Everything You Need to Know to Actually Understand ‘House of the Dragon’

·6 min read

Game of Thrones fans, your prayers have been answered: On Aug. 21, HBO will premiere the series’ first spinoff, titled House of the Dragon.

There’s no Jon Snow or Cersei Lannister or Dothraki here (that we know of), however. Instead, this new drama series focuses on the House Targaryen, from which the Mad Queen Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is descended.

Because the series is set two centuries prior to the events of the first episode of Game of Thrones, you don’t necessarily need to watch the latter to enjoy the new series. (Hell, you could watch House of the Dragon and then watch the entirety of Game of Thrones, and you may well have a pretty good time.)

But no matter which viewing sequence you choose, let’s take a quick trip into the who, what, and where of this new series.

What’s House of the Dragon about?

House of the Dragon has been promoted as the “beginning of the fall” of the House Targaryen, making way for its descendants (Daenerys and her brother Viserys) to all but go extinct two centuries later, by the time we first met them during Season 1 of Game of Thrones.

The basic gist of House of the Dragon is this: King Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine) presides over the House Targaryen but is now mired in a soon-to-be-violent debate about who will reign in his stead when he dies. Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock plays the young princess; Emma D’Arcy is the adult), sporting that familiar braided platinum blonde coiffure, is the king’s firstborn and plans to claim the Iron Throne as her birthright.

Everything Fantastical You Need to Know About ‘House of the Dragon’

Several wrinkles, as is their wont, then appear. They include but are not limited to: A woman has never sat on the Iron Throne. Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith, a former titular Doctor Who), a fierce warrior and Viserys’ younger brother, believes the Iron Throne is his.

Lord Corlys (Steve Toussaint) is the head of House Valeryon and an unmatched seafarer; his wife Rhaenys (Eve Best) has a slightly less happy existence, because although she was once considered for the Iron Throne, her candidacy was revoked when her grandfather, King Jaehaerys, appointed her cousin Viserys.

The full trailer for House of the Dragon implies she begins a campaign to convince Lady Alicent Hightower’s (Olivia Cooke as the adult, Emily Carey as the child) to vie for the Iron Throne. Alicent is the daughter of Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), the Hand of the King and one-half of a vitriolic two-man feud with Prince Daemon.

‘Game of Thrones’ Ends Not With a Bang but a Whimper

Perhaps the most interesting subplot, to me, of the series belongs to Mysaria, portrayed by Sonoya Mizuno, a dancer born in a distant land. Although she began life in Westeros as a sex worker, she has risen through the ranks of Westeros’ nexus of criminals to become Prince Daemon’s wisest and most dependable confederate.

And lest we forget, the dragons are back! Because we didn’t meet any fully grown dragons in Game of Thrones till much later in the series, HBO is making up for it by including adult dragons in House of the Dragon.

These creatures are actively used in wartime (and probably in peacetime too) by House Targaryen during the prequel’s era. As you might imagine, the sheer number of conflicting interests triggers a civil war, known as the “Dance of the Dragons.” The civil war, and its impact on our cast of characters—and their dragons!—will provide the main thrust for the series.

House of the Dragon is also based on a George R. R. Martin book

House of the Dragon draws on George R. R. Martin’s 2018 novel Fire and Blood, which serves as a prequel to his A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels, upon which GoT was based. It’s not yet known whether House of the Dragon is a faithful adaptation of the novel or will incorporate other storylines, but Martin’s involvement with this new series—including flat-out recommending co-creator/showrunner Ryan Condal to HBO and issuing direct demands for what should be part of the project—is reason for fans to be cautiously optimistic.

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Martin, according to Miguel Sapochnik, co-showrunner of House of the Dragon, had a “bee in his bonnet” about his requirements for the new series; this is likely because Martin has previously stated he was left out of the loop on Seasons 5-7 of GoT.

This series has been a long time coming

In November 2018, Martin stated that any new Game of Thrones TV series would be based wholly on Fire and Blood. Almost exactly a year later, in October 2019, HBO gave House of the Dragon a straight-to-series order. This came five months after Game of Thrones aired its final episode—to divided reactions.

Incidentally, House of the Dragon is a reworking of a pitch GoT producer Bryan Cogman first brought to HBO in April 2019. The network rejected it, causing Cogman to state to the press that he was “done with Westeros.” Cogman then became a consultant on Amazon Video’s forthcoming adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books.

Cogman isn’t the only one to have his heart broken by HBO when it comes to Game of Thrones spinoffs. House of the Dragon is only one of several series that were in development in the months and years following its predecessor’s finale.

Naomi Watts was cast as the lead of Bloodmoon, a prequel to GoT that was set in a primitive era, before there were even any Seven Kingdoms to squabble over. Martin himself said the series was a “very difficult assignment,” because it was based on a story that hadn’t appeared in his novels. Network exec Francesca Orsi said the series’ narrative thrust included a “thematic conversation at the center of it about disenfranchisement in the face of colonialism and religious extremism.”

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Sets were built; scripts were written, approved, and shot. By the end of it, HBO had spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $30-$35 million (!) on the pilot, but no one, not even Martin, has ever seen the final cut. In October 2019, the network announced Bloodmoon was dead without any information about the reasoning for the decision. Instead, it followed up the cancellation with optimistic news of a possible pilot order for House of the Dragon.

While Bloodmoon didn’t survive, House of the Dragon certainly looks like it will. It’s not known how many seasons have been planned, story-wise. But given that the network earned almost $3 billion from Game of Thrones alone, it’s safe to say House of the Dragon isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

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