Winter is com—er, no, that’s the wrong show. Winter isn’t the concern now. The Dance of the Dragons is coming!
On August 21, audiences will return to Westeros for the first time since Game of Thrones ended with a thud in 2019. The new show is House of the Dragon, a prequel set about 170 years before the events of Thrones, which will detail the Targaryen civil war—called the Dance of the Dragons—and, HBO hopes, kick-start a new expanded universe complete with more prequels and spinoffs and animated accompaniments.
But for fans who haven’t thought about Thrones since it ended, can’t quite remember which house supported which faction vying for power, or haven’t retained their degrees in Westerosi history, reentering a fictional world with so much lore might seem intimidating. While there is technically enough time left to rewatch all 73 Thrones episodes in the next week, that isn’t realistic for most viewers—but seven episodes, handpicked to provide the best preparation for the prequel material, seems much more manageable.
So lower those blinds, turn up that TV brightness, and find peace in the light of the Seven while returning to the world of Targaryens and dragons and Valyrian steel. These aren’t the best episodes Thrones ever aired—but they’re the most important to review before House of the Dragon premieres.
“Winter Is Coming,” Season 1, Episode 1
There’s no better place for a refresher on a fictional world than its pilot episode, and “Winter Is Coming” fits the bill about as perfectly as possible. It also doubles as an excellent lead-in to House of the Dragon, as it features many of the same objects and themes that will carry over to the prequel series.
Dragon eggs? Check. Violence? Check, too. Mysterious deaths and schemes and plots? Check and check. This first episode also contains a bit of an overview of how the Targaryen reign ended more than a century after Dragon. And at episode’s end, the show thrusts incest into the center of the screen. Prepare for a lot more where that came from.
“Fire and Blood,” Season 1, Episode 10
“Fire and Blood” isn’t just the title of Thrones’ Season 1 finale; it’s also the slogan of House Targaryen and thus the title of the book—which was published years after Season 1 aired—that serves as the source text for Dragon.
Dragons are so central to this story because they’re both a symbol of Targaryen might and the very source of it. Aegon the Conqueror was outnumbered by the families he conquered, possessed fewer resources, and was less familiar with the land—but he had dragons and his enemies did not, so he could claim the continent for his own. Yet what happens to the dragons during the Dance reverberates through the timeline. As Thrones ends its first season with a bang, Daenerys’s children become the world’s first hatchlings in more than a century.
“The Dance of Dragons,” Season 5, Episode 9
Awww, look at Drogon, this list jumped from Season 1 to Season 5 and now he’s flying and terrifying and broiling Sons of the Harpy to save his mom. They grow up so fast!
Drogon had used his dracarys (literal meaning in High Valyrian: “dragon fire”) in earlier episodes, but never while so big or powerful or destructive. And because Daenerys also becomes the first Thrones character to ride a dragon in this episode, it’s an obvious choice to review before a fleet of dragon riders arrives in the prequel.
But Drogon’s dramatic rescue doesn’t come until the end of this episode. First, an even more portentous scene occurs near Winterfell, when Shireen Baratheon tells her father, Stannis, about the book she’s reading, The Dance of the Dragons: A True Telling by Grand Maester Munkun. It’s about two relatives, she says, who both “thought they belonged on the Iron Throne. When people started declaring for one of them or the other, their fight divided the kingdoms in two. Brothers fought brothers. Dragons fought dragons. By the time it was over, thousands were dead. And it was a disaster for the Targaryens as well. They never truly recovered.”
Also, uh, seeing a reminder of how Shireen’s story ends could be good preparation for another show with copious child horror.
“Battle of the Bastards,” Season 6, Episode 9
Make sure to watch at least one episode—if not more—that Miguel Sapochnik directed, as he’s one of Dragon’s showrunners. “Battle of the Bastards” isn’t actually Sapochnik’s best episode; that’s “The Winds of Winter,” which we at The Ringer rank as the best Thrones episode overall. Nor is this the best Sapochnik-directed battle episode; that’s “Hardhome,” which we rank no. 2.
But “Battle of the Bastards” is the most relevant to the new show, for two reasons. The White Walkers from “Hardhome” won’t appear in House of the Dragon, but “Battle of the Bastards” demonstrates the brutality of mere man-on-man warfare, which will surely reoccur in Dragon. And the titular clash between Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton isn’t the episode’s only battle: Before it heads north, the episode begins in Meereen, where Daenerys’s three dragons fight together to complete her conquest of Slaver’s Bay.
Notice, too, that when all three dragons fly together, Drogon is much larger than his siblings. That’s because Rhaegal and Viserion spent a while chained under Meereen’s Great Pyramid, while Drogon flew untethered; the effect of freedom on a dragon’s growth rate should prove even more important in the prequel.
“The Spoils of War,” Season 7, Episode 4
A few factors make this a recommendation to viewers preparing for the new show. First, Jon and Daenerys explore Dragonstone, the Targaryens’ ancestral seat, which will serve as a much more frequent location in Dragon.
Second, Dickon Tarly comments to Jaime Lannister that he felt conflicted about his fight against the Tyrells in the previous episode, saying, “I knew some of those men. I hunted with them.” Jaime responds that “they didn’t deserve to die,” but because of their liege’s political choices, “here we are.” That concept—of brother forced to fight against brother, neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend—will permeate the new show’s civil war.
And oh yeah, third, this episode features the most spectacular example of dragon warfare that Game of Thrones ever provided. House of the Dragon will offer plenty of dragon fights, but can any of them top Drogon’s Dothraki-aided assault on the Lannisters’ loot train? There’s so much fire and so much blood.
“Beyond the Wall,” Season 7, Episode 6
Dragons are such imposing weapons of war because they are tremendously powerful, tactically innovative—while everyone else in Westeros is fighting in only two dimensions, dragon riders can attack from the skies—and nearly indestructible. But nearly is not completely indestructible.
Thrones offers two examples of dragon deaths, but it’s impossible in good conscience to recommend Season 8’s “The Last of the Starks.” So that leaves “Beyond the Wall”—still a somewhat lackluster episode by itself, but, in the Night King’s successful javelin strike, crucial to forecasting how human forces may grapple with their airborne opponents during the Dance.
“The Bells,” Season 8, Episode 5
One of the most controversial episodes in Thrones’ history is also one of its most essential to understanding the characters who will appear, and who will exchange acts of bravery for monstrosities, in Dragon. Targaryen terror is a family trait—centuries of incest might have that effect on a family line—inspiring the aphorism that Barristan Selmy parrots to Daenerys in the core text: “Madness and greatness are two sides of the same coin. Every time a new Targaryen is born … the gods toss the coin in the air and the world holds its breath to see how it will land.”
Nowhere is that delicate balance more apparent than in Daenerys’s turn, just one episode before the Thrones finale. That turn, and the ensuing finale, didn’t land well with viewers. May the prequel find firmer footing next week and in the years to come.