No dragon was ever as gargantuan or as fabled as Game of Thrones’ Balerion the Black Dread – and prior to House of the Dragon, the infamous beast had several dragonriders. Dating back since Aegon’s Conquest, Balerion was the only dragon to have come from Old Valyria to Westeros when House Targaryen migrated to Dragonstone years prior to the Doom. But as iconic and magnificent as Balerion was in Westeros’ history, the Black Dread has always only ever been known on-screen as the black gigantic skull in the Red Keep featured in both Game of Thrones and its spinoff prequel, House of the Dragon.
Although many viewers expected to catch a glimpse of Balerion in the scales and in action, House of the Dragon unfortunately appears to be set too late to show him in his full glory, despite having the dragon’s last rider as one of the main characters in season 1. While it’s a shame that House of the Dragon didn’t include Balerion’s greatness (not even as a flashback), it’s still lucky for audiences that George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire universe contains extensive lore on Balerion’s adventures with his riders throughout Targaryen history. Here’s all of Balerion the Black Dread’s known dragonriders and what happened to them.
Aegon The Conqueror (Aegon I Targaryen)
Balerion’s first rider was none other than Lord Aegon Targaryen, most widely known as Aegon the Conqueror. Aegon claimed Balerion as his mount prior to his marriage to his sisters, Visenya and Rhaenys. According to Fire and Blood, Aegon’s interest towards Westeros began after he and Balerion aided Tyrosh and Pentos in destroying the Volantene fleet poised to invade Lys during the war of the Disputed Lands. Although Aegon’s initial motivation via lore was ambition and power, House of the Dragon makes him a dragon dreamer, which alters this narrative. Becoming the Song of Ice and Fire prophecy’s origin, Aegon’s Conquest transforms from a power-grab into a noble quest.
Aegon began his conquest at the mouth of Blackwater Bay, establishing his wooden haunt, Aegonfort (the site where the Red Keep is built) where Visenya crowned him and Rhaenys declared him as King of the Seven Kingdoms. From there, Aegon and his sister-wives took domain after domain, visiting the Westerosi lords and kings on dragonback and demanding they bend the knee. While most of them acquiesced immediately in the face of fire-breathing dragons, there were others too stubborn and proud that chose to burn than to yield. Such was the unfortunate fate of Harren Hoare, Lord of Harrenhal, who died burning inside his own keep courtesy of Balerion’s black flames.
When Harrenhal fell, Aegon made quick of the country and gathered the necessary support for his claim. The most notable oath of fealty came from King Torren Stark of the North (the King Who Knelt), and the most disastrous battle was the Field of Fire where Aegon and Balerion (along with Vhagar and Meraxes, Visenya and Rhaenys’ dragons, respectively) annihilated the armies of the Reach and the Rock. Dorne was the only kingdom to remain independent after the conquest – however, they did suffer significant losses before they were left alone.
After his great conquest, Aegon and his sister-wives focused on rebuilding Westeros in their own image. Construction for the Red Keep ensued, and annual six-month royal progresses were carried out as campaigns to thwart any budding rebellions. Aegon and Balerion often led these campaigns, flying cross-country for diplomatic visits and parading the strength of House Targaryen for the smallfolk to see and the lords to fear. The latter part of Aegon’s reign was peaceful and prosperous, so much so that he died of a stroke at sixty-four rather than in battle. Aegon was cremated by Visenya’s dragon, Vhagar, along with his Valyrian steel sword, Blackfyre.
Maegor The Cruel (Maegor I Targaryen)
After Aegon’s death, his son with Visenya, Maegor, claimed Balerion as his mount. Maegor had long coveted Balerion, so much that he claimed no dragon on Dragonstone (despite there being a few) due to his resolve that none were worthy of him. Growing up, Maegor was a strong boy who quickly became an adept fighter – however, he had a penchant for violence and was short-tempered. As an adult, Maegor became a successfully brutal military man; having warred in the Stepstones against pirates, defeated three Kingsguard knights in a tourney, foiled the Giant of the Trident (a renowned robber knight), and even ended Jonos Arryn’s rebellion in the Eyrie.
