Daenerys Targaryen brings dragons back into the world in Game of Thrones, but just what happened to make them all die out before then? Daenerys’ dragons are setup from Game of Thrones episode 1, when she’s gifted three eggs from Illyrio Mopatis for her wedding to Khal Drogo. It’s not until the very end of Game of Thrones season 1, though, that the eggs will hatch within Drogo’s funeral pyre, with Daenerys bringing forth three baby dragons and changing the course of history in the world of ice and fire.
Daenerys’ ability to withstand the fire and emerge with three dragons is impressive in its own right, but is even more so given they were the first dragons seen in the world for over 100 years. Daenerys’ dragons were the biggest weapon in her arsenal as she looked to conquer Westeros and claim the Iron Throne, and for much of Game of Thrones’ run seemed near-impossible to kill. That may have changed in the final two seasons of the show, which saw both Viserion and Rhaegal die, but nonetheless it begs the question of how the dragons died out before then.
300 years before the events of Game of Thrones, Aegon the Conqueror brought Targaryens and their dragons to Westeros; fast forward around 130 years, to the time of the Targaryen Civil War – the Dance of the Dragons – approximately 20 dragons existed in Westeros. Lasting for around two years, the Dance of the Dragons was and remains one of the bloodiest conflicts in Westeros history, with countless deaths on each side of the war – and that goes for dragons too. Many Targaryen dragons were killed in the Dance – only four survived – giving one of the biggest reasons for why there are none left by the time of Daenerys et al, although not the only reason.
Both prior to and during the Dance of the Dragons, many of the winged beasts were kept confined within the Dragonpit at King’s Landing. Although the Targaryens wanting somewhere to house them is somewhat understandable given their immense power, keeping them caged up stunted the dragons’ growth, resulting in some that were smaller and weaker, and so less likely to survive anyway, with Tyrion Lannister noting, “the last dragons were no larger than cats.” This largely holds true with what’s known of the very last dragon, who died during the reign of King Aegon III Targaryen in 153 AC, giving him the nickname “Dragonbane.” Add in so few surviving dragons, and those that did live mostly disappearing, then it also stands to reason the remaining dragon eggs in the world went unfertilized and there weren’t enough dragons for mating.
Another possible reason for the dragons dying out in Game of Thrones lies with the Maesters of the Citadel, and their apparent attempts to snuff out magic from the world. In the fourth of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books, A Feast for Crows, Archmaester Marwyn tells Samwell Tarly: “Who do you think killed all the dragons the last time around? Gallant dragonslayers armed with swords? The world the Citadel is building has no place in it for sorcery or prophecy or glass candles, much less for dragons.”
Although not totally confirmed that the Maesters destroyed the dragons in Game of Thrones, their steadfast support of cold hard logic naturally makes them opposed to magic and fantastical creatures. Given how magic itself seemed to disappear from the world, that few dragon eggs were hatched after the Dance (despite plenty of attempts), and that magic’s return coincided with that of the dragons, then it is plausible the Maesters had a hand in stamping out the last of the Targaryen dragons. What their exact method would’ve been is unknown, but they could have developed a poison to radically stunt growth and/or prevent hatchings, or altered the birthing or fertilization of eggs in some other way. Even with that, though, there’s also a chance the Targaryens, with their inherent madness and thirst for power, would’ve accomplished it all on their own.