What kills dragons?
How do you kill a dragon? Dragonslaying in Game of Thrones and Myth
Let’s face it: as much as we love the dragons on Game of Thrones, there’s a very good chance we’ll see at least one of them bite the dust before seasons 7 and 8 are over. After all, the direwolves haven’t exactly faired well over the course of the series, so fellow magical creatures Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion had better beware.
They won’t go down easy, of course. Dragons are notoriously difficult to kill, and dragonslayers rarely get more than one shot before being barbecued or eaten. In this post, we take a look at the dragonslaying methods available to the characters on the show. Then, we’ll take a tour through world mythology and discuss various tactics employed against dragons and their kin, such as Wyverns, Sea Serpents, Sirrush, Basilisks, Cockatrices and Qilin.
So, how do you kill a dragon?
GAME OF THRONES
Behold a giant freaking crossbow
Daenerys Targaryen and her allies have the Lannisters in their sights, but Queen Cersei is prepared. In “Stormborn,” Qyburn showed her a monster crossbow that is probably better described as a ballista. Can what is essentially an oversized spear, hurled with great force, mortally wound a dragon?
The potential is there. Though he was considerably smaller at the time, Drogon was seriously wounded by spears thrown by the Sons of the Harpy in “The Dance of Dragons” (S5/Ep9). And when Cersei and Qyburn test the ballista on the huge skull of Balerion the Black Dread, it hits with devastating force.
From Martin’s books, we have the story of Serwyn of the Mirror Shield, who slew the dragon Urrax by confusing the beast with his reflective shield and creeping close enough to spear him through the eye (this tactic also comes up in story of the ancient Greek hero Perseus). One of Aegon the Conqueror’s great she-dragons, Meraxes, was killed when struck in the eye by an iron bolt fired from a scorpion, a device similar to a ballista.
According to the histories, it is possible to kill a dragon with a spear if you hit in in the eye. That’s a tall order on a battlefield when the target is flying around and attacking you with its fiery breath. Great skill and greater luck would be required.
Historia Regum Britanniae 15th Century Britons Vortigern and Ambros watch two dragons fight Wikimedia Commons
Enemy Dragons and the legend of Dragonbinder
Dragons fought one another during the Targaryen civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons, which took place about 170 years before the events of Game of Thrones. Since Daenerys is currently the only person in the known world who possesses dragons, one of the only way these beasts might be turned against one another is through the use of the legendary Dragonbinder.
Dragonbinder, also known as the hellhorn, is an enormous dragon horn marked with Valyrian glyphs. It is said that anyone who sounds the horn will die, but any dragon who hears its call will obey the horn’s master. In the Song of Ice and Fire novels, Euron Greyjoy is believed to be in possession of the Dragonbinder, having found it in the ruins of Valyria. Once he finds a willing victim to blow it, he might be able to turn one or more of Daenerys’ dragons against one another.
However, neither Dragonbinder now any horn that might be Dragonbinder has shown up on Game of Thrones yet, so this option is probably out.
Lock ‘Em Up and Let ‘Em Waste Away
Another method of dragon killing appears to be imprisonment. After Aegon Targaryen III emerged victorious in the Dance of the Dragons, he had all the surviving beasts chained up. They apparently died in captivity. However, Daenerys’ two dragons, Rhaegal and Viserion, survived a long imprisonment in Meereen, although they did not grow as much as their brother Drogon — as Tyrion notes, confining dragons to a small space stunts their growth. It is also rumored that the dragons locked up by Aegon III were actually poisoned by the maesters, who hate all forms of magic.
So, what are the current odds for a Westerosi dragonslayer?
Right now, it looks like Qyburn’s gargantuan crossbow offers Cersei the best opportunity to fell a dragon. But does she have other options? Since dragonslaying is such a popular theme in ancient mythology, let’s dive into the chaoskampf and check out how heroes throughout the ages have killed the drakon (Greek for “dragon, serpent of huge size, water-snake.”)
Great serpent beasts appear in the earliest oral and written histories from Sumeria, Babylon, Greece and and many others. Almost all of these ancient stories portray gods or demi-gods destroying the serpents by using their superhuman strength, such as via clubbing (the Greek Heracles) or choking (the Armenian Vahagn). More godly dragonslayers make appearances below, but we’re more interested in their methods than their superpowers.
