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Everything you need to know before watching HBO’s House of the Dragon

It’s been a long time since audiences felt the excitement of Sunday nights being Game of Thrones night, eagerly anticipating what dramatic revelations would unfold, and this week’s premiere of House of the Dragon will finally break that 3-year streak of silence. This prequel series is the first endeavor in a massive 5-year contract by A Song of Ice and Fire author George R. R. Martin penned with HBO last spring, and as the title promises, will be putting the main spotlight on House Targaryen, which Daenerys (and Jon Snow) eventually descended from.

The series of books and the original show helped bolster the fantasy genre in the mainstream, proving that these rich lore-filled worlds have massive intrigue. That being said, unless you’re a hardcore veteran fan, keeping up with all the lineages, conflicts, and extensive worldbuilding can be intimidating. But from the source material that’s being adapted to the central conflict at play, these are the broad strokes of what fans should know ahead of the premiere.

The source material

Split image of the Tagaryen sigil in House of the Dragon and Fire & Blood.

Part of the issue of seasons 7 and 8 of Game of Thrones was that the showrunner team ran out of source material to adapt from Martin’s work. While season 7 could still be an engaging watch in a “Hollywood blockbuster fantasy movie” sense, things really went off the rails by season 8. Jon Snow’s apparent death in A Dance with Dragons is one of the most recent things to happen in the books, which are already over a decade old.

Thankfully, though, House of the Dragon shouldn’t suffer from that particular problem. The upcoming prequel show is an adaptation of Martin’s spinoff novel Fire & Blood, which chronicled the history of the Targaryen dynasty starting from Aegon I Targaryen’s conquest of Westeros.

And though Martin himself confirmed on his blog that there will be a second volume of Fire & Blood, the history that HBO and showrunners Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik’s (the latter having won an Emmy for the Thrones episode Battle of the BastardsHouse of the Dragon will be covering should all be documented.

While Sapochnik recently said that House of the Dragon could become an anthology that covers other eras in the Targaryen dynasty, the heated war of succession teased in the show’s trailers and other promotional materials will be the focus for several seasons.

The timeline

Tyrion waking alongside Daenerys with Rhaegal and Drogon looming overhead.

It’s been reported that HBO is undergoing exciting developments for a Jon Snow-led sequel series to Game of Thrones, it’s probably for the best that the network’s first effort in expanding this franchise on-screen is a prequel.

Aside from the ease of access when it comes to having source material for reference, House of the Dragon is arguably best for testing the franchise’s long-term appeal beyond the original show’s impact and giving the developing sequel more time in the oven.

House of the Dragon will take place 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones, and will cover what’s regarded as the beginning of the end of House Targaryen’s seemingly indomitable influence over Westeros. It is technically a mild spoiler for the show, but Thrones made it abundantly clear that the family — and their dragons — were severely endangered by their own infighting.

Their fall has been referenced in the main series, as well as in the grim deterioration and extinction of the dragons until Daenerys’ three eggs were hatched. In this series, though, the Targaryens are still very much accustomed to being the status quo throughout the land.

Given the promotional materials seen so far, it appears that the leads of this generation of characters will be explored in great depth. One of the major plot points will cover Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen and Alicent Hightower’s teenage years — played by Milly Alcock and Emily Carey, respectively — into the main story during their adulthood — now played by Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke.

It seems like a fitting narrative structure for the show’s premise, as House of the Dragon will cover a conflict that’s been generations in the making.

The Houses in conflict

Emma D'Arcy as Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen.

The central conflict that the show will build up to is ultimately civil war, meaning that House of the Dragon will be pitting certain Targaryens against each other. However, underneath the Targaryens that sit on top of the political food chain, other houses will be thrown into the mix as well.

The “current” King of the Seven Kingdoms in House of the Dragon, King Viserys I Targaryen (played by Paddy Considine), doesn’t have a son to succeed him in the land’s patriarchal order of succession, which leads to a stark divide on who should inherit the Iron Throne.

Alicent Hightower with her father Ser Otto Hightower.

As teased in the trailers, Alicent and Princess Rhaenyra will clash in the present storyline as the former believes that her son should ascend the Throne. Of course, Rhaenyra stands firm that she should be Westeros’ first Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, as she is King Viserys’ eldest child.

Ser Otto Hightower — the Hand of the King — expectantly supports her daughter. Meanwhile, Rhaenys Targaryen (played by Eve Best) is seen with Rhaenyra since the latter’s younger days. Of course, fans can also expect to see Matt Smith’s morally gray Daemon Targaryen support Rhaenyra as well.

The Dance of the Dragons

Young Princess Rhaenyra with her dragon Syrax looming behind her.

And with this clash over the line of succession, war is inevitable. The Targaryen civil war is known in Westerosi history as The Dance of the Dragons, where family members are pitted against family members.

On top of the enticing political drama and action between the human characters at play, the biggest selling point behind House of the Dragon will be seeing the mascots of House Targaryen in action. Showrunner Ryan Condal has stated that the first season will feature a whopping 17 dragons.

The menacing red dragon Caraxes in House of the Dragon.

We’ve had glimpses of a few of them so far, with the two most notable being Princess Rhaenyra and the “Rogue Prince” Daemons dragons. The former rides the more elegant, yellow dragon Syrax, while the latter rides the imposing red Caraxes — also known as the “Blood Wyrm.”

The Dance itself will surely be saved for a later season, but seeing some dragon action is guaranteed in season 1. Given the context of Game of Thrones, dragons were scarce since Daenerys’ sons Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion were the first three dragons to appear in the world in generations.

There’s a lot riding on this series, and it has all the makings to be a thunderous hit for Martin’s growing franchise.

Episode 1 of House of the Dragon will premiere on both HBO and HBO Max on Sunday, August 21.

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