If you think you’ve missed Game of Thrones after that lackluster finale in 2019, it’s nothing compared to how much Game of Thrones has missed you. The defining fantasy series for years—and a harbinger of capital, cultural and otherwise, for HBO—Game of Thrones was one of the last few bastions of appointment viewing, a cultural phenomenon that was practically criminal not to watch.
So, it’s not exactly surprising to learn HBO is eager to haul us all back to Westeros (and beyond). After months of drama surrounding the final season of GoT and its multiple prequel series, HBO finally officially ordered a spinoff, House of the Dragon. Of course it’s about the Targaryens. And according to HBO programming chief Casey Boys, it has a “likely” premiere date—for 2022. Now, the show has cast its major players and started production.
Here’s everything we know about the series and its new star.
What’s it about?
House of the Dragon is based on George R. R. Martin’s book about the history of the Targaryen family, Fire & Blood. It’s set 300 years before the events of Game of Thrones, and according to the book’s description, answers such questions as, “What really happened during the Dance of the Dragons? Why was it so deadly to visit Valyria after the Doom? What were Maegor the Cruel’s worst crimes? What was it like in Westeros when dragons ruled the skies?” The Dance of the Dragons was a Targaryen civil war that affected all of Westeros, and Entertainment Weekly reports the new series will chronicle that event.
Martin and screenwriter Ryan Condal co-created the series, and Condal will serve as showrunner alongside director Miguel Sapochnik, who directed six episodes of Game of Thrones including “The Long Night,” aka the Battle of Winterfell. Sara Lee Hess will write the script alongside Condal, with both serving as executive producers alongside Martin, Sapochnik, and Vince Gerardis. Clare Kilner, Geeta V. Patel, and Greg Yaitanes are all slated to direct, per Deadline.
The first official casting announcement arrived in October 2020, with Deadline reporting that Paddy Considine (The Outsider) will play King Viserys Targaryen, the chosen successor of Westeros following the reign of King Jaehaerys Targaryen. The character is described as a “warm, kind and decent man” whose goal is to gracefully follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. “But good men do not necessarily make for great kings,” the description warns.
In December, four more joined the cast, including an alum of The Crown. Matt Smith, who played Prince Philip in seasons 1 and 2 of the Netflix juggernaut, is set to play Prince Daemon Targaryen, according to Deadline. Olivia Cooke will take on the role of Alicent Hightower, while Emma D’Arcy will play Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen.
On February 11, 2021, Deadline confirmed Steve Toussaint would play the role of Lord Corlys Velaryon, whose character sounds a lot like Littlefinger from the original series; Deadline reports Velaryon is also known as “the Sea Snake” and served as hand to Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen during the war. “As ‘The Sea Snake,’ the most famed nautical adventurer in the history of Westeros,” the site reports, “Lord Corlys built his house into a powerful seat that is even richer than the Lannisters and that claims the largest navy in the world.”
Rhys Ifans will play Otto Hightower: “The Hand of the King, Ser Otto loyally and faithfully serves both his king and his realm,” according to Deadline. “As the Hand sees it, the greatest threat to the realm is the king’s brother, Daemon, and his position as heir to the throne.”
Eve Best will play Princess Rhaenys Velaryon, “a dragonrider and wife to Lord Corlys Velaryon.” Known as ‘The Queen Who Never Was,’ Rhaenys “was passed over as heir to the throne at the Great Council because the realm favored her cousin, Viserys, simply for being male.”
Next, Sonoya Mizuno will play Mysaria. She “came to Westeros with nothing and has been sold more times than she can recall. She could have wilted…but instead she rose to become the most trusted—and most unlikely—ally of Prince Daemon Targaryen, the heir to the throne.”
Fabien Frankel also joined House of the Dragon as Ser Criston Cole, a “major role,” according to an April 15, 2021 Deadline report. “Of Dornish descent, he is the common-born son of the steward to the Lord of Blackhaven. Cole has no claim to land or titles; all he has to his name is his honor and his preternatural skill with a sword.”
Finally, The Hollywood Reporter confirmed Outlander actor Graham McTavish is officially starring in the prequel, though McTavish could not reveal his role. “It’s great, but I can’t tell you too much,” he told the UK magazine Stylist. “I can’t tell you really anything about the story! But it involves a lot of dragons.”
Has production started?
Yes, and we already have leaked pictures from set. It seems the show is currently filming in Cornwall, England, as D’Arcy and Smith were spotted on Holywell Bay beach in their iconic Targaryen costumes. And according to the Daily Mail, it appears likely that the medieval castle at St. Michael’s Mount on Mount’s Bay in Cornwall will serve as an important set piece, perhaps even as the Targaryen home.
