History of Thrones is our series where we examine important historical events and people from the complex and controversial past of Westeros, ones that might tell us something about the story going forward on Game of Thrones. However be warned, you might want to lock yourself away if you consider theories spoilers.
You can find all other History of Thrones entries here.
THE DRAGONPIT AND THE DEMISE OF DRAGONS
The largest dragon in the history of Westeros was Balerion the Black Dread, whom Aegon Targaryen rode when he conquered the Seven Kingdoms. Balerion was roughly 125 years old when the two first landed on the shores of the Blackwater; two other Targaryen kings also became his dragonrider before Balerion’s death in 94 AC (After the Conquest). At over 200 years of age, Balerion was also the oldest dragon the Seven Kingdoms has ever known, which was partly why he was the biggest. Dragons will continue to grow throughout their entire lives, so long as they are fed and are given the freedom to do so. But that freedom was taken away from the dragon race when they were confined to the Dragonpit in King’s Landing.
It was a decision that might have contributed to their demise, and in turn the fall of the Targaryen dynasty. The ruins of the Dragonpit still stand as a symbol for the downfall of dragons and the kingdom they created, which is why that might be where Cersei Lannister is planning to destroy them once and for all, using the help of another remnant of a Targaryen ruler.
Daenerys learned a difficult lesson in season four about the uncontrollable and dangerous nature of dragons, when a man brought her the charred bones of his daughter who had been killed by a free-roaming Drogon. The Mother of Dragons was so anguished by the child’s death she decided to lock her children in the catacombs of Meereen. She couldn’t find Drogon, but she locked up Viserion and Rhaegal there, where they remained until Tyrion freed them in season six.
Centuries before, Daenerys’ ancestor, the third Targaryen king and Aegon’s son Maegor the Cruel, also locked up his dragons in King’s Landing, though for a different reason. After Aegon’s death in 37 AC, his son Aenys I inherited the Iron Throne; uprisings across the realm began immediately, which Aenys was not equipped to handle. None was more destructive than the Faith Militant uprising, which began in 39 AC when the king’s brother Maegor took a second wife, despite polygamy being forbidden in the Faith of the Seven. Aenys had Maegor exiled in a futile attempt to appease the High Septon, but in 41 AC Aenys had his two children wed, continuing the long practice of incestuous marriage by the Targaryens.
Aegon himself had two sister-wives, which the Faith overlooked when they officially crowned him as king and the Targaryens accepted the Faith as their own. But that didn’t make either polygamy or incest any more accepted generally, and when Aenys married his son and daughter it was too much for the church. Even the common people who loved Aenys turned on him.
The Faith took up arms (just like they did during Tommen’s reign after Cersei stupidly allowed them to reform their holy army), and Aenys fled to Dragonstone after the Faith Militant used the Sept of Remembrance in King’s Landing as their home base.
The Sept of Remembrance sat on the Hill of Rhaenys, one of the capital’s three large hills. The Sept was built during Aegon’s reign and named after his sister-wife Rhaenys, who died when the Dornish shot her dragon down with a scorpion bolt through the eye. Hundreds of soldiers took up residence in the Sept to oppose “King Abomination,” and a few even managed to sneak into the Red Keep, almost managing to kill the king and his family, which was why he fled to Dragonstone.
But when Aenys died a year later under questionable circumstances, it wasn’t his son that took the throne; instead, inexplicably, it was his half-brother Maegor, who had become Balerion’s dragonrider after his father’s death. Maegor was not weak like his brother–he was a warrior. And you don’t earn the moniker “the Cruel” by accident.
After being the only survivor of a Trial of 14 with the Warrior’s Sons (a fighting group in the Faith Militant), Maegor fell into a coma. When he woke up a month later he rallied his forces and rode Balerion to the Sept of Remembrance, burning it along with every man inside. He even made sure archers killed anyone who tried to escape the flames.
Maegor then had the ruins of the Sept of Remembrance cleared, and in its place he erected a huge, domed building to house the Targaryen dragons. The Faith Militant’s former church in King’s Landing became the home to the Targaryen’s true power.
