What can we expect from HBO’s upcoming Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon? The series follows a pivotal moment in the history of House Targaryen, which sets in motion the process that eventually led to the society we saw at the beginning of the original series. And even though the series will cover things we knew had happened before Game of Thrones, there’s still plenty of room for surprises, and new approaches to the core themes of the original story.
Three years after the end of Game of Thrones, we’re heading back to Westeros. But what can we expect from HBO’s upcoming House of the Dragon? The series follows a pivotal moment in the history of House Targaryen, which sets in motion the process that eventually led to the society we saw at the beginning of the original series. And even though the series will cover things we knew had happened before Game of Thrones, there’s still plenty of room for surprises, and new approaches to the core themes of the original story.
Here’s our take on what we know so far, what to expect, and how the story of House of the Dragon might echo events from 200 years later.
What Is House of the Dragon?
House of the Dragon is based on Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin’s 2018 novel Fire & Blood, which delves into the lore of the Targaryens and explains more of how Westeros became Westeros.
“It’s the story of the fight between Rhaenyra Targaryen and her half-brother Aegon for control over the Seven Kingdoms.” - Shireen Baratheon, Game Of Thrones, 5x09
It’s not surprising that the first post-Thrones series looks to the past; in the gaps between books in the main series, Martin’s Thrones material has been devoted to world-building, and to expanding outward from the original books. This material sketches out historical conflicts and power struggles that have the potential to be just as interesting as anything in the original series. And on a deeper thematic level, it makes sense to return to Game of Thrones with an eye toward the past; in Westeros, history is a weapon for those who remember it, and a weakness for those who forget.
Within the broad expanded history of Westeros, it also makes sense for House of the Dragon to focus on the Targaryens. After all, the house’s influence hangs heavily over the entirety of Game of Thrones. Even though the series begins with the Targaryens nearly wiped out and their last remaining heirs in exile, everything we see is haunted by the memory of the Targaryens’ long rule of the Iron Throne. The civil war that saw Jamie Lannister killing “The Mad King” – Aerys II Targaryen – and Robert Baratheon taking the throne set up all the deeper conflicts that played out throughout the series.
“King Robert was strong. He won the rebellion and crushed the Targaryen dynasty.” - Tywin Lannister, Game Of Thrones, 4x03
But for almost the entirety of Game of Thrones, Daenerys is the only Targaryen we spend real time with – and we see the strengths, weaknesses, and struggles of the Targaryen family play out within her individual character.
“With fire and blood I will take it.” - Daenerys Targaryen, Game of Thrones, 2x06
Daenerys’ journey is about her trying to rebuff her instincts and be different from other members of her family –
“Our fathers were evil men. They left the world worse than they found it. We’re going to leave the world better than we found it.” - Daenerys Targaryen, Game Of Thrones, 6x09
– something she ultimately fails to do. But Dany’s story takes place in exile; for most of the series, she isn’t even on the continent of Westeros, instead amassing power in Essos in a parallel to the White Walkers who threaten Westeros from the north. So House of the Dragon will be the first time we’ve really gotten to see directly what House Targaryen was like as a major and present player in the politics of Westeros. And we’ll see exactly why Dany – seemingly the last member of her family after her brother’s death – inspires so much fear from the start, just by virtue of being a Targaryen.
Who are the Targaryens?
Who, then, are the Targaryens?
“The Targaryens are famously insane.” - Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones, 5x06
The Targaryens ruled the seven kingdoms for centuries until the Baratheons seized power in Robert’s Rebellion after Aegon the Conqueror established the ruling Targaryen dynasty in Westeros in 1 AC. The Targaryen words “Fire and Blood,” their colors red and black, and their house animal the dragon all evoke the house’s terrifying power. Like their dragons, the Targaryens are larger-than-life, almost magical-feeling, and connected to the essential mysteries and powers of life itself.
“She is the Mother of Dragons. Do you expect her to watch her people starve without breathing fire?” - Xaro Xhoan Daxos, Game of Thrones, 2x04
While the Targaryens weren’t the only family in the history of A Song of Ice and Fire who could control dragons, they’re the last family of dragonriders to survive the Doom of Valyria. It is said that Targaryens have “the blood of the dragon,” and the three heads of the dragon on their sigil symbolize Aegon I and his two sisters-slash-wives. Aegon I forged the Iron Throne, made from swords of his enemies heated with dragon fire – a reminder that power is never secure, just as no one can ever sit comfortably on the swords of the Iron Throne.
One of the recurring themes of the Targaryens is duality. Fire is a symbol of vitality and life, but it can also be deadly and extremely difficult to control – a rapidly spreading wildfire symbolizes the Targaryen madness, a destructive force that’s not in control of itself.
From the material about House of the Dragons that’s been released, we get the sense that the series is also going to dig into more of the real-world politics of Targaryen history – to show how, like the Lannisters in Game of Thrones, they’re a complicated family with complicated ideas about power. Like Jamie and Cersei Lannister, the Targaryens also have a tendency toward brother-sister love – but while Jamie and Cersei have to hide their relationship, the Targaryens encourage this kind of union to maintain the “purity” of the family bloodline.
