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Game of Thrones: how Euron Greyjoy evened up Cersei’s war against Daenerys

Vulgar seaman Euron Greyjoy provided one of the show’s most shocking moments so far this season.

Euron Greyjoy and Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones.
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

In the fourth episode of Game of Thrones’ final season, “The Last of the Starks,” we witnessed something that has never happened on the show before: A human killed one of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons.

Euron Greyjoy, the salty vulgarian seafarer, surprised Dany’s fleet and shot down her dragon Rhaegal with giant arrows fired from giant crossbows atop his ships. And in so doing, he ensured that Cersei Lannister won’t be facing as much firepower as before, while also striking a nerve in the hearts of Game of Thrones fans.

Dragons, thanks to their tough skin and ability to fly, are pretty difficult to kill, and until now, only the Night King — who possessed supernatural ice spear-throwing power, as we saw in season seven — was able to bring one down. Previously, there have been multiple instances on Game of Thrones where we’ve seen how helpless humans typically are against the fire-breathing beasts (see: the slavers of Meereen; the Sons of the Harpy). But the show has plotted the doom of these flying wonders before, and that backstory is the key to why Euron and his navy were finally able to do it.

Cersei has been researching how to kill dragons since season seven

To kill a dragon on Game of Thrones, one must be able to pierce its scaly skin.

Though we’ve seen dragons take damage in the past, they’ve ultimately been able to shrug it off if the weapons used against them weren’t able to really penetrate their hides. Case in point: In season five’s ninth episode, the Sons of the Harpy were able to hit Drogon with spears, but none were able to seriously wound him:

The only time we’ve ever seen a dragon die on Game of Thrones was during season seven’s sixth episode, “Beyond the Wall,” when the Night King launched an ice spear at Viserion. The spear hit the animal in the chest and pierced its hide, ultimately killing it:

But the Night King wasn’t the only one who wanted to destroy Dany’s dragons.

Earlier in season seven, Qyburn had discussed dragon physiology with Cersei as they strolled through a hall full of dragon skulls, explaining that Drogon had been hurt with spears in Meereen. That knowledge led Qyburn to ask blacksmiths to build scorpions — giant crossbows that are capable of shooting huge arrows with the tremendous force needed to puncture dragon skin. He demonstrated one of the machines for Cersei in a scene that’s now referenced in season eight’s opening credits, which show a scorpion launching an arrow into a dragon skull.

A couple of episodes later, Bronn used one of the scorpions during the loot train attack in “The Spoils of War” when Dany ambushed the Lannister army as they returned from Highgarden:

But when the scorpion’s arrow hit Drogon, Dany pulled it out of his skin like a thorn.

The difference between the two scenes appears to be that Bronn’s arrow didn’t hit any vital organs or sensitive spots on Drogon, whereas the Night King’s ice spear presumably hit Viserion’s heart or lungs. This aligns with what Qyburn demonstrated for Cersei, when he fired at the dragon skull through its eye socket, right into where its brain would’ve been.

This all came into play when Euron’s navy killed Rhaegal: He and his navy were able to hit Rhaegal multiple times with piercing arrows, and at least two of them landed in sensitive spots — the dragon’s chest and throat.

The slightly unbelievable thing about this turn of events is that, for as powerful as the army of the dead and the Night King were, they only managed to kill one dragon after attacking Dany and the Starks twice. One of those attacks also involved Rhaegal and the undead Viserion going head to head in the air (which did leave Rhaegal injured).

Further, it seems like landing that many consecutive hits on a dragon, especially when someone as battle-tested as Bronn was only barely able to pull off a minor hit on Drogon in season seven, would require a team that’s well-trained in dragon-slaying and much more accurate and maneuverable with a scorpion than we’ve ever seen. That’s not totally unbelievable, but it does mean that Euron and the Golden Company are perhaps a lot more powerful than we may have thought. Now that they’ve shown they can bring down a dragon, Cersei seems like a much more formidable final foe.