The Dragonpit had doors (either iron or steel) wide enough that 30 knights could enter it side-by-side, sort of like those huge doors at car dealerships, only if you instead of a Ford Fusion you had to roll in the latest model of dragon. Maegor likely had it built not as a way to keep the people safe from dragons, but so his dragons would be nearby in case anyone else was planning a rebellion.
(The Faith’s uprising wouldn’t formally end until after Maegor’s death during the reign of King Jaehaerys the Conciliator, who forged a peace between the throne and the Faith. That union included the abolition of the Faith Militant–until Cersei–since the crown swore to protect the church.)
The Dragonpit must have been a beautiful sight high up on that hill, especially because they say the dome was lit up at night by the dragons. But it came at a great cost, because no dragon who was confined to it ever grew as large as the ones who came before it. Maegor’s desire to have his family’s source of power close by also weakened it.
The dragons got smaller and smaller over the decades, until the last dragon was the size of a cat when it died. But it wasn’t just that House Targaryen had stunted the growth of the world’s greatest weapon. The Dragonpit was also where many dragons were killed by an angry mob during an infamous event known as the Storming of the Dragonpit.
During the Targaryen civil war, known as the Dance of the Dragons, thousands of common folk in King’s Landing–hungry, desperate, scared, and angry–were worked up into a frenzy by a ranting one-handed prophet known as the Shepherd. He convinced the growing mob that dragons were evil and the source of all their problems, which is why they needed to die.
Despite the insanity of the plan, the crazed commoners marched on the Dragonpit and broke through its smaller wooden doors and glass windows, attacking the four dragons chained inside. The dragons fought with their tails, teeth, wings, and flame, killing many of the attackers, but three were still slain, unable to escape because of their chains.
The last dragon alive, Dreamfyre, did manage to break loose, allowing her to kill more people than the other three dragons had combined. Wounded, half blind, and in a rage, she tried to fly through the domed ceiling. It cracked on impact and crashed her to death.
And yet, the carnage wasn’t over; the dragon Syrax saw the Dragonpit in flames and flew to the site to try and aid her brothers and sisters. No one knows exactly what happened next, except that Syrax became the fifth dragon to die there that night.
The war came to an end soon after, and of the 20 dragons that had been alive at its start (the most ever in Westeros at one time), only four remained. Two decades later they were all extinct. The combination of dragon fighting dragon, the Storming of the Dragonpit, and the stunting of their growth did them in (though one theory says the maesters might have also had something to do with that).
The Dragonpit was ruined, but it did serve House Targaryen once more, during the Great Spring Sickness of King’s Landing in 209 and 210 AC. The disease ravaged the city, killing people faster than they could be buried. So Hand of the King Lord Brynden Rivers ( the books’ Three-eyed Raven) used the Dragonpit to store the corpses. Once it got 10 bodies high he had the pyromancers of the Alchemist’s Guild burn them with wildfire, rendering a blaze of glowing green flames.
After fire and blood destroyed the Sept of Remembrance, the Dragonpit was built to be a shrine to the might of dragons and a warning to anyone that would oppose the Iron Throne of House Targaryen. Instead it was where the family’s demise started. It made dragons smaller and weaker, and it became a place where folks with pitchforks managed to kill five of the world’s most greatest weapon.
And now Cersei has scheduled a meeting with all of her enemies among its ruins. For someone trying to hold on to her power, there is no more symbolic place to try and finally rid the world of dragons–both the kind who fly or the kind who rule–once and for all. If Daenerys and Jon are walking into a trap, it will mean the Dragonpit might claim its final victims of House Targaryen.
But beyond the meaning of the place, what strategic value could it have to Cersei? What tangible reason would make her choose that location? The novels give us one clue. In A Clash of Kings there are prostitutes who take customers to the ruins of the Dragonpit, and one pairing fell through its floor.
And that’s where they found some of the wildfire the Mad King had stored under the city years earlier. Just like the old wildfire Cersei used to blow up the Sept of Baelor. There’s obvious meaning for Cersei choosing the Dragonpit to try and kill the last dragon, but she knows if you really want to defeat your enemies you need something far more effective than symbolism. And wildfire has worked for her before.
What do you think? Why did Cersei decide to meet at the Dragonpit? Let us know in the comments below.
WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING IN GAME OF THRONES?
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