In the last few episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones, Mad Queen Daenerys Targaryen has reduced much of the capital, King’s Landing, to rubble. But what was it like when everything was still standing and the Targaryen dynasty ruled with an iron fist—er, throne?
That question is explored in House of the Dragon, the new series set in author George RR Martin’s revisionist epic fantasy world. Created by Martin alongside Ryan Condal, who serves as showrunner with veteran Thrones director Miguel Sapochnik, Dragon takes place far back in the lineage of Thrones protagonists Daenerys and Jon Snow, whose own Targaryen identity has been revealed late in the course of the original show.
As their ancestors battle for control of the Iron Throne of Westeros, what do you need to know about the new series and its connection to what came before — or more specifically, after? Our cheat sheet has you covered. Read on and get ready to dance with dragons.
A Prelude to Thrones
Despite being the sequel to Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon is actually a prequel. Set 172 years before the birth of Daenerys Targaryen, it chronicles the history of her royal family through a turbulent time, a ominous war of annihilation known as The Dance of the Dragons. During this conflict, multitudes of Targaryens and their dragonsteeds—fire-breathing beasts abounded in Westerosi’s history at this point—fought for the Iron Throne.
However, “Dragon” shares several key elements with its predecessor series. That includes Martin, who wrote the books that form the basis of both shows – the novels “A Song of Ice and Fire” for the original series and the prequel book “Fire & Blood” for the new one.
Return to Westeros in House of the Dragon
HBO’s long-awaited Game of Thrones spinoff will debut on August 21st.
Condal is new to the franchise, as is the entire cast. But Sapochnik, the other showrunner, directed some of Thrones’ most memorable episodes, including Hardhome, Battle of the Bastards, and The Bells. Composer Ramin Djawadi returns, as do signature elements of his “Thrones” theme song.
Furthermore, the setting of King’s Landing and its royal seat, the Red Keep, are virtually identical to the versions we’ve seen before, as are the symbols or “sigils” of the various noble houses and even their hairstyles. The Iron Throne itself may have been enhanced with hundreds more melted down Blades, but this is pretty much the same Westeros we’ve cast for eight seasons.
A family affair
Game of Thrones famously showed the dispute between several noble houses, most notably the Starks and the Lannisters, who rose to power after the death of the last Targaryen monarch, Mad King Aegon IV. But most of those houses – Stark, Lannister, Greyjoy, Tyrell, Martell – take a back seat in House of the Dragon. The new show focuses almost exclusively on the Targaryen family, the dynasty that conquered Westeros over a century before the events that started Dragon.
At the beginning of the series, a grand council of aristocracy is convened to elect old King Jaehaerys Targaryen’s son Viserys (Paddy Considine) as heir to the throne over explicitly patriarchal reasons, over his older cousin Rhaenys (Eve Best). The Council, a comparatively democratic body in feudal times, is supposed to clear up such questions of succession.
In Westeros, as in our world, momentous decisions often veer in unexpected directions and result in unexpected conflicts. House of the Dragon stars the well-meaning but ineffective King Viserys and his younger brother, the villainous Prince Daemon (Matt Smith), who would inherit the throne if his brother died. Viserys’ closest advisor is Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), the Hand of the King – a position of great influence, as was the case in “Thrones”. Hightower is a rival of the kingdom’s richest man, veteran seafarer Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), who is married to Rhaenys and, like the Targaryens, is a descendant of the ancient Empire of Valyria.
Continuing with the earlier dispute of succession, another natural contender for the throne is Viserys’ daughter, Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock as a youth, Emma D’Arcy as an adult), his only surviving child. Also in the spotlight is Rhaenyra’s childhood friend Alicent Hightower (played by Emily Carey and Olivia Cooke), daughter of the ambitious and calculating Otto.
Obviously there are problems.
Game of Thrones is based on Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows and A Dance “. With dragons.” (To follow is The Winds of Winter, which Martin has been working on for years, and A Dream of Spring.) But Fire & Blood, the source material for Dragon, is listed as a faux- more of a historical tome than a real novel. Martin wrote the book in the voice of Archmaester Gyldayn, a historian from the world of Westeros itself. As a result, much of the motives, actions, and dialogue of its main characters remain the subject of conjecture.
To make matters worse, Gyldayn’s primary and secondary sources have their own conflicting writing styles, political allegiances, and viewpoints. (Most popular among fandoms is “The Testimony of Mushroom,” a salacious account of events written by the Targaryen jester who doesn’t appear to appear in “Dragon” at all, at least not yet.) These shifting viewpoints leave several crucial ones Matters from rendezvous to betrayal hang in the balance.
With several of these question marks fueling the battles for dominance that will likely in turn fuel Dragon, the show has to end up on one side or the other. For longtime fans and newbies alike, these are probably the juiciest and most engaging parts of the story that will unfold over multiple seasons, if the gods are good.
Light your candles for the seven and together we will learn who comes out on top.