The Dragons of the Conquerors will almost always come up when Game of Thrones viewers are asked about their favourite dragon trio. In spite of the fact that Aegon Targaryen frequently receives sole credit for the conquest of the Seven Kingdoms, the truth is that he genuinely could not have done it without his sister wives and their separate dragons.
Visenya, Aegon’s elder sister-wife, rode a dragon that will frequently appear in House of the Dragon, but his younger sister-wife rode a dragon whose demise would show that the Targaryens’ powerful mounts were not invulnerable after all. Aegon’s other sister-wife, Queen Rhaenys Targaryen, rode a dragon that would have been as large as Balerion the Black Dread himself if she had lived long enough to reach the Dance.
Unfortunately, the Dragon Queen and her Silver Steed demonstrate the negative effects of battle for the conqueror of Westeros, and their tragic story serves as a cautionary tale for present and future Targaryens to beware of their own frailty. Without further ado, let us look at Meraxes’ history — the Silver-Gold Queen of Dragons. Oh, and if you are unfamiliar with the realm of ice and fire, be warned that there will be numerous spoilers in this article.
Etymology, Birthplace and Early Years
The majority of Targaryen dragons were named either by their traits or after a Valyrian (pronounce: Vuh-Lee-Re-Un) god, as we had explained in our origins video for Balerion the Black Dread (go check that out if you have not already), and Meraxes is no different. Although we would prefer learning more about their religion and culture in general, she was called after a Valyrian god, and the rationale that the Valyrians simply named their dragons after their forefathers can apply to her as well. George, give us a book on the Freehold!
But returning to Meraxes, he was born on Dragonstone from one of the clutches that Balerion’s fellow she-dragons had lain after relocating to the volcanic island when Aenar Targaryen fled the Lands of Always Summer, unlike Balerion who was born and raised throughout his formative years in Valyria.
There is no official date of birth for her, as the histories only tell us that she was born during the Century of Blood, but Meraxes must have been born at least 50 years before Aegon’s Conquest because by that time, she was described as being the second-largest Targaryen dragon behind Balerion; and given the fact that dragons never stop growing if they are fed well enough and given ample space to grow, we can say Meraxes is about half of Balerion’s age, based on all of these pieces of information.
It could be said that out of all the Targaryen dragons that existed pre-Conquest, Meraxes was the most Valyrian-looking, because her scales, skin and wings are described as being silver, whilst her eyes were pools of molten gold, thus representing the trademark silver-gold hair of a pure-blooded Valyrian in dragon form. Based on the patterns of colouring described in George R. R. Martin’s world, we can also assume that Meraxes most likely breathed fire that was silver-gold in its shading, which would further reinforce Meraxes’ Valyrian beauty.
Not much else is known about Meraxes’ early years; we don’t know if she was claimed by one of Aegon’s ancestors, exactly how old she was, or even if she laid clutches of dragon eggs during her time lairing at the Dragonmont, though the last detail seems to be true given that Balerion was said to have mated with both Vhagar (pronounce: Whey-Gaar) and Meraxes, just as the Conqueror would marry his sisters and sire children with them. What we can say is that Meraxes found herself a dragonrider who was a literal ride-or-die companion, and you’ll hate us for making that comparison in a bit but let us get there first.
Getting claimed by Rhaenys Targaryen and fighting in Aegon’s Conquest – The Second Head of the Dragon
Meraxes’ first- and only known rider- claimed her sometime before her marriage to prove that she was a true dragonriding Valyrian. Lady Rhaenys Targaryen, the younger sister of Visenya and Aegon, claimed Meraxes a short while before she wed her brother in a polygamous marriage that also involved their elder sister. It is said that once Rhaenys had claimed Meraxes, her greatest joy in life became flying.
