Spoilers below for Sunday’s episode “Beyond the Wall.”
Which one of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons was killed by the Night King in Sunday night’s Game of Thrones? It was an awful sight to see one of Dany’s dragons spill buckets of blood before crashing into the icy water — not to mention how the Night King raised it from the dead — but if you aren’t sure which one died, you’re not alone. It’s a little tricky to tell the difference between Drogon, Viserion, and Rhaegal, so let’s figure it out.
In George R.R. Martin’s novels, the dragons are described as much more distinctive than they appear in the show. Drogon’s scales and teeth are black and he has red eyes. Viserion is mostly a cream color, although Daenerys refers to him as her “white dragon,” and his eyes and horns are gold. Rhaegal’s body is made up of green and bronze tones, with black teeth and claws. In the darkness and flames of “Beyond the Wall,” it was hard to tell them apart.
It’s immediately obvious that the dead dragon isn’t Drogon — he’s always ridden by Daenerys, and she’s pulling Jorah and the crew aboard his back when the Night King throws his ice spear. That leaves us with Viserion or Rhaegal. For a brief moment after the dragon is hit, he passes by Dany’s third dragon and we can see the clear difference in coloring. It’s Viserion. He’s the one that dies and ultimately comes back at the end of the episode as a dragon wight. (Or wight dragon. Zombdragon? There’s really no terminology for this.)
There’s also a compelling symbolic reason why Viserion is the dragon that dies. Viserion, you’ll recall, is named for Dany’s brother, Viserys, who sold her to the Dothraki in hopes that they would win him back the Iron Throne. After Viserys grew impatient with their lack of progress (and felt humiliated by his treatment from both Daenerys and Drogo), he rebelled, threatening to take back his sister and cut out her unborn baby. That’s when Drogo gave him the gold crown he’d been begging for. All these years later, it’s fitting for Viserion to turn against the Khaleesi just as her brother once did — not to mention the fact that Viserys was known for threatening to “wake the dragon,” which is exactly what the Night King does in “Beyond the Wall.”
Now the Mother of Dragons is left with just two of her babies: Drogon and Rhaegal. She’ll of course keep riding Drogon, but what about Rhaegal? Though we can’t say for sure who the second dragon rider will be, the safe bet is Jon Snow. As we saw earlier this season, his Targaryen blood makes him predisposed to put dragons at ease. Plus, it’d be an especially appropriate pairing because of Jon’s parentage: Rhaegal is named after his likely father, Rhaegar Targaryen. He doesn’t know it yet, but Jon Snow was born to be a dragon rider.