The Game of Thrones prequel series House of the Dragon is finally here, bringing George R.R. Martin’s massive fantasy tome Fire & Blood to the small screen.

Fire & Blood tells the history of House Targaryen as they ruled over Westeros, including events like Aegon’s initial conquest and the civil war knowns as the Dance of the Dragons. House of the Dragon focuses on the Dance and the events leading up to it, including the rivalry between Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen and Queen Alicent Hightower. However, just like with the TV adaptation of Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon makes several changes from the source material in order to make the transition from page to screen. Don’t worry, book loyalists: Change can be a good thing, and in House of the Dragon‘s case, a grand majority of the adaptation choices work to enhance the narrative instead of detract from it.

From structural differences to missing characters and more, here are the biggest changes House of the Dragon has made so far.

A history book vs. a TV show

A large red dragon

Caraxes, my beloved.
Credit: Courtesy of HBO

Starting out, the biggest difference between Fire & Blood and House of the Dragon is each work’s individual structure. Fire & Blood is written as a history book by the fictional Archmaester Gyldayn, whereas House of the Dragon is a narrative TV show that adapts only a small portion of the centuries-long history covered in Fire & Blood.

Throughout Fire & Blood, Gyldayn discusses his differing sources for his work, especially during the section dealing with the Dance of the Dragons. These sources include conflicting reports from Maesters and Septons, as well as a court jester named Mushroom. Each source gives us a slightly different take on key moments that take place behind closed doors, Rashomon-style, with Mushroom’s accounts tending to be the most lascivious and extreme. While characters like Mushroom do not figure into House of the Dragon, it will be fascinating to see which course of events House of the Dragon chooses to portray, as it will have to take a definitive stance on some of Fire & Blood‘s more ambiguous moments.

An exciting element that comes with adapting a history book (albeit a fictional one) is the chance to play around within the historical framework. Fire & Blood rarely delves into scene-level detail, which means House of the Dragon gets to add new scenes or embellish events that are already in the book. So while book readers may know the general story arc of House of the Dragon, they won’t be able to anticipate some of the more granular, character-focused scenes. It’s a good way to keep viewers on their toes, and to keep this adaptation somewhat unpredictable.

A tournament and a birth

The first episode of House of the Dragon is built around two key events: the birth of King Viserys and Queen Aemma’s son, and the tournament to celebrate it. Scenes of fighting, like the brawl between Prince Daemon and Ser Criston Cole, are juxtaposed directly with Queen Aemma’s painful labor, hammering home her earlier point to her daughter Rhaenyra that childbirth is a woman’s battlefield. While Aemma’s labor and the tourney introducing Criston do not happen at the same time in the books, the choice to bring them together is a smart one. We get the thematic parallels mentioned previously, as well as a good, old-fashioned Game of Thrones-style tournament. The lavish celebration also signals just how important a male heir is to the realm: If Aemma has a son, peace will likely continue. If not, questions about the line of succession will fester.

Aemma’s death during childbirth isn’t detailed in great amounts in Fire & Blood. However, Viserys’s dilemma about whether to kill Aemma in order to make sure his son is born actually happens to other characters in the book. Much earlier in the Targaryen dynasty, Queen Alyssa Velaryon, mother to King Jaehaerys, experiences a similarly painful birth. The maester tending to her tells her husband, Lord Rogar Baratheon, that there’s still a chance they can keep the child, but Alyssa is sure to die; Rogar chooses to save the child. The fact that House of the Dragon is drawing from events like this throughout Fire & Blood to enrich its narrative is fascinating, and proof of the flexibility the show has given its source material’s historiographical nature.

Childhood friends: Rhaenyra and Alicent

Two young women in lavish fantasy dresses. One stands with her back to the other, but they're holding hands over each other's shoulders.

Best friends forever… I wish.
Credit: Ollie Upton / HBO

House of the Dragon makes the excellent decision to center Rhaenyra and Alicent’s friendship right from the start. The rift between them is what brings about the Dance of the Dragons, so it makes sense that House of the Dragon begins developing their relationship in the very first episode.

