Despite the fact that George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy universe is known for many things, including flawless writing, rich lore, political intrigue, graphic depictions of violence and copulation, and all the world’s prophecies, the one thing it will always be remembered for is normalising seeing enormous dragons on regular television.
Though it is amusing to consider that Drogon, Viserion, and Rhaegal were only a sample of what we are currently witnessing on House of the Dragon, it is nevertheless accurate. However, HBO’s newest season insists on making you aware of how majestic and distinctive the Targaryen dragons used to be at the height of their power, in contrast to Dany’s offspring, who were largely personality-less except from their devotion for their mother.
Even though House of the Dragon only has two dragons at the moment, we can immediately see that they are special creatures with traits that will make them the stuff of legends — and in the case of this particular dragon, we mean that literally.
Because Syrax is intended to represent how deeply ingrained the Targaryen dragon relationship is, despite the fact that she has only been seen riding Rhaenyra thus far. What do we actually mean by it, though? Well, let us get right to it and start exploring Syrax’s beginnings; let us not keep you waiting. And now for your spoiler alert before we go any further.
Etymology, Birthplace and Early Years
Targaryen dragons had a distinct naming tradition, as we have noted in our movies on Balerion, Meraxes, and Vhagar (go watch them if you have not already). While those Targaryens born after the Conquest tended to name their dragons after their physical and personal features, those believed to be more “traditionally Valryian” tended to name their dragons after the gods and goddesses of Valyria.
Fire & Blood tells us that Princess Rhaenyra named Syrax after a Valyrian goddess herself, which puts to rest the debate as to which type of dragon and dragonrider pair these two were going to be. As for Syrax’s birthplace, we would speculate that she was born in the Dragonpit at King’s Landing towards the end of King Jaehaerys’ reign. We say this because the histories tell us that Rhaenyra claimed Syrax in 104 AC at the age of seven, when Syrax was still a “young dragon”.
This is an intentionally vague estimation because a dragon as young as Drogon- who was only a year old during A Dance With Dragons- was able to fly off with Daenerys without even having a saddle or a whip attached to him; and back in Rhaenyra’s day, the Targaryens knew how to breed their dragons for warfare, which is a definite step up in terms of knowledge when compared to their descendent.
So it’s possible that Syrax was only a year old when Rhaenyra claimed her; the Realm’s Delight was 7, after all, when she claimed her mount; or that she was at least half a decade old by the time the Princess came for her. It is believed that once the Targaryens began hosting their steeds in the Dragonpit, their mighty weapons of war began shrinking in size and health. Dragons need to roam freely and eat plenty to keep growing bigger and stronger, and treating them like court animals isn’t exactly good for their warfare instincts.
So it’s possible that Syrax went through a similar issue, not growing fast enough because of her environment. But what cannot be disputed is the fact that she was most likely born during the last decade of King Jaehaerys’ reign at the Dragonpit in King’s Landing, which is also where Rhaenyra was born and raised. The princess gave Syrax her name, implying that she was her first rider, and would often spend her time flying around the city of King’s Landing and the island fortress of Dragonstone during her youth.
Is Syrax a “she-dragon”?
At this point, we think it is pertinent to address why we keep calling Syrax “she”. There is a lot of debate in the Song of Ice and Fire community- and books- as to what the gender of a dragon is, and how one can determine it. Maesters constantly debate as to how dragons reproduced, with Grand Maester Munkun and Maester Thomax disagreeing heavily with each other.
According to Archmaester Gyldayn- the “author” of Fire & Blood- the fact that a dragon has laid an egg is confirmation of their sex. For instance, in House of the Dragon, Dreamfyre is the dragon said to have laid the egg that Rhaenyra chose for Prince Baelon before his passing, suggesting that Dreamfyre was a she-dragon. Gyldayn uses this basis, and later accepted by Yandel to propose that a dragon’s sex can only be confirmed by checking if they lay eggs or not.
However, Septon Barth and Maester Aemon hold the belief that dragons change their genders based on their whims, saying they are “like a flame, now one and now the other”, implying that dragons are hermaphrodites. And not just that, they might be sequential hermaphrodites because of the fact that their gender is labelled as being “interchangeable”. Creatures like frogs and clownfish can change their sex based on environmental and social characteristics and go from male to female or vice versa if the occasion calls for it.
