Histories within histories. Dragons versus dragons. This are the expectations of any series from George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” universe, and after the eight-season run of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” Westerosi fans have received a prequel series in the 10-episode “House of the Dragon.”
But there is so much that need to be unearthed here. While the “GOT” show was based on a notably unfinished series of novels by Martin (stuck at five out of seven) and the show happening basically in real time, “Dragon” is different.
“Dragon” is based on Martin’s 2018 novel “Fire & Blood,” and unlike the individual books that made up the “Ice and Fire” series, this 786-page novel begins 300 years before the events of “Ice and Fire,” chronicling the rise—and ultimately setting up the fall—of the Targaryen dynasty.
Unlike the “Ice and Fire” novels, “Fire & Blood” is written like a history book, with years covered in mere pages, very minimal dialogue and often conflicting accounts. It could be argued the most spectacular part of the book is its first 27 pages, when Aegon the Conqueror (Aegon I) conquers the Seven Kingdoms and forges the Iron Throne. The book is a great resource if you want to read all the way to the end, with charted family trees and lineages of the great houses—the ones that survived and the ones that didn’t.
Readers vs. Watchers
One of the main conflicts that arose during the run of “GOT” was the disagreements between the book readers (who had read the book and knew what was supposed to happen) and the show watchers (who followed the show alone). That is mostly avoided in this case because only one chapter of “Fire & Blood” is actually adapted for “Dragon”: “The Dying of the Dragons,” and immediately, one will notice that instead of the history-book approach, the show hews more to the “GOT” approach with a fleshed-out dramatic narrative.
Also, the show deviates dramatically from the book almost immediately, so even if you do read “Fire & Blood,” there is no telling exactly what will happen on “Dragon”—and that’s a good thing. They have even retconned the prophecy of the “Song of Ice and Fire” to one that predates the Targaryens’ departure from Valyria for Westeros.
That’s because Martin himself is firmly in charge of this show. He is created as having “created” the show together with Ryan Condal (2018’s “Colony”) with Miguel Sapochnik as showrunner; Sapochnick just happens to be the director of the best episodes of “GOT.” So, they know what they are doing—and yes, the much-maligned duo of David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have nothing to do with this show.
The show begins 172 years before the events of “GOT,” at the height of the Targaryen rule, and full-grown dragons (so rare on “GOT”) are already in the first episode. We see a King’s Landing in its full glory. But the show’s main conflict is one of succession.
King Viserys (Paddy Considine) has chosen his daughter Rhaenyra (played first by Milly Alcock and later by Emily D’Arcy) to be his heir instead of his unpredictable brother Daemon (Matt Smith). This is an unpopular decision despite Daemon’s penchant for sex and violence because women do not sit to the Iron Throne.
Add to that the fact that Viserys has married Rhaenyra’s best friend Alicent Hightower (played first by Emily Carey and later by Olivia Cooke) , thanks to the machinations of her father, Hand of the Kind Otto (Rhys Ifans), with the long game of having Alicent’s son (therefore the firstborn son of the King) eventually named true heir.
It is a devious game of marriages and parentage, of public fakery and hidden agendas, The show just streamed sixth episode, with triggered a 10-year time jump (there are several on the show) so viewers will have to keep up. Unlike “GOT” the episodes are packed, because it doesn’t have the slow burn afforded the other series; but it also has the advantage of many elements already in place. Tomorrow’s episode seven is the best jump-on point because, to be honest, everything that’s happened so far was set-up to this point. So, start watching now.
There are three performances that stand out. Though she has only made her first appearance, Cooke’s grown-up Alicent is the one to watch because she is can see what Rhaenyra is up to, even if Viserys willfully ignoring it. How far will the Queen go to get what she—and her father want—wants? Cooke’s fury and restraint are great to watch; yes, our girl from “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl” is all grown up and is about to trigger the infamous Targaryen Civil War, the “Dance of the Dragons.”
The second performance to witness is that of Smith. He’s been a Time Lord, a prince, a Terminator and a vampire, but this might yet be the best role that shows the menace behind his stillness. Some of his best scenes involve Smith literally not saying a single word. Yet he has such a big part yet to play despite all he’s already wrought. Love him or hate him, you can’t take your eyes off him.
Milly Alcock as the young Rhaenyra Targaryen–IMAGES FROM HBO GO
The true discovery of the show is Alcock, the Australian actress who portrayed young Rhaenyra with such defiance and beauty that fans actually bemoaned the fact that she would be replaced by D’Arcy after the time jump (to be fair, D’Arcy is a good actress and Alcock would not have been convincing as the adult Rhaenyra). Alcock’s short star turn here has been compared to Emilia Clarke’s discovery as Daenrys in “GOT” and it is an apt comparison. Since her part on the show is over, it is recommended for viewers to start the show from the beginning to see Alcock’s amazing work in the first five episodes.
It would be interesting to see how far into “Fire & Blood’s” chronology these 10 episodes go, but not to worry as HBO has already renewed it for a second season. With “Dragon” warning it is willing to diverge from the source material and the real conflict just about to begin, the show is just about to get all “Dracarys” on us.
“House of the Dragon” is streaming on HBO GO, with new episodes every Monday. “Fire & Blood” is available from National Book Store, nationalbookstore.com, Shopee and Lazada.