As the younger son of King Aegon I, Maegor was but a spare heir to his father’s firstborn son, Aenys. Upon Aegon the Uncrowned’s (Maegor’s nephew) birth, Maegor was no longer in the direct line to the Iron Throne, yet this didn’t stop him from claiming it after his brother’s death. Notoriously known (and exiled) for being polygamous, Maegor had six Queens: Ceryse Hightower, Alys Harroway, Tyanna of the Tower, and the Black Brides: Elinor Costayne, Jeyne Westerling, and his niece, Rhaena Targaryen. And yet, not a single one of his brides bore him children, which forced him to name Aerea (Rhaena’s eldest daughter) as his heir.
Given that Maegor’s kingship was technically unlawful and his choice of multiple marriages spurned the Hightowers of Oldtown, the Faith, and the High Sept, Maegor’s reign’s greatest challenge became the Faith Militant. Maegor and Balerion burned many a battlefield against the Faith, razing everything in their wake (including the Sept of Remembrance) which earned him the moniker Maegor the Cruel. The tyrant king lived his life religiously, guided by his house words: fire and blood. In 43 AC, Maegor and Balerion killed Aegon the Uncrowned and his dragon, Quicksilver, in the Battle Beneath The God’s Eye; dispatching the Faith’s preferred monarch.
Maegor’s reign lasted six years and six days. In 48 AC, another claimant to the Iron Throne had surfaced: Prince Jaehaerys (Aegon and Rhaena’s younger brother), who became the hope of the realm. Battered from Maegor’s tyrannical reign, the realm abandoned its king, with Maegor’s last orders falling on deaf ears. Maegor’s bannermen and Kingsguard deserted him in favor of the young Jaehaerys. While Maegor never did surrender, he died on the Iron Throne with wrists slit and robes covered in blood. Not a soul knows how he died, only that he was found by his wife, Elinor. Balerion, upon Maegor’s death, returned to Dragonstone to await a new rider.
Princess Aerea Targaryen
Princess Aerea Targaryen was the daughter of Aegon the Uncrowned and Princess Rhaena (Maegor’s Black Bride), as well as, the niece of King Jaehaerys I (Eve Best’s Princess Rhaenys and Paddy Considine’s King Viserys’ grandsire.) The timid Aerea had a twin sister, the lively Rhaella Targaryen, who was rumored to have switched places during her visit to Oldtown for Jaehaerys’ coronation. Since then, Aerea’s personality shifted into that of her sister, Rhaella; a bolder version of herself who returned to King’s Landing. In 54 AC, after moving to Dragonstone with Rhaena (her mother), Aerea claimed Balerion as her dragon one morning and disappeared for more than a year.
Jaehaerys ordered several search parties to scour the realm, and even Rhaena mounted her dragon, Dreamfyre, in search of her daughter, but to no avail. They never found Aerea and eventually presumed her dead. It wasn’t until 56 AC when Aerea, misshapen and ill, returned clinging to Balerion’s back, who was also injured. It’s said that Balerion had taken Aerea to post-Doom Old Valyria where she contracted a terrible fever (and an unknown creature in her skin) that was unlike anything ever seen in Westeros before. Aerea died in pain and wasn’t seen by anyone except Septon Barth, who cremated her. Meanwhile, Balerion became the first resident of Maegor’s finished Dragonpit.
Viserys The Peaceful (Viserys I Targaryen)
Balerion remained riderless after Aerea for a long time, with dragon keepers discouraging young Targaryens from claiming the old beast. Yet Balerion was claimed one last time in 93 AC by Viserys Targaryen. At this point Balerion was about 200-years-old, which made him difficult to wake. Viserys and Balerion circled King’s Landing thrice for their first flight. Balerion died in 94 AC, shy of a year after House of the Dragon’s Viserys Targaryen claimed him.
Viserys never claimed another dragon after Balerion. After the Great Council of 101 AC, Viserys became King of the Seven Kingdoms. Dubbed as Viserys the Peaceful, the House of the Dragon monarch led a prosperous and mostly conflict-free reign. But due to his lack of willfulness, Viserys inadvertently planted the seeds to the greatest bloodbath of House Targaryen, called the Dance of the Dragons.
Next: Baela Targaryen’s Deleted HOTD Scene Fixes A Big Daemon Problem