This article contains House of the Dragon episode 3 spoilers.
Speak with any passionate Game of Thrones fan—or even the casual viewers who were in it for the dragons and ice zombies—and they’ll tell you issues they had with HBO’s former flagship series. Most of those critiques revolve around the final season: Daenerys Targaryen’s descent into madness was rushed (or that it occurred at all); Jaime Lannister threw away his redemption arc in one hackneyed scene with Brienne; how could they “forget” about the Iron Fleet?!
Yet for author George R.R. Martin, it is none of those things that give him his greatest regret. Rather it’s a sequence that occurred during the very first season of Game of Thrones… and one which House of the Dragon just gently corrected while using it as the staging ground for the new series’ most pointed episode to date.
While speaking with journalist James Hibbard for the 2020 book Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon, Martin revealed his least favorite scene in Game of Thrones consisted of a handful of cutaways during the fifth episode of Game of Thrones’ first season: The episode where King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) and a select few courtiers go boar hunting in the kingswood.
“Where we really fell down in terms of budget was my least favorite scene in the show, in all eight seasons,” Martin said at the time. “King Robert goes hunting. Four guys walking on foot through the woods carrying spears, and Robert is giving Renly shit. In the books, Robert goes off hunting, and we get word that he was gored by a boar… so I never did [a hunting scene]. But I knew what a royal hunting party was like. There would be hundreds of guys. There would have been pavilions. There would have been dogs. There would have been horns blowing—that’s how a king goes hunting! He wouldn’t have just been walking through the woods with three of his friends holding spears, hoping to meet a boar.”
Of course back in 2010 when Game of Thrones’ first season was filmed, the fledgling fantasy series was a major gamble for HBO. So it lacked the resources or expectation to properly realize a medieval king’s hunting party onscreen.
House of the Dragon doesn’t have that problem.
Arguably the best stuff of the third episode in the Game of Thrones prequel is not the showy battle sequences involving dragons and man-eating crabs; it’s what happens when Paddy Considine’s King Viserys holds court in the woods. If memory serves, the sequence does not occur in Fire & Blood, the fictional Westerosi history text on which House of the Dragon is based. But on television, it provides a subtle chance for showrunners Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik to dramatize the grandeur which Martin spoke of: Viserys’ whole court rests under building-sized pavilions (as opposed to mere camping tents). And when the king does “hunt,” his men have horses and dogs at the ready.
Visually, it once again provides an opportunity for House of the Dragon to realize the lavish details—both based on actual history and Martin’s own flights of fancy—that Game of Thrones simply could not afford until its later and more expensive final seasons.
… Yet more than just tweaking Martin’s biggest public complaint about the old series, the sequence provides a striking background upon which the problems that will rot Viserys’ reign have already begun to take seed as a king who wishes to “hunt” instead of protect his realm from war (or his daughter from gossip) instead attempts to skew a stag. Badly.