Now for many viewers of HBO’s Game of Thrones, it is all about the dragons. But, really, can dragons fly? Let’s have a look at the biology behind it.
SPOILER ALERT: This article discusses Episode 9 of HBO’s Game of Thrones sixth season. Please proceed with caution if you wish to avoid spoilers.
Ian McShane once famously said to The Telegraph that Game of Thrones was only a show about “t*ts and dragons.” Sure, he might have a point there, but it is a show with a massive fan base that are hugely invested in not only the TV show, but the books the series is based on as well. And for those fans, they are not “only” dragons. They have names and Daenerys hatched them out of an intense love of her family and the deep-rooted desire to regain a hold on the iron throne. She walked through fire for those dragons.
Episode 9 of Game of Thrones showed probably the most epic dragon scene yet. When Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) returns to Meereen, she finds the city under attack from the Masters after Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) negotiated on her behalf to have slavery phased out. In response to the attack, Daenerys sets her dragons onto the Masters’ fleet. As they soared through the air, fans were mesmerized as the magnificent CGI beasts spewed vast pillars of fire at the ships and burned them to the waterline.
But could dragons really fly like that? Sure, they are a mythical creature, set in a make-believe universe, but are some rules in regard to the biology of the dragons applied from nature?
According to The Guardian, dragons have what is called “powered flight.” Every time you see a bird, insect, or bat in flight, that is powered flight, as opposed to when you see animals that glide through the air, such as possums, squirrels, and even snakes. Passive gliding is a means of traveling through the air but it is not a controlled form of flight like powered flight is. Alongside birds, bats, and insects, there is another extinct animal that also had powered flight: pterosaurs. If you studied dinosaurs at school, you might recognize the name Pterodactyl. This prehistoric creature could fly and it is likely that these creatures are the inspiration behind dragons such as those you see in Game of Thrones.
In order for an animal to have powered flight, they must biologically fit the requirements for aerodynamics. The largest flying animal known to man are the Pterosaurs. These creatures usually maintained a wingspan of 19-22 feet (6-7 meters). However, there have been some fossils found that puts their wingspan in at around 32 feet (10 meters), and as The Guardian points out, this is a comparable wingspan for Daenerys’ dragons right now in Game of Thrones.
So, in theory, an animal of this size could certainly fly, given the right equipment. When watching Daenerys’ dragons, they appear to use their wings to propel themselves into the air. Many animals who fly have developed strong legs that are designed for jumping into the air before they use their wings to take flight. The dragons in Game of Thrones, while they don’t appear to take flight in this manner, also have strong legs, so the option is obviously there if they need it. So, once again, the dragons certainly have the sort of leg structure akin to animals who use powered flight.
However, this is where things start to break down for the Game of Thrones dragons. While it is hard to say for certain if the bone density of Daenerys’ dragons are hollow like many animals that can fly, watching one land certainly indicates the beasts might be quite heavy. They tend to land with a heavy thud and hollow bones would be more likely to break in this instance.
There is also a tail issue with the dragons in Game of Thrones. While most animals who fly have small or feathered tails, Daenerys’ dragons have long, thick tails. Add this weight to the muscular legs her dragons are already sporting and flying begins to be a problem. While this might not be an issue for a Pterosaur whose wings have a broad base, Daenerys’ dragons in Game of Thrones have a wing structure like a bird’s in that they may have a broad span, but where the wing joins the animal’s body, there is only a joint for the wing to flare out of. This sort of wing works best on animals that are light weight and with smaller legs. For a dragon with a large tail and muscular back legs adding to its overall weight, this sort of wing cannot possibly thrust and lift in order to catch more air as they fly.
The final issue with the dragons in Game of Thrones is, once again, the inadequate wings. In order for their type of wing to work at lifting an animal and maintaining flight, there must be significant muscle behind them. And where would that muscle be located? Not in the tail and legs, that’s for sure. Instead, if you think about the last roast chicken you carved, the muscle would have to be located in the chest cavity in order to give the Game of Thrones dragons enough strength for flight. Of course, Game of Thrones is a show that can resurrect men after death using magic, so perhaps the dragons also have a little magic to help them fly.
What do you think of Daenerys’ dragons in Game of Thrones? Let us know by commenting below!
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[Image via HBO]