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Five Things to Expect From ‘House of the Dragon’

HBO’s first ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel is still a month away, but a recent trailer and other features offer clues as to the show’s themes—and dragons

HBO/Ringer illustration

With just a month to go until its Aug. 21 premiere date, House of the Dragon’s press tour is beginning to flap its wings in force. HBO released the latest and longest trailer for the Game of Thrones prequel show Wednesday, following a week of reported features about the project in The Hollywood Reporter and Entertainment Weekly.

HBO has a tremendous amount riding on this show, with a fleet of additional spinoffs in the works—but it also has a legion of fans who were disappointed by the end of Thrones in 2019. If House falls flat, the Thrones-verse might be pruned before it begins to bud. Or, if it succeeds, fans might be thrilled to return to Westeros every Sunday night for the foreseeable future.

The new show was a top spinoff choice for author George R.R. Martin, as it “had all the intrigue, competition for the Iron Throne, murders, duels, big battles, 20 dragons,” he told THR. Based on part of Martin’s Fire and Blood book, House will chronicle the Targaryen war of succession about 150-200 years before the events of Thrones, with main players including King Viserys I; crown princess Rhaenyra, his daughter; Prince Daemon, his brother; and Alicent Hightower, Rhaenyra’s best friend and daughter of the king’s hand.

Based on the recent news and releases, here are five broad themes to expect from the show:

1. More dragons

Not counting discarded skulls around the palace, Game of Thrones featured only three dragons for its duration—but in Westeros’s past, when long-ago generations of Targaryens ruled, they were far more prevalent.

That history will carry to the prequel show, which includes at least 17 dragons, per the THR story, along with a functional dragon pit and riding infrastructure. Prepare for tremendous spectacle: Because all of Thrones’ dragons were on Daenerys’s side until the Night King picked up javelin lessons in Season 7, that show offered only one dragon-on-dragon battle in eight seasons. Suffice it to say House will eclipse that number by a considerable margin.

2. Even more politics

While dragons are both physically more present and the namesake for the overall show, the new trailer suggests a more familiar focus on the political machinations, shifting alliances, and complex backroom deals that create such a rich tapestry in King’s Landing. In its initial seasons, Thrones was at its best when it leaned into the politics—when it, as Tyrion Lannister quipped, boiled down to “great conversations in elegant rooms”—and the House trailer offers encouraging evidence of the same. The show’s source text, Fire and Blood, is mostly a political history, after all.

That level of similarity wasn’t the initial plan, when HBO greenlit a series focused on the Long Night, of ancient White Walker fame. “The desire at HBO was to not just offer up a sequel that’s about the war for the throne,” co-showrunner Ryan Condal told THR. “They wanted to do something so totally different that it would blow everybody’s minds. I think that’s why they went with The Long Night instead.”

But after the disaster of Season 8, and after the Long Night show’s roughly $30 million pilot didn’t wow executives, they switched gears and invested in House of the Dragon instead. “They wanted to retain their fans,” fellow showrunner Miguel Sapochnik told THR. “They wanted to come back to what they knew.”

That doesn’t mean House is likely to be a carbon copy of Thrones. To some extent, it should have a tighter focus, with one central Targaryen family instead of assorted Starks and Lannisters and Greyjoys and Baratheons. And as the THR piece notes, “Much of the show’s action plays out in The Red Keep”—a marked change from the continent-jumping, climate-spanning breadth of Thrones, whose very opening credits highlighted its vast map.

On the other hand, House may have more expansive blockbuster scenes than Thrones—or, at least, more than the show had in early seasons. Likely due to budgetary constraints, Thrones didn’t showcase a full battle until late in Season 2, with “Blackwater.” (Season 1’s Battle of the Green Fork occurs almost entirely off-screen after Tyrion—the point-of-view character during the clash in the books—is knocked unconscious.)

Even with the added expenses of multi-dragon battles, budget limitations should not trouble the House creators if they have a fight worth choreographing.

