The heads of HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel series, House of the Dragon, have a messaage for fans.
When news broke that HBO was looking for a Game of Thrones spinoff series, many writers and creatives threw their ideas in the ring. In the end (at least for now), co-showrunners Ryan J. Condal and Miguel Sapochnik’s House of the Dragon was ultimately the sole project to get the green light.
Co-created by Condal and fantasy novelist George R. R. Martin, House of the Dragon acts as a prequel to Game of Thrones. Set some 200 years before Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) tries to take back the Iron Throne, we find ourselves amongst her ancestors. A book loyalist, Condal draws the House of the Dragon source material from Martin’s Fire & Blood, a book that outlines the history of the Targaryen kings before the entire bloodline is nearly wiped out.
House of the Dragon opens with the ailing, Jaehaerys the Wise (Michael Carter), who calls on his council to vote on who will succeed him. Skipping over his rightful heir, his granddaughter, Princess Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best), the council chooses her cousin, Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine), as king.
As the series unfurls in time, we meet King Viserys in the middle of his reign. He is now dealing with a matter of succession of his own. His only living child, Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock as a teen, Emma D’Arcy as an adult), is a girl, but Viserys would-be-heir, his volatile and arrogant brother Daemon (Matt Smith), probably isn’t the best person for the job.
Ahead of the 'House of the Dragon' series premiere, Shadow and Act spoke with Condal and Sapochnik about the new epic series, why 'Game of Thrones' isn't a blueprint, and why this Targaryen story needed to be told.
“George [R.R. Martin] sees this particular story as the most important event in the Targaryen history, outside of the conquest,” Condal explained why it was essential to zero in on this period. “The conquest wins them the power that then this story precipitates them beginning to lose. Before even Fire & Blood [George] had written quite a bit about this period. The Princess and the Queen was about Rhaenyra and Alicent (Emily Carey and Olivia Cooke, at different points in time) as adults. The Rogue Prince is about Daemon when Rhaenyra was more of a child that adapted into this book’s chapters. But this has always been on his mind as having the most thematic and spiritual resonance with the original series. So when I sat down with him, the very first meeting we ever had, this was the chapter that he slid across the table to me and said, ‘This is the one I want to tell.'”
Interestingly enough, King Viserys’ reign starts in the middle of Fire & Blood, and fans will soon discover that the series is not really about his reign at all. “Here’s the story you’ve always heard about,” Condal explained. “The Targaryens, at the height of their power with 17 dragons and great wealth and power and influence. They’re unchallengeable. This is that time. So I think it’s a fascinating place to drop in because they’ve just started to turn and decline, but they don’t realize that until it’s too late.”
Filming 'House of the Dragon' at the height of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was obviously a massive challenge, but Condal and Sapochnik also encountered major obstacles they didn't expect.
“You’re dealing with expectation and a level of quality that you have to hit, all the challenges that it’s presented,” Condal explained. “This was season one of a brand new show that didn’t have a stitch of timber. Nothing was built; nothing existed. There’s a Red Keep; there’s a throne room. It didn’t matter; we still had to build a new one. I think all those boxes ticked in your mind of, ‘Oh, we don’t have to do that thing because it already exists,’ lull you into a sense of security that simply was not founded. Everything you see on that screen was built brand new for this show. Certainly, we had plans and designs, but all that stuff was up in Belfast, or it didn’t exist anymore because it had been taken down, or it would’ve been folded away, put into storage, or put in the Game of Thrones museum.”
While Condal is a newcomer to HBO's 'Game of Thrones' universe, Sapochnik has been responsible for directing some of the previous series' most pivotal and jaw-dropping episodes, including "Battle of the Bastards" and "The Winds of Winter."
The director/executive producer/showrunner knew that they needed to stick to Martin’s words and ignore Thrones to achieve a successful series.
“I think that something about adhering to the books very closely this season has been part of what seems to have been successful,” he shared. “For this first season, we need to establish this as its own thing, separate from Game of Thrones. We need to pay our respects to it. We need to have a similar language, but not absolutely the same. We need to sew the seeds we’ll pick up and run with as we move forward. And we need the audience to, in the loveliest way possible, forget about the original show’s characters for the time being without discarding them. Ryan and I have a healthy, antagonistic relationship in that we discuss and challenge each other about what we want to do because we come from very different places and usually find a healthy, happy medium.”
'House of the Dragon' premieres on August 21, 2022 on HBO.
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic, consultant and entertainment editor. As a journalist, her work has been published in Netflix’s Tudum, EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or A Word With Aramide or tweet her @wordwitharamide.