And there are official stills now, too.
On Wednesday, May 5, HBO shared a real gift with the world: the first three stills from House of the Dragon.
HBO also released official character descriptions for some of the main players.
Emma D’Arcy as Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen: The king’s first-born child, she is of pure Valyrian blood, and she is a dragonrider. Many would say that Rhaenyra was born with everything… but she was not born a man.
Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen: The younger brother to King Viserys and heir to the throne. A peerless warrior and a dragonrider, Daemon possesses the true blood of the dragon. But it is said that whenever a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin in the air…
Steve Toussaint as Lord Corlys Velaryon, “The Sea Snake”: Lord of House Velaryon, a Valyrian bloodline as old as House Targaryen. As “The Sea Snake,” the most famed nautical adventurer in the history of Westeros, Lord Corlys built his house into a powerful seat that is even richer than the Lannisters and that claims the largest navy in the world.
Olivia Cooke as Alicent Hightower: The daughter of Otto Hightower, the Hand of the King, and the most comely woman in the Seven Kingdoms. She was raised in the Red Keep, close to the king and his innermost circle; she possesses both a courtly grace and a keen political acumen.
Rhys Ifans as Otto Hightower: The Hand of the King, Ser Otto loyally and faithfully serves both his king and his realm. As the Hand sees it, the greatest threat to the realm is the king's brother, Daemon, and his position as heir to the throne.
When will it air?
In January 2020, Casey Bloys, HBO programming chief, told the Television Critics Association press tour (via Variety) that his “best guess” at a premiere date for House of the Dragon is 2022. While he couldn’t offer specifics on production dates, he explained, “They are in the room breaking story right now. My guess is we’ll see it on the air in ‘22.” That means there will be at least three years between the end of Game of Thrones and the beginning of its prequel spinoff. (Plenty of time to cool off about the final season, right?)
How many episodes will there be?
There will be 10 episodes total, and fans speculate the show will not only include the famed Dance of the Dragons, but also the funeral of Laena Velaryon, of whom Rhaenyra Targaryen (D'Arcy) was a friend. The only daughter of Rhaenys Targaryen, Laena dies in childbirth, and from leaked pictures of a sarcophagus on set, GoT enthusiasts have sussed out it could belong to Laena.
What about the other Game of Thrones prequels?
In May of 2017, HBO had five different prequel scripts in development from writers Max Borenstein, Bryan Cogman (who wrote 11 episodes of the original series), Jane Goldman, Brian Helgeland, and Carly Wray.
In July 2018, Bloys revealed at TCA that all scripts except Goldman’s were either shuttered or postponed. However, Deadline reported that Goldman’s show, starring Naomi Watts and covering the “Age of Heroes” and the first war with the White Walkers, would not move to series, despite shooting a pilot in June and rounding out a cast including Jamie Campbell Bower, Miranda Richardson, Naomi Ackie, and Josh Whitehouse.
When asked about the canceled project at TCA in January 2020, Bloys told Variety, “Pilots—sometimes they come together, sometimes they don’t. And I would say that was very much the case here. There’s nothing I would point to and say ‘Oh, this was the problem.’”
“That [prequel] was 8,000 years before the current show, so it required a lot more invention,” he continued. “One of the benefits of House of the Dragon is there was a text from George and there was a little bit more of a roadmap. [Goldman’s prequel] did have more challenges in terms of establishing a world, but I think she handled that beautifully… there wasn’t one glaring thing.”
House of the Dragon is the only show with a series order, and it will build on the story by Cogman even though he’s no longer involved, according to The Hollywood Reporter. THR also reports that another unnamed prequel is still in development at HBO.
What about the play? Is it a prequel?
Yes, you heard correctly—there’s a Game of Thrones play headed for Broadway. Expected to launch in 2023, the performance will feature writing from Martin himself, as well as playwright Duncan MacMillan, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Unlike House of the Dragon, the play will not begin hundreds of years before Game of Thrones, choosing to start only 16 years prior to the first episode’s events.
The as-yet-untitled script will follow The Great Tourney at Harrenhal, a contest that set in motion many of the events of GoT. In the tournament, Prince Rhaegar Targaryen was proclaimed champion of the joust, and he placed his laurel wreath of blue winter roses in the lap of Lyanna Stark, who was then betrothed to Robert Baratheon. The act led credence to the possibility of their love affair. If you remember the scandal at the heart of GoT, everyone’s favorite bastard, Jon Snow, is, in fact, the son of Lyanna and Rhaegar, making him heir to the Targaryen throne. Which means this particular joust is one we’d all love to watch.
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