House of the Dragon: what to expect from the Game of Thrones prequel

Ten-part series, set 200 years before GoT, will show the incestuous decline of Targaryen

Emma D’Arcy and Matt Smith in House of the Dragon
Emma D’Arcy and Matt Smith in House of the Dragon
(Image credit: HBO)

Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon will hit screens next month, depicting a bloody civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons.

The ten-episode series will focus on House Targaryen and their troubled reign in Westeros, 200 years before the events depicted in Game of Thrones took place.

The new series will have a great deal to live up – and down – to after the huge popularity of the HBO original, broadcast in the UK by Sky Atlantic, was tainted by the controversy around its eighth and final series.

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Here is what we know about the prequel so far.

What is House of the Dragon about?

The series is set 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones, and will depict the “painful decline” of House Targaryen, as “the incestuous family starts to tear itself apart over a succession crisis”, said Forbes.

“Essentially the story is, what if your best friend hooks up with your dad?” said the Daily Mail, “which wouldn’t exactly raise eyebrows with the Targaryens, who are used to incest.”

Who is in the cast?

Matt Smith stars as Prince Daemon Targaryen, an unrivalled warrior. Emma D’Arcy, who appeared in the 2020 British comedy series Truth Seekers, appears as Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, the king’s first-born child, and a dragonrider.

Steve Toussaint is Lord Corlys Velaryon, known as “the Sea Snake”, and Olivia Cooke, of Bates Motel and Vanity Fair fame, has been cast as Alicent Hightower, the “most comely woman in the Seven Kingdoms”, said Esquire.

Welsh actor Rhys Ifans, best known for his roles in Notting Hill and the Harry Potter franchise, will portray Ser Otto Hightower, “the Hand of the King”. Fabien Frankel, who appeared in the hit BBC series The Serpent, will be Ser Criston Cole, a knight who loves Princess Rhaenrya.

George RR Martin, the author of the fantasy novels that Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon have been adapted from, told the Hollywood Reporter that there is “no character everybody’s going to love” because they’re “all flawed”.

Is it based on a book?

Yes, House of the Dragon is based on Martin’s novel Fire & Blood, which tells the history of House Targaryen and their bloody civil war.

The first volume of the novel was published in 2018. In The Sunday Times, writer Dan Jones described the book as “a masterpiece of popular historical fiction”, but The Times columnist Hugo Rifkind dismissed it as “interminable, self-indulgent crap”.

Will it be misogynistic?

Over the years, Game of Thrones was criticised for being misogynistic and for its portrayals of violence against women. Martin has insisted that his fantasy world is no more sexist than the historical times that influenced it but, the BBC noted, some medieval scholars have argued that the era was “less misogynist than GoT implies”.

House of the Dragon will have “stridently feminist themes”, joked Stuart Heritage in The Guardian. “One is how the patriarchy would rather tear itself apart than have a female leader. Another is apparently about the inherent dangers of childbirth.”

What does Martin say about the series?

“Those of you who like complex, conflicted, grey characters (as I do) will like this series, I think,” wrote Martin on his blog. He added that “the spine of the story is the human conflicts, the love and the hate, character drama rather than action/adventure”.

How can you watch it?

The first episode of House of the Dragon will be broadcast on Sky Atlantic on 22 August, or you can stream it online via Now TV. In the US, the series will be shown on HBO and HBO Max from 21 August.

What if you can’t wait that long?

HBO Max has launched House of the Dragon: DracARys – a free, augmented-reality app for the series that “lets users to hatch and raise their own virtual dragon at home”, said Variety. The free app is now available to download on Apple and Google Play app stores.

You could also kill time by watching this extended preview of the official trailer and a behind-the-scenes teaser.

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