House of the Dragon Season 2: How Dragons Work in Westeros

If Game of Thrones taught us anything, it was that a Targaryen with an adult dragon shouldn't be trifled with. But in House of the Dragon Season 2, premiering June 16, two opposing sides of House Targaryen—each with their own team of dragons—are set to face off against one another.

Set nearly 170 years before the events of Game of Thrones, the new season of House of the Dragon will chronicle the early days of the violent conflict known as the Dance of the Dragons, a war of succession that broke out between the ruling Targaryens. Following the death of King Viserys I Targaryen (played by Paddy Considine), the Iron Throne was contested by rival factions known as the Blacks—those who supported the claim of Viserys' eldest daughter, Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D'Arcy)—and the Greens, those who backed her younger half-brother, Aegon II Targaryen (Tom Glynn-Carney).

The prequel spinoff series is based on George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire companion novel Fire & Blood, which details how the Targaryens destroyed themselves from the inside out by pitting dragonrider against dragonrider during the Dance, all but ensuring their House's eventual downfall. As Fire & Blood explains, "It is no easy thing for a man to be a dragonslayer. But dragons can kill dragons, and have."

Here's what to know about how dragons work in the world of Westeros before the Targaryen Civil War gets fully underway in House of the Dragon Season 2.

The dragons and their riders

As things currently stand in House of the Dragon, the Blacks have five dragonriders with dragons of combat age—Rhaenyra and her dragon, Syrax; her uncle-husband Daemon (Matt Smith) and his dragon, Caraxes; her son Jacaerys (Harry Collett) and his dragon, Vermax; Daemon's daughter Baela (Bethany Antonia) and her dragon, Moondancer; and Viserys' cousin Rhaenys (Eve Best) and her dragon, Meleys. Rhaenyra's younger son Joffrey (Oscar Eskinazi) is also bonded to a dragon, Tyraxes, but both are too young to fight. Additionally, there are a number of unclaimed dragons hiding out on Dragonstone who could come into play in Season 2.

On the other side, the Greens have Aegon II and his dragon, Sunfyre; his younger brother Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) and his dragon, Vhagar—the largest and arguably most powerful living dragon—and his sister-wife Helaena (Phia Saban) and her dragon, Dreamfyre.

<span class="copyright">TIME graphic by Megan McCluskey and Lon Tweeten; HBO</span>
TIME graphic by Megan McCluskey and Lon Tweeten; HBO

The might of dragon power

As legend goes, around 5,000 years before Aegon I Targaryen's conquest of Westeros, the Valyrian people of Essos first discovered dragons nesting in a chain of volcanoes on their peninsula. Using ancient blood magic, the Targaryens and other Valyrian dragonlords were then able to tame the dragons, mount them to fly, and harness their fire-breathing abilities.

Thousands of years later, around a century after the Targaryens and their dragons relocated to Westeros in order to avoid the prophesied Doom of Valyria, Aegon the Conquerer set his mind to unifying Westeros under his rule. He accomplished this thanks to the unrivaled might of the dragons bonded to him and his two sister-wives, Visenya and Rhaenys.

With dragons Balerion the Black Dread, Meraxes, and Vhagar—the same Vhagar that appears in House of the Dragon—at their disposal, the three Targaryen sibling-spouses conquered six of the Seven Kingdoms with relative ease (Dorne was spared). Aegon I then melted down the swords of his defeated enemies to forge the Iron Throne, establishing the Targaryen dynasty that would remain in power for nearly 300 years, right up until Aerys II "The Mad King" Targaryen was killed during Robert's Rebellion—the revolt that set in motion the events of Game of Thrones.

Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) and his dragon Caraxes in <i>House of the Dragon</i> Season 1.<span class="copyright">HBO</span>
Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) and his dragon Caraxes in House of the Dragon Season 1.HBO

As the only family of dragonlords to survive the Doom of Valyria and settle in Westeros, the Targaryens and their dragons were positioned to rule for as long as their House maintained a united front. But, following Aegon's conquest, it took little more than a century for the in-fighting of the Dance to kick off and dragons to start killing other dragons—beginning with Aemond and Vhagar murdering Rhaenyra's son Lucerys (Elliot Grihault) and his dragon, Arrax. From that point on, the Targaryens' standing as the ruling house of Westeros was irrevocably weakened.

In a Season 1 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Considine spoke about how Viserys, the final rider of Balerion before the Black Dread's death, may have been the last Targaryen royal to comprehend the true magnitude of the dragons.

"I just think Viserys has an understanding of dragons," he said. "He actually sees them as very, very dangerous and a huge responsibility. He understands fully that it's these dragons that make the Targaryens powerful. He also has an understanding of their potential to destroy the world. He sees them as nuclear bombs in a way. I think [his younger brother] Daemon would happily ride on dragons and torch everything, whereas Viserys is very much like, 'You have to behave responsibly with these creatures that we have'—with these weapons, really."

Read More: What to Remember About the War Between the Greens and Blacks Before House of the Dragon Season 2

The nature of the dragon bond

Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best) rides her dragon Meleys in <i>House of the Dragon</i> Season 1.<span class="copyright">Ollie Upton—HBO</span>
Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best) rides her dragon Meleys in House of the Dragon Season 1.Ollie Upton—HBO

Sometime after their conquest of Westeros, House Targaryen made it common practice to place a dragon egg in the cradle of a newborn baby in the hopes that it would hatch and grow alongside its rider, strengthening their bond. However, that doesn't always pan out, as was evidenced in the first season by neither Aemond nor Daemon's younger daughter, Rhaena (Phoebe Campbell), having a dragon prior to Aemond claiming Vhagar.

Once a dragon bonds with a rider, that dragon won't let anyone else mount it alone while its rider is still living (although a dragon may allow another person on its back as long as its rider is also present). A new rider can only tame a dragon after its previous rider has died—as we saw Aemond do with Vhagar following the death of her previous rider, Laena Velaryon (Nanna Blondell).

However, no rider, despite the strength of their bond, ever has full control over a dragon. As Viserys told a young Rhaenyra in the House of the Dragon series premiere, "The idea that we control the dragons is an illusion. They're a power man should never have trifled with. One that brought Valyria its doom. If we don't mind our own histories, it will do the same to us. Targaryen must understand this to be King...or Queen."

Write to Megan McCluskey at