House of the Dragon is right around the corner, so here’s everything to know about HBO’s prequel series and why you should be excited for it.
It is no secret that the series finale for HBO’s Game of Thrones was divisive to say the least. There are more fans who have voiced their disappointment with the show’s ending than there are those who enjoyed it. This is not to say that nobody liked it, because some people did, but the amount of outrage the series finale caused in the fandom across social media was monumental. Anywhere you went, even if you hadn’t seen the show for yourself, you knew about the controversy surrounding the hit series because the noise was so loud. To this day, whenever a disappointing ending for a film or television series comes to light, audience members immediately compare them to HBO’s fantasy epic. Whether fans liked the way things were wrapped up or not, one thing was clear even before Game of Thrones season 8 aired: HBO was not about to let their biggest franchise die after the final season, leading the company to start development on several potential successor projects taking place in Martin’s beloved fantasy world, one of which being House of the Dragon.
On June 8, 2018, news broke that a prequel series with the unofficial title of “Bloodmoon” was in development at HBO, with Naomi Watts (Feud) starring as the lead character. The show was meant to follow what is widely known in Martin’s book series as the “Age of Heroes,” set around eight thousand years prior to Game of Thrones, during the events of the original “Long Night” when the White Walkers first appeared in Westeros. After a failed unaired pilot, though, HBO announced they had canceled the project following negative reception for the first episode. Enter House of the Dragon, which was announced in October 2019, mere days after Bloodmoon’s cancellation. The upcoming TV series is based on Martin’s “Fire & Blood,” which serves as a prequel novel that chronicles the history of House Targaryen, and takes place approximately 200 years prior to Game of Thrones. House of the Dragon will tell the story of a particular period in time during House Targaryen’s reign, when they were in their prime as the all-powerful rulers of the Seven Kingdoms before their eventual downfall years later. This period in time is best known to book readers as the Dance of the Dragons, where a massive civil war broke loose amongst the dragon-riding family for control of the Iron Throne.
It goes without saying that it has been a rocky road for House of the Dragon since its inception. Not only does it have the built-in pressure of following the cultural phenomenon that was Game of Thrones, dominating television for nearly a decade and reinventing what TV could be, but it has the add-in pressure of following the controversy of such an influential series. The show was also conceived and filmed during the age of COVID-19, making it even harder to spark new life into the franchise with a prequel series. So, all things considered, why should you be excited for House of the Dragon? If you were disappointed with how the previous show was handled, should you give this new series a chance? Our answer to that is yes, and we hope you’ll stay with us as we round up some reasons why you should give HBO’s prequel a fair shot.
THE REIGN OF THE DRAGONS
To start things off, and to keep things simple, who doesn’t love dragons? As an audience, we have had an immediate fascination with magical creatures ever since childhood. Dragons are no exception, and the way Game of Thrones portrayed these majestic creatures was awe-inspiring. Watching Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke, Secret Invasion) week-to-week having to raise her three dragons as her own children from the moment they hatched from their eggs to the very last episode of the series was always a delight for any fantasy fan. Game of Thrones, with House Targaryen no longer in power nor in possession of dragons, only had a total of three dragons throughout its run. House of the Dragon, on the other hand, promises to have up to seventeen dragons, according to Martin and showrunner Ryan Condal. Why does this matter? Well, as Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith, Morbius) alludes to in the first teaser for House of the Dragon, “dreams didn’t make us kings. Dragons did.”
