Beware! Book spoilers ahead! Unless you’ve already consumed the portions of Fire & Blood that House of the Dragon is adapting (or you just don’t care about spoilers), turn back now.
Watching the late stages of Game of Thrones was an exercise in universal suspense: Neither viewers who had read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire nor those who hadn’t knew how Thrones would end. House of the Dragon is different: Martin actually finished his account of the Dance of the Dragons, so book readers are well aware of where this saga is headed. (So are attentive Thrones viewers who remember a certain throwaway line from Season 3.)
This foreknowledge saps some tension while watching the show—though the addition of the Song of Ice and Fire prophecy is a revelation for Fire & Blood veterans, too—but it also adds an extra layer of entertainment, because certain scenes, lines, and character beats set the stage for future events that readers can anticipate with glee or dread. Readers can also observe how the show hews to, or diverges from, the Fire & Blood source text, which offers a biased and incomplete history of the Targaryen civil war. Dragon, conversely, is supplying the full, unvarnished truth.
So with Season 1 of Dragon at its midpoint and poised to jump forward 10 years and replace a set of younger actors with their older counterparts, let’s take stock of the key players and lessons from the early episodes—accounting for the full knowledge of what’s to come. Which characters’ fates have been foreshadowed well? Which are still mysteries? And, most of all, who’s winning the historian duel between Eustace and Mushroom?
(One final reminder: Descriptions of future events from the books are coming after this parenthetical. Stop reading now if you’re afraid of spoilers!)
It’s natural to root for Rhaenyra in the Dance. As a woman fighting broadly against an oppressive patriarchy, and specifically against her boor of a half brother, she draws the reader’s sympathy when her rightful crown is stolen.
Yet the great, tragic irony of Rhaenyra’s character is that while the reader wants her to win the war and become queen for her own individual sake, she offers no rationale that her reign would be for the good of the realm. And thus far in Dragon, she has shown little care for the subjects she intends to rule.
Rhaenyra is not a people person. She overestimates her ostensible allies’ loyalty to her, for instance, which leads to Storm’s End’s declaration for Aegon. And Rhaenyra’s downfall after she takes King’s Landing stems from her failure to understand and provide for the common folk. As Fire & Blood explains, “The girl that they once cheered as the Realm’s Delight had grown into a grasping and vindictive woman, men said, a queen as cruel as any king before her. One wit named Rhaenyra ‘King Maegor with teats.’”
This backlash wasn’t entirely Rhaenyra’s fault; a great deal of it came as a response to her harsh taxes, imposed because Tyland Lannister had shrewdly removed the crown’s wealth from the city. Yet even now, Dragon is laying the track to an endgame in which Rhaenyra doesn’t do the legwork necessary to convince either her fellow highborns or the masses that she deserves to hold and keep the Iron Throne.
In Episode 3, she displays no interest in currying favor with the other ladies on hand for the hunt; instead, she insults them and rides off on her horse. In Episode 4, she tells Daemon of the smallfolk, “Their wants are of no consequence”—a line I will certainly revisit in the future when I recap whichever episode depicts the storming of the Dragonpit. In Episode 5, she clearly misreads the emotions roiling inside Criston, a commoner elevated to the Kingsguard.
These missteps aside, Rhaenyra remains a sympathetic favorite, and multiple friends and family members have told me they’re rooting for her. But just as Robb Stark planted the seeds of his own demise early in Thrones, so too does Rhaenyra in Dragon. When she eventually loses her throne and life, viewers won’t be able to say they didn’t see her demise coming.
On that note, immediately cutting to a dragon after a fortune teller on the Street of Silk asked Rhaenyra if she “would like to know her death” was a nice cinematographic touch in Episode 4.
Perhaps the largest difference between page and screen stems from the two versions’ depictions of Alicent, a more peripheral character in Fire & Blood who joins Rhaenyra at center stage in Dragon. The text almost entirely ignores Alicent’s internal life and, by one measure, devotes only about one-fifth of the attention to her as to other important characters––perhaps because the narration takes a patriarchal tone and Alicent is almost always surrounded by powerful men: her father, Otto; her husband, Viserys; her eldest son, Aegon.
Yet in the show, she’s evolved more than any other character over the first five episodes, from a timid, anxious girl to—after her showstopping entrance at the pre-wedding feast—a true player in the game of thrones. If anything, the way the show changes Alicent’s adoption of the color green, placing it at Rhaenyra’s wedding feast instead of Alicent’s own five-year anniversary celebration, imbues the statement with even more impact.
The most interesting question about Alicent through five episodes is what this greater insight into her character portends for her eventual actions upon Viserys’s death. In the book, Alicent is mostly quiet during the meeting of the so-called “green council.” At one point, she says, “The Iron Throne by rights must pass to His Grace’s eldest trueborn son”; at another, she explains that Daemon will “find some pretext” to kill her children, who might challenge Rhaenyra’s claim. (The jester Mushroom also alleges, in his scandalous history of events, that with Rhaenyra in labor at the time, Alicent says, “Mayhaps the whore will die in childbirth.”)
This latter point receives foreshadowing in the first half of Season 1, with Otto warning Alicent of the very danger her children will face if Rhaenyra ascends to the Iron Throne. Alicent hasn’t displayed much love for her young children thus far—but she has begun to distrust Rhaenyra, following the latter’s lie in the godswood in Episode 4. The gap between the former friends first appeared when Alicent married the king and has widened in each episode since, with the Episode 6 preview hinting at an even vaster divide between the two adult women.
