The Game of Thrones prequel series House of the Dragon is finally here, bringing George R.R. Martin’s massive fantasy tome Fire & Blood to the small screen.
Fire & Blood tells the history of House Targaryen as they ruled over Westeros, including events like Aegon’s initial conquest and the civil war knowns as the Dance of the Dragons. House of the Dragon focuses on the Dance and the events leading up to it, including the rivalry between Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen and Queen Alicent Hightower. However, just like with the TV adaptation of Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon makes several changes from the source material in order to make the transition from page to screen. Don’t worry, book loyalists: Change can be a good thing, and in House of the Dragon‘s case, a grand majority of the adaptation choices work to enhance the narrative instead of detract from it.
From structural differences to missing characters and more, here are the biggest changes House of the Dragon has made so far.
A history book vs. a TV show
Caraxes, my beloved. Credit: Courtesy of HBO
Starting out, the biggest difference between Fire & Blood and House of the Dragon is each work’s individual structure. Fire & Blood is written as a history book by the fictional Archmaester Gyldayn, whereas House of the Dragon is a narrative TV show that adapts only a small portion of the centuries-long history covered in Fire & Blood.
Throughout Fire & Blood, Gyldayn discusses his differing sources for his work, especially during the section dealing with the Dance of the Dragons. These sources include conflicting reports from Maesters and Septons, as well as a court jester named Mushroom. Each source gives us a slightly different take on key moments that take place behind closed doors, Rashomon-style, with Mushroom’s accounts tending to be the most lascivious and extreme. While characters like Mushroom do not figure into House of the Dragon, it will be fascinating to see which course of events House of the Dragon chooses to portray, as it will have to take a definitive stance on some of Fire & Blood‘s more ambiguous moments.
An exciting element that comes with adapting a history book (albeit a fictional one) is the chance to play around within the historical framework. Fire & Blood rarely delves into scene-level detail, which means House of the Dragon gets to add new scenes or embellish events that are already in the book. So while book readers may know the general story arc of House of the Dragon, they won’t be able to anticipate some of the more granular, character-focused scenes. It’s a good way to keep viewers on their toes, and to keep this adaptation somewhat unpredictable.
A tournament and a birth
The first episode of House of the Dragon is built around two key events: the birth of King Viserys and Queen Aemma’s son, and the tournament to celebrate it. Scenes of fighting, like the brawl between Prince Daemon and Ser Criston Cole, are juxtaposed directly with Queen Aemma’s painful labor, hammering home her earlier point to her daughter Rhaenyra that childbirth is a woman’s battlefield. While Aemma’s labor and the tourney introducing Criston do not happen at the same time in the books, the choice to bring them together is a smart one. We get the thematic parallels mentioned previously, as well as a good, old-fashioned Game of Thrones-style tournament. The lavish celebration also signals just how important a male heir is to the realm: If Aemma has a son, peace will likely continue. If not, questions about the line of succession will fester.
Aemma’s death during childbirth isn’t detailed in great amounts in Fire & Blood. However, Viserys’s dilemma about whether to kill Aemma in order to make sure his son is born actually happens to other characters in the book. Much earlier in the Targaryen dynasty, Queen Alyssa Velaryon, mother to King Jaehaerys, experiences a similarly painful birth. The maester tending to her tells her husband, Lord Rogar Baratheon, that there’s still a chance they can keep the child, but Alyssa is sure to die; Rogar chooses to save the child. The fact that House of the Dragon is drawing from events like this throughout Fire & Blood to enrich its narrative is fascinating, and proof of the flexibility the show has given its source material’s historiographical nature.
Childhood friends: Rhaenyra and Alicent
Best friends forever… I wish. Credit: Ollie Upton / HBO
House of the Dragon makes the excellent decision to center Rhaenyra and Alicent’s friendship right from the start. The rift between them is what brings about the Dance of the Dragons, so it makes sense that House of the Dragon begins developing their relationship in the very first episode.
In Fire & Blood, Rhaenyra and Alicent aren’t particularly close before Alicent marries King Viserys, but in House of the Dragon, they are fast friends. Their in-show childhood bond promises to make their fallout even more heartbreaking, which is sure to give later episodes even greater emotional weight.
A song of ice and what now?
During the first episode’s final moments, King Viserys drops a truth bomb on Rhaenyra. Their ancestor, Aegon the Conqueror, conquered Westeros not just because of ambition, but because he had a dream. That dream foretold the end of mankind, brought on by a terrible winter — White Walkers, anyone?
