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There Are No Dragons in Game of Thrones

Yes, you read that right. None of these fantasy series have dragons in them at all. And I don’t just mean that dragons aren’t real and so they’re puppets or CGI or any of that no-fun nonsense. I mean that in the universes in which these stories are set, in the actual encounters that many of our favorite characters have with monsters and magical creatures, there are no dragons.

This is the part where we get very technical and very nerdy all at once, so buckle up. I am not saying that Harry Potter, Bilbo Baggins, Jon Snow, and the like never do battle with great, scaly beasts. Because they definitely do. But those fire-breathing baddies aren’t dragons. The creatures most commonly being used in these fantasy worlds are actually called Wyverns, and are misnamed as dragons.

“What’s the difference?” I hear you asking. Great question! Dragons have four legs and two (or more) wings. Wyverns have two legs and two wings, which they often balance on to give the appearance of four legs. So, dragons are quadrupeds and wyverns are bipeds. In the vast majority of popular fantasy stories, the “dragons” depicted have two legs and two massive wings, so they aren’t dragons at all!

Think about it. Your favorite dragon is probably a wyvern. Norbert, the Hungarian Horntail, and the Gringotts “dragon” from Harry Potter are all wyverns. The smooth-talking Smaug from The Hobbit? A wyvern. Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen should be called “Mother of Wyverns” because her children sure aren’t dragons. Toothless and Spyro are more dragons than Drogon could ever be. 

But why stop there? There are many fantasy creatures mistaken for dragons. The word “drake,” for example, is often used interchangeably with the word “dragon,” but drakes are a completely different animal. They have four legs, scales and danger breath like dragons, yes, but they are completely flightless, lacking wings. Take away the limbs entirely, and now you have a wyrm. Wyrms are, as the name implies, basically big, scaly worms with draconic faces and abilities. If it looks like a wyrm but has two front legs to prop itself up on it. It’s a lindworm. If it looks like a wyrm but it has two wings, it’s an amphithere. The list goes on and on depending on the number of legs and/or wings a creature has (or, in the Hydra’s case, the number of heads) but the most common dragon-like fantasy creatures are dragons, wyverns, drakes, and wyrms. 

I should also clarify that this specific definition of a dragon is from western mythology. Eastern dragons have their own rich cultural lore behind them and are considered to be like deities rather than monsters. They are most often depicted with long, furry bodies and whiskers and without wings—they do fly, but through magic. 

If we were to scientifically classify all of these animals, they would be in the same biological families, but they would belong to different genuses because family classification is more general (large magic lizards) while genus gets more specific (their anatomical differences would separate them there). Then, the specific subcategories of each type would be different species. So, they all would be related, but different in the way that a wolf is different from a fox or a dog, and vice versa. 

There you have it! A basic guide to our draconic friends. Now, when a hero in a movie sets off to slay a “dragon,” you’ll know whether or not that’s really the case. That doesn’t mean that these other species are less interesting than dragons—far from it! They’re just different, and those differences can make for rich storytelling, as long as the writers do their research. 

[Gifs courtesy of giphy.com]

A Creative Writing and Professional Writing double-major and a huge geek
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