Tuesday, September 26, 2023

House of the Dragon, Episode 2: Can You Throw a Targaryen Dragon Egg?

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Will no one think of the dragons?

Note: This article contains spoilers for: House of the Dragon“The Rogue Prince.”

House of the DragonIn the second episode, “The Rogue Prince,” you see the villain in question, Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith), borrow an egg from the King’s Landing dragon pit. In an act of pure trolling, he returns the egg to Dragonstone, where it has lived without the king’s permission. When the King’s Hand, the King’s Watch and Princess Rhaenyra all come to get it, he tosses it around like an oversized soccer ball before handing it lightly.

This scene left us with some important questions, namely: what was the point of this whole exercise, and is it even safe to throw a dragon egg like that?

As it turns out, Daemon has no real reason to grab the egg, disrupt social order, and provoke a skirmish in his family’s ancestral rectory. His pretext for needing the egg is that he marries his beloved Mysaria, who is pregnant with his child. (He assumes that this child will be a son, since every unborn royal child in this age of Westeros is apparently male by default.) He therefore claims the right to give his future child an egg of his own. But coincidentally, it’s not true: Mysaria isn’t pregnant, and she’s justifiably pissed that this stupid prank is playing out at her expense. It’s not even clear if they’re really getting married.

You could of course make the argument that if Daemon were playing four-dimensional chess, he might have used this whole incident as some form of saber-rattling – using sperm instead of swords. In this scenario, he wanted to threaten his brother, King Viserys, with the threat of producing a potential heir, prompting Viserys to arrange a hasty marriage. Daemon knows that this marriage will further exacerbate tensions between the king’s council, and he can and will use that friction to his advantage.

By the end of the episode, he has bonded with Corlys Velaryon, who is angry because his extremely capable daughter was overlooked by the king. For example, if Daemon was engaged in some kind of high-level competition over who gets to rule the kingdom, we might speculate that this has always been his goal.

But this show is not called Contest of the ceremonial chairs. It is called House of the Dragonand so we have to ask: why was Daemon so willing to treat a priceless dragon egg as 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 show up in later episodes. The egg itself is special in that Rhaenyra had chosen it as the companion of her younger brother, who would be King Viserys’s heir, but sadly died shortly after birth following the extremely sadistic events of the show’s first episode.

Daemon’s choice to take that particular egg was enough to anger the king and deploy half of his guard to come and retrieve it. Would it really be safe or sensible for him to play with it? Just how strong and durable are these dragon eggs?

To find out, we turned to Vicky Zhuang, University of Texas manager at the El Paso Biodiversity Collection. Zhuang is a herpetologist, which means she studies reptiles. But she also turned out to be quite good at ornithology, which was lucky for us, because soon we were faced with a dilemma: are Westerosi dragons descendants of lizards or birds?

The answer to this question makes quite a difference to the fate of our dragon egg. “We should pay particular attention to two things,” Zhuang told us in an email. “The eggshell breaks and the contents are shaken so vigorously that they break.”

Most reptile eggs have a soft shell, Zhuang told us, making them quite sensitive to any twist and movement. So reptile eggs would be pretty vulnerable to all that jostling. Or, as Zhuang put it in an email, “would really mess them up if thrown away!”

However, bird eggs not only have hard shells, but they also come with a built-in set of cables called chalazae that anchor the yolk to the shell — like a seat belt for your baby carrier. That would help keep the egg stable in the event that a black sheep Targaryen decides to play volleyball with it while standing on a narrow wall several hundred feet above the earth.

Luckily for Junior Dreamfyre, Westerosi dragons can be descended from both creatures. The visual effects specialists who worked on Game of Thrones gained inspiration mainly from reptiles and adjacent creatures, including “alligators, lizards, horny toads, and bats.” They also added more reptilian traits as the show went on, making them more flaky, for example.

But in a tick under the ‘bird’ column, House Targaryen’s dragons often move, fly, and caress like birds, and like birds, they have only two legs and one set of wings. And, crucially, their eggs have hard shells.

Which brings us to the egg itself. Slightly larger and rounder than a football, it looks more like a filed, peeled pinecone than any other egg found in nature. But his imposing looks can give him a definite advantage.

“The closest egg to the size and shape of those dragon eggs is probably an ostrich egg,” Zhuang said. “Ostrich eggs are about 3 pounds and quite hardy!”

With ostrich eggs as our baseline, things get a lot rosier for our baby dragon. “I can imagine dragon eggs take quite a while 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 a few small drops. People can step on ostrich eggs with their full weight, and the egg will be fine!”

Zhuang noted that a bird’s egg chalazae can break as a result of shaking or throwing – a point against our dragon child’s survival. However, it is unlikely that the dragon egg will toss and turn too much during the Blackwater Bay boat trip. “Regular transport seems to be fine”, she assured us. “Farms that hatch chicken eggs nationwide with proper packaging and handling can have pretty high success rates, and researchers have at least some evidence that the transport of emu and kiwi eggs will not have a major impact on egg hatching.”

So transporting the egg around Westeros is probably fine – not ideal, but fine. Also consider that 200 years into the future, Daenerys Targaryen will be lugging three eggs around half of Essos before discovering how sustainable dragon eggs can be.

But karting is not the same as throwing, which Zhuang says would not be good for this unborn dragon.

“Throwing an ostrich egg would probably be the real problem,” Zhuang said, “unless it was really a pretty gentle game.” Even that, she speculated, could be devastating, as it would “probably lead to a deformed chick.”

Still, there’s reason for optimism: throwing eggs probably wouldn’t make the egg hatch in the end. In fact, she told us, “Wildlife management used to use more shaking to prevent certain bird populations from getting out of hand, but sometimes the birds still hatched, which is why they switched to other methods.”

So, most likely scenario? Junior Dreamfyre survives, but has some developmental issues. We doubt that Daemon had egg safety in mind when he started his game of hot potato. Like the women of Westeros, the dragons of Westeros are little more than tools for the royal court, and you won’t wonder if your Humpty Dumpty hammer can survive a big fall.

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