HBO’s upcoming Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon, has a fierce battle ahead; the series must live up to the high standards set by Thrones, while washing away the memory of the show’s controversial final season, which sparked a fan revolt on social media.
Despite the finale imploding the fandom, viewers seem ready to revisit the world of Westeros – House of the Dragon even topped IMDb’s list of most anticipated series of 2022. In the years since Thrones ignited a fantasy boom in prestige television, no other series has managed to best, or even equal, the show’s careful attention to detail; Amazon’s lackluster Wheel of Time adaptation being the latest attempt that fell flat.
House of the Dragon is due to premiere on HBO a couple of weeks before a big-name competitor drops on Amazon Prime – The Rings of Power – my money is on HBO to deliver the stronger story. But what can we expect from the Game of Thrones prequel series?
The Beginning Of The End
The prequel is set 200 years before Game Of Thrones, and will show the painful decline of House Targaryen, which is depicted in its prime; at this point in Westeros history, dragons are abundant, allowing the Targaryens to comfortably rule, unchallenged.
While Thrones was set in a decaying world, with the remaining noble houses fighting each other in the face of an apocalyptic threat, House of the Dragon will show the beginning of the rot, as the incestuous family starts to tear itself apart over a succession crisis.
It also means a lot of platinum blonde wigs, and characters with confusingly similar names – the series has a Princess Rhaenyra and a Princess Rhaenys (reportedly, requests to differentiate them were shut down, out of respect for George R.R. Martin’s work).
Some More Family Drama
Thrones was famously pitched as “The Sopranos meets Middle-Earth,” emphasizing the moral ambiguity of Westeros, in stark contrast to traditional fantasy stories like Lord of the Rings. House of the Dragon looks to continue that ethos, as described by George R.R. Martin, 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.”
The promise to keep this story centered on the characters is promising – the emphasis on action over the whims of the characters is much of the reason why the finale of Thrones felt so empty.
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.”
Hence, the Targaryen family is due to be ruptured by a combination of love, resentment, and misogyny, as the inheritance crisis is exacerbated by the potential of a queen taking the Iron Throne.
While Thrones was famous for inserting graphic sexual violence into Martin’s story (which already including a lot of it), often crossing the boundaries of taste, Dragons is said to be a little more cautious, emphasizing a more feminist approach that fits neatly with the themes of the show.
That being said, I’m sure viewers can still expect plenty of sex – this is a story about the Targerans, after all (and an HBO series).
A new Daenerys Targaryen?
Emma D’Arcy’s Princess Rhaenyra already feels familiar, being the rightful heir to the throne who has to fight for her claim, facing off against the forces of misogyny. In the trailer, Rhaenyra speaks of breaking old traditions, and seems deeply ambitious; on the surface, her story seems to mirror that of Daenerys Targaryen, a fan-favorite whose sudden tilt into madness in the finale sparked most of the fan backlash.
She’s also a dragon-rider – hopefully, her story won’t end with her burning down the fandom. But unlike the ending to Thrones, which had run out of books to adapt, the ending to Dragon has already been written.
Whether the prequel series can live up to expectations, or rise above its many fantasy competitors, remains to be seen – there’s a lot of contenders for the throne out there.