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- "My books are better than these boring scrolls. You could read about Balerion the Dread. They say you can still see his skull in the dungeons beneath the Red Keep. I'd like to see that some day... His fangs were as long as bastard-swords."
- ―Shireen Baratheon
Balerion, known as Balerion the Black Dread, was the dragon ridden by Aegon the Conqueror during the War of Conquest. He was so large it was said his shadow could swallow an entire town when Balerion took flight.
Balerion was employed by Aegon the Conqueror to burn and half-ruin Harrenhal. Balerion later participated, along with the other two Targaryen dragons, in the climactic battle of the War of Conquest: the Field of Fire.
Balerion's skull is seen in the cellars of the Red Keep when Cersei and Qyburn visit. The skull is massive, especially when compared to Cersei and it is clearly larger than Drogon's head. They use the skull to test a new weapon designed to defend against Daenerys's dragons. It shoots an arrow that goes right through the skull.
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, Balerion was the last surviving dragon from Valyria. When the Targaryens resettled on Dragonstone to escape the coming Doom of Valyria, they took five dragons with them, but four of these later died, leaving only Balerion. However, the other dragons did leave behind eggs, from which hatched Meraxes and Vhagar.
Balerion would have been only about a dozen or so years old when the Doom of Valyria occurred, very much still a juvenile.
Aegon personally used Balerion to burn out Harrenhal. Balerion destroyed the castle all by himself, as the other two dragons were away fighting other campaigns. He then took part in the Field of Fire alongside Vhagar and Meraxes.
After Aegon I died, Balerion bonded with his second son Maegor, known as "Maegor the Cruel". His first son Aenys succeeded Aegon upon his death, but Aenys had already bonded to the dragon Quicksilver. Maegor refused to attempt to bond with any dragon in his youth, intentionally waiting until his father died and Balerion was available for a new rider - feeling that he was worthy of nothing less than riding Balerion himself. Maegor made extensive use of Balerion during the eleven year long Faith Militant uprising, burning hundreds of members of the Faith Militant at King's Landing. He also participated in the major battle at the big fork of the Blackwater, albeit the rebels intentionally attacked during a heavy rainstorm so Balerion would have difficulty flying.
Balerion lived to just over two centuries old. The Targaryens moved to Dragonstone with Balerion about a century before the Targaryen Conquest of Westeros, and Balerion is stated to have died almost a century after that, late in the reign of King Jaehaerys I Targaryen. George R.R. Martin stated that Balerion died of old age, not from combat. Balerion's last rider was Jaehaerys I's grandson (and later successor), Viserys I, who did not bond with a new dragon after Balerion died. Jaehaerys I himself didn't ride Balerion, because he was bonded to Vermithor, who during the Dance of the Dragons was the oldest and largest dragon after Vhagar. It is unknown if Balerion had another rider in the number of years after Maegor died but before Viserys I rode him.
Balerion was the greatest Targaryen dragon who ever lived, the largest since the fall of Valyria. Dragons keep growing for their entire lives, meaning that Balerion was even larger during the Faith Militant uprising. Only Vhagar ever managed to approach Balerion in size, but only many years after his death. Vhagar was the youngest of the original three Targaryen dragons and therefore was not as large as the others. By the time of the civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons in 130 AC, however, Vhagar was approaching two hundred years in age, and had become nearly as large as Balerion during the War of Conquest. During the Dance, Vhagar's body core was said to be about five times larger than a war horse, meaning that Balerion was somewhat bigger than this. Balerion's skull was the largest in the collection of 19 dragon skulls that the Targaryens displayed in the Red Keep.
Balerion apparently mated with both Vhagar and Meraxes, though the exact lineage of subsequent Targaryen dragons has not yet been directly stated.
Balerion was colored black (hence his sobriquet of "The Black Dread"), with red highlights. Generations later, Daenerys Targaryen thinks that her newly hatched dragon Drogon resembles descriptions of Balerion so closely that he is actually a reincarnation of Balerion's spirit, though she gives him a new name for his new life.
Rhaenys Targaryen had a black kitten she named "Balerion" after the mighty dragon.
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