Despite the uproar over Game of Thrones’ controversial final season, HBO’s new George R.R. Martin-approved prequel series House of the Dragon hauled in record-breaking viewership last year. Many fans were skeptical about returning to Westeros after such a middling Thrones conclusion, but House of the Dragon managed to prove even the bitterest fans wrong with an inaugural season packed with medieval political intrigue, thought-provoking dialogue, and gripping action sequences.
House of the Dragon begins in Westeros about 200 years before the events of the main series – when the Targaryens reigned supreme with a deep bench full of ferocious, fire-breathing dragons. The narrative delves into one of the most tumultuous eras of their dynasty: the Targaryen civil war known as the Dance of Dragons. All the lords and ladies of Westeros chose sides as the two warring Targaryen factions set kin against kin and dragon against dragon. Martin’s 2018 novel Fire and Blood is HBO’s jumping-off point for this series, but for those of you who have better things to do than stuff your noses in hilariously dense fictional history books, we thought we’d share a bit of our book knowledge to key you in on how things might play out in season two.
Where did season one leave off?
House of the Dragon’s first season covered a lot of ground, but we’ll try to restrain ourselves to only the most pivotal plot points. The first few episodes primarily center around King Viserys, a well-meaning yet somewhat impotent monarch, and Princess Rhaenyra, a headstrong spiritual ancestor of Arya Stark. Due to the fact that Viserys fails to produce a male heir by his late wife Aemma, the patriarchal realm of Westeros is undergoing something of a succession crisis. By the laws of the day, Viserys’ younger brother Daemon should be next in line for the throne, but Viserys disinherits him because of his penchant for violence and cruelty.
After much deliberation, Viserys decides to name Rhaenyra as successor. As you can imagine, this decision was quite controversial among the many sexist lords of the realm. At the series’ mid-way point, the showrunners put us through a major time jump (you’re going to have to get used to those if you want to be a fan of this show). Viserys, now grappling with a terminal illness, is married to Rhaenyra’s childhood friend Allicent with three children. Although all of Westeros’ upper-management team already swore to honor Rhaenyra’s claim to the Iron Throne, many lords are beginning to wonder if Viserys and Allicent’s new son should usurp her.
Tensions between the two families come to a boiling point in the final episodes: King Viserys dies, and Queen Allicent conveniently misinterprets his last words, thus proceeding to bypass Rhaenyra’s claim in favor of her ne’er-do-well son, Aegon. The season finale gives us a small sampling of the familial bloodshed to come as Allicent’s son Aemond and his dragon Vhagar accidentally devour Rhaenyra’s son Lucerys and his young dragon Arrax after they cross paths on a diplomatic mission in the Baratheon stronghold of Storm’s End. The last thing we see is Rhaenyra’s grieving face staring into the camera – devastated and hellbent on revenge.
What does the book tell us about what might happen next?
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Before we hop into speculation, it’s important to remember that HBO has always opted for a rather loose adaptation style when working with Martin’s source material. Just because it’s written in the book doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll see it on the screen. The show has already taken some game-changing liberties in season one – most notably concerning Queen Allicent and Princess Rhaenyra’s relationship.
In Fire and Blood, Rhaenyra and Allicent are farther apart in age and could hardly be considered friends. Viserys is also a far cry from his book counterpart. The book depicts the elderly king as little more than a wayward party boy who cares more for drinking than he does for ruling. Paddy Considine’s layered portrayal of the character was spell-binding enough to get Martin himself to admit the show did a better job with Viserys than he could.
But of all the dribs and drabs of Westerosi history Martin has colored in over the years, perhaps no conflict has been more detailed than the Dance of Dragons. Even characters like Joffrey and Shireen Baratheon make mention of it in Game of Thrones. As one of the most gruesome and costly wars in history, the Dance resulted in bloodshed hitherto unseen on the continent. Many characters in Martin’s legendarium point to the conflict as the beginning of the end of the Targaryen dynasty. This deep-seated desire for reprisals and revenge on both sides resulted in the Targaryens losing almost all of the living weapons that set them apart from the other noble houses: their dragons.
In Fire and Blood, the Dance is a complex multi-year war with dozens of skirmishes, battles, and betrayals. Immediately after learning about Aemond’s murder of Lucerys, Prince Daemon sends assassins to kill one of Allicent’s princes as recompense. Once news of the two murdered royals spreads throughout the seven kingdoms, the great lords of Westeros choose sides and the war begins in earnest. Within each faction, there are more than a handful of major players with surnames Game of Thrones fans will surely recognize.
Who are some of the major players?
The upcoming conflict fans will see play out in House of the Dragon season two reaches far across the continent. Scarcely any noble house makes it out the other side unscathed, and each faction has battle commanders and political schemers leading the charge. Let’s rattle some of the big names off in bullet points.
The Blacks (Queen Rhaenyra and Prince Daemon)
- Cregan Stark – This ancestor of the Starks we all know and love becomes one of Rhaenyra’s most vital allies. As a younger man near the age of Prince Jacaerys, he forms a brotherly bond with the Queen’s son. He commands the entirety of the North against Allicent, Aegon, and Otto.
- Corlys Velaryon – Also known as the Seasnake, Corlys commands the most powerful navy in Westeros. His ships and dragons will be essential to Rhaenyra and the Blacks in the coming war.
- Jeyne Arryn – This Lady of the Vale is related to Rhaenyra through her late mother Aemma. The Knights of the Vale were a formidable force throughout the events of Game of Thrones, and you can expect them to be similarly helpful in aiding the Blacks throughout the Dance.
- Dalton Greyjoy – Much like the Greyjoys we loved to hate in Thrones, Dalton is also prickly and bloodthirsty. He and Prince Daemon bond over their shared values, and the Greyjoy fleet becomes a great asset to the Blacks.
The Greens (Queen Allicent, King Aegon, and Otto Hightower)
- Tyland Lannister – Season one viewers will remember Tyland from Allicent’s small council meetings. He had been plotting with Otto to usurp Rhaenyra’s claim before Allicent made any moves. His armies and vast wealth become invaluable to the Greens’ cause.
- Borros Baratheon – Lord Borros is one of the last characters we see in season one. Thanks to Prince Aemond’s promise of a marriage pact, the belligerent lord of Storm’s End decides to side with the Greens. House Baratheon and its vassals form a mighty host, making Borros’ loyalty in the coming conflict a game-changer for Allicent and Aegon.
- Larys Strong – This Littlefinger-adjacent character from season one proves himself to be a worthy ally through his keen political mind and utter lack of scruples. His strengths will most likely come into play while scheming to gain the allegiance of other great houses in Westeros.
When can we expect to see season two?
Since all eight scripts for season two were completed before the writers’ strike began, it doesn’t seem as though the strike will impede production at all. HBO began production on season two in April of this year and plans to wrap things up in December. Don’t get too excited, though. We might have to wait a little longer to see the world of Westeros back on our screens on Sunday nights than you might expect.
As was the case with Game of Thrones’ final seasons, House of the Dragon requires a boatload of post-production CGI work. And in Game of Thrones, the production crew only had to contend with three dragons and a handful of direwolves. Season two of the prequel series will have ten or more dragons and at least two or three major battle sequences. It’s a massive undertaking for a television series that needs to be savvy with budget allocation.
With that in mind, you can probably expect to see Rhaenyra, Allicent, Otto, Daemon, and the rest of our favorites breathe fire at one another again in the late summer or early fall of 2024. What’s more, Prince Daemon performer Matt Smith recently let slip that a third season might be in the cards. So fret not: we’re going to be spending a lot of time in Westeros in the coming years.