Godly Arrows: Apollo and Python (Ancient Greece)
Avenging an insult to his mother Leto by the ancient Greek gods, Apollo pursued the serpent Python from Mount Parnassus to the oracle of Gaia at Delphi. He slew Python with his arrows. This is the closest we might get to a ballista — can a giant crossbow be drawn with the strength and accuracy of the bow of one of the greatest Greek gods? Probably not.
Turning the Beast to Stone: Perseus and Cetus (Ancient Greece)
Perseus was the greatest killer of monsters in the times before Heracles. He was also more creative than some of his predecessors. In order to slay Medusa (a Gorgon with snakes for hair who could turn a man or beast to stone with a look), Perseus came equipped with a magical sack, an adamantine sword, Hades’ helm of Darkness (concealment), winged shoes, and a polished shield.
When Perseus arrived at the Gorgons’ cave, he approached the sleeping Medusa by watching her reflection on his shield. He cut off her head, whereupon both Pegasus the winged horse and the sword Chrysaor burst from her neck. Perseus bagged Medusa’s head. Later on his journey, he espied the beautiful naked Andromeda chained to a rock and guarded by the sea serpent Cetus. In some versions of the tale Pereus, kills Cetus with Chrysaor and saves Andromeda. Other versions allow him more creativity, and describe how he lowers the unbagged head of Medusa for Cetus to see — the sea monster instantly turns to stone and sinks into the depths of the ocean.
The Death of Beowulf 1910 by John Henry Fredrick Bacon
A Good old Sword, swung well: Beowulf and the Dragon (Old English)
Fifty years after his legendary slaying of the monster Grendel (and Grendel’s mother), the Geatish Beowulf found his kingdom under attack by a dragon. Setting out with only one companion, Wiglaf, Beowulf pursued the dragon back to its lair. Beowulf managed to kill the creature with his seax ( a Germanic knife or sword of the Early Middle Ages). Unfortunately, the dragon was able to wound Beowulf with one of its poisonous horns, and the great hero died.
To stay up to date on everything Game of Thrones, follow our all-encompassing Facebook page and sign up for our exclusive newsletter.
Sigurd slaying Fafnir, illustration in Old Norse stories, 1900
The Sword and the Pit: Sigurd against Fafnir (Old Norse)
Sigurd was a hero of Norse mythology who slew Fafnir, a murderer who had been turned into a dragon by a cursed ring. After forging a sword (Gram) that could cut through an anvil, Sigurd digs a pit, lures Fafnir into it, and stabs him to death. Sigurd bathes in the dragon’s blood, which makes him invulnerable. He also drinks the blood, and its magical properties allow him to understand the language of birds.
Susanoo Slaying the Yamato no Orochi ca. 1870s by Toyohara Chikanobu
Drunk as a Lord: Susanoo vs. Orochi (Ancient Japan)
After being kicked out of heaven for his trickery, the Shinto storm god Susanoo-no-Mikoto lands on earth to find two local deities weeping. He discovers that they have been forced to sacrifice one daughter every year for eight years to the huge eight-headed Yamata no Orochi (“eight-forked serpent”). Susanoo orders eight platforms be built and on each platform placed a huge vat full of “eight-fold” liquor. The Orochi arrives, drinks from the vats, and falls into a stupor. Susanoo then cuts Orochi to pieces.
Death by Sea Foam: Vritra and Indra (Ancient India)
In early Vedic religious lore, Vritra was a gigantic demon dragon as big as the mountains and as tall as the sky, and its thirst caused a global drought. The hero rises in the form of Indra, the future king of the gods, who swears to save the world. The early Vedic version has Indra killing Vritra with a massive thunderbolt, but the later Puranic version is much more interesting. There, Indra and Vritra battle to a draw and a truce is brokered: Indra swears that he will not attack the dragon during the day or night, and that he will not use a weapon made of metal, wood or stone, or anything dry or wet.