In Fire & Blood, Rhaenyra and Alicent aren’t particularly close before Alicent marries King Viserys, but in House of the Dragon, they are fast friends. Their in-show childhood bond promises to make their fallout even more heartbreaking, which is sure to give later episodes even greater emotional weight.

A song of ice and what now?

During the first episode’s final moments, King Viserys drops a truth bomb on Rhaenyra. Their ancestor, Aegon the Conqueror, conquered Westeros not just because of ambition, but because he had a dream. That dream foretold the end of mankind, brought on by a terrible winter — White Walkers, anyone?

There’s nothing in Fire & Blood that suggests Aegon had this dream, but given that the book rarely delves into its characters’ thoughts, there’s nothing saying that Aegon didn’t have this dream either. Perhaps this was Martin’s intent all along. However, I’m not a fan of this particular storytelling tweak. It’s way too neat a connection to Game of Thrones, and after the adverse fan reactions to Season 8, House of the Dragon needs as much of a fresh start as it can get. Plus, the reveal of Aegon’s dream — which he called A Song of Ice and Fire, eliciting a massive eye roll from me — shifts focus away from the politics of House of the Dragons in favor of reminding us of a Big Bad we already know is coming. Heck, we already know that the Night King fails to conquer Westeros, so why bother tying it back to Aegon? In a series that has so far made many smart adaptation decisions, this is the only one I outright disagree with. We don’t need “winter is coming,” round two — House of the Dragon already has plenty of great characters and plot points to choose from.

The showdown at Dragonstone

The second episode of House of the Dragon, “The Rogue Prince,” gives us a tease of what full Targaryen-on-Targaryen violence might look like. When Prince Daemon steals a dragon egg with the intent of giving it to his child with paramour Mysaria, King Viserys won’t let that stand. He sends his Hand, Lord Otto Hightower, to Dragonstone to retrieve the egg.

However, it’ll take more than a mere Hightower to change Daemon’s mind. Just when violence between Daemon’s gold cloaks and Otto’s soldiers threatens to break out, Rhaenyra arrives on Dragonstone with her dragon, Syrax. She faces off with Daemon, goading him to kill her if he truly wants to be the heir. He relents and returns the egg, and the meeting concludes without bloodshed. Rhaenyra returns triumphantly to King’s Landing, only to face the ire of Viserys for her disobedience.

While the egg saga takes up a sizable chunk of “The Rogue Prince,” Martin details it in just a few sentences in Fire & Blood:

When he learned that his concubine was pregnant, Prince Daemon presented her with a dragon’s egg and woke his brother’s wroth. King Viserys commanded him to return the egg, send his whore away, and return to his lawful wife, or else be attainted as a traitor. The prince obeyed, though with ill grace…

When you compare this passage with House of the Dragon‘s version, you really see the show’s adaptation process. Take a key incident from the book and make it the focal point of an episode, all while looping in more of your central characters, such as Rhaenyra.

The show’s framing of the Dragonstone showdown places Rhaenyra in opposition with both her father and her uncle. This helps us understand just how much she has to offer, as well as how much she, as a woman in this male-dominated world, has to fight in order to be viewed as a viable heir.

Plus, we get to see Caraxes and Syrax in full force, and it never hurts to see more dragons.

Alicent and Viserys

An old man and a young woman sit facing each other. An ornate stone model of a city sits between them.

Alicent is on an uncomfortable mission.
Credit: Ollie Upton / HBO

Like in Fire & Blood, King Viserys chooses to marry Alicent Hightower in House of the Dragon. In the book, Alicent is described as having been the former king Jaehaerys’s companion before he died, but we don’t hear much more about her between then and the marriage announcement. However, more disreputable sources (looking at you, Mushroom!) claim she had sexual relationships with Daemon and Jaehaerys, and even with Viserys while he was still married to Queen Aemma. Luckily, the show does not take this route.

In the TV series, Alicent is pressured to gain Viserys’s affection by her own father, the sneaky Otto Hightower. She’s clearly uncomfortable with this, but obeys, acting as a companion to Viserys in a similar way to how she accompanies Jaehaerys in Fire & Blood. Her interactions with the king are early proof of her cunning and manipulation. Plus, they continue to set up the coming rift between her and Rhaenyra.

