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SYFY WIRE House of the Dragon

George R.R. Martin says 'House of the Dragon' less fantasy, more historical fiction with dragons

The first episode of the Game of Thrones spinoff is now streaming on HBO Max.

By Josh Weiss
House Of The Dragon Season 1 Episode 1

After months of blazing anticipation, HBO's first Game of Thrones spinoff project — House of the Dragon — made its global debut Sunday evening. Set almost 200 years before the events of the hit show that spawned it, the prequel centers around the dragon-riding members of House Targaryen, particularly the struggle of King Viserys (played by The Outsider's Paddy Considine) to name a successor who will one day rule the Seven Kingdoms from that pointy seat of power: the Iron Throne.

The premiere aptly lays out the proverbial chess pieces for an upcoming civil war fought between the king's daughter and chosen heir, Princess Rhaenyra (Truth Seekers' Emma D'Arcy); his loose cannon of a brother, Prince Daemon (Doctor Who's Matt Smith); and, by the looks of it, his cousin, Rhaenys, aka "The Queen That Never Was" (Fate: The Winx Saga's Eve Best). If dragons weren't flying about and burning funeral pyres, however, one might not even know that House falls under the fantasy umbrella. 

During a recent discussion with The New York Times, Thrones mastermind and House of the Dragon co-creator/executive producer George R.R. Martin said that this new series is less high fantasy and "more like historical fiction with some dragons thrown in. It’s like a Shakespearean tragedy."

"I would argue that we are standing on the shoulders of the previous show, which got people to see dragons as being part of this world. We had White Walkers, direwolves, giants, ice spiders, all that stuff," co-showrunner, executive producer, and director Miguel Sapochnik explained during a separate Q&A with the Times. "As this show progresses, the only bit of fantasy are the dragons and prophecy — and the dragons are kind of domesticated, they’ve got saddles. If anything, it’s probably more grounded."

The "prophecy" to which Sapochnik refers is that of the White Walker invasion from the north. It is relayed to Rhaenyra at the end of the episode by her father, who explains that the information has secretly been passed from ruler to ruler over the generations and that if the world of man has any hope of making it through the dark days of winter, a strong Targaryen royal must unite the kingdoms against the undead threat. While Viserys knows that choosing a woman as his successor is a risky break from longstanding tradition that might cause unrest throughout Westeros, he cannot — in good conscience — allow his brother to assume control once he's out of the picture.

"Daemon would burn everything. He’s way too volatile," Considine told The Hollywood Reporter. "My next real choice is my daughter and I’m taking a big gamble because she’s female. But I trust that there’s something inside of her, that she has the best of her mother, who was the love of Viserys’ life. He feels instinctively that he can entrust her and that she would listen enough to understand what it takes to be a ruler of that kingdom. It’s almost like giving your kid a burden and knowing that on the surface looks like a gift but that it’s a curse. It’s like I’m giving you something that is gonna be the most difficult thing you are ever going have to do in your life. I’m burdening you with all this sh**. She’s the only one that he believes in and can trust. I don’t think it’s particularly political and I don’t think it’s to snub Daemon, I just think he believes she’s the one.”

With the show's episodes costing between $15 - $20 million a pop, HBO (and its cost-cutting new parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery) needs to see if there's a hunger for more Thrones-related content before signing off on a second season.

While speaking to Collider, House of the Dragon co-creator, co-showrunner, and executive producer Ryan Condal teased  "a good plan for Season 2, if HBO is willing and eager to continue telling the story with us. There is really 300 years of Targaryen history to explore, and there are many stories within there that are really fascinating ...  It’s a very rich tapestry. It’s a rich landscape. I think the fan base is willing and eager. There’s a lot of storytelling left in this world, if people want it."

The first episode of House of the Dragon ("The Heirs of the Dragon") is now available to stream on HBO Max. New episodes premiere on HBO and HBO Max every Sunday at 9 p.m. ET. The show currently holds a fresh 85 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. For more information on what critics are saying about the fiery spinoff, click here.

Looking for more fantasy adventures? Stream the entire eight-film Harry Potter saga on Peacock.