The Queen was said to have spent more time on dragonback than both her siblings combined, and would often muse about taking Meraxes west of the Sunset Sea to explore the lands that had never been explored before. Meraxes was also the first combatant of Aegon’s First Test to negotiate surrender with nothing but her presence effectively. After landing at the mouth of the Blackwater Rush and raising his fort, Aegon sent his sister-wives to the nearby castles of Rosby and Stokeworth to bring their lords into the fold of the empire Aegon was going to create.
While Visenya resorted to using Vhagar to convince Stokeworth to bend the knee, all it took Rhaenys was using the mere sight of Meraxes. Once the Rosby men caught a glimpse of the gliding silver monstrosity about to attack them, they yielded peacefully and joined Aegon’s promised realm as one of his first vassals. Meraxes was ostensibly present at the Aegonfort when Visenya crowned him with the Valyrian steel crown and Rhaenys proclaimed him the King of All Westeros and the Shield of His People.
After being coroneted the first time, Aegon divided his forces into two major parties, each with a key objective to accomplish; the first party- which consisted of Aegon and Visenya- would invade and attack the forces of the Riverlands under Harren the Black as well as the men of Crackclaw Point. The second party- which consisted of Orys Baratheon and Queen Rhaenys- was to make their way to the Stormlands to conquer the Storm King Argillac Durrandon and all his lands.
Argillac had actually fought alongside Aegon during the Century of Blood against the Tigers of Volantis (pronounce: Woe-Lan-Tis) and had also proposed an alliance with him before Aegon launched his Conquest in an attempt to create a buffer zone between his kingdom and that of Harren Hoare (pronounce: H-oar) but was rejected by the would-be conqueror, which caused Argillac to grow defiant.
A marriage alliance proposed by Argillac between Aegon and his daughter Argella was countered with a proposal to marry the Storm Princess to Aegon’s bastard brother Orys, which Argillac angrily defied by sending back Aegon the hands of the messenger who had delivered his proposal. And after the Arrogant Storm King learnt of Harren’s fate at Harrenhal, he was determined to die fighting.
As Orys and Rhaenys’ host crossed the Wendwater into Stormlands territory, they were ambushed by Lords Fell, Buckler and Errol, who slew a thousand Targaryen men before melting into the Kingswood. In response, Rhaenys burned the forest with Meraxes, and took her dragon high into the sky to scout the Storm King’s forces. Rhaenys marked Argillac’s troop movements and prepared her own defense as her host gathered up to the south of Bronzegate and readied themselves for the Last Storm. During the confrontation between the two sides, a violent storm raged across the battlefield, as if it were signalling the end of the Storm Kings.
Argillac’s men outnumbered Orys’ 2-to-1 and the rain and winds gave them as good of a tactical advantage as they could get, but even after breaking through Orys Baratheon’s lines, none of Argillac’s men had any answer for Meraxes, who- even grounded- was still enough to tip the scales in the Targaryens’ favour. She burned Dickon Morrigen and the Bastard of Blackhaven who led the Storm King’s vanguard, as well as his personal guard.
Meraxes’ fires caused enough of a confusion to force Argillac off his saddle and into a one-on-one duel with Orys Baratheon, which he lost and paid for with his own life. After the Last Storm had settled, Rhaenys flew Meraxes to Storm’s End, sorted out the matter of succession for the lineage of House Durrandon by arranging a match between Orys and Argella, and then took her leave to join her brother and sister at Stoney Sept to prepare for the biggest assault of the entire civil war.
Marching towards the armies of King Loren Lannister and King Mern Gardener, the three conquerors used their dragons in unison, for the first and last time during the conquest in an event that would come to be known as the Field of Fire. Nearly 4,000 men lost their lives to the flames of Balerion, Vhagar and Meraxes that day, whilst 10,000 more suffered burn injuries of varying degrees. The flames of the three dragons also ended the entire line of House Gardener, thus making them the second Royal House to have met its end at the hands of Meraxes.