House of the Dragon goes hunting

Episode 3 of House of the Dragon, “Second of His Name,” takes us on a hunting trip that is extremely tense for everyone involved. The hunt is a lavish affair: a celebration of Viserys and Alicent’s son Aegon’s second nameday. Of course, the arrival of a new male heir sparks questions about Rhaenyra’s future, so she’s understandably on edge. As the festivities get underway, she rejects advances from men like Jason Lannister, bonds with her sworn protector Ser Criston Cole, and gets all stabby-stabby with a boar. An all-around productive weekend for Rhaenyra.

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And wouldn’t you know it, none of this is in Fire & Blood! The novel does make mention of festivities held in the name of Alicent’s children, but it never dives into them on a scene level. The same goes for Jason Lannister’s attempted marriage proposal: One sentence reveals that he and his twin brother Tyland tried to win her over during a visit to Casterly Rock.

The addition of this hunt is a great way to delve into these events and bring the building tensions between characters to the forefront. This plot highlights Rhaenyra’s worries about her title, Alicent’s attempts to appease her best friend-turned-stepdaughter, Viserys’s indecision about damn near everything, and so much more. While this hunt never explicitly happens in Fire & Blood, it would absolutely fit right in on the page.

Fighting the Crabfeeder

A badly sunburned man with long brown hair and a cracked golden mask.

You’ve fed your last crab, sir!
Credit: Ollie Upton / HBO

Besides the hunt, the other main thread of “Second of His Name” involves Corlys Velaryon and Daemon’s fight against the villainous Crabfeeder. Their quest to take back the Stepstones results in House of the Dragon‘s first real battle, including Prince Daemon’s mad sprint to glory and Corlys’s son Laenor swooping in on his dragon Seasmoke.

As epic as this battle is, Daemon and Corlys’s campaign in the Stepstones is most glossed over in Fire & Blood. Presumably, Archmaester Gyldayn cares more about the intrigue at court. He writes:

It is not our purpose here to recount the details of the private war Daemon Targaryen and Corlys Velaryon waged on the Stepstones. Suffice it to say that the fighting began in 106 AC… In 108 AC, when at last [Daemon] came face-to-face with Craghas Crabfeeder, her slew him single-handed and cut off his head with Dark Sister.

So far, House of the Dragon‘s best adaptation choices come from the fact that it knows when to take moments that Fire & Blood simply summarizes and tease them out into full-blown set pieces. The Stepstones battle sets a high bar for the show’s action sequences and gives Laenor a worthy introduction. Remember him — he’ll be important later.

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Well, it happened. In episode 4 of House of the Dragon, “King of the Narrow Sea,” the Targaryen incest hits in full force. Daemon brings his niece Rhaenyra on an excursion through King’s Landing, and the two hook up at a brothel. Family bonding, the Westeros way! When Daemon leaves abruptly, Rhaenyra takes her desires into her own hands and has sex with Ser Criston, who is thankfully not related to her. However, he is also a member of the Kingsguard and took a vow of celibacy, so the whole situation is quite messy, to say the least.

This episode marks a large turning point for Rhaenyra and her relationships with Daemon, Criston, and Viserys. However, Rhaenyra’s first sexual experiences and their consequences are somewhat ambiguous in Fire & Blood. Once again, we have different accounts from sources like Septon Eustace and Mushroom. According to Eustace, Daemon seduced Rhaenyra, and when the two were caught together, Rhaenyra begged Viserys to let her marry her uncle. On the other hand, Mushroom claims that Daemon had been teaching Rhaenyra about sex so she would be able to seduce Criston. These lessons included dressing as a page boy and visiting brothels, which we see occur in House of the Dragon. Despite the ambiguity in Fire & Blood, House of the Dragon makes a firm decision here and fully chooses Mushroom’s account (minus some of the bluest details).

