Reel Thoughts: ‘House of the Dragon’ differentiates from ‘Game of Thrones’ but keeps its special feel


Illustration by Anna Souter

Rhaenys Targaryen rides her dragon Meleys after Aegon’s coronation.

Nicole Markus, Social Media Editor

Warning: This article contains spoilers.

“Game of Thrones” was known for the excitement and suspense that came every Sunday night with new episodes. “House of the Dragon,” the show’s Targaryen-focused prequel, perfectly encapsulates this feeling while bringing a fresh setting and style.

HOTD is an adaptation of the novel “Fire & Blood” by George R. R. Martin (Medill ’70, ’71). The show makes no effort to spare viewers the gore associated with GOT. As the season progresses, the audience sees wars, executions and, rather slowly, King Viserys’ death in Episode Eight.

But HOTD does stand out from GOT in other ways. The original show became known for showcasing dozens of characters, each with a unique but eventually converging storyline. GOT was like a puzzle that viewers put together each week, until its disappointing and unexpected ending. HOTD instead focuses on the ever-changing, ever-growing, ever-intertwining Targaryens and, much to viewer delight and awe, their dragons. 

Despite having their pick of all of Westeros to wed and rule, HOTD depicts a deeply incestuous royal family who, as the show aptly mentions, can only destroy themselves.

And destroy themselves they do. 

Infighting, messy politics and eventual violence are the hallmarks of an impending civil war that viewers recognize as the “Dance of the Dragons,” which will take place in season two. 

The story starts in King’s Landing, within the castle known as the Red Keep. Set 200 years before GOT and 172 years before Daenerys Targaryen, HOTD begins with a bang reminiscent of its predecessor. Queen Aemma dies in a horrifying birth scene, leaving Viserys wifeless, Princess Rhaenyra motherless and the Iron Throne heirless. 

Then the game begins. Upon learning about his brother Daemon’s arrogant and insensitive behavior, Viserys names his only child Rhaenyra as his heir. The problem? Her womanhood. 

Although the lords of the noble houses bend the knee to Rhaenyra, it is clear from the start that her ascent to the throne will not be easy or without conflict. After Viserys marries Lady Alicent Hightower (Rhaenyra’s childhood best friend) and finally produces a male heir, the confusion surrounding the succession of the seven kingdoms only deepens. 

What makes HOTD so stressful to watch is its use of misunderstanding. This pattern is showcased when Ser Criston Cole reveals his and Rhaenyra’s impropriety to Queen Alicent even though she was really asking about Rhaenyra and Daemon’s drunken night at a brothel. Because Rhaenyra swore on her mother’s grave that she had not acted inappropriately, Cole’s confession creates a rift so deep between the women that it arguably gives way to the resulting civil war. 

The other major misunderstanding in the show, this time between Alicent and Viserys on the night of Viserys’ death, leads Alicent to believe (or want to believe) that Viserys wants their firstborn son, Aegon, to sit the Iron Throne. Though Viserys never publicly wavers in his support of Rhaenyra and her claim to the throne, the Hightowers take this opportunity to usurp the throne and instill Aegon without informing Rhaenyra. Again, this sets the Greens (Alicent’s side) and the Blacks (Rhaenyra’s side) up for war. 

But what really starts the dance off is not these misunderstandings, as Rhaenyra is still able to demonstrate restraint and passion for Westeros after the usurpation of her throne by Otto Hightower, Alicent and Aegon. Instead, it is the accidental death of her second son Lucerys by Alicent’s second son, Aemond with his monstrosity of a dragon, Vhagar. 

HOTD Season One is deeply engaging, thrilling and devastating to watch. Each episode’s jam-packed plot left the audience with much to discuss, with new details emerging every week from perceptive fans. Season 2 will likely be released in 2024, with the franchise’s Sunday night phenomenon hopefully continuing long into the future. Until the dance begins, viewers will be left to continue finding easter eggs and new details.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @nicolejmarkus

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