House of the Dragon: Balerion the Black Dread, explained

Balerion the Black Dread in House of the DragonHBO

One of the biggest scenes in House of the Dragon Episode 1 takes place in front of the skull of Balerion the Black Dread, the scariest dragon in Game of Thrones.

Dragons were first seen at the end of Game of Thrones Season 1. After Khal Drago killed Prince Viserys and died, Daenerys walked into the flames set on his funeral pyre, and emerged with three dragons that hatched from their eggs in the flames. She was thereby Mother of Dragons.

House of the Dragon, chronicling the Targaryen civil war prior to the Mad King, will feature 17 dragons, two of which appear in the opening episode: Syrax and Caraxes.

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However, in a key scene towards Episode 1’s end, King Viserys (Paddy Considine) and Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) stand before a huge dragon skull. This was Balerion.

Spoilers for House of the Dragon Episode 1 to follow…

House of the Dragon: Which dragon is Balerion?

So far, we’ve only seen Balerion in the form of his skull. He’s one of the most important dragons in the history of Game of Thrones, especially in the legacy of House Targaryen.

Balerion (also known as the Black Dread) was ridden by Aegon I Targaryen (also known as the Conqueror) during his conquest of Westeros, in which he became the first ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. It was believed this stemmed from a conflict with the Storm King Argilac, but Episode 1 reframes it with a major “Song of Ice and Fire” bombshell.

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Named after an ancient god of the Valyrian Freehold (an area that encompassed much of Essos, the eastern continent of The Known World), he was one of five dragons who traveled to Dragonstone with Aenar Targaryen. The rest of them died, leaving Balerion alone with the Targaryens.

House of the Dragon: How big was Balerion?

Balerion was the largest of all Targaryen dragons since Aegon’s conquest, with a wingspan so large that his shadow could engulf entire towns as he flew overhead.

As per the Wiki of Ice and Fire, “his teeth were as long as swords, and his jaws were large enough to swallow an aurochs whole, or even one of the hairy mammoths that are said to roam the cold wastes beyond the Port of Ibben.”

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Appearance-wise, he had dark wings and scales and breathed black fire, capable of melting steel and stone, and fusing sand into glass. “His fire was as black as his scales, his wings so vast that whole towns were swallowed up in their shadow when he passed overhead,” Daenerys said in A Clash of Kings.

House of the Dragon: What happened to Balerion?

Aegon flew Balerion during his conquest, using the dragon to destroy Harrenhal and claim victory in the Field of Fire. Without Balerion, it’s possible Aegon wouldn’t have caused the extinction of House Hoare and Gardener, as well as the ascensions of House Tully, Tyrell, and Lannister.

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Over the following years, Aegon employed Balerion to avenge the deaths of Rhaenys and her dragon Meraxes, as well as using his flames to forge enemies’ swords into the Iron Throne.

Balerion claimed by Prince Maegor following Aegon’s death, who used the dragon to burn down the Sept of Remembrance, as well as later killing his nephew Prince Aegon and his dragon Quicksilver.

In the wake of Maegor’s death, Viserys (the same Viserys played by Considine in the show) was the last Targaryen to bond with Balerion. After his carnage over the decades, Balerion died of old age.

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House of the Dragon Episode 2 will air on August 28 in the US and August 29 in the UK.