However, the same cannot be said when it comes to Rhaenyra’s romance with Criston. Eustace states that Criston confessed his love for Rhaenyra and begged her to run away with him, but she refused. In Mushroom’s much more bawdy account, Rhaenyra declared her love to Criston after she learned she was to be wed to Laenor. This version of the story sees Criston refuse Rhaenyra due to his vows as a member of the Kingsguard. House of the Dragon chooses neither account and instead charts its own path, with Rhaenyra successfully seducing Criston. This appears to mark the start of a secret relationship between the two, something that does not happen in Fire & Blood but which will surely have massive consequences going forward.

Farewell to Otto

Two men argue in front of a stone model of a city.

Nothing worse than a Hand-King breakup.
Credit: Ollie Upton / HBO

Viserys gets wise of Otto’s cunning and ambition in episode 4 — only after Rhaenyra points it out. She’s trying to deflect suspicion from her tryst with Daemon, but Viserys hears some truth in her words and dismisses Otto from the position of Hand.

In Fire & Blood, Viserys gets rid of Otto after he keeps pushing for Alicent’s son to be named heir. This happens way before Rhaenyra’s scandal, meaning that House of the Dragon is bringing several different threads together here. It’s a strong choice: Now, Rhaenyra has far more of a hand in Otto’s dismissal, continuing to create tension between her and Alicent.

Not only that, but this episode also forces Viserys to choose between believing his brother, his daughter, and his most trusted advisor. By the end of the episode, we can see he’s believed elements of all three’s stories. From Daemon and Otto’s accounts, he thinks Daemon and Rhaenyra had sex, hence the contraceptive tea he has delivered to Rhaenyra at the end of the episode. But he also believes Rhaenyra’s statement that Otto is a social climbing vulture. After spending so many episodes making bad decisions, finally Viserys makes some big — and fascinating — moves. And none of it would have been possible if House of the Dragon hadn’t made this adaptation change.

Another bloody wedding

“We Light the Way,” House of the Dragon‘s fifth episode, gives us a classic Game of Thrones staple: a wedding. It also gives us another Game of Thrones staple: death at said wedding.

The victim at Rhaenyra and Laenor’s wedding is none other than Ser Joffrey — no, not that Joffrey. This is Joffrey Lonmouth, Laenor’s lover. He taunts Criston about the marriage of their lovers to each other, and Criston, still reeling from Rhaenyra’s rejection of his plan to run away and get married in Essos, decides that it’s clobbering time.

Criston does kill Joffrey in Fire & Blood, but he does at the wedding tourney instead of the feast. House of the Dragon has already given us an intense tournament sequence in its first episode, so the choice to move the fight makes sense. The show also expands on why Criston would want to kill Joffrey. In the book, it’s just said that Joffrey “felt the fullest measure of [Criston’s] wroth” — the level of violence at the tourney is strange, but since this is a historical account, we don’t dive into the reasoning behind it as much. In House of the Dragon, with Criston and Joffrey’s interaction at the wedding, we understand what led Criston to snap so completely.

Alicent takes center stage

Alicent, a young woman in a green gown, stands at the entrance to a great hall.

And the award for best entrance goes to…
Credit: Ollie Upton / HBO

Rhaenyra and Laenor may have gotten married, but their wedding — and their whole wedding episode — is all about Alicent. In Fire & Blood, Alicent is villainous, self-serving, and the all-around worst. House of the Dragon delves deeper into her motivations in order to make her more of a compelling human being. She’s been used as a pawn by her father and lost her best friend as a result. Plus, since Alicent’s children present a threat to Rhaenyra’s succession, she also has to deal with the worry that Rhaenyra will try to have them killed. “We Light the Way” does a great job of laying this out, and of showing how Alicent plans to move forward. For example, Alicent’s green dress, mentioned in passing in Fire & Blood, gets a much bigger moment in House of the Dragon. This is her first major stand against Viserys: a retaliation for him sending her father away and for learning about Rhaenyra’s lie.

