Drogon Editorial Emilia Clarke Game of Thrones

“Valahd”—The odd story behind Daenerys’ command to Drogon

In “A Dance with Dragons,” the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones Season 5, Daenerys is surrounded by the Sons of the Harpy, an insurgent group bent on her murder. It looks like they’re going to move in for the kill when, wonder of wonders, Drogon the dragon descends from the sky and lights the Sons up like a pile of cheap birthday candles. Unfortunately, Drogon is wounded in the resulting scuffle, so Dany climbs onto his back so she can fly him out of there. Before he takes off, she whispers a single word: “Valahd.”

Valahd

If viewers didn’t have the closed captioning on, they may not even have realized that this is what Dany said. Even David J. Peterson, the linguist responsible for creating the made-up Dothraki and Valyrian languages for the show, thought she said “fly,” which was the English-language command she gave Drogon in the corresponding scene from George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons. Weirder still: Peterson, who translates the Game of Thrones scripts into Dothraki and Valyrian as needed, had recommended to the production that, at this moment, Daenerys say “Sōvēs,” which is the Valyrian word for “fly.” (Incidentally, Dany whispered the plural of “Sōvēs” to her dragons in the Season 3 finale right before they took flight, so there was precedent for using that word.)

Clearly, some wires got crossed. What happened? Well, according to Peterson, although the word “Sōvēs” was in the script, Emilia Clarke said “fly” when filming the scene. Given the hubbub of the production, that’s understandable. As Peterson points out, “Scenes get busy, lots of activity, sometimes a word gets forgotten and that take turns out the best, etc.”

Later, when Clarke went back to dub over some of her lines in a process known as Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR), the producers tried to add the Valyrian word “Sōvēs” back in. The problem was that Clarke’s mouth wasn’t making the right shapes, so they ended up going with “Valahd” instead. That, of course, raises another question: if “Valahd” isn’t the Valyrian word for “fly,” then what is it?

Daenerys Targaryen

Per Peterson, “Valahd” isn’t a Valyrian word at all. It’s Dothraki. Literally translated, it means “horizon,” but it’s also an informal command Dothraki riders give to their horses when they want them to move. So, when said to an animal, it basically means “Giddyup!” or “Hya!”

Weirdly, even though it wasn’t the writer’s original intention, I think Daenerys breaking out the Dothraki language at this moment is oddly appropriate. After all, she did the bulk of her growing up when traveling with Khal Drogo’s khalasar—that’s when she learned she had leadership potential, when her dragons were born, and arguably the last time she was really happy. Lately, she’s been curbing her Mother of Dragon-ish instincts to play political games in Meereen, and seeing her baby dragon all grown up and unleashing the hurt must have brought some of those old feelings back. Maybe seeing Drogon’s wanton destruction of the Sons of the Harpy even reminded her of Drogo, Drogon’s namesake. Her use of the Dothraki word also makes for a nice segue into the next leg of her journey, which will find her traveling with a khalasar once again.

For more details on the this translation mistranslation, read Peterson’s full post over on his blog.

12 Comments

  • I thought these parts were interesting:

    Peterson:”Valad is the word for “horizon” (among other things), but I came up with it initially when I was creating a bunch of horse commands for the Dothraki. The reason is that I wanted two different words for “giddyup”. We already have hosh or hosha, which is used to urge a horse on (usually when it’s already going), but then there’s this expression: Frakhas valad! That translates to “Touch the horizon!”, and it’s used at the outset of a journey. The interesting thing is the note I added to the end of the definition, which is “often just valad“. And that makes sense: You typically don’t speak in full sentences to horses when you’re riding. Valad! is a much better horse command than Frakhas valad! But yeah, basically it’s just a word that urges the horse to get going.”

    Peterson:”Why Dothraki, though, instead of Valyrian? I think it was because of the similar meanings and the mouth movements. True, the dragons are supposed to only understand High Valyrian, but I mean Drogon probably got the gist of it. Plus, he’s named after famous Dothraki speaker Khal Drogo, so maybe he’s got a little Dothraki in him. He’s probably heard Dothraki a bunch growing up, too. And what better reason to switch to Dothraki than when riding a dragon like a horse? I’m still confused as to why the closed captioning was even added. Is that usually done with the languages? Wouldn’t the subtitle that’s already there convey well enough what’s being said? Was it for foreign audiences…? I don’t know—there’s a lot I don’t know about that process. Either way, our “valahd” appears to be Dothraki valad, and it works, in context, so all’s well that ends well.”

    It would be interesting to know ‘production’s’ side of the story, there are GoT staff who know Dothraki.

  • It would make perfect sense if you believe like me that Drogon had taken on Khal Drogo’s soul when he was “born” on that funeral pyre at the end of season 1. Obviously that would be a total coincidence in this circumstance but it does fit nicely.

  • Even though this is something 99,9% of all viewers will never notice, I have to admit the mistake bothers me, if only slightly. It can be regarded as nitpicking, but it is an actual continuity error. The dragons are only supposed to respond to High Valyrian after all (as to how exactly they have been pre-programmed to do just that is a different debate). Oh well. If the vast majority of viewers live under the assumption she said “fly”, then I guess this is all academic anyway.

    • Pre-programmed or just trained by her using Valyrian?

      I too thought she said “fly” and was disappointed by the apparent inconsistency. This attempt to cover it up is neatly done though, even if lost on most people.

  • Not gonna lie, I didn’t notice this either. I thought she said “fly” too.

    But I like this change. And it’s nice that they did put some thought into it, rather than just making a word up to fit her lip movements.

  • Great article I was wondering why the word was different than the one she used at the end of season 3.

  • I did hear her say something like “valah”, but wondered if I was just misunderstanding because her mouth looks like it’s shaping fly. Interesting little story, though it bothers me a smidge that they didn’t try again for a take in High Valyrian. I guess I can buy that Drogon simply got the gist. He probably wanted out of there as much as Dany.