House of the Dragon, the first of several planned spin-offs to HBO’s monumental hit Game of Thrones, premieres August 21st, more than three years after the original show ended. If you’re wondering how the series fits into the world of the Seven Kingdoms (and just how many strange, barely pronounceable names you’re going to have to learn), here’s everything you need to know.
The Game Resets
The last time we were in Westeros, it was after Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), who long thought she was the only member of her family left alive, had torched King’s Landing and attempted to seize the Iron Throne for herself. She would eventually be killed by her lover/nephew Jon Snow (Kit Harington), who grew up as a Stark bastard but was actually secretly a legitimate Targaryen the whole time.
These events aren’t exactly relevant to House of the Dragon, since it’s a prequel set nearly 200 years before Game of Thrones, but the new show does take the conflict and tension around Targaryen rightful heirs and sexist lines of succession that was central to Daenerys and Jon’s dynamic (or would have been, if it there had been adequate space to play out in the final season) and amplifies it.
That’s right, it’s another tussle for the Iron Throne (what else?), with all the plotting and backstabbing that goes along with it — and now with even more dragons. The new series focuses on House Targaryen at the height of their power in the Seven Kingdoms, long before Robert’s Rebellion which took down the Mad King, and even longer before Daenerys’ rise and fall. It’s also set in a time when dragons were very much a part of daily life and a whole bunch of Targaryens rode and fought with them.
If Game of Thrones was a song of ice and fire, then House of the Dragon is a song of fire and fire. Or rather, Fire and Blood, which is also the name of the book that the new show is inspired by. It’s a spin-off of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, which Game of Thrones was based on, but it’s not actually a novel — rather, it’s a 700-plus page fictional history of the Targaryen dynasty from the time of Aegon the Conqueror, the first Targaryen to invade Westeros with dragons after escaping the doomed city of Old Valyria in Essos.
House doesn’t cover the whole book, but rather a very specific era that’s outlined in it: the Dance of the Dragons, a civil war in which Targaryen turned against Targaryen and dragon fought dragon in a bitter and deadly fight for power that proved to be the beginning of the end for the clan. What’s perhaps most exciting about the series being based on Fire and Blood is that while the major events of the war are outlined in the book, there’s a lot of room for interpretation and creative freedom here.
The Game Masters
It’s no secret that many fans of Game of Thrones were burned [ahem] by the ending of the series, and if you were one of them, you should take heart in the fact that Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss aren’t involved in House of the Dragon. Instead, George R. R. Martin himself is a co-creator and executive producer, along with Ryan Condal, who previously wrote and produced the sci-fi show Colony.
Condal is also sharing showrunner duties with Miguel Sapochnik, who famously directed some of the best and most iconic Game of Thrones episodes, including “Hardhome”, “Battle of the Bastards”, and “The Winds of Winter”. Meanwhile, Ramin Djawadi, the composer behind Game of Thrones’ incredible score, is also on board to create the House of the Dragon music.
As for the look of the show, you can expect to see elements of the Westeros we know — like locations, house colors and symbols — but, with House taking place nearly two centuries earlier, there’s a lot that looks quite different. After all, this is a time of decadence, when the Targaryens (and the Seven Kingdoms as a whole) are thriving. And the Iron Throne itself is much more ominous, with even more swords forming its framework, making it appear closer to the way it’s described in Martin’s books.
The Key Players
Viserys Targaryen (played by Paddy Considine) is at the center of the game in House of the Dragon. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve met a Viserys Targaryen before — Daenerys’ evil older brother, who spent his time whining about wanting to be king before he was brutally killed by Khal Drago way back in Season 1 of Game of Thrones. Unlike that Viserys, this one actually gets to be king and sit on the Iron Throne, plus he’s pretty well-liked. But the question of who his heir will be creates rival factions in his court that ultimately escalates into war.
On one side there’s Rhaenyra (played by Emma D’Arcy, with Milly Alcock playing the younger version of her), who is Viserys’ eldest child and the daughter of his first wife. On the other is Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith), the younger brother of Viserys who also wants to stake a claim and who is viewed as an enemy by much of the king’s advisors, notably Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), the Hand of the King.
Also in the game are the Velaryons, an important house who are rivals of the Hightowers and who, like the Targaryens, are descended from Old Valyria. Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), also known as the Sea Snake, has made his family richer than even the Lannisters with his seafaring skills and powerful navy. His wife, Rhaenys (Eve Best), is King Viserys’ cousin; she lost out on inheriting the throne because of her gender.
The Lannisters themselves make an appearance in the form of Jason (Jefferson Hall), Lord of Casterly Rock, and his twin, Tyland (also played by Jefferson Hall), who is a calculating politician. There’s been no mention of whether House Stark will appear, but since most of the action takes place at King’s Landing, it’s safe to assume they’ll probably stay absent in the North.
We’ll see a lot of other houses get involved in the fray, though, including the Strongs of Harrenhal (which is not yet in ruins as it was in Game of Thrones), namely Ser Harwin a.k.a “Breakbones” (Ryan Corr), the strongest man in the kingdom, his younger brother Larys (Matthew Needham), and their father Lord Lyonel (Gavin Spokes), the Master of Laws.
Also on deck: Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), a skilled swordsman; Viserys’ advisor Grand Maester Mellos (David Horovitch), Kingsguard member Ser Harrold Westerling (Graham McTavish); and Master of Coin Lord Lyman Beesbury (Bill Paterson).
All in all, the board is set for House of the Dragon to have the elements we most love from Game of Thrones — an expansive cast of interesting and complex characters, plus intricate and twisted plots, explosive action, and, of course, dragons — while also offering fresh potential and no doubt lots of surprises.
Let the games begin.