Game of Thrones season 8, episode 4 sends Daenerys and her armies south, but on the way a surprise attack from Euron Greyjoy kills another of her dragons - Rhaegal, the dragon Jon rode for the first time just episodes earlier. As the final season of the hit HBO series, it was always expected that more major characters would die before the end, but there's something especially sad about losing another of these incredible creatures.
With the Night King and his army of the dead defeated, the focus in this week’s episode, "The Last of the Starks", shifts back towards the fight for the Iron Throne. Having sat out the Great War, Cersei not only remains safely holed up in King’s Landing but she still has the Lannister army, the Greyjoy fleet, and the Golden Company. Daenerys' forces, on the other hand, have been severely depleted and those who can still fight have barely had the chance to rest. Cersei already has an advantage, and she only increases that advantage but successfully killing one of Daenerys two remaining dragons.
As Game of Thrones season 8 shows the Targaryen fleet traveling back to Dragonstone, the dragons are flying above the ships. Daenerys is riding Drogon and observing how Rhaegal is recovering from the fight with the Night King and Viserion. Though Rhaegal is still visibly injured (there's a hole in one of his wings, for instance), the dragon appears to be on the mend. Just then, however, a bolt hits Rhaegal in the chest, followed by more - including a kill shot directly to his head that sends the dragon careening into the sea below. The Greyjoy fleet has managed to come up on them without being noticed, armed with more of Qyburn's deadly scorpion ballistas. With the element of surprise and Rhaegal's injuries making him slower and weaker, he sadly proves to be an easy target.
There is precedence already for these scorpions and their dragon-piercing bolts being able to down a dragon. In season 6, when Daenerys attacks the Lannister army, Bronn manages to hit Drogon, and while it isn't a kill shot, it does force him to land. Rhaegal also isn't the first dragon to be killed by a scorpion's bolt. Back during the time of Aegon the Conqueror, his sister, Rhaenys' dragon, Meraxes is killed by a bolt to the eye, crashing and killing Rhaenys in the process. The only part of Rhaegal's death that's a little hard to believe is how easily Euron gets the drop on Daenerys and her dragons. Given her vantage point up in the sky, Daenerys should have seen the Greyjoy fleet approaching, but then, perhaps she's too focused on Rhaegal to notice.
Besides Rhaegal proving to be a slow moving, easy to hit target, the decision that another dragon dies clearly has important plot implications. The playing field between Cersei's armies and Daenerys' has been leveled, if not tipped in Cersei's favor. That helps to create doubt over whether or not Game of Thrones' "heroes" will be able to defeat her. Then again, the one-two punch of losing another of her children followed by her best friend, Missandei may very well be what pushes Daenerys over the edge. She's already been having difficulty reigning in her more ruthless instincts, and now, she may see no other option.
Additionally, the death of Rhaegal signals the end for the dragons. With only one dragon left alive there is almost no chance of continuing the species. And while, yes, both Rhaegal and Drogon are male, dragons have been known to switch sexes in order to breed (similar to some frogs and snakes). As long as there was at least two, there was a good chance they could continue. Now, however, it'd take a miracle the likes of Daenerys "birthing" her dragons from stone eggs for there to ever be more dragons. The death of Rhaegal as well as the deaths of Melisandre and Beric Dondarrion are all signs that magic will not be returning to Westeros and that the age of such myths and legends is truly ending.
And yet, while it makes both narrative and thematic sense for Rhaegal to die, leaving Drogon as the last living dragon, it doesn't make it any easier to accept. The dragons have been a real draw for Game of Thrones and their growing presence in recent seasons only made them more popular. Fans took Viserion's death and subsequent evil resurrection very hard, so it's almost certain Rhaegal's will be met with a similar outpouring of grief. Needless to say, Drogon better watch his back.
Game of Thrones season 8 continues next Sunday, May 12 at 9:00pm on HBO.