Indra finds a loophole in the contract, attacking at twilight (between night and day) and using sea foam (neither wet nor dry but both) as a weapon. The god Vishnu enters the sea foam to ensure its effectiveness, and Vritra is destroyed.
The Wawel dragon, in Sebastian Münster’s Cosmographie Universalis (1544)
Sheep Grenades: the Cobbler’s Apprentice Skuba versus the Wawel Dragon (Polish)
This is a good one. In ancient Poland, the Wawel dragon was said to make its lair at the foot of Wawel Hill in Krakow. In a later version, the dragon demands to eat young maidens, and the King — having already seen his best knights incinerated — offers his beautiful daughter Wanda’s hand in marriage to anyone who can destroy the beast.
A poor cobbler’s apprentice named Skuba stuffs a lamb full of smoldering sulfur and ties it to a stake at the foot of Wawel Hill. The dragon eats the lamb and immediately races down to the Vistula River to slake his sudden, burning thirst. The beast swallows half the river, but nothing quenches his agony, and he continued drinking until he exploded. Skuba and Wanda were wed, though there is no mention of dragon steaks being served at the reception feast.
St. George and the Dragon Carpaccio 1516
The Magic Girdle: Saint George and the Dragon (Georgian)
According to the 10th Century Golden Legend, the Libyan city of Silene was being threatened by a plague-bearing dragon. The people had to sacrifice two sheep a day to appease it, and when they ran out of sheep, they had to start sacrificing their children.
The children were selected by lottery, and one day, the king’s daughter drew the short straw. Saint George came riding by and seriously wounded the dragon with his lance. When the dragon continued to attack, St. George shouted for the princess to throw him her girdle. Once he strapped the girdle around the dragon, it became docile as a lamb. Once the people of Silene converted to Christianity, St. George slew the dragon.
La Belle Dam Sans Merci by Sir Frank Dicksee Wikipedia Commons
Blinded by the Light: Gerolde against many Dragons (British)
Though not as famous as Saint George, Gerolde was also known as a successful dragonkiller in the Dark Ages. Gerolde’s deadly trick was to polish his armor to a gleaming sheen and attack at midday, so the sun’s reflection would blind the dragons and allow him to “impale” them on his “long lance.”
Gerolde wasn’t the brightest knight, however. He received so many ribbons and garlands from appreciative lords and peasants that he decided to make a glorious robe out of them. He wore the robe battling another dragon and the overcoat prevented his armor from reflecting the sunlight (which was already weakened by overcast skies), and the fire-breathing dragon reduced him to ashes. He was buried with the Latin epitaph “Never wrap yourself in a flag when you go forth to slay dragons.”
Daniel in the Lions’ Den Sir Peter Paul Rubens 1615
Poison Desserts: Daniel and the Dragon
While visiting the court of Cyrus, the king of the Persians, Daniel finds himself facing an animal being treated as a god, “a great dragon that the Babylonians revered.” Daniel bakes a mixture of pitch, fat and hair into a form of barley-cakes. The dragon eats the deadly cakes and his stomach bursts, killing him.
The infuriated Babylonians demand Cyrus turn over custody of Daniel to them. Cyrus relents, and the Babylonians sentence Daniel to death by being thrown into a lion’s den. Daniel survives for seven days untouched by the lions, so Cyrus sets him free and tosses in the Babylonians, who are immediately consumed.
(Note: this story text only exists in Greek, as the 14th chapter of the extended Book of Daniel)
If Cersei sticks to the Westerosi script, it looks like her best bet for killing Dany’s dragons is Qyburn’s crossbow. If she could read our list, she could probably rule out using Gorgon heads, sea foam, pits, booze and girdles. Swords might be an option, but only magical ones.
But options still remain to her. For example, the Lannisters may quickly become aware that Dany’s dragons require very large amounts of food. If Drogon starts raiding the countryside for sheep again, what’s stopping Cersei from planting a big, vulnerable herd of sheep doped with gallons of the Tears of Lys, or turned into potential explosives, stuffed full of sulfur packets floating in wildfire?
Dragonbinder, if it appears, could also be a game changer. But from where I’m sitting, the best way to kill a dragon in Game of Thrones is to use a sheep grenade.
