Won’t someone think of the dragons?
Note: This article contains spoilers for House of the Dragon, “The Rogue Prince.”
House of the Dragon’s second episode, “The Rogue Prince,” sees the rogue in question, Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith), borrowing an egg from the King’s Landing dragon pit. In an act of sheer trolling, he brings the egg back to Dragonstone, where he’s been living without the king’s assent. When the King’s Hand and the King’s Watch and Princess Rhaenyra all come to retrieve it, he tosses it around like an extra-large football before glibly handing it over.
This scene left us with some key questions, namely: What was the point of this entire exercise, and is it even safe to toss a dragon egg around like that?
It turns out Daemon doesn’t really have any reason to nab the egg, disrupt the social order, and tempt a skirmish at his family’s ancestral manse. His pretext for needing the egg is that he’s marrying his lover Mysaria, who’s pregnant with his child. (He presumes this child will be a son, because every unborn royal child in this era of Westeros is apparently male by default.) He therefore claims the right to gift his future child an egg of its own. But as it happens, not a bit of this is true: Mysaria isn’t pregnant, and she’s rightfully pissed about having this dumb prank play out at her expense. It’s not even clear if they’re really getting married.
Of course, one could make the argument that if Daemon were playing four-dimensional chess, he might have used this entire incident as a form of saber-rattling — with sperm instead of swords. In this scenario, he aimed to threaten his brother, King Viserys, with the threat of producing a potential heir, thus pushing Viserys to arrange a hasty marriage. Daemon knows this marriage will further exacerbate the tensions among the king’s council, and he can and does use that friction to his advantage.
By the end of the episode, he’s allied himself with Corlys Velaryon, who’s angry because his extremely eligible daughter was overlooked by the king. If Daemon were engaged, say, in some sort of high-level competition over who gets to rule the kingdom, we might speculate that this was his goal all along.
But this show is not called Competition of the Ceremonial Chairs. It is called House of the Dragon, and so we must ask: Why was Daemon so willing to treat a priceless dragon egg like a prop from Bend It Like Beckham? The egg Daemon is holding belongs to a silver-blue dragon, Dreamfyre, who hasn’t been seen yet but may well turn up in later episodes. The egg itself is special because Rhaenyra had chosen it to be the companion of her younger brother, who would have been King Viserys’s heir, but sadly passed away shortly after birth following the extremely sadistic events of the show’s first episode.
Daemon’s choice to take that specific egg was enough to spur the king into a rage and deploy half of his guard to come retrieve it. Would it really be safe or sensible for him to toy with it? Just how strong and durable are these dragon eggs anyway?
To find out, we turned to Vicky Zhuang, manager of the University of Texas at El Paso’s biodiversity collection. Zhuang’s a herpetologist, meaning she studies reptiles. But she turned out to be pretty good at ornithology, too, which was lucky for us, because we were soon presented with a dilemma: Are Westerosi dragons descended from lizards or birds?
The answer to this question makes a pretty significant difference to the fate of our dragon egg. “We’d have to be careful of mainly two things,” Zhuang told us in an email. “The eggshell breaking and the contents being shook so vigorously that they break.”
Most reptile eggs are soft-shelled, Zhuang informed us, which makes them pretty sensitive to any turning and movement. So reptile eggs would be pretty vulnerable to all that jostling. Or, as Zhuang put it in an email, they “would really be scrambled if tossed!”
Bird eggs, however, not only have hard shells, but they come with a built-in set of cables called chalazae that anchor the yolk to the shell casing — like a seatbelt for your baby carrier. That would help keep the egg stable in the event of a black-sheep Targaryen deciding to play volleyball with it while standing on a narrow wall hundreds of feet above the earth.
Fortunately for Junior Dreamfyre, Westerosi dragons might be descended from both creatures. The visual effects specialists who worked on Game of Thrones took inspiration primarily from reptiles and adjacent creatures, including “alligators, lizards, horny toads and bats.” They also added more reptilian traits as the show progressed — making them scalier, for example.
But in a checkmark under the “bird” column, the dragons of House Targaryen frequently move, fly, and perch like birds, and like birds, they only have two legs and one set of wings. And, crucially, their eggs have hard shells.
That brings us to the egg itself. Somewhat larger and rounder than a football, it looks more like a filed-down, shellacked pine cone than any egg found in nature. But its imposing appearance may give it a distinct advantage.
“The closest egg I can think of to the size and shape of those dragon eggs is probably an ostrich egg,” Zhuang said. “Ostrich eggs are about 3 pounds and pretty hardy!”
Using ostrich eggs as our baseline, things get a lot rosier for our baby dragon. “I’d imagine dragon eggs would take quite a bit to break,” Zhuang said. “You generally need a hammer or something like a rock and some force to break ostrich eggs, and the shell can survive some small drops. People can step on ostrich eggs with their full weight, and the egg will be fine!”
Zhuang noted that the chalazae of a bird’s egg can break due to shaking or tossing — a point against our dragon kid’s survival. However, it’s unlikely the dragon egg experienced too much tossing and turning during the boat ride across Blackwater Bay. “Regular transportation seems to be fine,” she assured us. “Farms shipping out hatching chicken eggs across the country with appropriate packaging and handling can have pretty high success rates, and researchers have at least some evidence that jarring from transport for emu and kiwi eggs won’t severely affect hatching rates.”
So carting the egg around Westeros is probably fine — not ideal, but fine. Also, recall, 200 years in the future, Daenerys Targaryen will tote three eggs around half of Essos before discovering just how durable dragon eggs can be.
But carting isn’t the same as throwing, which Zhuang says would not be good for this unborn dragon.
“Tossing an ostrich egg would probably be the real problem,” Zhuang said, “unless it really was a fairly gentle game.” Even that, she speculated, could be devastating, as it “would likely lead to a malformed chick.”
Still, there’s reason for optimism: Egg-tossing likely wouldn’t stop the egg from hatching in the end. In fact, she told us, “Wildlife management used to use shaking more as a way to stop certain bird populations from getting out of control, but sometimes the birds would still hatch, which is why they’ve moved to other methods.”
So, most likely scenario? Junior Dreamfyre survives, but has some developmental issues. We’re dubious that Daemon had egg safety on his mind when he embarked on his little game of hot potato. Like the women of Westeros, the dragons of Westeros are little more than tools for the royal court, and you don’t stop to wonder if your Humpty Dumpty hammer can survive a great fall.