This line of dialogue perfectly captures how Targaryens view themselves and why they conquered the Seven Kingdoms to begin with. No other noble House within George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice & Fire” ever rode dragons or dominated them, with the exception of a few members of House Velaryon we will see in the new show. This gave House Targaryen the upperhand, as it made them look like God-like figures in the eyes of the ordinary folk and other families. Having these majestic beasts at their disposal, it made it particularly easier for House Targaryen to conquer and eventually keep control of Westeros for nearly 300 years. That’s what’s so unique about House of the Dragon, we’re getting to see the dragon lords at the height of their power, something that will be refreshing after seeing Daenerys rise to the top from nothing in Game of Thrones. What does a kingdom look like under Targaryen rule? For those who have wondered this for over a decade, we are finally getting those answers. This will make for grand spectacle, drama, and tension, as we will be treated to two factions of the Targaryen family going to war against one another using their armies and terrifying dragons. This is a time when fire reigned and blood was spilled as a result.
PLAYING THE GAME OF THRONES (AGAIN)
Whether it is the books or the TV adaptation, the politics of Martin’s world have always been a highlight for all fans, and an element that keeps drawing new viewers and readers to this story. There is something about people stabbing each other in the back in order to gain the ultimate symbol of power, the Iron Throne, that is oddly fascinating to watch unfold. Petyr Baelish, better known as Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen, Mayor of Kingstown), is a character in Game of Thrones that perfectly captures these themes and ideas, as he plans schemes that lead to the War of the Five Kings in that story, which results in tremendous pain, deaths, and betrayals. Of course, Game of Thrones shifted focus from the politics of the show and dedicated a lot more attention to the supernatural side of the series as it grew in popularity and got closer to the finish line. Sure, the politics were still there, but it wasn’t the same. Battle sequences became the priority in later seasons, almost as if the show got too big for its own good, whereas previous seasons prioritized character, dialogue, and plot that had something meaningful to say about how war affects the innocent and those involved in it.
Game of Thrones might have diverted from the politics, but House of the Dragon, although seemingly big on scale and spectacle, looks like it’s going back to basics. The premise alone seems to imply this. There are no supernatural beings in this series, other than the dragons, that our characters have to destroy in order to save the world. It is all about playing the game of thrones. It will be about power grabs, which is what made audience members fall in love with the original series in the first place. We will see characters at different stages in their lives, played by different actors to reflect such ages, where they might have developed strong relationships at a young age, only to end up betraying one another once they are older and manipulations and ambitions are at play.
The official trailer released during San Diego Comic-Con week seems to be suggesting this, as we see a heated Daemon Targaryen challenging his brother Viserys I Targaryen’s (Paddy Considine, Wolf) wishes to make his daughter Rhaenrya (Emma D’Arcy, Truth Seekers) his new heir to the throne. But he is not the only one who will be playing the game: House Hightower will be just as guilty for scheming behind their king’s back by plotting to usurp Rhaenyra from her birthright. Nobody will be safe, and you won’t be able to trust anybody, but you already knew that if you are a fan of Martin’s bloody take on the fantasy genre.
Arguably one of the most fun elements of Game of Thrones and “A Song of Ice & Fire” was picking which noble family to side with during the main conflict. Were you with House Stark, House Targaryen, or House Lannister? This reminds me of the old rivalry Harry Potter fans have with each other regarding which is the superior Hogwarts house and which they belong in: Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Slytherin or Gryffindor? Without going into too many spoilers, House of the Dragon will see Rhaenyra Targaryen be named the heir to the Iron Throne by her father King Viserys I Targaryen, who, at the beginning of this story, has failed to produce a male heir following the deaths of both his infant son and his first wife. It’s unconventional for a woman to become Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, and Rhaenyra’s position of power will be challenged, splitting the family into two factions known as the Blacks and the Greens.
Since it’s all about a civil war, House of the Dragon will have audience members going back and forth picking whether they are with the Blacks, mostly led by Rhaenyra and her uncle/husband Daemon, or the Greens, led by Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke, Little Fish), Viserys’ second wife and Rhaenyra’s step-mother. Two powerful women are forced into a war that could have been avoided if it weren’t for the unjust rules men placed on the game of thrones. As Rhaenyra fights for her right to become Queen, the very thing her father prepared her for most of her life, Alicent attempts to place her firstborn, Aegon II Targaryen, from her marriage to Viserys, on the Iron Throne. This will be fascinating to see on screen, as both of these women seem to have had a close friendship when they were younger. The bad blood that will rise between each other will not only be shared by their loyal supporters, but by their own children too, as they will grow up to resent one another. Will you be siding with the Blacks, or the Greens, come House of the Dragon’s release?
