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House of the Dragon, The First Game of Thrones Prequel, Is Here at Last

Photo: HBO Max/YouTube

It feels like ages since HBO announced August 21 as the release date for House of the Dragon, a Game of Thrones “successor show” that follows a Targaryen civil war taking place in Westeros 300 years before the events of the original series, but we finally have the full trailer. Starring Paddy Considine, Matt Smith, and Emma D’Arcy, among others, the show is the only GOT prequel currently green-lit despite at least three others reportedly in the works (a moment of silence for the Naomi Watts spinoff that never was). Although it may be difficult to live up to the expectations set by its epic, record-breaking predecessor, the first episode of House of the Dragon is already George R.R. Martin approved. “I’ve seen a rough cut of the first episode. And loved it. It’s dark, it’s powerful, it’s visceral … just the way I like my epic fantasy,” Martin wrote on his blog in December 2021.

“Ryan and Miguel have done an amazing job, and the cast … just as with GAME OF THRONES, most viewers will only have heard of a few of the actors, but I think you are going to fall in love with a lot of them,” he added. “(Only to have your heart broken later when … but no, that would be telling).” From the trailer to the cast to the story lines, here’s everything that’s been revealed about the project taking us back to Martin’s universe.

What is it about?

“The threat of war looms,” says one of those blond, brooding Targaryens in the final promo, below. House of the Dragon will follow the Dance of the Dragons, a Targaryen civil war that took place in Westeros and is referenced in Fire and Blood and The World of Ice and Fire. This particular battle of succession is also explored in two novellas, The Princess and the Queen and The Rogue Prince. While Fire & Blood is a fictional history tome that spans generations of Targaryen kings, the events in House of the Dragon singularly focus on the end of the fourth Targaryen king’s peaceful reign. The events take place 172 years before the birth of Daenerys Stormborn, when the incestuous family still controlled an arsenal of nearly 20 dragons and comfortably sat upon the Iron Throne. HBO released the official trailer for the series July 20, and it features all manner of Game of Thrones goodness, including Milly Alcock’s Young Rhaenyra, the all-platinum-blonde Targaryen family, and an extremely dramatic cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs.”

While this sounds like a Game of Thrones–Succession crossover episode, you can still expect the usual POV gore that has been a highlight of the franchise. Longtime GOT director Miguel Sapochnik — the man behind the critically acclaimed bloody episodes “Hardhome,” “Battle of the Bastards,” and “The Bells” — returns as a series co-showrunner, together with Westeros newbie Ryan J. Condal, who once ran the sci-fi apocalypse-slash-alien-invasion series Colony on USA Network.

While the first season of the show spans the Dance of the Dragons, the showrunners are open to an anthology format for future seasons to accommodate the sheer breadth of Targaryen lore, both before and after this particular war of succession. “Absolutely. I think that’s one of the interesting things about the Targaryens,” Sapochnik told Entertainment Weekly. “We’ve chosen a story that’s almost like Star Wars: Episode IV. It’s the New Hope. We can go backwards, we can go forwards. There’s a lot of opportunities there. I hope we’ve been given the opportunity to set up something.” While a second season awaits confirmation, Condal has said he is prepping for a sophomore season during the House of the Dragon Comic-Con panel. Game of Thrones will never die!

Who has been cast?

House Targaryen representatives will include Considine as King Viserys Targaryen with Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen, the king’s younger brother and heir to the throne, and D’Arcy as Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, the king’s firstborn daughter. Olivia Cooke will play Alicent Hightower, the daughter of the Hand of the King, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans). Steve Toussaint is set to take on the role of Lord Corlys Velaryon, also known as the Sea Snake, a nautical adventurer whose house boasts the world’s largest navy. Eve Best will play his wife, Princess Rhaenys Velaryon. Finally, Sonoya Mizuno will be Mysaria, an “unlikely ally” of the prince. On May 5, 2021 HBO released three photos of the cast looking very beachy.

Where was the show filmed?

While Game of Thrones was based in Northern Ireland for its entire run, House of the Dragon has opted to shoot in England instead. According to Radio Times, HBO confirmed in 2020 that House of the Dragon’s production headquarters would be at Leavesden Studios (the site of the Harry Potter films) in Watford, England. Fans also speculated early on that some scenes were shot in Cornwall, England, after noticing that a stone archway set being constructed there appears to have a Velaryon crest.

On April 27, 2021, The Daily Mail spotted Smith and D’Arcy walking together in costume on a beach along the southwest coast of Cornwall. Repping the colors of House Targaryen’s coat of arms, Smith is dressed down to his boots in black, while D’Arcy wears a gown with several shades of red. Both dragonriders, of course, are sporting icy blonde wigs that would make Daenerys proud.

What kind of discourse is surrounding the show?

House of the Dragon has been coming under fire for comments co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik made in The Hollywood Reporter about the role sexual assault and gender-based violence would play in the upcoming show. Game of Thrones was known for its dragons, but also its “sexposition” scenes and graphic depictions of sexual violence. When asked about how the prequel would handle such stories, Saopchnik said the show “pulls back” on the sex scenes, while not shying away from violence against women. “You can’t ignore the violence that was perpetrated on women by men in that time,” he said. “It shouldn’t be downplayed and it shouldn’t be glorified.” Many responded that you can’t exactly claim to need historical accuracy for a time and place that is, in fact, completely made up.

Writer and producer Sara Hess did damage control in Vanity Fair, clarifying the show’s position. “We do not depict sexual violence in the show,” she said. “We handle one instance off-screen, and instead show the aftermath and impact on the victim and the mother of the perpetrator…There are many ‘historical’ or history-based shows that romanticize powerful men in sexual/marriage relationships with women who were actually not of an age to consent, even if they were ‘willing.’ We put that onscreen, and we don’t shy away from the fact that our female leads in the first half of the show are coerced and manipulated into doing the will of adult men.”

House of the Dragon, the First GOT Spinoff, Is Here at Last