Warning: This post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for the premiere of Game of Thrones final season.
If you watched the Game of Thrones season eight premiere with a fan of the novels, you may have noticed they grew visibly angry when Jon Snow climbed on the back of Rhaegal and went for a dragon ride alongside Daenerys and Drogon. The problem isn’t that he did it – both readers and viewers have been predicting it would happen for years – it’s that the show didn’t treat the moment with the seriousness it deserved. It revealed the truth about Jon’s birth before Sam told him.
Only descendants of Valyria can ride a dragon. They are fickle creatures and will only accept a rider – an exclusive relationship for both so long as each lives – who have the “blood of the dragon” themselves. Even then, dragons have been known to burn, maim, or eat Valyrian descendants who tried to claim them as their mount, Targaryens included. Non-Valyrians have no shot of riding a dragon. (The only exception is when a dragonrider takes someone else for a ride with them. Dragons allow that.) Daenery’s joke about how it was nice knowing Jon Snow if Rhaegal didn’t want him to climb on wasn’t really a joke. At least it shouldn’t have been.
Jon riding Rhaegal have been a powerful, revelatory moment confirming the truth of his birth. It should not have preceded Sam telling him about it. And the moment it happened Daenerys should have known Jon had the “blood of the dragon,” and the bastard with an unknown mother was certainly a relative. That’s why it’s been such a highly anticipated scene for so many years.
There are two possible defenses for the way the scene played out. The first is Daenerys doesn’t know who dragons will accept as a rider, and her love for Jon was why he was the first person she ever offered the chance to. The other is that Game of Thrones has never officially established the rules of dragon riding on the series, and therefore is not bound to follow all of the lore of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Both feel hollow, though.
Daenerys grew up with her brother Viserys, who knew all about dragons. As do two of her closest advisers, Jorah and Tyrion. What are the chances someone as smart as she wouldn’t have done her own research after hatching the first three dragons in nearly 150 years? Also, she has never offered any close ally, not Jorah, Daario, Missandei, or Grey Worm, the opportunity to ride one of her other dragons, despite there being numerous times when a second rider would have been an immense help. If it’s not a big deal like this scene indicated, why wouldn’t she have?
Even if it hasn’t been explicit, the show has implicitly acknowledged the dragon lore of the books by indicating it takes a special connection with dragons to ride them and withholding that payoff.
That delay made Jon Snow’s petting of Drogon on Dragonstone feel so momentous, and why Tyrion unchaining them was important enough it could be evidence he’s a secret Targaryen too. But rather than using that highly anticipated ride as a game-changing confirmation of Jon’s true birth, it was used to set up a fun joy ride that ended with a big laugh. The show seemed so determined to get the (genuinely funny) scene of the Mother of Dragons two large adult sons being overprotective, they sacrificed something far more important that was years in the making.
In the next episode, a dragon expert like Tyrion might learn about Jon’s ride and explain to everyone what it means, but it won’t have the same impact. Jon Snow, dragonrider, deserved better, and Daenerys – and the show – should have known that.
Don’t miss our full breakdown of Game of Thrones S8E1: “Winterfell” on All Kings Considered! Join Jessica Chobot, Dan Casey, and special guests Terri Schwartz (IGN) and Yolanda Machado (The LA Times, The Wrap) as they unpack everything from the premiere.
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Explore the rich, complicated, and controversial lore of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire — and how it connects to HBO’s Game of Thrones — in our deep dive series, History of Thrones.