This past Sunday, over 10 million viewers (many of which probably swore this world off forever after Game of Thrones’ final season) came back to Westeros to see the white-haired Targaryens at the top of their game in the new series, House of the Dragon. No reign lasts forever, though, and as stated in this pilot episode, “The only thing that could tear down the house of the Dragon was itself.” Book readers of Fire and Blood (a faux-historical text covering the dragon riding dynasty in detail) know this to be true and know exactly what this family squabble is leading towards.
This episode is just beginning, but the seeds are already in place for what these characters will do in years to come. So let’s talk about what groundwork is being laid, what details are being uncovered, and what changes have already occurred. But only move further if you have read the sacred texts or don’t mind being spoiled. Seriously, don’t ruin it for yourself if you don’t want to. SPOILER ALERT!
Setting the Stage for the Dance
House of the Dragon will culminate in the Targaryen civil war known as The Dance of Dragons, and this first episode tips the first domino in what will lead to that carnage when King Viserys names his daughter Princess Rhaenyra as his heir to the Iron Throne instead of his brother, Prince Daemon. Though the initial animosity is between the uncle and niece, book readers know that the real struggle will be between Rhaenyra and her current BFF, Alicent Hightower.
Their close friendship is an update for the show and is already enhancing both characters and the story. For one thing, it gives the young women each other to confide in while moving around the extremely patriarchal society of King’s Landing. It will also create a much more awkward and strained situation when Alicent marries Viserys and becomes her stepmother, even before she has little heirs of her own.
Another surprise to book readers and show watchers alike was when Viserys revealed to Rhaenyra that everyone who has sat on the Iron Throne has learned of the prophecy that the Long Winter and White Walkers will someday come for the realm. While this is obviously a connection to the original series, it is also an example of the intimate secrets and conversations taking place between the Targaryens that Fire and Blood couldn’t disclose from its more historical point of view.
The question is how relevant, if it all, will this be to this series? Was Daemon told this when he was Prince of Dragonstone? Will this be part of what keeps him and Rhaenyra so resilient in their quest to secure the throne? Time will tell, but I hope it does find its way into the larger story and isn’t just a quick shout-out to that other show we all watched.
Fire and Blood played a lot with hearsay and unreliable narrators. At times, it isn’t clear how certain events actually occurred, or how they were warped by rumors over the centuries. One example in the book is whether Prince Daemon called his nephew the “heir for a day.” The show chose to have this also be a story that Otto Hightower hears, and we do not actually see Daemon say it in the episode. He doesn’t deny it when Viserys brings it up, but the show manages to keep some of the book’s ambiguity.
I’m looking forward to how this kind of adaptation continues to unfold. It’s a unique experience to know the major beats of how a story will play out, but not all of the character moments and drama that will give that plot life. House of the Dragon is taking its time in establishing its characters the right way. If that continues, then by the time we actually do reach the Dance, that war will be filled with morally complicated figures on both sides that we have sympathy for.