“We Light the Way” also clarifies how Alicent and Criston come to be such fierce allies. In Fire & Blood, Criston becomes Alicent’s sworn protector after the tourney where he kills Joffrey. We don’t learn much more than that, but House of the Dragon fills in the gaps: heartbroken at Rhaenyra’s impending marriage, Criston tells Alicent about his relationship with her. Later, after killing Joffrey, he prepares to die by suicide. However, Alicent stops him, and the two join forces. This choice is yet another smart move in a string of strong adaptation choices, continuing House of the Dragon‘s trend of fleshing out Fire & Blood‘s most important historical points. Plus, we’re able to watch Alicent assemble her allies after episodes of seeing her get used by those around her. Her actions here will have major consequences going forward, and they cement her as one of House of the Dragon‘s most important players.

Larys started the fire

A man sitting down, resting his hands on his cane.

Who, me?
Credit: Ollie Upton / HBO

House of the Dragon undergoes a 10-year time jump between episodes 5 and 6. During this time, both Rhaenyra and Alicent have more children. However, Rhaenyra’s children’s parentage is called into question because none of them bear a resemblance to Laenor. They don’t even have the trademark Targaryen and Velaryon silver hair! Instead, they all look suspiciously like Rhaenyra’s sworn protector and head of the City Watch, Harwin Strong. When Criston Cole insinuates that Harwin is the boys’ father, Harwin very publicly snaps and beats him up. Harwin’s father Lyonel, now Hand of the King, realizes the implications of the act and attempts to resign to preserve his house’s reputation somewhat — a detail that isn’t in Fire & Blood but that helps flesh out the Strongs’ relationship to honor.

That takes us to one of episode 6’s biggest death scenes: A fire breaks out at the Strong castle of Harrenhal, killing both Harwin and Lyonel. Who was responsible? Fire & Blood presents multiple theories as to who may have started the fire. Could it have been Daemon, trying to eliminate a romantic rival, or Viserys, hoping to salvage Rhaenyra’s honor? Or maybe it was Corlys, seeking vengeance for Harwin’s cuckolding of Laenor? (Rhaenyra and Laenor’s arrangement that they get to see other people is new to the show, so the cuckolding is less of a point of tension.) The book also suggests Larys Strong, Harwin’s younger brother, as a possible culprit, and that’s the route the show takes.

In positioning Larys as the orchestrator of his family’s deaths, House of the Dragon once again chooses a definitive path where Fire & Blood opted for historical ambiguity. This choice sets Larys up as a major player in the coming episodes. With his father and brother dead, he becomes Lord of Harrenhal. He also cements himself as a part of Queen Alicent’s inner circle — although from the looks of it, she may regret bringing such a ruthless man so close to her.

Death by “Dracarys!”

A woman with silvery hair seated at a dining table.

RIP, Laena.
Credit: Ollie Upton / HBO

Harwin and Lyonel are not the only House of the Dragon characters to die by fire in episode 6. They’re joined in fiery death by Laena Velaryon, a dragonrider and Daemon’s second wife. In Fire & Blood, Laena dies after a horrifying childbirth. She attempts to ride her dragon Vhagar one last time before she dies, only to collapse and perish before she can get to her. House of the Dragon takes things in a more dramatic direction, to say the least. In House of the Dragon, a pain-stricken Laena reaches Vhagar, but instead of trying to take flight, she utters that immortal phrase: “Dracarys!” After some initial hesitation, Vhagar sets Laena on fire.

When it comes to House of the Dragon deaths, self-immolation by dragonfire has to be the most metal way to go. Yet the scene is undeniably tragic. Laena’s passing plays like a companion to Aemma’s remarkably cruel death in episode 1. Both women suffer from immense pain during labor, and both their husbands are offered the choice of killing the mother to save the child. While Aemma is subjected to this horror, Laena flees and, in a last grasp at agency, chooses to die as close to a dragonrider’s death as she can.

