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The Risks—and Potential Rewards—of Focusing a ‘Game of Thrones’ Prequel on the Dance of Dragons

Another HBO prequel is in the works, one reportedly zeroing in on the Targaryen civil war that precedes the original show by more than 150 years

HBO/Ringer illustration

Since the moment HBO revealed it was considering green-lighting Game of Thrones prequels, the Dance of Dragons has been the source material that superfans have dreamed of being adapted. While there are tens of thousands of years of Westerosi history to explore, the Dance is the one period that is full of what made Thrones great: interesting characters, political intrigue, violence, and lots and lots of dragons.

Shireen Baratheton explains the appeal of this story in Season 5:

Per EW’s James Hibberd, HBO is strongly considering ordering a pilot for a series that would “lead up to and eventually chronicle” the Dance of Dragons. George R.R. Martin is on board to executive-produce, with EW writing that “this pilot concept was particularly attractive” to the author. Ryan Condal is penning the script, which is reportedly a reworking of one of the five Thrones prequel scripts HBO originally ordered. Deadline reports that Condal joined after Thrones writer Bryan Cogman, who wrote excellent episodes like Season 8’s “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” signed a deal with Amazon last September. To put it simply, the Dance of Dragons is an awesome story with sky-high potential as a TV series. If you’re craving the type of television Game of Thrones delivered in its first four seasons, this is the spinoff series you should be rooting for.

An overview: The Dance of Dragons begins with the peaceful, possibly poison-induced, death of King Viserys I Targaryen in 129 AC (though the language in the EW piece indicates the pilot may take place earlier). The king died without a clear successor in mind. Well, perhaps that’s misleading—Viserys was clear that he wanted Rhaenyra, his eldest daughter from his first wife, to rule, but a number of Westerosi lords wanted Aegon, the King’s eldest son from his second wife, Queen Alicent Hightower, to ascend to the throne. Before the bells could even begin to ring to announce Viserys’s death, the lords in King’s Landing began scheming. On the one hand, Rhaenyra’s defendants argued, the king’s daughter was older, had more Targaryen blood, was chosen by the king himself, and had the sworn allegiance of a number of Westerosi lords from a pact made in 105 AC. But Aegon’s supporters pointed out that 105 AC was 24 years ago, and that the Great Council of 101 AC had set a precedent that male heirs to the Iron Throne would be given precedence over female ones. And besides, Rhaenyra’s husband, Daemon, was untrustworthy—and he would be the true power in Westeros if Rhaenyra sat the throne. Oh, and to make matters worse, her son and heir was Jacaerys Velaryon, who was rumored to be a bastard born out of adultery. It was a mess.

The lords of Westeros didn’t make it through one night before blood—that of Lord Lyman Beesbury, the master of coin—was spilled. Viserys’s corpse lay rotting in his bedchamber for days as the schemers in Westeros refused to announce his death to the world until they had secured Aegon’s spot on the throne. When they finally coronated Aegon, a civil war broke out that divided Westeros and changed the future of the continent.

All of this is to say: The Dance of Dragons would make for a really fun TV show. It features multiple factions, interesting characters, complex political machinations, plot twists, and a bunch of battles and duels. And not to spoil too much, but the two sides fight their great war … on dragons. At one point, one character (I won’t give away who) jumps off a flying dragon to stab another character in the eye. This is a story worth bringing to life on the screen.

That brings us to the rub: CGI. Game of Thrones was fortunate to have its audience and budget grow along with Daenerys’s dragons, allowing the show to depict Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion in all their fiery glory. By the end of Thrones, each episode cost $15 million, though that investment was clearly worth it: More than 40 million people were watching each episode. But even with the Hollywood-level magic at work, there was a noted lack of CGI direwolves in the later seasons. The Dance of Dragons, meanwhile, would make even Thrones’s CGI demands look cute. Rhaenyra controls nine dragons at the beginning of the war, while Aegon has four. And some of those dragons were hundreds of years old by the time the conflict broke out—Drogon is only about seven years old at the end of Thrones, which is to say that the dragons in the Dance are bigger and even more destructive than Daenerys’s mounts.

But Dance could easily justify the price tag. Many fans tired of Thrones after a lackluster Season 8, but Dance has everything that made Thrones such a phenomenon in its first few seasons. And, unlike the other prequel HBO is already working on, which is set thousands of years before the events in Thrones, the Dance of Dragons has a direct connection to the main series, with recognizable houses, castles, and Westerosi power structures. As Shireen notes, the Targaryen power in Westeros was never the same after the Dance. Though Robert’s Rebellion didn’t take place until some 150 years later, it was this disastrous civil war that set the stage for the crumbling of the dynasty.

There’s no better period of Westerosi history for HBO to tackle than the Dance of Dragons. There’s also no more expensive one. If HBO moves forward with this project, it’ll be pushing all its chips in on a bet that its audience isn’t ready to walk away from the Game of Thrones universe. Considering no other franchise has been able to transcend our currently fractured TV environment, it’s not a bad bet.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.