Rhaenys also flew her she-dragon to the Inn of the Kneeling Man, where the historic Pact of Ice and Fire was signed between Aegon Targaryen and Torrhen Stark, who would come to be known as the last King in the North. After Aegon’s official coronation at Oldtown, Meraxes would not be used in a major offensive by the Conqueror until he decided to finish what he had started and turned to a land that would give even dragons a run for their money when it came to sheer heat.
The First Dornish War and the Last Flight of Meraxes
Before Aegon was crowned at Oldtown and had unified 6 of the 7 Kingdoms that ruled in Westeros, he sent his sister-wife Rhaenys to conquer Dorne. The Queen rode Meraxes over the spearmen who had gathered at the Prince’s Pass to the cities of Vaith and Godsgrace, which lay far inside the territory of the Dornish. When she found those cities empty, she made her way to Planky Town, where all she and Meraxes found were women and children.
Upon entering Sunspear- the castle of the Dornish Princess Meria Martell all she found was the old princess herself, old, blind, but not broken. Princess Meria warned Rhaenys that she would never be able to take Dorne by force; when the Dragon Queen threatened to bring Fire & Blood to Dorne, Meria simply replied that she and her brother might burn the Dornish, but they will never break them and told her to return to the Sands only at her own peril.
Queen Rhaenys should have heeded the Princess’ words then and tried to persuade her brother to come to a more peaceful solution, because Meria’s words would end up ringing truer than anything any of Aegon’s other enemies had taunted him with. At this point, we think a bit of exposition is in order because House Martell and all of Dorne in fact has good reason to be so sceptical and hostile towards dragon rule.
One of the prequel shows in development before House of the Dragon was finally decided upon was titled 10,000 ships. This series would have followed the course that the Rhoynish (pronounce: Roy-Nish) Princess Nymeria took to guarantee the safety of her entire civilization from the Valryian dragonlords, who had decimated the Rhoynish Empire in the East and left their greatest structures as blasted ruins. Nymeria’s 10,000 ships eventually made landfall on the Greenblood on the southern coast of Dorne, after which she unified the many First Men and Andal Kingdoms on the peninsula into one Kingdom under House Martell, which she married into and renamed Nymero Martell after herself.
Ever since then, ancient Rhoynish customs have been followed in Dorne- and dragons have been as unwelcome as they have been reviled. Princess Meria, no doubt remembers the flight of Nymeria, having happened only a thousand years before Aegon’s Conquest, and so the Dornish employed extreme guerrilla tactics when fighting against the Targaryens broke out in earnest in 4 AC.
They’d often hide and pelt Aegon’s men with stones, disappearing at the first glimpse of a dragon and returning to kill the Dragon King’s men in the black of night. The Conqueror had broken up his initial assault into two halves, given the fact that his sister-wife Visenya was off governing in King’s Landing in his name. The first saw Aegon and Orys Baratheon use ground troops to try to force a conventional breach from the Boneway and the Prince’s Pass.
The second saw Queen Rhaenys fly Meraxes across the Dornish skies and capture any abandoned castles she came across. Upon reaching Planky Town, Rhaenys burned it with Meraxes’ hot fires, but it was still not enough to draw out Princess Meria and her people. So when she and Aegon found Sunspear devoid of Martell presence, they declared victory to all other Dornish dignitaries present in the room and put Lord Rosby in charge of the region before making their way back to the Aegonfort.
But no sooner had Aegon and Rhaenys reached their seat of power that they received word of the Dornish rebellion; every man Aegon had left behind to hold Dorne in his name had either been killed, captured or tortured till their wit’s end. After Lord Orys Baratheon was returned to the King without his sword hand by the Wyl of Wyl (pronounce: Vile), he decided to unleash his dragons upon the Dornish and give them a true taste of Fire & Blood. Aegon and Rhaenys were fully immersed in the conflict and ended up paying for their zeal with one of their lives.