Fighting at a funeral

Episode 7 of House of the Dragon takes us to Driftmark for Laena’s funeral, where Prince Aemond Targaryen tames and rides Laena’s old dragon, Vhagar. When he lands, Rhaenyra’s children, as well as Laena’s daughters Baela and Rhaena, attack him in anger. In the ensuing brawl, Lucerys Velaryon takes out one of Aemond’s eyes. In Fire & Blood, this sequence actually happens at Laenor’s funeral (more on that later), and Baela and Rhaena aren’t involved. However, in moving the Aemond fight and emphasizing Baela and Rhaena’s grief, House of the Dragon is able to ground the scene even deeper in emotion, as well as highlight why the children are so upset. Laena only just died and Aemond is already stealing her dragon? Heck, I’m angry too!

In the aftermath of the children’s fight, Alicent demands that Lucerys lose an eye just as Aemond did. She also makes this demand in the book. What she doesn’t do in Fire & Blood, but does in the show, is steal Viserys’s dagger and try to take Rhaenyra’s eye out herself. Alicent’s full-on attack perfectly sets up the coming Dance of the Dragons, and it gives us a welcome chance to watch her snap. Throughout the show, Alicent has been composed and calculated, always doing what’s asked of her while she sees Rhaenyra flouting her marriage entirely. Here, her frustration and rage get the best of her in an explosive scene that’s one of the show’s best so far. Olivia Cooke’s delivery of “Where is duty? Where is sacrifice?” will go down in House of the Dragon history, along with Emma d’Arcy’s whispered, “Now they see you as you are.”

Laenor lives!

A man with silvery-white hair in a great hall.

Congratulations on surviving!
Credit: Ollie Upton / HBO

For what might be the first time ever, a Game of Thrones show lets one of the characters that died in its source material walk away unscathed. Laenor, who perishes in a fight with his paramour Ser Qarl in Fire & Blood, doesn’t die in House of the Dragon! Instead, he and Qarl fake his death and flee Driftmark to travel across the Narrow Sea. There, they can be open about their love for one another.

How did Laenor and Qarl’s escape come about? Well, Rhaenyra and Daemon decide to marry to shore up their power. (Hear that? That’s the sound of the Targaryen incest alarms.) However, to get hitched, they need to get Laenor out of the way. Daemon dons the murder cloak he wore to kill his wife and bribes Qarl for a quick death. But he never specifies whose death! Qarl stages Laenor’s murder, making it look like he burned in the hearth at Driftmark. As Corlys and Rhaenys mourn their son and Rhaenyra marries Daemon, Qarl and a very much alive Laenor head out to sea.

This is easily the biggest change Fire & Blood makes from its source material, especially given George R.R. Martin’s penchant for killing his characters. However, it’s unclear whether Laenor’s survival will impact the plot moving forward. Everyone thinks he’s dead, and why would he and Qarl return to Westeros when they can be happy elsewhere? As sides in the Dance of the Dragons solidify, there’s one thing we can be sure of: Somewhere in Essos, Laenor and Qarl are living happy, lavish lives thanks to Daemon’s bribe money. It’s as close to a fairy-tale ending as Game of Thrones can get.

The petition for Driftmark

“Lord of the Tides,” episode 8 of House of the Dragon, revolves around various characters’ petitions to become Lord of Driftmark should Corlys pass away. Contenders include Rhaenyra’s son and the named heir Lucerys, whose claim has been questioned due to his parentage; Rhaenys, Corlys’s wife; and Vaemond Velaryon, Corlys’s younger brother in the show (and nephew in Fire & Blood). While the question of succession is addressed in the book, the petitions are new additions for the show: another example of House of the Dragon expanding on briefly mentioned crises in Martin’s work.

Also new is Vaemond’s death, which deserves a special shout-out here. Vaemond does die in the book after accusing Lucerys of being a bastard. Rhaenyra sends Daemon to kill him and then feeds his corpse to her dragon, Syrax. However in the show, Daemon straight-up chops through his head in the middle of the Red Keep’s throne room. It’s a major power move and a classic out-of-nowhere Game of Thrones-style death. Sliced and diced.

RIP Viserys

A very thin, emaciated king sits by the ocean with a knight at his side.

