House of the Dragon: what can we expect from the Game of Thrones prequel?

With just a month to go, more details are emerging on arguably the most anticipated new TV series of the year

House of the Dragon is now one month away, and to say that it has an uphill struggle ahead of it is an understatement. It’s a Game of Thrones spin-off that has to regain everyone’s trust after Game of Thrones disintegrated so thoroughly during its final season. It has also had the carpet whipped out from underneath it by news that HBO is going to make another Game of Thrones spin-off, starring Kit Harington as Jon Snow. And, potentially worst of all, it will find itself competing with Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, which has already made a splash by being the most expensive television series ever made.

And these challenges might explain why the House of the Dragon press onslaught has already begun. Little by little, we’re starting to learn more about the series, and why HBO desperately needs us to watch it. Here’s what we know so far.

The cast

Some of the earliest information released about House of the Dragon concerned its stars. Matt Smith and Emma D’Arcy play the blonde ones. Rhys Ifans, Paddy Considine and Olivia Cooke play the darker-haired ones. Steve Toussaint plays the only Black person in Westeros. Gallingly, and inevitably, Toussaint has reported already being the subject of racist abuse from Game of Thrones fans.

The plot

Taking place 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon will see the Targaryens in full pomp, although judging by nudges and hints from those in the know, this might not last for the entire duration of the series. In an interview for the Hollywood Reporter, co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik said that at its heart, House of the Dragon will be about four characters: “There’s the king, his brother, the king’s daughter and her best friend. Then the best friend becomes the king’s wife and thereby the queen.” Essentially the story is, ‘What if your best friend hooks up with your dad?’, which would be fairly icky for most people, but comparatively normal when compared to a family that isn’t exactly unfamiliar with the concept of incest.

The structure

The Hollywood Reporter also points out that there will be several multi-year jumps throughout House of the Dragon. In this regard, it will be less like Game of Thrones (the story of a royal family gone mad with power and wealth) and more like The Crown (which is also that).

How it came to be

This is one of the most interesting aspects of the whole shebang. HBO basically created House of the Dragon with what essentially amounts to an Apprentice task. Teams of people were asked to pitch spin-offs, with the resulting ideas ranging from preposterous (a show about the gods of Westeros learning how to be gods) to the wildly plausible (Bloodmoon, Jane Goldman’s prequel based on eight lines of text in George RR Martin’s books, which was turned into a $35m pilot starring Naomi Watts, then binned). In the end HBO went with House of the Dragon, possibly because Martin had written about this portion of history at length, or possibly because all the blonde wigs are the closest thing that Game of Thrones has to a logo.

It’ll be faithful

Martin has never really written books for the casual reader, with so many characters having so many near-identical names that it takes real dedication to keep them separated in your mind. This is also the case for House of the Dragon, which will feature both a Princess Rhaenyra and a Princess Rhaenys. According to the Hollywood Reporter, there was a meeting to see if some names could be altered to make it easier for viewers to follow. This request was shot down, underlining the fact that is a serious show for people who maintain a reverence for George RR Martin.

It’ll be like the Game of Thrones you remember …

One of the only people on Earth to have seen House of the Dragon is George RR Martin himself, who wrote online: “Those of you who like complex, conflicted, grey characters (as I do) will like this series, I think. There will be plenty of dragons and battles, to be sure, but the spine of the story is the human conflicts, the love and the hate, character drama rather than action/ adventure.” Which, more than anything, seems like reassurance that House of the Dragon will be tonally similar to the first few seasons of Game of Thrones, rather than the berserk, pitch black CGI slugfest of the finale.

… Although not exactly

Throughout the Hollywood Reporter piece, various higher ups keep wringing their hands about all the gratuitous nudity that filled much of Game of Thrones earlier seasons. Instead, House of Dragons will be much more pared down, with stridently feminist themes. One is how the patriarchy would rather tear itself apart than have a female leader. Another is apparently about the inherent dangers of childbirth. This is great news for anyone who really enjoys tedious online discourse about how wokeness is spoiling everything.

There is much, much more to come

As well as House of the Dragon (and the Jon Snow spin-off), HBO is determined to wring more from the Game of Thrones IP. There will soon also be a direct Game of Thrones sequel, a Dunk and Egg series, a prequel series about Toussaint’s character and four different animated Game of Thrones shows. Put simply, if you’re excited about House of the Dragon, then remember this feeling. If HBO gets its way, soon you’ll be absolutely sick of it.

  • House of the Dragon begins on HBO and HBO Max on 21 August in the US, on Sky Atlantic and Now in the UK on 22 August, and on Binge in Australia on 22 August


Stuart Heritage

The GuardianTramp

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