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The dragons (and their riders) are coming soon.
Ahead of next month's premiere of HBO's House of the Dragon, principal cast members and author George R.R. Martin appeared at Saturday's Comic-Con in San Diego, California, to tease elements of the upcoming fantasy series centered on House Targaryen, who were first introduced to book readers and television fans via Game of Thrones.
The hour-long panel began with a showing of the series' official trailer, followed by a Q&A featuring co-creators Martin and Ryan Condal, plus stars Matt Smith, Olivia Cooke, Emma D'Arcy, Paddy Considine, Steve Toussaint, Eve Best, Fabien Frankel, Milly Alcock and Emily Carey.
"I was nervous at the beginning because these characters are like my kids and when you give your kids to people for adoption you wonder how they will be treated," Martin, 73, told the 6,000 enthusiastic fans gathered for the panel about having his source material adapted again. "But I've been very very fortunate here. Our cast is amazing, I hadn't had a chance to meet them with COVID, I didn't have a chance to visit the set but I've seen nine of 10 episodes and it's pretty amazing. I'm really very happy."
House of the Dragon is set hundreds of years before the events of Game of Thrones, when the Targaryen family ruled Westeros. The series will cover the dramatic Targaryen history featured in Martin's 2018 novel Fire & Blood.
Known as the Dance of the Dragons, it involves a devastating civil war launched over a dispute about, what else, succession to the Iron Throne. And, of course, there are dragons. 17, to be exact.
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"There are 17 of them at the height of this [series]," said co-creator Condal. "So it was really important to differentiate them not only in the way they looked, but in the way they behaved and acted and the way they bonded with their riders. I think that was one of the earliest things we started concepting on, about a year before we started filming."
He continued: "We've designed dragons you won't even see yet in season one, because we're having such a great time with the designers. I'm very excited to show [more], you've seen some teases in the trailer, but there is much yet to come and I think you guys will like it a lot."
Series stars Alcock, 22, (Princess Rhaenyra) and Best, 50, (famed dragon rider Princess Rhaenys Velaryon) said their experiences filming their dragon-riding scenes were both "weird" and "weirdly alive."
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"I'm going to paint you a picture," said Alcock. "We worked on a volume stage which is basically the size of this whole hall and it's all LED screens. You're propped up on what looks to be a mechanical bull that you might ride at a bar or a pub and they harness you in. You're lifted like six feet off the ground and there's four guys with leaf blowers. It's strange."
"It also feels weirdly alive," added Best, as Alcock noted: "That's what's weird about it!"
"Because it makes these [strained groaning noises] when it's moving," Best continued. "It is weird, isn't it, it feels like it's a live thing."
Best's character is also known as "the Queen Who Never Was" and a question was posed to Martin about why there have been so few female leaders in Westeros.
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"My books are fantasies, obviously, but I do follow history a lot," he said. "I get inspiration from history and then I take elements from history and turn them up to an 11, obligatory Spinal Tap reference, or to 111."
"Game of Thrones, as many people observed, was based loosely on the Wars of the Roses. This show was based on an earlier period in history called The Anarchy when Henry I, then the King of England, when his only legitimate son drowned while trying to cross the English Channel, he was left with only one legitimate heir, his daughter Matilda," he continued. "He named her his heir, made all the Lords of the kingdom swear their fealty to her, and then some years later he died and most of the Lords in the kingdom forgot about that. Here comes her cousin Stephen who crosses the Channel, steals the Treasury and gets himself crowned king and you entered a period called The Anarchy where Matilda, or Maude as she was known, and cousin Stephen fought for two decades. It was horrible and bloody."
Martin added: "That was the inspiration there, I don't think Westeros is particularly more anti-woman or more misogynistic than real life and what we call history."
"We also haven't fixed it, right?" star D'Arcy, 30, then chimed in. "We still choose male rulers. It's 2022 and we tend to pick men and I think one of the questions of the series is, if you are a woman looking to rule, how do you convince male subjects that you're not other? I don't have an answer."
What fans know about the plot of House of Dragons so far is that King Viserys I Targaryen (Considine, 48) named his daughter, Princess Rhaenyra (Alcock), his sole heir to the Iron Throne. But, when Rhaenyra's childhood best friend Alicent Hightower (Cooke, 28) marries her father in later years and conceives a son, Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney), the dynasty is split in two.
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Also starring in the 10-episode series are: Smith, 39, as Prince Daemon Targaryen, Rhaenyra's uncle and another heir to the throne; Rhys Ifans as Otto Hightower, the Hand of the King and Alicent's father; Toussaint, 57, as Lord Corlys Velaryon, head of House Velaryon and the most famed nautical adventurer in Westeros.
And finally, Martin did offer a cheeky update on the long delay of his next Game of Thrones book when he was asked if he might make a cameo in House of the Dragon.
"I don't know. The last couple years I've hardly left my house trying to stay away from COVID," he said. "And I don't know if you know, there's this book that I'm writing, it's a little late. Until I finish and deliver that book ... Maybe then I'll show up."
House of the Dragon premieres Aug. 21 on HBO.