Fire and blood are coming.
Get ready to unlearn all the catchphrases you heard on Game of Thrones. The first one you’ll unlearn is that “every time a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin.” Because, as you will learn on HBO Max’s House of the Dragon, “madness” hardly runs in the Targaryen family.
If you wish you could unsee the nonsensical final season of what once was the most popular show in the world, you are bound to love its prequel House of the Dragon. The new spin-off, premiering on August 21, has the potential to reclaim everything we loved about Game of Thrones and to right the wrongs of the final season — here’s how.
The new series follows the life of Rhaenyra Targaryen (played by Emma D’Arcy and Milly Alcock), who’s in line to be the first queen regnant of Westeros, and the rest of her family and allies. It has everything that made GoT enticing: politics, civil war, scandalous but consensual relationships, plus something GoT didn’t have much of at all: female writers. Which, in a story that is mainly about women and their rights, is kind of fundamental.
Of the 73 episodes of Game of Thrones, only 4 were written by women (Vanessa Taylor and Jane Espenson), but those writers were not staff writers who contributed to other episodes, according to IMDb. The unabashed lack of equality behind the scenes of Game of Thrones never seemed to bother people much — but as Daenerys Targaryen’s final plotline unfolded, the misogyny seemed clearer than ever. After spending eight seasons building up her character into a pillar of strength, the (male) writers stripped her of her hero status, treated her as mad from grief, turned her into a senseless killer of the same innocents she’d always fought to protect, and then had her lover kill her for shock value. After how Daenerys’ and Cersei’s storylines ended, it’s hard to take the writers’ decision to have Sansa be handed a throne by her brother as an empowering or feminist epilogue. Instead, it feels like a moment of pandering to prove that the writers didn’t really hate all women in power… just the ones who didn’t conform to the preconceived norms of what a good lady should be.
In perspective, the mere fact that House of the Dragon is starting off with a writers’ room that is evenly divided does wonders to help me sleep at night. At the very least, having more women in the writers’ room should help curb the masculine urge to punish female characters simply for daring to have agency, let alone dreams and ambitions. With everything that the source material will throw at the women in this story — spoiler alert, it’s a lot — it’s a relief to know a woman’s perspective will be represented in the script.
Another one of the major issues facing the final few seasons of GoT was that they had gone beyond the source material, and needed to make their own path in lieu of further guidance from George R. R. Martin. House of the Dragon faces no similar risk: the story of the Dance of Dragons is told in its entirety in George R.R. Martin’s Fire And Blood, and the author himself is on hand as creator and executive producer to address any questions about the universe.
Further, showrunners Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik are long-time fans of the universe who care deeply about the story — while GoT showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have been accused of not sharing that same respect for the core text. And while the book leaves many things up for interpretation, Condal has stated in an interview on Idris and Sabrina Elba’s podcast Coupledom that he made no choices of which Martin did not approve in the production process. In turn, Martin has often spoken highly of the team and has expressed nothing but praise for the work done on the first season.
As far as we’ve seen, House of the Dragon is trying to both respect the parent show (and the books from which it came) and avoid the major issues it ran into. The producers seem dedicated to ensuring continuity while still creating a new show with its own identity. In other words, they’re changing some things up, but they’re not being petty about it.
One vivid example of this careful balance is the new Iron Throne, which looks halfway between the one used on the first show (aka a neat chair with a few swords sticking out at the top) and what is described in the books (an asymmetric monstrosity, ugly and twisted, an impossible seat located on a high platform at the top of steep stairs that has cut and killed people). With their new rendering, the creators have already proved a superior commitment to accomplishing Martin’s vision — and signaled that they have no desire to sugarcoat the ugliness their story may call for.
As for what you can expect to happen on the show, House of the Dragon — like its parent show — is a story about a civil war for who should inherit the Iron Throne and a family feud that ends up bleeding the Seven Kingdoms dry. In the first season, we will most likely see much of the backstory behind the family rivalry and very little of the war itself. And while I would caution against trying to draw too many comparisons between GoT and HotD, the world inevitably will — it’s hard to watch Rhaenyra’s story play out without thinking at least a little of her descendant Daenerys, and yet the character undoubtedly shares a glimmer of Cersei Lannister too — as does her opponent Alicent Hightower.
Even if the story lends itself to some parallels, I have faith in the creators of HotD to do things differently: not by changing up the events or type of story that they’re telling, but by changing the perspective from which it is told. While GoT got into the unfortunate habit of justifying the cruel and misogynistic actions of its cast of characters, it’s possible to reflect a harsh reality while clearly condemning the injustices within it — with the proper creators at the helm.
House of the Dragon may not be able to fully erase the crimes of the rushed and pointless ending of Game of Thrones, but it can overwrite that bitter feeling with new, better memories. No pandering or forced happy endings, just quality writing. We are about to meet a massive cast of incredibly complex characters, none of whom are entirely good or bad, just very grey. Their dynamics and struggles are guaranteed to make us cry and laugh along with them, to root for our most beloved and love to hate on our least favorites. We have a lot of adventures, relationships, politics, and backstabbing to look forward to… Plus a ton of dragons. If you’re still trying to recover from watching GoT go down in flames, just wait: Something wonderful may just rise from its ashes.
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