In 10 AC, as she was flying over Hellholt, little did Queen Rhaenys Targaryen know that that would be her last flight. From the tallest tower of House Uller’s seat, a scorpion loosed a massive bolt strong enough to pierce through anything in its path with precision and brutal efficacy. That bolt struck Meraxes straight in her eye, immediately slaying the dragon, who then fell upon Hellholt and destroyed half the castle in her death throes. As for Queen Rhaenys, her body was never recovered from the ruins of Hellholt.
Some say that Meraxes flung her off her back during her descent, which is unlikely if Rhaenys was saddled on her back. Others say that the Dornish captured Rhaenys before she could recover and tortured until they were able to force Aegon into a peace treaty in 13 AC. Yet others claimed that Rhaenys went where Harlen Tyrell (pronounce: Tie-Rell) and his entire army disappeared off to, but all reports agreed that the Dragon Queen had been effectively “decommissioned”, just like her mount.
The Legacy of Meraxes
Meraxes was one of the only Targaryen dragons to have ever been slain by something that wasn’t another dragon- or a mob of angry Flea Bottom dwellers, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. Given the fact that the Rhoynish had already survived centuries of Valyrian violence literally, they were the worst enemies Aegon and his sisters could have asked for because in the desert, not even their dragons could burn out the heat of the beating sun.
And guerrilla tactics in such a terrain will be effective against an uninformed enemy, 9 times out of 10; just as the Fremen of Arrakis. In fact, it is this exact death which seems to have inspired the death of Rhaegal in Season 8 of Game of Thrones, as Dany’s third child was killed by Euron Greyjoy using a scorpion bolt. But besides serving as an inspiration for the death of one of Dany’s literal children, Meraxes also served as a bigger warning for the Targaryen dynasty that their dragons were incredible but not infallible.
Her bones still decorate the outskirts of Hellholt some 300 years after her death. Meraxes’ skull was one of the first to be displayed in the halls of the Red Keep, given the fact that she was the first Targaryen dragon to die while serving them. Her name would forever be memorialized alongside her rider as a fierce, lithe and graceful dragon that was as massive as she was fond of flight.
It was said that Meraxes could swallow a horse whole, and had she been alive, she might have even started joining Balerion in eating aurochs’ like they were popcorns. Had Meraxes made it to the Dance of the Dragons, she would have easily eclipsed Vhagar in size, and Vhagar herself was said to be near-equal to Balerion in that department by the time the civil war broke out. In the wake of her and Rhaenys’ deaths, Aegon and Visenya burned most of the Dornish castles multiple times over a two-year stretch that became known as The Dragon’s Wroth.
Balerion and Vhagar burned Hellholt so fiercely that the sand surrounding the castle fused into glass, as if in homage to the Queen Who Fell in Dorne. The Silver-Gold Queen of the Dragons would forever be seen as a symbol of the wilful playfulness of Queen Rhaenys, and a reminder of the fact that the passion of a dragonlord could cause them to become vulnerable, a fact that Westerosi politicians picked up on and played with following House Targaryen settling into its role as the Ruling House of the Seven Kingdoms.
While she was arguably the least-exciting dragon out of the ones that the Conquerors Three rode into battle all those years ago, Meraxes is important to the story by means of sheer stature. Being one of the three heads of the dragon is something that seems trivial at first, but is revealed as a much higher responsibility than what you initially believed it to be once you put all the clues George has been putting out with his content over the years.
She was beautiful and fierce, just like her rider, and really exemplified the symbiotic relationship that a dragonlord develops with their mount over years of companionship. It’s a shame that she had to die to teach the dragon king a lesson, but Meraxes’ death was not in vain because following that, the Targaryens never attempted to force their way into Dorne with dragons.
All this goes to show you that power does not matter much when you lack the wits to use it, and although Meraxes was mighty, she fell because Aegon underestimated the fury of the Greenblood. That is a mistake his descendants would also continue to make, and it exposes the one flaw in the Targaryen dynasty for all the realm to see; which is the House themselves.