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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, the scorpion. It shoots a bolt 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.
After Maegor's death and the ascension of Jaehaerys I, Balerion remained riderless for several years, residing alongisde a riderless Vhagar and the other Targaryen dragons in the yards of Dragonstone while construction of the Dragonpit continued in King's Landing. When the seat was given over to Queen Rhaena Targaryen, King Jaehaerys's widowed sister, by the King's order, the dragons became the constant companions of the queen's daughter Aerea Targaryen. Aerea had been raised for most of her years in King's Landing, first as the acknowledged heir of King Maegor and then of King Jaehaerys, and she had loved the attention lavished on her as a queen-in-waiting. After her mother had asked for her to be placed in her care, Aerea was moved to Dragonstone where she grew miserable with the lack of attention and failed to get on with her mother. After the birth of King Jaehaerys's first children and the failure of a promise from Good Queen Alysanne to return the girl to the capital, Aerea fled to the yards where she claimed her first dragon; no less a mount that Balerion himself. The princess and the dragon fled Dragonstone, not to be seen again for a whole year. Rumours of a beast haunting the hills of Andalos, of a great fire in the Disputed Lands of Essos and a dragon fighting in the fighting pits of Astapor reached the agents of the Iron Throne in the east, but none were believed by the Red Keep as being Balerion. A year after their disappearance, Balerion and Aerea returned to Westeros, landing in the courtyard of the Red Keep one day that would long be remembered. Aerea was afflicted with something that neither the Grand Maester nor Septon Barth had ever seen before, a worm-like creature which had been roasting the girl from within. Only plunging her in a bath of freezing water was able to end the creatures, but it killed Aerea also. As worrying as the creatures had been, something else had terrified the court even more: Balerion, the greatest of the Targaryen dragons, had been wounded. The last time Balerion had faced a beast similar to himself in combat had been Quicksilver at the Battle Beneath the God's Eye, and he had made short work of the smaller dragon.
Where Balerion, Aerea and the creatures had come from was never know, but one theory continued to dominate the minds of those who had seen the affliction that had killed the princess and wounded the Black Dread: Septon Barth, King Jaehaerys's Hand, wrote an account claiming that the only place such things could have been found was in the smoking ruins of Valyria. Many had believed that Aerea had been the one to lead Balerion away but now the theory had been born that it had been the dragon that had taken the girl away. The Black Dread had been one of the five dragons taken by House Targaryen when they had fled Valyria for Dragonstone, and the only one who had survived to see the Conquest. This made Balerion the only creature to have witnessed Valyria at its height. Barth believed that the dragon had flown back to his homeland, taking the Targaryen princess with him. The creatures, and whatever had attacked Balerion, were most likely spawns of the sorceries the Valyrians had unleashed in their prime, or creatures born of the Doom that had claimed their civilization. Despite their lack of proof regarding Balerion and Aerea's destination, King Jaerhaerys and his advisors were sufficiently worried about the aberations that had killed Aerea Targaryen that they forbade any ship that sailed into Valyria from landing in the Seven Kingdoms.
Balerion lived to just over two centuries old. After Aerea Targaryen's death, he became the first dragon to be housed in the Dragonpit, where he remained for most of the Old King's reign. None claimed the Black Dread again until Jaehaerys's grandson, the future King Viserys I. By this time, Balerion had ceased to grow and was weakened by old age. When Viserys claimed him, he struggled to rise and could only fly around the city before returning to the Dragonpit. A year later, Balerion the Black Dread passed of old age, leaving Vhagar as the only surviving dragon from the time of Aegon's Conquest.
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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