So, let’s talk about dragons. More specifically, let’s talk about how big they are. Dragons are famously pretty big, right? But let’s try to nail it down: how big is big?
Are you listening, David Benioff and Dan Weiss? Can you hear the fans, cursing this year’s delayed Game of Thrones premiere date? Look at your handiwork. This is what happens when you push people into a corner: they’re forced to spend all morning comparing the hypothetical sizes of fictional creatures.
Anyways, it all starts with a comment made this week by Matt Shakman, director of the upcoming seventh season’s fourth and fifth episodes. Shakman told Entertainment Weekly “the dragons this year are the size of 747s. Drogon is the biggest of the bunch – his flame is 30 feet in diameter!”
Shakman is the only newcomer director to Game of Thrones this year. And, as Entertainment Weekly also disclaimed, it’s more than likely that he was being pretty approximate in the size comparison. But it counts as a production hint, so we’re going to try and compare it with canonical knowledge about the dragons.
First, a little context refresher, for anyone who doesn’t rabidly consume any A Song of Ice and Fire lore they can find (what do you do with your time?). Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is in possession of the only dragons left in the world: Drogon, Viserion, and Rhaegal. She tends to play favorite, as any mother does, with Drogon, the biggest of the three.
Here’s the short version of the history of Westeros: Way back in the day, Aegon Targaryen (AKA Aegon the Conqueror) flew over to Westeros on the back of his gigantic dragon Balerion, The Black Dread. Aegon subsequently conquered (hence the nickname) the continent and installed a dynasty of Targaryen kings and queens that lasted for generations until Robert Baratheon’s rebellion cut it short about eighteen years before the events of Game of Thrones.
The final Targaryen king, The Mad King Aerys, was killed by a teenaged Jaime Lannister (saving the entirety of Kings Landing and earning the lifelong moniker The Kingslayer in a single day). The line of dragons, though, had ended earlier, with each generation having been born weaker and smaller until they were only the size of cats.
But Daenerys brought back the dragons (via the Khal Drogo funeral pyre/some Targaryen magic, presumably), and since that season one finale, they’ve just kept growing and growing. How big will they really get?
This conversation really comes down to Drogon, the biggest of Dany’s dragons, and Balerion, Aegon the Conqueror’s steed. Balerion The Black Dread is supposed to have been the biggest dragon in recent memory, if not ever. But it seems like nowadays, Drogon is getting pretty close.
For starters, here’s a 747 with people next to it:
So, if that plane were a dragon, those neon-vested workers would be in big trouble. A Boeing 747 is between 70 and 76 meters long, depending on the specific type (pictured is a 747-8, which is 76 meters long).
The fact that Drogon is being described as the “size of a 747” is significant, partially because it’s not the first time that metric has been used in a Game of Thrones context. Fans have been speculating for years about how big Balerion The Black Dread really was, and several parties have independently happened upon the 747 as a reasonable comparison.
For some examples, here’s a random forum discussion from a few years back, and here’s a good Daily Dot breakdown, both of which use a 747 as a reference point in the discussion. The Daily Dot piece gave us a helpful chart to use as well:
Their estimation puts Balerion at 76 meters, the same length as the 747-8 pictured above. It puts Drogon, Viserion and Rhaegal at 61 meters, but this was back in 2014. Based on how much they’ve been growing in the past two seasons, I think we can assume they’re on the fast track toward The Black Dread.
There’s another resource we can use here. If it’s true that Drogon will be a 747-sized dragon, almost if not equal to the legendary Balerion, then what does that actually look like? There are a few canonical books outside of the Song of Ice and Fire series proper, and one of them is The World of Ice and Fire, an encyclopedic index of familial and regional histories.
The book is full of gorgeous illustrations, and they are confirmed to be visual representations of George R. R. Martin’s own vision for the series (he co-wrote the book). In it, there’s an image of Aegon the Conqueror on the back of Balerion, riding into battle, as illustrated by Jordi Gonzalez Escamilla:
That’s pretty big. For reference, here’s what Dany looked like on Drogon’s back at the end of last season:
To put it mildly, though, when it comes to adapting a mind-blowing fantasy world into a television series, there are some logistical challenges. The Iron Throne itself has been one main sticking point (get it?) for fans of the book series, saying the HBO version isn’t nearly as grand and intimidating as it’s described in the novel. That fact is borne out by the Martin-approved art in The World of Ice and Fire:
That’s compared to the show’s version:
But, to be fair, the Iron Throne appeared in the show’s very first season, when the budget and viewership was much, much lower. Now HBO is going all in on CG for the dragons, as well as some practical effects, including real flames. So we really have no reason to doubt their claim that the dragons will be as big as we hope.
So, in summation: Drogon is on track to overtake Balerion as the biggest dragon in the series, and he may even do it this season. Past estimates put Balerion at about the size of a 747, which is exactly what director Matt Shakman said the dragons would compare to this year.
Game of Thrones doesn’t premiere until July 17, but that date is slowly getting sooner and sooner. The sooner, the better, I say. And when it comes to dragons – the bigger, the better.