There’s nothing in Fire & Blood that suggests Aegon had this dream, but given that the book rarely delves into its characters’ thoughts, there’s nothing saying that Aegon didn’t have this dream either. Perhaps this was Martin’s intent all along. However, I’m not a fan of this particular storytelling tweak. It’s way too neat a connection to Game of Thrones, and after the adverse fan reactions to Season 8, House of the Dragon needs as much of a fresh start as it can get. Plus, the reveal of Aegon’s dream — which he called A Song of Ice and Fire, eliciting a massive eye roll from me — shifts focus away from the politics of House of the Dragons in favor of reminding us of a Big Bad we already know is coming. Heck, we already know that the Night King fails to conquer Westeros, so why bother tying it back to Aegon? In a series that has so far made many smart adaptation decisions, this is the only one I outright disagree with. We don’t need “winter is coming,” round two — House of the Dragon already has plenty of great characters and plot points to choose from.
The showdown at Dragonstone
The second episode of House of the Dragon, “The Rogue Prince,” gives us a tease of what full Targaryen-on-Targaryen violence might look like. When Prince Daemon steals a dragon egg with the intent of giving it to his child with paramour Mysaria, King Viserys won’t let that stand. He sends his Hand, Lord Otto Hightower, to Dragonstone to retrieve the egg.
However, it’ll take more than a mere Hightower to change Daemon’s mind. Just when violence between Daemon’s gold cloaks and Otto’s soldiers threatens to break out, Rhaenyra arrives on Dragonstone with her dragon, Syrax. She faces off with Daemon, goading him to kill her if he truly wants to be the heir. He relents and returns the egg, and the meeting concludes without bloodshed. Rhaenyra returns triumphantly to King’s Landing, only to face the ire of Viserys for her disobedience.
While the egg saga takes up a sizable chunk of “The Rogue Prince,” Martin details it in just a few sentences in Fire & Blood:
When he learned that his concubine was pregnant, Prince Daemon presented her with a dragon’s egg and woke his brother’s wroth. King Viserys commanded him to return the egg, send his whore away, and return to his lawful wife, or else be attainted as a traitor. The prince obeyed, though with ill grace…
When you compare this passage with House of the Dragon‘s version, you really see the show’s adaptation process. Take a key incident from the book and make it the focal point of an episode, all while looping in more of your central characters, such as Rhaenyra.
The show’s framing of the Dragonstone showdown places Rhaenyra in opposition with both her father and her uncle. This helps us understand just how much she has to offer, as well as how much she, as a woman in this male-dominated world, has to fight in order to be viewed as a viable heir.
Plus, we get to see Caraxes and Syrax in full force, and it never hurts to see more dragons.
Alicent and Viserys
Alicent is on an uncomfortable mission. Credit: Ollie Upton / HBO
Like in Fire & Blood, King Viserys chooses to marry Alicent Hightower in House of the Dragon. In the book, Alicent is described as having been the former king Jaehaerys’s companion before he died, but we don’t hear much more about her between then and the marriage announcement. However, more disreputable sources (looking at you, Mushroom!) claim she had sexual relationships with Daemon and Jaehaerys, and even with Viserys while he was still married to Queen Aemma. Luckily, the show does not take this route.
In the TV series, Alicent is pressured to gain Viserys’s affection by her own father, the sneaky Otto Hightower. She’s clearly uncomfortable with this, but obeys, acting as a companion to Viserys in a similar way to how she accompanies Jaehaerys in Fire & Blood. Her interactions with the king are early proof of her cunning and manipulation. Plus, they continue to set up the coming rift between her and Rhaenyra.
House of the Dragon goes hunting
Episode 3 of House of the Dragon, “Second of His Name,” takes us on a hunting trip that is extremely tense for everyone involved. The hunt is a lavish affair: a celebration of Viserys and Alicent’s son Aegon’s second nameday. Of course, the arrival of a new male heir sparks questions about Rhaenyra’s future, so she’s understandably on edge. As the festivities get underway, she rejects advances from men like Jason Lannister, bonds with her sworn protector Ser Criston Cole, and gets all stabby-stabby with a boar. An all-around productive weekend for Rhaenyra.
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And wouldn’t you know it, none of this is in Fire & Blood! The novel does make mention of festivities held in the name of Alicent’s children, but it never dives into them on a scene level. The same goes for Jason Lannister’s attempted marriage proposal: One sentence reveals that he and his twin brother Tyland tried to win her over during a visit to Casterly Rock.
The addition of this hunt is a great way to delve into these events and bring the building tensions between characters to the forefront. This plot highlights Rhaenyra’s worries about her title, Alicent’s attempts to appease her best friend-turned-stepdaughter, Viserys’s indecision about damn near everything, and so much more. While this hunt never explicitly happens in Fire & Blood, it would absolutely fit right in on the page.
Fighting the Crabfeeder
You’ve fed your last crab, sir! Credit: Ollie Upton / HBO
Besides the hunt, the other main thread of “Second of His Name” involves Corlys Velaryon and Daemon’s fight against the villainous Crabfeeder. Their quest to take back the Stepstones results in House of the Dragon‘s first real battle, including Prince Daemon’s mad sprint to glory and Corlys’s son Laenor swooping in on his dragon Seasmoke.
