#GameofThrones: So who’s able to ride a Dragon?

Since last season, when he first held out his hand to pet Drogon (and didn’t die), fans have been wondering if Jon would ever claim a mount of his own. The dragon Rhaegal always seemed to be the best choice for him — and Kit Harington agrees. And now with both Drogon and Viserion spoken for, Rhaegal really was the only choice.

But Dany may not realize the full import of going on a dragon-riding date with Jon. She didn’t share her dragon with him, as she did with those she rescued last season beyond the Wall. She gave it to him. And Rhaegal is now Jon’s for life.

Let’s back up. There is actually a lot that Dany doesn’t know about dragons. After all, she grew up in an era when the beasts were thought to have died out, when there were no longer experienced dragonlords to teach her how to bond, ride or battle with them. And since she thinks of dragons as her “children,” it probably didn’t occur to her that she might have to break them in.

Dany is lucky, though — she’s a natural. Jon clearly is not, probably because he hasn’t had the advantage of holding Rhaegal as an egg before it hatched, or knowing it all of its life. Dany had time to acclimate, to bond. And that bond is actually a form of imprinting, which enables Drogon to sense Dany’s distress in the fighting pits and come to her rescue. When Drogon is hit by a spear in the books, “Dany and Drogon screamed as one.”

The bond between a dragon and dragon rider runs so deep, some say, that the dragon will share its human’s feelings (the dragons of one royal couple also mated) and can sense when its human dies. Dreamfyre, for example, sensed when its rider, Helaena, died, even though she was far away.

Because of this bond, a dragon will accept only one rider, although it will accept a new one after the original rider dies. (None of these rules about bonding apply to Viserion, by the way, now that it’s a wight.) Maegor the Cruel had to wait until his father, Aegon, died before he could hope to claim Balerion the Black Dread.

The child of a rider, however, does not automatically inherit a deceased parent’s dragon. It’s not like borrowing the family car. Queen Rhaenyra’s son Joffrey tried to ride Syrax, and although he was a familiar presence to his mother’s dragon, the great beast fought to be free of him, twisting in the air until he fell off and plunged to his death. Joffrey might not have died if he had used the traditional saddle, chains or steel-tipped whip, but he was in a hurry, and he didn’t.

lsjonsnowndragon - #GameofThrones: So who’s able to ride a Dragon?
Daenerys Targaryen with Jon Snow after they rode their dragons, Drogon and Rhaegal, respectively in the first episode of Game of Thrones seaosn 8 PICTURE: HELEN SLOAN/HBO

That’s another thing Dany didn’t realize — Jon might have had a slightly easier time if he had the proper tools. Or if Dany had taken him as a passenger first, letting him ride double with her before trying to ride solo on an untamed dragon. (She wouldn’t have been able to break in Rhaegal herself beforehand because a dragon won’t accept another dragon’s rider.)

Being Rhaegar’s son probably helped Jon a bit, but one shouldn’t take dragon riding as proof of a Targaryen bloodline. It’s a popular misconception that only Targaryens can ride — a misconception that was advantageous for Targaryens to perpetuate because it made them seem “closer to gods than the common run of men.” And not all Targaryens can ride.

Long ago, in a time when the Targaryens had more dragons than riders, they opened up the field to anyone willing to try winning over their own dragon. One of those who succeeded was a small, brown, bastard girl named Nettles, who figured out that feeding a dragon a freshly slaughtered sheep every morning was an excellent way to win its acceptance.

Some argue that Nettles must have had Targaryen blood herself. Perhaps. But her example is also useful for those who don’t: If you’re friendly and persistent, dragons will consider you. Tyrion himself might have had a chance of this when he unchained Viserion and Rhaegal. Alas …

As long as Dany and Jon stay on good terms, it shouldn’t be a problem for her that Rhaegal and Jon have bonded. But should Dany and Jon ever fall out — perhaps over an icky incest revelation? — this is one thing she can’t take back.

The New York Times

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