Beyond The Wall

How Euron Greyjoy Completely Changed the Final Showdown in 'Game of Thrones'

game of thrones euron
HBO
This post contains spoilers up through the fourth episode of Game of Thrones Season 8. Visit Beyond the Wall, our official Game of Thrones hub page for recaps, theories, spoilers, explainers, and the best episodes of all time.

And then there was one. After fighting his lizard heart out against undead brother Viserion, suffering several wounds and crash-landing in the process, Daenerys Targaryen's dragon Rhaegal survived the Battle of Winterfell, only to fall prey to Euron Greyjoy's surprisingly accurate first shots fired from the South's giant, anti-flying-reptile crossbow. Like Viserion's death at the end of Season 7, Rhaegal's demise came abruptly, just when you think the two dragons are going to give the North a huge advantage in the ultimate battle for King's Landing. Honestly, if an undead dragon plus millions of wights and their Night King commander couldn't take down Rhaegal, there's no reason to think the worst Greyjoy (and that's saying something!) would just... end him on his first attempt. Apparently these dragons are super easy to kill, as long as you aim your massive projectile very carefully

At the very least, Rhaegal's death means a lighter CGI budget for the final two Game of Thrones episodes ever. But it also has other, more plot-relevant, implications for the endgame of a show more and more people are loving to hate. Let's raise a glass of giant's milk, pour one out, and take a look back at the life and times of the only dragon Jon Snow's ever ridden.

Rhaegal the dragon definitely dies in Game of Thrones Episode 4.

With Melisandre dead and the Night King shattered into a gajillion icy shardsGame of Thrones has returned once and for all to the rational, magic-free world of the living, minus, you know, the dragons and Zombie Mountain and other affronts to realism. In this cruel world bound by the rigid laws of dragon anatomy, Euron, Cersei, and the Golden Company know that if it bleeds, they can kill it.

And boy, does Rhaegal bleed. He's still injured from the Battle of Winterfell, sure, but seems to be flying around just fine with Drogon and Dany at his side as the Northerners approach King's Landing. (Jon Snow isn't riding Rhaegal because "he needs to heal," even though Tormund points out that he weighs as much as "two fleas fucking." Hey, if Jon were riding him, then he'd be dead, too, which isn't going to happen.) Suddenly, a giant arrow hits him in the chest. Then another straight through the neck. The next thing you know, Tyrion and Varys are watching Rhaegal splash into the sea, 100% dead, leaving Dany and Drogon as the only significant battlefield advantage the North has. Still, one fire-breathing dragon and his very angry mother is infinitely better than a bunch of wildfire and a swashbuckling, overconfident Greyjoy.

That's it? That's all the Rhaegal we're ever going to see? 

Yep. If any of the dragons have to die, though, this order of death feels appropriate. Neither Rhaegal nor Viserion was Daenerys' primary mount -- that's Drogon, who's always been the "leader," so to speak, of the three dragon bros. After they hatched in Khal Drogo's funeral pyre, the Targaryen fam led an eventful life that included being stolen by Xaro Xhoan Daxos, plus some rough teenage years that saw their mom chain up Rhaegal and Viserion for being a little too unruly/murderous. In the end, though, everyone matured and learned some important life lessons, forgave Daenerys for locking them up during the prime of their lives, and went on to burn tons of nameless soldiers as Dany made her push for the Iron Throne. 

The White Walker threat took over the narrative toward the end of Season 7, which is also when Dany and her allies suddenly seemed to forget how to deploy dragons in battle. Seriously, you're not going to send your fire-breathing dragons out to destroy an army that's vulnerable to almost nothing except fire and dragonglass? Seems like a bad idea. 

That's all in the past now, and the story from here on out is all about the living. Rhaegal can no longer be counted among their ranks, which means we should focus on those who are.

Euron Greyjoy and the Night King are the only beings who can kill dragons, apparently. 

Euron? The worst fun uncle in the history of fun uncles? The creepy social climber who pressured Cersei into sleeping with him despite the fact that he didn't even bring the elephants? THIS GUY has accomplished the same near-impossible feat the late Night King once pulled off? Look, if Rhaegal has to die, fine -- but this is literally the first time Euron Greyjoy has fired a newly developed gigantic weapon at a living dragon, and he scores three direct hits right out of the gate. Never mind that the next, oh, dozen bolts fail to hit Drogon. There's no precedent for this kind of combat, so Euron apparently has a preternatural penchant for physics on par with Archimedes, allowing him to fire the bolt from a moving ship at a flying dragon and kill it pretty much instantly. 

Yes, nitpicking these kinds of plot improbabilities is one of the most annoying ways to consume Game of Thrones, a show featuring dragons and undead warriors and magic. But the banality, suddenness, and unlikely circumstances of Rhaegal's death, after surviving a huge battle, underscores the frustration many fans have had with the show since it departed from George R.R. Martin's source material.

Still, this is a fantasy TV show, folks. Not every death can "make sense" or "be satisfying" or "advance the plot" or "follow best practices of narrative storytelling."  

What does Rhaegal's death mean for the battle for the Iron Throne?

This is the million Gold Dragon question. Obviously Episode 4 didn't go well for Daenerys. Another dragon died. She saw Missandei, her loyal confidante, beheaded by The Mountain. Things seem to be slipping out of her grasp, and she's paid an enormous cost in her effort to seize the Iron Throne. What's stopping her from unleashing the full power of her remaining dragon on King's Landing?

This is the "Mad Queen" scenario that essentially has Daenerys turning into a version of the Mad King Aerys II Targaryen and indiscriminately burning the citizens and soldiers of King's Landing. On the one hand, this kind of massacre is clearly not the "right thing to do," but on the other, it kind of makes the most sense for Dany's character arc. What does she have to lose now? Reigning in her dragons has only backfired, and now that she's so close to the Throne -- devoid of her closest friend, shut out by the Starks, in a relationship with her nephew -- there's not a whole lot for Dany to live for except seizing the Iron Throne. By any means necessary. 

As for Euron, Cersei, and company, the temporary pleasure the Greyjoy experienced following his incredible shot will likely be drowned out by whatever retribution Daenerys levels. If the Army of the Dead is any indication, killing a dragon certainly doesn't guarantee you'll win the war. Especially if you don't have a single elephant on your side. 

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Anthony Schneck is an entertainment editor at Thrillist. Follow him @AnthonySchneck.