As epic as this battle is, Daemon and Corlys’s campaign in the Stepstones is most glossed over in Fire & Blood. Presumably, Archmaester Gyldayn cares more about the intrigue at court. He writes:
It is not our purpose here to recount the details of the private war Daemon Targaryen and Corlys Velaryon waged on the Stepstones. Suffice it to say that the fighting began in 106 AC… In 108 AC, when at last [Daemon] came face-to-face with Craghas Crabfeeder, her slew him single-handed and cut off his head with Dark Sister.
So far, House of the Dragon‘s best adaptation choices come from the fact that it knows when to take moments that Fire & Blood simply summarizes and tease them out into full-blown set pieces. The Stepstones battle sets a high bar for the show’s action sequences and gives Laenor a worthy introduction. Remember him — he’ll be important later.
Let’s talk about sex, baby
Well, it happened. In episode 4 of House of the Dragon, “King of the Narrow Sea,” the Targaryen incest hits in full force. Daemon brings his niece Rhaenyra on an excursion through King’s Landing, and the two hook up at a brothel. Family bonding, the Westeros way! When Daemon leaves abruptly, Rhaenyra takes her desires into her own hands and has sex with Ser Criston, who is thankfully not related to her. However, he is also a member of the Kingsguard and took a vow of celibacy, so the whole situation is quite messy, to say the least.
This episode marks a large turning point for Rhaenyra and her relationships with Daemon, Criston, and Viserys. However, Rhaenyra’s first sexual experiences and their consequences are somewhat ambiguous in Fire & Blood. Once again, we have different accounts from sources like Septon Eustace and Mushroom. According to Eustace, Daemon seduced Rhaenyra, and, when the two were caught together, Rhaenyra begged Viserys to let her marry her uncle. On the other hand, Mushroom claims that Daemon had been teaching Rhaenyra about sex so she would be able to seduce Criston. These lessons included dressing as a page boy and visiting brothels, which we see occur in House of the Dragon. Despite the ambiguity in Fire & Blood, House of the Dragon makes a firm decision here and fully chooses Mushroom’s account (minus some of the bluest details).
However, the same cannot be said when it comes to Rhaenyra’s romance with Criston. Eustace states that Criston confessed his love for Rhaenyra and begged her to run away with him, but she refused. In Mushroom’s much more bawdy account, Rhaenyra declared her love to Criston after she learned she was to be wed to Laenor. This version of the story sees Criston refuse Rhaenyra due to his vows as a member of the Kingsguard. House of the Dragon chooses neither account and instead charts its own path, with Rhaenyra successfully seducing Criston. This appears to mark the start of a secret relationship between the two, something that does not happen in Fire & Blood but which will surely have massive consequences going forward.
Farewell to Otto
Nothing worse than a Hand-King breakup. Credit: Ollie Upton / HBO
Viserys gets wise of Otto’s cunning and ambition in episode 4 — only after Rhaenyra points it out. She’s trying to deflect suspicion from her tryst with Daemon, but Viserys hears some truth in her words and dismisses Otto from the position of Hand.
In Fire & Blood, Viserys gets rid of Otto after he keeps pushing for Alicent’s son to be named heir. This happens way before Rhaenyra’s scandal, meaning that House of the Dragon is bringing several different threads together here. It’s a strong choice: Now, Rhaenyra has far more of a hand in Otto’s dismissal, continuing to create tension between her and Alicent.
Not only that, but this episode also forces Viserys to choose between believing his brother, his daughter, and his most trusted advisor. By the end of the episode, we can see he’s believed elements of all three’s stories. From Daemon and Otto’s accounts, he thinks Daemon and Rhaenyra had sex, hence the contraceptive tea he has delivered to Rhaenyra at the end of the episode. But he also believes Rhaenyra’s statement that Otto is a social climbing vulture. After spending so many episodes making bad decisions, finally Viserys makes some big — and fascinating — moves. And none of it would have been possible if House of the Dragon hadn’t made this adaptation change.
Another bloody wedding
“We Light the Way,” House of the Dragon‘s fifth episode, gives us a classic Game of Thrones staple: a wedding. It also gives us another Game of Thrones staple: death at said wedding.
The victim at Rhaenyra and Laenor’s wedding is none other than Ser Joffrey — no, not that Joffrey. This is Joffrey Lonmouth, Laenor’s lover. He taunts Criston about the marriage of their lovers to each other, and Criston, still reeling from Rhaenyra’s rejection of his plan to run away and get married in Essos, decides that it’s clobbering time.
Criston does kill Joffrey in Fire & Blood, but he does at the wedding tourney instead of the feast. House of the Dragon has already given us an intense tournament sequence in its first episode, so the choice to move the fight makes sense. The show also expands on why Criston would want to kill Joffrey. In the book, it’s just said that Joffrey “felt the fullest measure of