In the immortal words of Andy and Raif, it’s time for a switcheroo: Shortly after news broke that HBO would not be moving forward with its Naomi Watts–led Game of Thrones prequel set during Westeros’s ancient history, the network announced it had given a straight-to-series order to House of the Dragon, a Targaryen-centric spinoff loosely based on George R.R. Martin’s Fire and Blood.
While the nixed pilot was to have featured a slightly more high-fantasy concept, telling stories of the charismatic figures who founded the great houses of Westeros, House of the Dragon will take place a few hundred years before the events of GOT. Its version of Westeros will feel a bit more familiar: There will likely be characters from houses we already know and love, like the Lannisters, Starks, and Baratheons, and since a large portion of the show should take place in Kings Landing, they might even be able to reuse a few key sets. That penny-pinching might come in handy. The show will cover the Targaryens at a time when their power was in full bloom, and you know what that means — dragons, and lots of them. Your HBO Max subscription dollars are going to a good cause.
Though we know the show will focus on the Targaryens, concrete plot details are scarce. Fire and Blood, the book the show will be based on, is a mock-historical tome covering the first 150 years of the dynasty’s reign, written from the perspective of a fictional archmaester at the Citadel. (Part II will have to wait until Martin finishes A Song of Ice and Fire proper.) The book was not particularly well-received in the fandom, for a variety of reasons — its treatment of female characters and its failure to stick to its own genre conceit, to name just two — but it presents a wide variety of possible stories for showrunners Miguel Sapochnik and Ryan Condal to focus on. There are bold kings (Aegon the Conqueror), evil kings (Maegor the Cruel), and supposedly good kings who are written strangely dickish (Jaehaerys the Conciliator), each of whose adventures could well be worth shelling out $15 a month to watch.
However! Reading between the lines of various announcements, I think we can narrow the scope down a bit. In particular, it seems likely that House of the Dragon will focus on the Dance of the Dragons, a Targaryen civil war that played a large part in the family’s dragons dying out. (Not to be confused with A Dance With Dragons, the fifth ASOIAF book.) It’s an integral part of Westerosi history, and the books and the show would often reference it. The season five DVD even included a fairly detailed retelling in the Histories & Lore extras:
So why do I think House of the Dragon will be about the Dance? In his blog post about the news, Martin noted that, while he was forbidden from revealing what exactly the show would be about, “you might want to pick up a copy of two anthologies I did with Gardner Dozois, Dangerous Women, and Rogues.” Those anthologies contain two novellas written by Martin that lay out the story of the conflict. The first, “The Princess and the Queen,” located the origins of the war in the rivalry between princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, chosen successor to King Viserys I, and her father’s second wife, Alicent Hightower, who wanted the crown to go to her son Aegon. It tells the story up to near the end of the war, a terrifying scene where [REDACTED] feeds [REDACTED] to [REDACTED]’s dragon. The second, “The Rogue Prince,” is a prequel to that story that focuses on Viserys’s ne’er-do-well brother Daemon, who would go on to marry Rhaenyra. Taken together, you can see why this time period might be an attractive setting for a GOT prequel series: There’s a long period of misrule by a complacent king, featuring sexual shenanigans, incest, and royal heirs of uncertain paternity, in a court marked by debates about primogeniture and persistent sectarian tensions that make war almost inevitable. Sound familiar?
Additional evidence points toward the series focusing on the Dance, as well. Since House of the Dragon was announced, various reports have indicated that it is a reworking of the pitch originally developed by Thrones veteran Bryan Cogman, which was thought to be dead when Cogman left the project last spring. Cogman was known as the “keeper of the lore” on the GOT staff, and in his 2017 blog post announcing the spinoff, Martin wrote that “Bryan’s series will be an adaptation, and one that will thrill most fans of the books, I think, set during a very exciting period of Westerosi history.” At the time, Fire and Blood had not yet been published, so the only adaptable ASOIAF material outside the main series were those two Dance of the Dragons novellas and the Dunk and Egg stories — and Dunk and Egg takes place in a period that’s not covered in Fire and Blood. (Also, I think most fans would agree Dunk and Egg takes place in a slightly less exciting period of Westerosi history, which is part of its charm.)
Finally, consider the other relevant bit of new information we got this week: the hiring of Sapochnik as co-showrunner. (He’ll also direct the first episode of the series, and probably others.) As Game of Thrones developed its stable of directors, Sapochnik developed a reputation for stewarding action-heavy episodes like “Hardhome,” “Battle of the Bastards,” and “The Bells.” He does not seem to be the man you hire for quiet, introspective bottle episodes; if you’re getting Sapochnik, you’re getting him to bring off some hard-core dragon-on-dragon setpieces. Personally, I can’t wait. In fact, let’s start the fan-casting now. Brendan Gleeson for Viserys I!