This article contains spoilers for Season 8, Episode 4 of “Game of Thrones.”
So your dragon was hit by weapons, swarmed by wights, chomped up and sent crashing to the ground or into the water? This, of course, is what happened to Dany and Jon’s faithful mounts, Drogon and Rhaegal, during the Battle of Winterfell in last week’s episode of “Game of Thrones,” and it just happened again on Sunday to poor Rhaegal.
Even dragons have limits, Dany. Maybe they should have gotten a little R ’n’ R in-between?
It’s never a good idea to take a wounded battle beast into another battle right away, even if it seems able to fly. Dany should have learned this after her first flight with Drogon: Dragons are pretty resilient, if given plenty of food and recuperation time, preferably in a very safe space. Not letting a dragon rest, however, is a recipe for disaster. Didn’t she see that Rhaegal was struggling to fly? He had holes in his wings!
[Read our recap of Season 8, Episode 4.]
If you’re going to rest your dragon, it probably shouldn’t happen in the North — snow and ice tends to make dragons peevish. If they’re able to fly, a change of scenery can be useful. Dragons thrive, for example, in seaside locales like Dragonstone. Also, given the prodigious amount of food a recovering dragon requires, a bountiful supply of fish can preclude any drain on the local livestock population. (While they were in the North, Drogon and Rhaegal were eating 18 goats and 11 sheep a day. And even that wasn’t nearly enough.)
But that seaside locale needs to be far away from disputed or hostile waters. That should have disqualified Dragonstone, which is hardly more than a stone’s throw from King’s Landing. Also, the flight from Winterfell to Dragonstone would be a very long and tiring one.
Not that she was planning to rest her babies there properly anyway.
Most of what we know about dragon trauma dates from the Targaryen civil war called the Dance of the Dragons, and the story of King Aegon II’s magnificent beast Sunfyre, said to be among the most beautiful dragons ever seen.
After one battle, both the king and his mount were gravely injured, with Sunfyre sustaining a torn wing that left it unable to fly. Since the dragon was too heavy to move, it had to be abandoned in the field, where at first it feasted on the carcasses of the slain, and then on the calves and sheep provided by the king’s guards left behind to protect the creature.
Before long, the king’s enemies came to slay Sunfyre, expecting to find it near death. But the dragon was only dozing, and the attackers’ first spear aroused it, drawing a blast of angry fire. Sunfyre struggled to fly away but was not yet strong enough and fell to the ground a few times.
After the few surviving attackers fled, the dragon, now doubly wounded, somehow managed to flee the scene — although it isn’t exactly clear how. There were no track marks to indicate dragging or crawling, and the dragon was thought unable to fly.
For six months, no one knew were Sunfyre was, but there were signs that it spent some of that time hidden away in some dark woods and caves near a remote fishing village. The dragon’s torn wing eventually healed enough for it to fly, although not very well and only for short distances. This recovery indicated that dragons, like bats, have a patagium membrane, which is fragile and prone to tearing, but also highly regenerative.
With time, Sunfyre was able to fly across to Blackwater Bay (killing another dragon en route and sustaining fresh injuries) and finally make its way back to Dragonstone, where it rejoined the recuperating King Aegon. And although Sunfyre had been maimed three times by this point, it nevertheless took to the sky every day with its rider, and together they both began regaining their strength.
Unfortunately, Sunfyre hadn’t completely healed when King Aegon tried to fly it into the Dragonstone castle — and yet another battle. Sound familiar?
In that battle, a much younger and faster dragon named Moondancer took Sunfyre down, nearly tearing its half-healed broken wing from its body, gouging out an eye and ripping mouthfuls of flesh from its neck. But when the two dragons finally fell to the ground, it was Moondancer who died and Sunfyre who lived, if barely.
Sunfyre never flew again and remained where it had fallen, feeding on Moondancer’s carcass, on slaughtered sheep and even on King Aegon’s main rival for the throne, his half sister Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen. (This was one of the more macabre historical moments Joffrey mentioned to Margaery Tyrell). As weeks passed, Sunfyre’s neck wounds began to fester and its dragon smoke took on a foul odor; eventually, it stopped eating altogether and died.
If Sunfyre had been allowed sufficient recovery time, it might have lived to breathe fire and snack on sheep for a long time. Dragons can live for hundreds of years when given food and freedom. And if Dany had applied that lesson to her own dragon-children, giving them the proper care instead of rushing to retake Dragonstone, a revived Rhaegal might have been able to take fresh injuries or handle evasive maneuvers.
So much for that idea. Rest in peace, Rhaegal.
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