“The Targaryens wed brothers and sisters for 300 years to keep bloodlines pure.” - Cersei Lannister, Game of Thrones, 1x07
The House of the Dragon’s different context is set to provide a different perspective on the issues that Game of Thrones explored – from political families trying to hold onto power, to forbidden love.
The series is setting up a sibling rivalry between Aegon II, played by Tom Glynn-Carney, and Rhaenyra Targaryen, played by Emma D’Arcy. The original material from Fire & Blood focuses on the civil war between Aegon and Rhaenyra, known as the “Dance of the Dragons” – an event so momentous that there are whole books about it in the present day of Game of Thrones.
“Their fight divided the kingdom in two. Brothers fought brothers. Dragons fought dragons.” - Shireen Baratheon, Game of Thrones, 5x09
These two children of the aging Targaryen ruler King Viserys I will eventually squabble over the throne – but at the beginning of House of the Dragon, it seems like Rhaenyra’s primary rival will be Viserys’ younger brother Daemon, played by Matt Smith. This series of dual conflicts plays on the Westerosi common wisdom that one out of every two Targaryens is a powerful ruler and the other is insane.
“Every time a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin.” - Cersei Lannister, Game Of Thrones, 2x07
These conflicts between Rhaenyra and her uncle and brother also appear set to mirror Daenerys’ journey by focusing on the nature of women in power, and how Targaryen women respond to being denied their birthright. Rhaenyra is the named heir to the Iron Throne, but Daemon appears unable to accept this – so that starts off the series of events that leads to the civil war. Many of the Westerosi nobles seem to perceive a female heir as a weakness (just as they still do during the time of the original series).
The original Game of Thrones explores female leadership primarily through Daenerys and Cersei, two strong women who are kept out of positions of power and turn to violence or treachery to gain the status they feel they deserve. House of the Dragon takes a different angle by centering a woman named to the throne, rather than women who have to use force to take it. So the prequel seems set to ask a related but distinct set of questions about how women are excluded from the halls of power and what they do once they enter.
What Else to Expect
So what else can we expect House of the Dragon to cover? In the same way that Game of Thrones begins by exposing the cracks in the seemingly peaceful reign of Robert Baratheon and culminates in a huge battle for power, House of the Dragon is set after Aegon Targaryen’s initial conquest of Westeros and leads up to a civil war that spells the beginning of the end for the Targaryen dynasty.
“And it was a disaster for the Targaryens, as well. They never truly recovered.” - Shireen Baratheon, Game of Thrones, 5x09
For the most part, Game of Thrones hammers home the idea that there are actually few meaningful differences between the great powers jockeying for the Iron Throne.
“Lannister, Targaryen, Baratheon, Stark, Tyrell – they’re all just spokes on a wheel. This one’s on top, then that one’s on top.” - Daenerys Targaryen, Game Of Thrones, 5x08
However, the Targaryens do appear to be a special spoke and one that’s worth focusing on. Not only do they seem to have an almost mystical vitality and a special relationship with Westeros’ dragons, but they also held onto power for nearly 300 years – an eternity in a world where war is a near-constant.
The middle seasons of Game of Thrones focus on the War of the Five Kings that starts after Robert’s death, as Robert’s apparent son Joffrey, his brothers Stannis and Renly, Balon Greyjoy, and Robb Stark fight over who will take power – while everyone ignores both Daenerys and the potentially existential threat from the north, the White Walkers.
“This War of the Five Kings means nothing. The true war lies to the north, my king.” - Melisandre, Game Of Thrones, 3x10
Some of the meatiest parts of the series came from the backdrop of several weakened powers engaged in a global war of succession. House of the Dragon seems designed to offer something similar – bottling up power in the person of the elder Viserys I, then setting up a powder keg to go off upon his death. The trailer also features ancestors for great Houses of Game of Thrones – like the Starks and Baratheons, as well as the new (or old) House Velaryon – pledging their allegiance to the Iron Throne. So we might get to see how these Houses are set up for their respective roles in the War of the Five Kings and beyond.
In some ways, House of the Dragon promises more of the things we already enjoyed about Game of Thrones: more Targaryens, more King’s Landing intrigue, and above all, more dragons. But it also seems ready to tackle a distinct political moment in the history of Westeros, one where the world was smaller than it was on Game of Thrones, and where power was more concentrated in Targaryen hands. House of the Dragon’s focus on the Targaryen family and their jockeying over King’s Landing could make for a big difference in scope and tone from the original series. This focus will allow House of the Dragon to address the story’s larger themes in its own way. But the biggest difference is that, in so much of Game of Thrones, the Targaryens as a group are an absence, a ghost we constantly hear about and rarely get to see. So like in the later seasons of Game of Thrones, we should all be excited for the Targaryens to finally arrive.