Good night, sweet prince. Er, king.
Credit: Ollie Upton / HBO

King Viserys finally shuffles off the mortal coil in this episode. We all saw it coming; he’s been marked for blood since day one. However, we never anticipated just how that death would play out in House of the Dragon. In Fire & Blood, Viserys grows old and dies in his sleep. In House of the Dragon, the man goes full Crypt Keeper. He’s rotting off his own bones, he’s losing body parts left and right… He’s just going through it. Finally, at the end of “Lord of the Tides,” he passes away. And just after a relatively happy family dinner, no less!

But this being House of the Dragon, we won’t know peace yet. That’s because right before he dies, Viserys mentions the Song of Ice and Fire prophecy to Alicent, believing her to be Rhaenyra. After hearing a few mumbled words about Aegon (the Conqueror, not Alicent’s son, although she has no way of knowing it) and uniting the kingdom, Alicent believes Viserys wants his son to take the throne instead of Rhaenyra. No, Viserys, why couldn’t you just keep your mouth shut? The future was looking somewhat bright, at least by Westerosi standards, but your last words may have divided the Seven Kingdoms forever. Bring on the Dance of the Dragons.

We’re crowning Aegon! We just have to find him first.

Episode 9 of House of the Dragon, titled “The Green Council,” picks up right where episode 8 left off: with Viserys dying and Alicent interpreting his last words as him choosing Aegon as his successor. As soon as Otto gets word of this, he springs into action, gathering the Small Council to organize Aegon’s coronation. The only problem? Aegon is nowhere to be found. So sets in motion a hunt for the king-to-be, a hunt that surprisingly pits Alicent against Otto. The Hand wants to kill Rhaenyra and her family as soon as possible, but Alicent has doubts about that, especially following their slight reconciliation last episode.

Much of the search for Aegon is new to the show, as is the tension between Otto and Alicent. In the book, they are a united front as they work to rouse and crown Aegon. Here, Otto is the heartless monster who sets things in motion, while Alicent comes off as much more sympathetic thanks to her worry for Rhaenyra.

House of the Dragon also greatly speeds up the time between Viserys’s dying and Aegon’s coronation. In the book, it takes about 10 days to finalize the choice to crown Aegon, during which the smell of Viserys’s corpse stinks up the Red Keep. Here, Otto and Alicent move fast, plus the show adds a bunch of new material, like Aemond and Criston’s discussions, Larys and Alicent’s “arrangement,” and Mysaria’s involvement. (The street urchin fighting rings are very much in Fire & Blood.) The entire expanded search for Aegon emphasizes just how much of a pawn he is in the schemes of older characters. Plus, in seeing all his common haunts (again, the child fights!) we realize just how unfit he is to be king. Pair that with the fact that neither of his parents truly love him and the extreme ego boost he gets from the crowd’s cheering at his coronation, and you’re looking at a recipe for a megalomaniac disaster.

Rhaenys crashes a coronation

A woman with silver-white hair in a black dress.

Rhaenys takes matters into her own hands — and it’s amazing.
Credit: Ollie Upton / HBO

The absolute coolest moment of “The Green Council” is nowhere to be seen in Fire & Blood. The Hightowers lock Rhaenys in the Red Keep and try to win her (and her dragon Meleys) over to their side. However, Ser Erryk Cargyll, a knight of the Kingsguard who decides to back Rhaenyra’s claim over Aegon’s, helps her escape. She winds up in the dragon pit for the coronation and sneaks away to grab her dragon and get the heck out of dodge.

What follows is a moment of absolute and total badassery. Rhaenys and Meleys crash through the floor of the dragon pit, interrupting a coronation that had otherwise been going pretty well. Meleys turns on Alicent and Aegon, but Rhaenys does not issue the kill order. Perhaps she is trying to limit bloodshed, or she finds Alicent’s protection of Aegon moving enough to spare her. Whatever the reason, Rhaenys certainly makes a big splash at the coronation before taking her Valyrian exit (which is what I call flying out of large gatherings on dragonback).