Still, the spine of the story appears the same as the original series, with a tight focus on the politics inside the Red Keep and on the characters eyeing the Iron Throne. That’s a fascinating first step given other movement in the Thrones universe: Martin told THR that with the vast offering of spinoffs being planned—from House of the Dragon to a Sea Snake show to a Dunk and Egg adaptation to animated projects—he hopes to expand the tone and focus of his franchise’s offerings. “The MCU has The Avengers, but they also have something offbeat like WandaVision,” he said. “That’s what I hope we can do with these other Game of Thrones shows, so we can have a variety that showcases the history of this world. There are only so many times you can do a competition for the Iron Throne.”

Clearly, though, HBO hasn’t reached that limit yet; it’s come right back to that narrative in its first completed effort to recapture last decade’s Thrones magic.

3. Time jumps

Though House might mimic Thrones in much of its focus, its storytelling shape will look quite different. According to THR, the first season will begin with Rhaenyra and Alicent played by younger actors, before jumping forward 10 years midway through. Then, the report continues, “there are additional multiyear time jumps within the 10-episode season as well.”

Thrones was loathe to play around with time—it never jumped forward or backward and didn’t even include its first flashback until Season 5. It’s unclear whether the new approach will be smooth or confusing to casual viewers, but it’s probably necessary, given the long span of the story in question. Without venturing into spoiler territory, multiple decades pass between the civil war’s earliest precipitating events and the actual start of the fighting.

The oddest bit of the decision to enact a time jump is its relationship to the A Song of Ice and Fire novel series. Martin infamously attempted, and then abandoned, an effort to insert a five-year time jump between books, which catalyzed just the first of many delays to his writing.

4. A focus on gender and power

One clear theme of the show, based on both the trailer and the accompanying features, is the patriarchy’s effect on otherwise powerful women in Westeros—elaborating on a theme from Thrones, with major characters like Cersei, Sansa, and Daenerys and complements like Margaery and Brienne.

“No queen has ever sat on the Iron Throne,” one character says early in the newest trailer. Another adds, “A woman would not inherit the Iron Throne because that is the order of things.”

According to the showrunners, centering this gender imbalance was a conscious, if organic, decision. “It wasn’t something where we said, ‘We must make the show about this,’” Sapochnik told THR. “But rather it’s something where we realized that’s what we had in front of us.”

Fire and Blood readers already know how the broad strokes of the civil war, which pitted Rhaenyra against a male contender for the throne, played out, and whether she succeeded in busting through the Red Keep’s glass ceiling. But given that the book reads more as a history tome than a narrative tale, the show has plenty of space to widen certain threads and improvise within the predefined plot beats.

In a similar vein, the THR story notes that the show has a particular emphasis on childbirth because “the first season does for giving birth what Game of Thrones did for weddings”—which may strike viewers with a horrifying sense of synchronicity given real-world events following the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court case.

5. Inescapable comparisons to the original show

Ultimately, fair or not, House will be defined by its relationship to Thrones, which was the preeminent television phenomenon of the last decade. Even in this article, I couldn’t help but explain it as such: An emphasis on politics hews closely to the original show, while a time jump doesn’t, and so on.

In the same fictional universe, featuring some of the same families and locations in a story written by the same author, avoiding these comparisons is impossible, from the characters—actress Olivia Cooke told THR she “fucking love[s] the comparison” of her Alicent to Cersei Lanniser—to literal lines of dialogue. Rhaenyra’s “When I am queen, I will create a new order” proclamation in the trailer rings of Daenerys’s promised wheel-breaking.

The creators know these judgments are inevitable. The actors know it, too. (Rather symbolically, according to EW, Milly Alcock, who plays young Rhaenyra, auditioned for the role using dialogue from Arya Stark, while Steve Toussaint, who plays Corlys Velaryon, a.k.a. the Sea Snake, auditioned using lines from Tywin Lannister.) And fans, most of all, will sit in front of their television screens on Aug. 21 with the same approach. Winter might not be coming in the same way anymore—but a Thrones show is, and it’s going to be enormous.