One of the most controversial aspects of any book adaptation is accuracy: it’s the one thing fans care the most and are most demanding about. This is yet another aspect of Game of Thrones that became controversial, as the show completely omitted storylines and characters from the books that, as Martin himself said, have major roles to play in the novels’ endgame. We can’t judge House of the Dragon on that front yet, as we haven’t seen a single episode of the series to analyze just how closely they are following George’s prequel novellas. What we can judge is some of the show’s already promising visuals, most notably the iconic Iron Throne from the books. The throne from the original show was basically nothing more than a small chair made out of a couple hundred swords, when in the novels it is a huge throne made out of a thousand swords. House of the Dragon hopes to be more faithful to the source material with a more accurate look for the intimidating, yet uncomfortable Iron Throne.
The ruins of the ancient castle of Harrenhal, or what at least looks like Harrenhal, also promise to be more book accurate than Game of Thrones. From the look we got in the second teaser trailer, the inside of the castle seems ripped straight from the page from Martin’s “The World of Ice & Fire.” We never got to see a proper look at the castle in Game of Thrones, so this is particularly exciting for book fans who love visual authenticity and have wished to see the ruins on their small screen. In addition, the inclusion of Harrenhal pretty much confirms that we will see the Great Council of 101 AC, in which the early seeds that would lead to the Dance of the Dragons were planted, as the old king Jaehaerys I Targaryen (Michael Carter, The Halcyon), Viserys’ grandfather, was in need of an heir to the throne. This is a pivotal point in the story that sets up the main conflict, as we see cousin against cousin, in this case Viserys I and Rhaenys (Eve Best, Fate: The Winx Saga), compete to prove their worth to their grandfather. Fans, myself included, were worried this would be cut in order to save time and jump straight into the spectacle of the civil war. Them including this event demonstrates restraint and that they are taking their time to tell this story right. It is important to show this as well because it establishes Rhaenys as the “Queen who never was,” because her claim to the throne was shut down for the simple fact of being a woman, even though she was more qualified than her cousin Viserys I. This will mirror Rhaenyra’s journey.
I would also urge book fans to remember that House of the Dragon, out of any modern book-to-show adaptation, has the most freedom to change or interpret events from the novel in its own way. How come? Well, one of the things that makes George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood unique is that it’s a Targaryen history book told from the perspective of Archmaester Gyldayn collecting information from a few unreliable narrators – one of them being the dwarf named Mushroom, who served as a fool to House Targaryen before, during and after the civil war. This means the HBO prequel series has the freedom to do with the events of the novel as it pleases. It won’t be forced to bring to life characters and storylines exactly how it’s written on the page, since it leaves a lot of story beats open for interpretation depending on the reader.
Of course, I have no doubt in my mind Ryan Condal will attempt to stay as close to the source material as possible: I am sure the characterization of our leads will remain the same, but fans losing their minds over the smallest detail will kind of be invalidated by the fact that the story is told through perspective, not facts. Condal recently talked about this exact topic to EW, saying he is hoping to provide context to these characters and present them in a new light with what he calls “the objective account.” Moreover, Martin is heavily involved with House of the Dragon, the most involved he’s been involved with a project based on his work since the early seasons of Game of Thrones. So, if there are any changes made to the book, they will likely have his seal of approval, which his word is all that matters.
