Winter has come. The seventh season of Game of Thrones is off and running, and with only seven episodes, HBO doesn’t have time to hold our hands and explain things like where characters are, the history of new locations, or how the actions of one character affect the powder keg that is Westeros’ political climate. Luckily, between all of George R.R. Martin’s novels, and The World of Ice and Fire historical tome, there’s plenty of ways to fill in the blanks and we’re here to help. Obviously, spoilers and speculation will abound, so proceed at your own peril.
This Sunday, the disparate rulers of Westeros will meet face-to-face in the season finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones. While Daenerys doesn’t appear in the episode promos, one can safely assume she’ll be joining the meeting via dramatic dragon entrance once Queen Cersei and King Jon and their retinues have settled in. But just where is this historic meeting taking place? In the ruins of the Dragonpit in King’s Landing, a building with a rich and bloody history. It’s perfect for a showdown of wills between two Targaryens and the Lannister usurper.
It’s completely possible to enjoy Game of Thrones’ season finale without a history lesson about the Dragonpit, but for those interested in why a dilapidated monument to the past remains atop one of the highest points in King’s Landing, the story is worth knowing. While HBO hasn’t focused on the Dragonpit, it’s one of the most recognizable aspects of the city, towering above the populace on a plateau known as the Hill of Rhaenys. Looking at the Red Keep from the remains of the Great Sept of Baelor, the Dragonpit would be off camera and down to the right, springing up from earth to cover Flea Bottom in shadow.
Ostensibly the Dragonpit was created as a place for the royal Targaryens to house their dragons, but its history goes back much further, to the very beginning the Targaryen dynasty. When Aegon the Conqueror came to Westeros, he brought his two sister-wives with him: Visenya and Rhaenys. Of the two, Aegon loved Rhaenys the best. That will come into play later. After Aegon brought the Seven Kingdoms to heel, he broke ground on King’s Landing. The forested area was razed to the ground, and the three hills within the city walls would become Aegon’s High Hill (where the Red Keep is), Visenya’s Hill (where the Great Sept of Baelor was), and the Hill of Rhaenys (where the Dragonpit currently sits). However, Rhaenys’ hill originally had another sept atop it, one more splendid than the Great Sept known as the Sept of Remembrance. Aegon had the sept commissioned after the untimely death of Rhaenys during the First Dornish War and for two years after her death, Aegon’s reign was shrouded in grief, a time period known as the “Dragon’s Wroth.”
When Aegon the Conqueror died, the view from the (still incomplete) Red Keep would’ve shown him both the Great Sept and the Sept of Remembrance from his window, the two connected by the Street of Sisters. The Sept of Remembrance would soon have another purpose though: housing the Faith Militant. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same order recently resurrected by the High Sparrow before Cersei put a final end to the uprising. The original Faith Militant came about when King Aenys I (son of Aegon and Rhaenys) came to the throne. Aenys refused to keep his brother Maegor (son of Aegon and Visenya) from marrying his mistress Alys Harroway when Maegor was already wed to the High Septon’s niece, Ceryse Hightower. Bigamy was frowned upon, and the Faith Militant began to slowly gain power, using the Sept of Remembrance as their base of operations. Things came to a boiling point when King Aenys I wed his daughter Rhaena to his son Aegon, and the uprising began in earnest. The strain caused King Aerys I to die, and King Maegor I came into power after years in exile due to the Faith.
Maegor’s first order of business? Burn the Faith Militant to the ground and cement his legacy as Maegor the Cruel. Literally. Maegor mounted up on his dragon Balerion and burned the Sept of Remembrance to the ground, with the Faith Militant inside. Then, instead of rebuilding the memorial to his aunt, Maegor declared the space would be repurposed as the Dragonpit. Construction began immediately. It would stand for less than 100 years.
During the civil war between Aegon II and his sister Rhaenyra over succession to the throne, the Dragonpit was destroyed. The conflict, known as the Dance of the Dragons, split the Targaryen faction is half and dragonfire rained down on the smallfolk throughout the Seven Kingdoms. Into this chaos, a man known only as the Shepherd appeared. Preaching that dragons were the spawn of demons and must be destroyed, the Shepherd whipped the terrified and starving smallfolk of King’s Landing into a frenzy. This eventually culminated with thousands of people storming the Dragonpit to “cleanse” their city of evil. At the time, four dragons were housed in the Dragonpit — Shrykos, Morghul, Tyraxes, and Dreamfyre. Of the four, only Dreamfyre managed to temporarily escape the massacre, freeing herself from the chains that bound her to the Dragonpit and slaughtering her attackers by the hundreds. Another dragon — Syrax — had been at King’s Landing when the massacre began. Set loose by Prince Joffrey Velaryon, the riderless dragon cut down hundreds of people in rage, eating dozens of men whole, before finally succumbing to injuries of the mob. By the end of the night, the Dragonpit as nothing but a flaming ruin.
The smoking ruins of the Dragonpit would remain sealed for almost 80 years, only reopening during the reign of King Aerys I for the most depressing reason: the plague. Known as the Great Spring Sickness, the disease ravaged the Seven Kingdoms. In King’s Landing, four in every ten people succumbed, be they highborn or smallfolk. People were dying so quickly that the bodies were quickly piling up in the streets. The Hand of King at the time ordered the dead to be taken to the Dragonpit. Once the space was full (one history claims the bodies were piled ten feet deep), the Hand ordered the pyromancers to set the Dragonpit ablaze with wildfire to cleanse the city. The fire burned for days, spiraling out of control and eventually consuming a quarter of the city. Since then, the Dragonpit has remained sealed and abandoned. This means Cersei must have ordered her minions to clear out, not only rubble, but the ashy remains of hundreds of plague-ridden corpses in order to spruce the place up.
For what it’s worth, the great parley taking place in the dragon and wildfire scorched ruins of the Targaryen dynasty is an excellent backdrop. If the players know their history, the Dragonpit will be a somber reminder that the wheel is always turning. Whoever has the upper hand today could be crushed beneath the spokes tomorrow. Even dragons can be defeated by enough angry sheep.