are plenty of instances in the series when the genetics haven’t been as straightforward—including cases involving Targaryens. Most famously, the not-really-bastard-born Jon Snow ended up with coal-black hair even though his father was Rhaegar Targaryen and his mother Lyanna Stark. Rhaegar’s daughter with Elia Martell—another Rhaenys Targaryen—also had dark hair, while their infant son Aegon is described as having “fair” hair. Duncan Targaryen, the son of Aegon V, had dark hair. Baelor Breakspear Targaryen, the son of Daeron II, had dark hair to match his mother, Myriah Martell. Even Rhaenys, whose mother was Jocelyn Baratheon, has pitch-black hair in the books; House of the Dragon swapped that out for silver hair, presumably so viewers could easily identify that she is in fact a Targaryen. Aegor Bittersteel Rivers and Steffon Baratheon are more characters with Targaryen heritage who inherit dark hair.

But these exceptions and complexities don’t change the fact that genetics in Westeros are just downright weird. Shoot, the first member of House Baratheon was Orys Baratheon, widely believed to be a bastard half-brother to Aegon the Conqueror. Yet Orys had the signature black hair and eyes that he apparently passed down for generations. If he’s half Targaryen, shouldn’t there be some platinum-haired members of his house somewhere in the family tree?

In Westeros, families somehow retain their traits across countless generations. By the time of Thrones, Baratheons have been intermarrying with other houses of the realm for centuries, so one would think they would have other hair colors in the mix besides black. The Starks retain the long faces and brown hair that are said to have been in their house going back thousands of years, yet the Tully characteristics overwhelm the Stark features in four out of Ned and Cat’s five children. Are we to believe that thousands of years of the “Stark look” are coming to an end because of one seemingly strong-gened Tully? Many other houses have their own signature characteristics that have seemingly been passed down for generations.

Simply put, genetics in Westeros don’t make much sense. Some traits appear to be way too strong, and others too weak. And most importantly, some traits are way too convenient. Rhaenyra getting three dark-haired children while Alicent gets three silver-haired ones raises the tension in King’s Landing and helps set the stage for the upcoming civil war. If Rhaenyra had gotten a silver-haired babe or two and one or two of Alicent’s children had inherited her auburn locks, then the strife over Rhaenyra ascending the throne and hand-wringing over the parentage of her children would be much more limited. This is a fantasy story. Sometimes the rules of genetics have to bend a bit to make room for the plot.

A new Small Council

Viserys’s Small Council has changed a little bit over the past decade. Maester Mellos wasn’t seen in this episode, and his place on the council appears to have been filled by Maester Orwyle, who was first seen briefly in Episode 5. Mellos should still be alive if the show is sticking with Fire & Blood’s timeline, but he could have died between episodes just to move things along. Lyman Beesbury—mentioned in Episode 1—is still the realm’s master of coin, though he doesn’t seem so competent in that role anymore. Beesbury first served under Jaehaerys, and he should be in his 70s at this point, which may explain why he can’t keep up with the conversation in the room. Tyland Lannister also remains on the council as the master of ships.

Alicent and Rhaenyra are not formal members of the Small Council, but they sit in on the meetings all the same. They appear to increasingly be taking opposite sides in disputes as well; in this episode, they disagree on an issue in the Riverlands involving our old friends the Brackens and the Blackwoods.

But now, with the deaths of Lyonel and Harwin, two seats are open. Viserys will need a new hand, and the short list remains much the same as it was the last time this position was open. Corlys has the experience for the job but is perhaps too ambitious. Daemon is the king’s brother … but he’s also Daemon. An existing council member such as Tyland or Orwyle could fill the role. Larys himself could be considered, but that would be a massive promotion for a guy whose experience so far appears to be mostly in torture. Otto could also get the call … though Viserys already dismissed him once.

Harwin served as commander of the City Watch. While not typically a Small Council position, we saw Daemon sitting on the council early in the series, and this role is important regardless. Daemon returning to this position seems beneath his station at this point—but there are really no other candidates for the job that we know of.

New dragons enter the fold

This episode introduced us to Vhagar, who is even more enormous than could have been imagined:

We also learn of many other dragons, as detailed above. As it stands, here’s the full list of dragonriders and their mounts in Westeros:

  • Rhaenyra and Syrax
  • Daemon and Caraxes
  • Rhaenys and Meleys
  • Laenor and Seasmoke
  • Aegon and Sunfyre (not yet seen on screen)
  • Jacaerys and Vermax (bonded but not yet flying)
  • Helaena and Dreamfyre (not confirmed but heavily implied to exist by Alicent)
  • Lucerys and Arrax (not confirmed but heavily implied to exist by Alicent)
  • Baela and Moondancer (not yet seen on screen)

It’s unclear which dragon Aemond sees in the Dragonpit—it may have been Sunfyre, or an unknown dragon that is without a rider. And with Laena’s death, Vhagar is also once again riderless.

New additions to the opening credits

The time jump also gave us some altered opening credits. First, we have a sigil for Daemon, sporting his helmet:

And then one that I would guess represents Laena, though I haven’t caught how this symbol is supposed to signify her:

After that, it’s their two children, Baela and Rhaena:

Rhaenyra’s three sons are also represented:

That seems to be all the changes here for now. Perhaps future episodes will have sigils for the children of Viserys and Alicent … and any new additions to the family tree that come along.

Family Tree Watch

The family tree has greatly expanded since Episode 5, and it’s time to add all the children mentioned above:

In the books, Alicent and Viserys have one more child, a son named Daeron. He’s supposed to be only a few years younger than Aemond, so he should have been born already. It may be that the showrunners are cutting Daeron from the series entirely, though this would be a perplexing choice as the young prince plays an important role in the books. It could be that he’s getting the Stannis treatment and won’t appear until Season 2, but we have yet to get an explanation for why he isn’t on screen. At any rate, I’m leaving him off the family tree until his existence on the show is confirmed.

Next Time On …

Here’s our glimpse at next week:

The knives we were promised are coming out. And it looks like Otto will reenter the picture.