Based on the description Aemon and Barth give, it appears as though the change of sex is a conscious choice within dragons, which would firmly put them in the category of sequential hermaphroditism. However, there is also the possibility that dragons are simultaneous hermaphrodites, given the fact that share- according to Barth at least- genetic material with Wyrms. Earthworms are simultaneous hermaphrodites whose reproductive organs are separated to prevent self-fertilization.
They are said to mate when the season gets damp and warm, which is peculiarly enough the exact conditions under which two dragons meet with each other during the events of the Dance. It is also possible that, much like banana slugs, dragons self-fertilize because we have actually never heard of a mating sequence between dragons ever having taken place before, but the fact remains that determining the sex of a dragon is a tricky job to say the least.
We are going to go ahead and assume that dragons possess a kind of cumulative hermaphroditism whereby they change their genders based on the conditions in which they are, and then stick to that gender following the change. Syrax is a she-dragon by this metric because, by the time King Viserys’ reign gets underway, she is known to have laid “several clutches of eggs”.
But as for her early life, the only information we have about Syrax is that she was as much the Realm’s Delight as Rhaenyra was. Having been in the presence of humans her entire life, Syrax was far more docile in her interactions with the Dragonkeepers than, let’s say, Daemon’s Caraxes. Rhaenyra would often fly her steed around King’s Landing as a child even after being named heir to the Iron Throne, and Syrax would not properly come into play until the Dance finally began.
She Flips The Script on Legend itself – Syrax in the Dance of the Dragons
A beautiful, yellow-scaled she-dragon, Syrax had always been more of a court dragon than a wild dragon at heart. Despite reaching the size of Caraxes before the Dance, she was not nearly as formidable as the Blood Wyrm because Syrax was entirely inexperienced in warfare. Princess Rhaenyra was called the Realm’s Delight because of how much her father doted upon her, and that same “spoilt attitude” also extended to her dragon.
It is said that a dragon is much like their rider, especially once they have established the mystical dragonbond with each other; if this is true, then it makes sense that Syrax- just like Rhaenyra- had been pampered her entire life. The Dance of the Dragons breaks out in 129 AC- 25 years after Rhaenyra claimed Syrax- and yet the histories tell us that Syrax had not hunted “in years” before the civil war began.
She was kept extremely well-fed and provided for by the royal family instead, with her size being a by-product of said pampering. So Syrax was more of a court dragon than any of the other Targaryen dragons that existed at the time of her birth. And for most of her adult life, her only “use” was to ferry her Queen on her back.
Rhaenyra would not join battles riding Syrax but she would fly a lot perched atop her back. The Princess’s favourite flying companions were the Lady Laena Velaryon and her future husband Daemon. The trio would go flying across the Blackwater Rush many a time after Daemon and Rhaenyra married into House Velaryon and got themselves dragon-riding spouses.
During the reign of King Viserys, both rider and she-dragon gave “birth” multiple times; Rhaenyra would go through 6 pregnancies and Syrax would lay “several clutches of eggs” presumably on both Dragonstone and King’s Landing, with it being heavily implied that all of Rhaenyra’s children’s dragons were hatched from Syrax’s eggs.
Syrax would become one of the many dragons that Rhaenyra’s side would use to participate in the Dance of the Dragons, and though she only formally takes part in one campaign offensive, it is one of the most-important military deployments in the entire civil war.
After this move, Syrax is treated much like a dragon from Targaryen royalty that was being ridden by the ascendant to the Iron Throne. After the Dragonpit was finished in 55 AC, King Jaehaerys decreed that most Targaryen dragons were to reside within its walls, but he kept his own mount- Vermithor – and Queen Alysanne’s (pronounce: Allie-Sane) Silverwing in the stables of the Red Keep.
After spending her time as the official heiress at Dragonstone, Rhaenyra had picked up the same habit and began housing Syrax in the stables of her royal court, choosing to keep her by her side at all times but weighed down by heavy chains so she might not fly away unattended. However, unlike the Old King and Good Queen’s dragons, we doubt Syrax’s presence reassured anyone that things were going “just fine”; because if they were, a knight from the Stormlands would not try to replicate the legendary feats of one Ser Serwyn of the Mirror Shield. It is said that during the Age of Heroes- so you know that this story is already dubious at best- there existed a knight called Ser Serwyn.