Here’s How Rhaenyra Targaryen Eventually Dies on ‘House of the Dragon’
Thanks to everything that happens on House of the Dragon taking place hundreds of years before Game of Thrones, the entire show is basically one giant spoiler. Meaning, we know exactly what’s going to happen on HotD—including how Rhaenyra Targaryen eventually dies. The bad news: Now that we’re approaching the season 1 finale, it does seem like this could happen at…basically any time. The even worse news: She doesn’t exactly die of old age in her bed. Like, her death is so shocking that someone legit gouges out their eyes while watching it go down.
It goes without saying that everything you’re about to read is a SPOILER, so buckle up. But honestly, if you watched Game of Thrones, you’ve been spoiled anyway ’cause…
Joffrey (the First One) Fully Revealed How Rhaenyra Dies
The moment happens in season 3, episode 4, “And Now His Watch Is Ended,” when Joffrey Lannister is chilling with Margaery Tyrell and giddily explains, “Rhaenyra Targaryen was murdered by her brother, or rather, his dragon. It ate her while her son watched. What’s left of her is buried in the crypts right down there.”
Like, okay, Joffrey, calm down!
Meanwhile, Shireen (Stannis Baratheon’s daughter who he later burned at the stake) also does some more general spoiling during Game of Thrones season 5, episode 9, “The Dance of the Dragons.” As she puts it, “It’s the story of the fight between Rhaenyra Targaryen and her half-brother Aegon for control of the Seven Kingdoms. Both of them thought they belonged on the Iron Throne. When people started declaring for one of them or the other, their fight divided the kingdoms in two. Brothers fought brothers. Dragons fought dragons. By the time it was over, thousands were dead. And it was a disaster for the Targaryens as well. They never truly recovered.”
So, What *Specifically* Happens to Rhaenyra?
According to Fire & Blood (the source material for House of the Dragon by George R. R. Martin ), Rhaenyra’s half-brother Aegon II has her killed and eaten by his dragon. Classic sibling behavior!
TL;DR: Rhaenyra and her uncle-husband Prince Daemon fight for her place on the Iron Throne once King Viserys dies, which we’re about to see unfold now that, in the show, Viserys has officially passed away. That’s a problem because Queen Alicent desperately wants her eldest son Aegon II to be king, even though he sucks. This leads us to the ~Dance of the Dragons~, a long and very bloody fight for the Iron Throne that we’re currently seeing play out on House of the Dragon.
The good news for those of us who are Team Rhaenyra? She eventually does take the throne. For, like, a minute. Unfortunately, there’s a huge amount of unrest and rioting in King’s Landing once she gets there—which peaks when Princess Helaena (the sister-wife of Aegon II who’s beloved by “small folk”) takes her own life.
Rhaenyra ends up having to flee King’s Landing, and upon making it back to Dragonstone, she realizes (1) she’s been betrayed, (2) all her loyal followers are dead, and (3) Aegon II is already there. Not great, and apparently her first words to him are, “Dear brother. I had hoped that you were dead.”
Things only get worse when Aegon straight-up has his dragon Sunfyre kill and eat Rhaenyra—in front of her last remaining child Prince Aegon the Younger. To quote Fire & Blood:
“Sunfyre, it is said, did not seem at first to take any interest in the offering, until Broome pricked the queen’s breast with his dagger. The smell of blood roused the dragon, who sniffed at Her Grace, then bathed her in a blast of flame, so suddenly that Ser Alfred’s cloak caught fire as he leapt away. Rhaenyra Targaryen had time to raise her head toward the sky and shriek out one last curse upon her half-brother before Sunfyre’s jaws closed round her, tearing off her arm and shoulder.”
In case that’s not enough gory detail for you, Sunfyre apparently “devoured the queen in six bites,” leaving only her “left leg below the shin.” A scene so horrifying that one of Rhaenyra’s ladies-in-waiting fully gouged out her own eyes at the sight of it, while Prince Aegon the Younger was so stunned that he was “unable to move.”
And…that’s it. But fun fact: Prince Aegon later, and super ironically, ends up inheriting the throne, which is a story for another time…maybe season 2? TBD, lol.