Still, Alicent hasn’t yet expressed a desire to wrest the succession away from Rhaenyra. She’s on that path, but she still has more ground to cover before she’ll be prepared to scheme after Viserys’s death, which is presumably just a few episodes away.
A number of the most important characters who ally with either Rhaenyra or Aegon after Viserys’s death have not yet been introduced, either because they aren’t present in King’s Landing or—in the case of the next generation of Targaryen children—they haven’t yet been born.
But some of the blacks who support Rhaenyra’s claim have already shown their true natures. Most notable among this group is Daemon, who has lived up to his “Rogue Prince” moniker. While other characters have spent most of their time on the show in King’s Landing talking about politics, Daemon has traversed the world and acted on impulse. He’s fought in a joust; stolen a dragon egg; slain the Crabfeeder and dozens of his men; seduced his niece; been banished from the capital, not once, but twice; flown on a dragon more than any other character; and murdered his wife. This last act tilts Daemon past a morally gray state (by Targaryen standards) into a brand of outright villainy he never quite occupies in the book—but Matt Smith is just so charming in the role that it’s not hard to imagine Daemon seesawing back and forth a few more times over that line.
Other notable characters who side with Rhaenyra include Corlys, who embodies the immense pride of his book counterpart, and Rhaenys, who deserves more screen time because she’s offered real wisdom in every conversation she’s had. Mysaria intrigues; she eventually becomes Rhaenyra’s spymaster, but we most recently saw her—following her break with Daemon on Dragonstone—in Otto’s secret employ. At some point, she’ll have to switch sides.
The worst depiction of a character allied with Rhaenyra is that of Harwin “Breakbones” Strong. The show does little to introduce him in the first five episodes, and he and Rhaenyra share scarcely any words—which could make for an abrupt development when Harwin emerges from the coming time jump as a secret father to a trio of princes, only to die shortly thereafter.
Not as many key members of the greens receive a meaningful introduction in the first five episodes, but two stand out in their portrayals thus far. Otto Hightower appears as a canny opportunist with a skill for diplomacy—but lacks the same ability when called upon for physical or martial force. Given that Aegon II will eventually fire Otto as hand to the king because of his ineffective military strategy, Otto’s early failure to corral Daemon at Dragonstone is a useful illustration of his chief weakness as a leader.
The man who will replace Otto as hand during the war is Ser Criston Cole, whose future exploits receive heavy foreshadowing in the first half of Dragon’s first season. In particular, his collapse into a blinding, murderous frenzy as he rejects Rhaenyra’s offer to be her “whore” (Criston’s words, not Rhaenyra’s), and later kills Joffrey Lonmouth at the feast, highlights the sheer rage bubbling inside him. Suffice to say, murderous rages become a pattern for this character. Watch out, Lord Beesbury!
Mushroom vs. Eustace
Let’s wrap up with a meta-analysis, because a bunch of the fun in reading Fire & Blood is reconciling the differing accounts offered by the realm’s historians, chiefly Septon Eustace and the jester Mushroom. If Dragon is “the objective account” of the Dance, as co-showrunner Ryan Condal said before the season, then we can compare individual accounts to this true telling and determine which historian is right most often.
We’ll add a point for a correct claim that a historian makes, subtract a point for an inaccuracy, and award no points for a claim that both got right or both got wrong. For instance, all sources agree that Mysaria grew pregnant during her extended vacation with Daemon, only to lose the child in a miscarriage. We learn in Episode 2 that Daemon was actually lying about this pregnancy—but if only he and Mysaria knew that truth, then there’s an in-universe explanation for why the Fire & Blood sources would be mistaken.
In chronological order:
- Mushroom writes that Alicent had “welcomed King Viserys into her bed even before Queen Aemma’s death.” Minus 1 point.
- Eustace writes that Daemon “seduced his niece and claimed her maidenhood,” after which Rhaenyra begged her father to marry her uncle. This tale contains one truth and two lies. Minus 1 point.
- Mushroom, meanwhile, claims that Daemon gave Rhaenyra lessons to help her seduce Criston; that Rhaenyra remained a virgin after these lessons; and that she tried to tempt Criston afterward, but was spurned. Then, Mushroom continues, Daemon asked the king for Rhaenyra’s hand in marriage because “who else would take her now?” This tale contains two truths and two lies, which balances out to 0 points.
- Mushroom says that Rhaenyra “spat in her father’s face” when he commanded her to marry Laenor. Minus 1 point.
- Regarding the falling-out between Criston and Rhaenyra, Eustace is right because he says Criston asked Rhaenyra to run away with him. Plus 1 point. Mushroom, conversely, says Rhaenyra tried to seduce Criston, failed, and fell into the arms of Harwin Strong instead. Minus 1 point.
- Mushroom says Laenor “wept bitterly” when Ser Joffrey Lonmouth died. Plus 1 point.
The overall score through five episodes, then, is a neutral zero points for Eustace and negative two points for Mushroom. Eustace has the early lead—but there’s plenty more story to tell, and Mushroom’s close enough to catch up as we continue to track the battle of the historians.