The showdown at Storm’s End

The centerpiece of the Season 1 finale of House of the Dragon is undoubtedly the standoff between Lucerys Velaryon and Aemond Targaryen at Storm’s End, the seat of House Baratheon. Both have come to secure Lord Borros Baratheon’s support: Lucerys for his mother Rhaenyra, and Aemond for his brother Aegon. Borros sides with Aemond, and to make everything worse, Aemond demands that Lucerys take out an eye in exchange for taking his years ago. After Lucerys refuses, the two take to the skies on their dragons for a tense chase, which culminates in Aemond losing control of Vhagar, and Vhagar eating Lucerys.

The broad strokes of the Storm’s End sequence play out pretty faithfully to Fire & Blood, but there are still some differences. In the book, Aemond is about to let Lucerys go before one of Borros’s daughters goads him into going after him. Here, House of the Dragon streamlines the process: Aemond hasn’t quite finished having fun with his nephew yet, so he follows him on his dragon Vhagar. It reads more like a schoolyard tyrant kicking a victim when he’s down than someone hellbent on killing.

That difference in intent — scaring as opposed to outright killing — marks the finale’s biggest change from Fire & Blood. Here, Lucerys’ death is a result of Aemond’s failure to keep Vhagar in line, not a direct command from Aemond himself. The fight between Vhagar and Lucerys’s dragon Arrax isn’t too detailed in the book, so it’s possible a similar accident occurred but was not recorded in history. However, the aftermath of the fight, including Aemond returning to King’s Landing expecting a hero’s welcome, suggests that his kinslaying actions were all too intentional. In House of the Dragon, the kinslaying is a preventable tragedy, as well as a reminder of just how powerful dragons are. Sometimes, age-old creatures of immense power will rebel against their riders — who could have guessed?

What’s next for House of the Dragon?

A man with silver blonde hair kneels in front of a woman with silver blonde hair. She wears a black cloak and a gold crown.

So you’re queen — now what?
Credit: Ollie Upton/HBO

One word: war! With Aegon’s ascension and Lucerys’ death, the Dance of the Dragons is officially in full swing. And based on the look in Rhaenyra’s eyes at the very end of the finale, the Blacks are going to retaliate against the Greens in a big way.

Season 2 will likely open with Jacaerys’s arrival in Winterfell to gain the support of the North, but plenty of chaos will still be raging in the South as the struggle for power continues. We’ll see one of Westerosi history’s most brutal moments yet (no spoilers, but look up Blood and Cheese if you’re curious). Daemon’s interaction with the dragon Vermithor in the finale also suggests that he’s going to attempt to find new dragonriders to help boost Rhaenyra’s number, so get excited for more dragon battles.

Finally, since House of the Dragon has focused so much energy on fleshing out the relationship between Rhaenyra and Alicent, the evolution of their dynamic in the war to come will surely play a large role as well. Although after everything that’s happened, I doubt we’ll be seeing them reconcile any time soon.

Final verdict

House of the Dragon takes on the daunting task of adapting a “historical account” full of ambiguity, and creates a haunting portrait of a family torn apart by power. The expansion and centering of the friendship between Rhaenyra and Alicent works wonders and provides both characters — but especially Alicent — a much-needed humanity that we don’t always get from Fire & Blood‘s historical retelling. House of the Dragon is also able to expand on some key Fire & Blood moments in new and exciting ways, giving us new scenes like Rhaenyra and Daemon’s face-off on Dragonstone in episode 2 and the entirety of Rhaenyra and Laenor’s very chaotic wedding.

Not every change works. The focus on Aegon the Conqueror’s prophecy reeks of an attempt to connect to the plot of Game of Thrones, and the time jumps can get a little confusing. Plus, all the hopping around in time leads us to miss some moments that would have been great to see on screen. Who wouldn’t have wanted to watch Laena tame Vhagar, or see the beginnings of Rhaenyra and Harwin Strong’s courtship?

Overall, though, House of the Dragon knocks it out of the park as an adaptation, taking the weighty history of Martin’s work and making sure to flesh out all the small character moments over ten episodes. House of the Dragon has already been renewed for a Season 2, so we can hopefully expect more excellent adaptation choices — and dragons — in the near future.

Season 1 of House of the Dragon is now streaming HBO Max.(opens in a new tab)





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