This knight is the only known dragon slayer to have been mentioned in Westerosi history, as the tale goes that Serwyn used a shield polished so finely that it practically became a mirror to trick the dragon Urrax into attacking his own reflection. Serwyn then used his spear to pierce the dragon’s eye, thereby killing it and becoming known as Ser Serwyn of the Mirror Shield.
Given the fact that this happened so long ago, Serwyn’s allegiances are questioned; most smallfolk today believe he was a Kingsguard but other legends indicate that he served House Gardener during the Age of Heroes, if he had even existed that is. During the Dance of the Dragons, Ser Byron Swann of Stonehelm attempts to replicate Serwyn’s legendary feat and ends up suffering the fate that Ser Serwyn should have suffered from originally.
Swann tries to end the war by going on a one-man mission to take out Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen’s mount and cripple her mentally by taking away her biggest weapon not named Daemon. He sneaks up on Syrax using the same tactics that Serwyn did, but ends up meeting his death thanks to the she-dragon’s blistering flames. We can’t wait to see this particular sequence play out in House of the Dragon, especially given the fact that it is one of the best- and only- times that Syrax looses her fires in warfare.
Unfortunately, Syrax’s fate is tied to that of most every other dragon who participates in the war; and it’s doubly tragic for Rhaenyra because Syrax also causes the death of someone really close to her heart. We’re not going to talk about these particular events because then we’d have explained the show’s plot and climactic battles to you, but we will leave you with this; out of the two dragons we’ve seen so far, you’re going to understand soon enough whose fires burn hotter and whose wings flap longer, if you catch our drift. And speaking of House of the Dragon…
Syrax’s Legacy and Role in House of the Dragon
It is unclear whether the 19 dragon skulls that adorned the walls of the Red Keep’s throne room during the years after the Dance included Syrax’s skull or not, though it is quite likely that this is the case. She would be remembered in posterity as the mount of a Queen whose actions were divisive at best and tyrannical at worst. The annals have not been kind to Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen, who is also remembered as the female Maegor the Cruel.
Syrax herself escaped being labelled so harshly, mostly because she never loosed her flames without good reason, but it cannot be denied that her fate was downright tragic. She also holds the distinction of being the mother of the last living Targaryen dragon who was born during the Dance- a pink hatchling called Morning- and while it is likely that the Last Targaryen Dragon was also born from Syrax’s eggs, it is impossible to tell because during the Dance at least 4 known she-dragons were active and the egg could have belonged to any one of them.
What is clear is that Syrax is going to play a major role in House of the Dragon, possibly being the only dragon- other than Caraxes- that we will see in nearly every episode of the series. House of the Dragon has also done a great job in making sure Syrax looks different from what you would expect her to look like; if you are used to the dragon designs from Game of Thrones, then House of the Dragon is the refresher you palette needs because not only will it have far more dragons, it will also feature a variety of designs.
Having said that, Syrax does look remarkably like one of Dany’s dragons, down to the crown and the tale. Her yellow scales are complimented by a set of emerald green eyes which wonderfully contrasts with the scaled riding leathers that Rhaenyra wears when she takes Syrax for a spin, and she has already shown that she is cooperative towards humans from the one interaction she has had with the Dragonkeeepers.
Syrax is extremely protective of Rhaenyra it seems because when Otto Hightower asks Ser Criston Cole to escort her back to King’s Landing in episode 2, she warns the Knights and Lords present instead of the fate that would earn them if they tried that by force. Perhaps these parallels exist because- in many ways- Rhaenyra is the Daenerys of this show. She is a queen-claimant, a dragon rider, and a scion of Old Valyria.
But she does not share any of Daenerys’ experiences with slavery, and if she is to follow a path similar to Dany, it will be the one laid out by The Ds Who Shall Not Be Named, because George’s Dany is a literal living inspiration; not someone who went crazy because people surrendered to her. Don’t expect to see Syrax flying into battle like Caraxes, though; that is just not her strong suit, at all.