In Game of Thrones' Season 8 premiere, an event took place that fans have been anticipating for years: Jon Snow rode a dragon. But the King in the North's joy ride on Rhaegal raises just as many questions as it does answers: namely, who can ride a dragon in the Game Of Thrones universe? Believe it or not, this mystery doesn't have a clear solution, and the answer may be different on the show than it is in the books.
Halfway through the episode "Winterfell," Jon and Daenerys went to visit her two remaining dragons and, at the queen's encouragement, Jon mounted Drogon's brother. Jon and Dany then went for a scenic tour of the North, landing at a picturesque waterfall for a quick makeout sesh under the watchful eyes of the dragons. Based on the way things played out in this scene, the answer to who can ride a dragon seems to be: anyone who the dragon will allow on its back. "I don't know how to ride a dragon!" Jon protested. "Nobody does, until they ride a dragon," Dany responded. So does a person simply need to earn a dragon's respect, like a hippogriff, before mounting it? Dany's lack of surprise at Jon's success certainly seems to indicate this is the case.
But in the "Inside The Episode" clip that aired at the end of "Winterfell," showrunner David Benioff seemed to directly contradict the answer the scene itself seemed to suggest. "No one's ever ridden a dragon except for Dany," he says. "Only Targaryens can ride dragons, and that should be a sign for Jon. Jon's not always the quickest on the uptake, but eventually he gets there."
But if that's the case, then shouldn't that have been a sign for Dany as much as Jon? If it's true that only Targaryens can ride dragons, why is she not the least bit surprised when Jon rides Rhaegal? And why would she have suggested that he try in the first place? Not knowing Jon is a Targaryen, she should have assumed such an attempt would have ended in a brutal death for her lover. It's possible that Dany doesn't know only Targaryens can ride dragons… but growing up with her older brother Viserys constantly boasting of the greatness of their family, wouldn't he have told her that at some point?
And Benioff's statement gets even more confusing upon a closer examination. He claims that "no one's ever ridden a dragon except for Dany" — but every viewer and every citizen of Westeros knows that's not true, since Aegon the Conqueror and his two sisters united the Seven Kingdoms on the backs of their dragons Balerion, Vhagar, and Meraxes. Perhaps Benioff means "no one's ever ridden a dragon except for Dany" since the rebirth of the dragons in Season 1 — but even that's not true, since the Night King rode Viserion in the Season 7 finale.
Benioff's claim that "only Targaryens can ride dragons" also doesn't hold up under scrutiny. It's not Targaryen blood that's a requirement for dragon-riding: it's the blood of Old Valyria, from whence the Targaryens came. The Targaryens were far from the only dragon-riding family in Old Valyria; in fact, they were considered relatively minor and insignificant members of the ancient empire, who are only famous now for being the sole survivors of the Doom, after fleeing Valyria for Dragonstone before the cataclysmic event.
Anyone descended from Valyrian families should be able to ride a dragon, not just Targaryens. In the books, this includes members of the House Velaryon, whose silver hair and purple eyes herald their Valyrian ancestry. (Addam Velaryon, who rode on the back of the dragon Seamoke, was one of the major figures in the civil war known as the Dance of Dragons.)
If Benioff and his co-creator D.B. Weiss have changed the rules from Martin's books so that only Targaryens specifically can ride dragons, it wouldn't be the first rule about Targaryens or dragons that they've changed for the show. In the books, Daenerys surviving the pyre that birthed her dragons was a one-time event, a magical miracle caused by the burning of the witch and the sacrifice of her husband; on the show, Targaryens are fully fireproof. In the books, dragons cannot venture beyond the Wall; on the show, Dany took all three of hers past that magical defense to battle the Night King.
Even if Benioff and Weiss have re-written the rules so that only Targaryens can ride dragons, that doesn't mean Jon and Dany are the only characters on the show capable of taming one. The founding member of House Baratheon, Orys Baratheon, was the bastard half-brother of Aegon the Conqueror. Robert Baratheon's own grandfather, Ormund, also married a Targaryen, Rhaelle, bringing even more Targaryen blood into their family. Although most of the Baratheons have been wiped out, one of King Robert's progeny remains: Gendry. The blood of the Targaryens flows in Gendry's veins, even if he doesn't know it.
While dragons bond with their riders for life, if either Jon or Dany were to fall in battle, Gendry has the lineage necessary to take up their mantle as a dragon-rider. Will he? With only five episodes left in the show, it seems doubtful… but it's fun to imagine.