HOUSE OF THE DRAGON ‘S GRAY CHARACTERS
Similarly to the political aspect of Game of Thrones, morally gray characters are a huge factor that attracted people to watch the series and eventually read the books, or vice versa. Jaime Lannister, Theon Greyjoy, The Hound, and Melisandre: these are a few examples of characters we were rooting against when Game of Thrones’ story began, only to learn to appreciate them for who they were after going on traumatic journeys alongside them. This approach to storytelling is what made Martin’s novels standout, as not everybody was daring readers to think outside the box and give characters, like people in real life, a second chance, even if they had done terrible things in the past.
With House of the Dragon on the horizon, expect just as many, if not more, morally gray characters as in the original show. Fire & Blood depicts a lot of the main players in a very straightforward manner since what we know about them on the page is from unreliable narrators. Alicent and Rhaenyra, for example, are often blamed for the war in the book by characters living within the world of Westeros, because it is easier for these unreliable narrators to point their fingers at the two central characters in this conflict, spreading rumors in the process, rather than filling in the gaps and providing details. In addition, don’t expect an Arya Stark-like character in this show that you can easily root for. Almost everybody involved in the Dance of the Dragons has their pros and cons. Nobody is a hero here. Characters will be capable of great love, and great hate. Both sides will have a significant role to play in the extinction of the dragons and in House Targaryen losing their authority of power, the dragons, leading to their own eventual demise.
Daemon Targaryen, nicknamed the Rogue Prince, might be the best example when discussing morally gray characters in Westeros. Martin has called him his personal favorite member of House Targaryen on multiple occasions. Being his brother’s heir to the throne for the longest time when Viserys had no children, he grew to believe he was untouchable. Arrogant, brave, a backstabber, and a true warrior in every sense of the word. He quickly made allies in many places, while making dangerous enemies at the same time. His rivalry with Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans, The King’s Man) is yet another crucial motive for the war. I can’t describe Daemon’s shades of gray better than Martin himself: “In his day there was not a man so admired, so beloved, and so reviled in all Westeros. He was made of light and darkness in equal parts. To some he was a hero, to others the blackest of villains.”
George R.R. Martin does a great job at portraying a realistic sense of political ambitions within his characters. The way I read such ambitions is as follows: power doesn’t corrupt, power reveals. It reveals the kind of person you were always underneath, but didn’t have the resources to show. Cersei Lannister, Joffrey Baratheon, and Walder Frey are excellent examples of sadistic individuals who only used their influence to advance their own needs. Then there are Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen (before her arc was put to question) who used their power to help others rather than for their own goals. House of the Dragon will be introducing us to an exciting new roster of characters to root for, and against, who are going to be faced with the same question our characters in Game of Thrones were presented with: will they play the game of thrones for their own benefit, or for selfless reasons?
IT’S OKAY TO MISS WESTEROS
I’ll be the first to admit I was one of those people who were massively disappointed in the way Game of Thrones ended. I still am, and will most likely continue to be. The popular belief is that the show was ruined with its last season. There are the well-known reports that showrunners David Benioff and D.B Weiss were prepping to go to work for Lucasfilm and develop future Star Wars projects, which was believed to be the reason why they rushed Game of Thrones to the finish line. Personally, though? Looking back on the show as a whole, I soon realized that the last two to four seasons of the series were rushed, poorly written, with little regard for satisfying character arcs, not just season 8. This isn’t to completely blame the showrunners, as Martin has not finished his book series to this day, hence leaving Benioff and Weiss on their own with nothing but an outline to follow. As a result, they cut entire storylines and characters from the books that seem to be important in Martin’s endgame for his own story on page, hurting the TV show in the process.
All that being said, I can’t say I am with those people who say they won’t be tuning in to see House of the Dragon. I am sorry, but a disappointing ending is not going to kill my love for this fantasy world and the characters living in it. It’s okay to miss Westeros. It’s completely fine to want to go back to this universe, be exposed to new characters, and feel what you felt watching Game of Thrones when it was in its prime. You don’t have to force yourself to like the previous show, but you can move forward and find something to be excited about with this new series.
House of the Dragon premieres on HBO Max on August 21, 2022.