11:00 am EST, November 13, 2019

What to expect in ‘House of the Dragon,’ the ‘Game of Thrones’ Targaryen history hour

Not sure what to think of the upcoming Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon? Here’s what we know.

Details about the new Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon, are still relatively scarce. On the production side, we know the series has been picked up for a 10-episode first season, and that the show will be run by Ryan Condal and Game of Thrones director Miguel Sapochnik.

A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin will also serve as an executive producer, though he has promised not to pen any episodes of the new series until he finishes The Winds of Winter.

We also know that the main source material for House of the Dragon will be Fire & Blood, the first part (yes, there’s supposed to be two; yes, it will probably be more than that) of Martin’s Targaryen saga. But this pesky little 700+ page book covers about 140 years of Targaryen history; so what specifically are we talking about here?

What should you expect in the ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel ‘House of the Dragon’?

Generational storytelling

In practical terms, Condal, Sapochnik and Martin have a lot of material to cover. Fire & Blood begins 300 years before the events of Game of Thrones, with Aegon the Conquerers’s conquest of Westeros, and ends seven generations later. This means the overall tale functions on a rotating cast of characters — Targaryen youngsters and their associated friends and enemies grow older, come into positions of leadership, give birth to the next generation, and eventually pass the story on to their offspring.

Assuming, that is, that they survive; any fan of Game of Thrones will already be aware that this is hardly a guarantee.

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So, if House of the Dragon begins at the beginning with an in-depth exploration of Aegon’s Conquest, viewers can expect to watch generations pass before their eyes as the story unfolds. House of the Dragon might limit itself to a few episodes per dramatic era, or dedicate a whole season to the intricate story of each generation. (If I have my druthers, it will be the latter, but Game of Thrones properties historically ignore my preferences for some reason.)

Either way, prepare to enjoy a carousel of fascinating Targs through the saga of House of the Dragon — just don’t get too attached to anyone along the way!

Kings and queens

Game of Thrones wasn’t exactly unfamiliar with kings and queens; at one point, five kings struggled for dominance in Westeros, and the final battle (at least for a time) posed two queens against each other as each sought the Iron Throne.

But the political realities of post-Conquest Westeros are vastly different. The continent once ruled by petty kings, queens, princes, and princesses becomes rapidly consolidated under the dominant power of Aegon I, his sister-wives Visenya and Rhaenys, and their three terrifying dragons.

This mean that, while there are plenty of bloody squabbles for succession, House Targaryen is possessed of a confident dominance that strongly distinguishes their outlook on power. Unlike the disenfranchised Daenerys of Game of Thrones, these early Targaryens don’t need to ask for what they have already taken. Absolute power of this kind, backed up by legions of dragons, creates a fascinating effect on the family.

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From Aegon the Conqueror to the devastating crisis between Queen Rhaenyra and her half-brother King Aegon II more than 100 years later, Targaryen history is livid with personalities who interact with power in vastly different ways. Some embrace it, some demand it, and some flee from it, but every Targaryen exists within this matrix of ownership.

If Game of Thrones spent seasons considering what creates power, expect House of the Dragon to be more concerned with the alternative — what power, in this kind of state, ultimately creates.

Dragons at life and at war

It probably goes without saying that House of the Dragon is jam-packed with dragon action right from the start. After all, Aegon and his sisters were only able to conquer Westeros on the strength of their three fire-breathing death airplanes. If you’re into battles fought and won from the air, House of the Dragon is sure to please you.

But there’s a bit more nuance to the dragons of old House Targaryen than there was in Game of Thrones. Most dragonriders hatch their dragons from eggs placed in their cradles, and since the bond is one-on-one, it manifests in a unique closeness even more intense than Dany’s experience.

Related: Game of Thrones prequel starring Naomi Watts will not go forward at HBO

What’s more, the long lifespan of dragons means that their stories continue past the Targaryens to whom they were born. While still distinctly animal, the dragons become constants as generations of rulers pass by — which makes their inevitable battles even more intense, and the stakes when they are forced to fight each other exponentially more tragic.

Queer characters

Game of Thrones offered up one or two LGBTQ+ romances over the course of its run, but if House of the Dragon follows Fire & Blood accurately, queer representation will get a boost in Westeros. To name a few, Queen Rhaena Targaryen and her true love Elissa Farman have an epic story, major drama unfolds based on the preferences of Queen Rhaenyra’s husband Laenor Valaryon, and then there’s the crossdressing pirate King Racallio Ryndoon, sometimes known as the “Queen of the Stepstones.”

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Obviously, the success of this representation will depend heavily on the approach taken by House of the Dragon, but just based on the source material, there is plenty of content from which to mine amazing stories.

So much incest

I don’t know if this is going to be a draw for anyone, but in case you were wondering: Targaryen history is exactly as jam-packed full of sibling marriages as you would expect. Sure, there are the occasional times when a cousin sneaks into the line, but most of the prominent relationships in House of the Dragon (like that of King Jaehaerys the Conciliator and his sister-wife Good Queen Alysanne) are immediately incestuous.

As far as social commentary goes, George R.R. Martin doesn’t dwell too much on the specifics. But as a political issue, the anti-incest Faith of the Seven has quite a lot to say about this practice, and the consequences are not what you’d call bloodless.

Non-Targaryen storylines

If you aren’t much of a Targaryen fan, I hear you. But while the ruling family does dominate the story (as they do everything else), there are plenty of other Westerosi characters to enjoy.

House Baratheon’s evolution throughout Aegon’s Conquest is fascinating to follow. The Martells of Dorne are as badass in their defiance as the Sand Snakes were lame on Game of Thrones. The women of House Arryn prove much more interesting than Lysa or Robin, and various and sundry foreigners provide further fascinating dimension to the historic events.

And yes, there is at least one highly significant Stark — though we may have to wait a while to enjoy his story.

A civil war

Debate has emerged among fans over which specific era House of the Dragon season 1 will cover. Though it may begin with Aegon’s Conquest, George R.R. Martin has encouraged fans on his blog to explore not only Fire & Blood, but also his novellas The Princess and the Queen and The Rogue Prince in preparation for the new series.

Both of these stories explore the lead-up to and events of the Targaryen civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons. (Or, as the maester who “writes” Fire & Blood calls it, “the Dying of the Dragons.)

This catastrophic conflict was neither the first nor the last time that the ruling family was divided against itself, but it may have been the most destructive. Unsurprisingly, it’s a complicated story, but the least you need to know is this:

Game of Thrones

King Viserys I, fifth Targaryen king of Westeros, had only one daughter by his first wife. Though succession usually went through the male line, Princess Rhaenerya was named his heir as a young girl.

But then Viserys remarried, and his new wife, Alicent Hightower, had a son she named Aegon. Though Rhaenyra was officially the heir, many lords wanted to follow the male line, and when Viserys died, Alicent seized the crown for her son. Not about to be usurped by her half-brother, Rhaenyra went to war, beginning the Dance of the Dragons.

What most distinguishes this conflict are the costs to House Targaryen. Not only is the stock of the family decimated, but the intimacy of the war meant that both sides of the family had plenty of dragons to throw at each other. So many dragons die in the Dance that it effectively marks the end of the age of dragonlords.

Also, hundreds of thousands of smallfolk die, and the next king is beyond traumatized by the whole affair and the eventual aftermath is extremely messy. But it’s the intrigue and intimacy of the Dance of the Dragons, as well as its intricate politics, that birth wide-scale horror which might be the material that Condal, Martin, and HBO are going for in this long history.

What do you hope to see in ‘House of the Dragon’?

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