Warning: contains spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 8 and House of the Dragon episode 4, “King of the Narrow Sea.”
Nothing gets past Game of Thrones fans. From the first teaser for House of the Dragon, the briefest glimpse of a distinctive hilt on the hip of King Viserys I sparked discussion. Could that be the ‘Catspaw Dagger’ used by Arya Stark to kill the Night King and end the Great War? The same weapon used in the season one attempt on Bran Stark’s life that indirectly sparked the War of the Five Kings? The curved-blade, dragonbone-hilt, Valyrian steel knife that Samwell Tarly found illustrated in one of the books he stole from the Citadel?
Yup. The very one. (With a slightly shorter blade but the same silhouette.)
It’s now canon that King Viserys I was a previous owner of the Catspaw Dagger, so nicknamed in Game of Thrones when a ‘catspaw assassin’ (or killer-for-hire), used it to try to murder a paralysed Bran Stark after Jaime Lannister pushed him from the tower in episode one. Viserys has worn the weapon at his Small Council meetings and at the Tourney celebrating the birth of Prince Baelon. And now, he’s revealed its lineage and significance as a royal Targaryen heirloom.
A Royal Targaryen Heirloom
In ‘King of the Narrow Sea’, Viserys was at loggerheads with his daughter Rhaenyra. She’d spent the episode experimenting with her sexuality and independence – two areas generally fenced off to unmarried royal women. To remind her of her ancestral responsibilities, Viserys summoned Rhaenyra to his chamber where she saw the ridged dragonbone hilt of her father’s dagger resting on the edge of a brazier. “That dagger once belonged to Aegon the Conqueror,” he told her. “It was Aenar’s before that and before that, well, it is difficult to know.”
Viserys took the blade from the flames and showed Rhaenyra its secret: runes only visible when the Valyrian steel blade was heated by fire. “Before Aegon’s death, the last of the Valyrian pyromancers hid his song in the steel,” he explained. Rhaenyra translated the words aloud, “From my blood comes the prince that was promised and his will be a song of ice and fire.”
A Song of Ice and Fire
‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ is, as we know, the name George R.R. Martin gave to his Game of Thrones novel series. It’s also the name Aegon the Conqueror gave to his prophetic dream of a terrible winter coming to destroy the world of the living, as Viserys told Rhaenyra when he named her heir in House of the Dragon episode one.
“Aegon saw absolute darkness riding on those winds and whatever dwells within will destroy the world of the living. When this great winter comes, Rhaenyra, all of Westeros must stand against it, and if the world of men is to survive, a Targaryen must be seated on the Iron Throne, a king or queen, strong enough to unite the realm against the cold and the dark. Aegon called his dream the song of ice and fire.”King Viserys I, ‘Heirs of the Dragon’.
As Viserys says those final five words in ‘Heirs of the Dragon’ he clasps the dagger hanging from his belt, and now we know why. That dagger contains Aegon’s prophecy, the secret passed down from royal heir to royal heir.
Before Aegon, the blade was owned by the man whose belief in prophecy saved the House from destruction in the Doom of Valyria: Aenar Targaryen. He was the father of Daenys the Dreamer, who foresaw the destruction of Old Valyria. Aenar acted on his daughter’s warning and relocated the family away from Essos, to settle on Dragonstone in the Narrow Sea. That move meant House Targaryen survived when so many Essosi families perished in the volcanic eruptions that wiped out their cities. Little wonder that the Targaryens take prophecies very seriously indeed.
The Prince That Was Promised
In Game of Thrones, Red Priestess Melisandre sought the “prince that was promised” – a leader that worshippers of R’hllor believed was destined to defeat the darkness and save the world of the living. Many believers conflate said prince (who, as Missandei points out in Game of Thrones, could equally be a princess as the original word-in-translation has no gender) with the reincarnation of Azor Ahai, a legendary figure who forged a flaming sword named Lightbringer by sacrificing his beloved wife.
Melisandre first believed that Stannis Baratheon was the prophesied prince but was proven wrong. Discussion about the Game of Thrones TV series ranged to consider whether the prophecy anticipated the birth of Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen VI and even Arya Stark, with no definitive answer given by the time of the Series 8 finale.
Arya, the Dagger and the Night King
Aegon’s “song of ice and fire” being contained in that dagger is particularly relevant to Game of Thrones fans because that was the weapon used to defeat The Night King. Arya Stark memorably plunged the Valyrian steel blade into the Night King’s heart, destroying him and deactiving his undead army. Does that make Arya ‘the Prince/ess who was promised?’ The jury’s still out.
Arya had been given the blade by her brother Bran, and had previously used it to slit the throat of Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger in revenge for his sowing division among the Stark children and his treatment of Sansa. Baelish had first presented Bran with the blade as a kind of memento. A mystery party (widely considered to have been Joffrey Baratheon in the books) armed an assassin with the knife and paid him to kill Bran – an attempt that failed thanks to Catelyn Stark and Bran’s direwolf.
Littlefinger then framed Tyrion Lannister as being behind the assassination attempt by lying to Catelyn that Tyrion had won the dagger from him in a sports bet. The result was catastrophic, as Catelyn took Tyrion prisoner, setting in motion events that led to the War of the Five Kings that ended with her and son Robb being slaughtered at the Red Wedding.
All of which goes to say that Viserys’ dagger is not only the most important weapon in Game of Thrones, it’s also a vital piece of Targaryen history with mystical connections to The Great War between the darkness and light, the dead and the living. And, as eagle-eyed viewers of House of the Dragon’s trailers have already noted… its role in the prequel is far from over.
House of the Dragon airs on Sunday nights on HBO in the US and on Mondays on Sky Atlantic and NOW in the UK.