This article contains House of the Dragon episode 1 spoilers.
The Targaryens are a family comprised of secrets within secrets, and mysteries within mysteries. Despite building the greatest dynasty Westeros ever knew, and ruling from on high atop dragons for centuries, the practices and rituals of Daenerys Targaryen’s ancestors remain elusive. When she was introduced along with her brother in Game of Thrones, neither character was old enough to have been trained in the customs of their House before the dynasty fell.
But in House of the Dragon, we are beginning to get a taste of the true power that was the Blood of the Dragon… as well as a peek into the hidden revelations that even George R.R. Martin’s most loyal readers were previously denied. This was made most clear in episode 1 during the closing moments between King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) and his daughter Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock).
Meeting within the bowels of the Red Keep, and before the celebrated skull of Balerion the Black Dread, Viserys at long last recognizes the obvious: He has an heir apparent already of age and ready to rule in his daughter. And he will now initiate Rhaenyra into his confidence. Early in the scene, Rhaenyra scoffs at the mystique the Targaryens have cultivated among the smallfolk, who are prone to say “the Targaryens are closer to gods than men.” She knows they only seem so supernatural because of their dragons.
And yet, Viserys reveals it is more than just the Blood of the Dragon that made Aegon Targaryen conquer Westeros with his sisters… it was also a vision of another Long Night and a winter so severe that will find creatures half-forgotten from Beyond the Wall return again. Viserys is of course speaking of White Walkers and the Army of the Dead, whose existential threat became the centerpiece of Game of Thrones. We’ve previously known there was a bit of destiny to Daenerys and Jon Snow’s fight against the dark. However, never before—not in Game of Thrones, not in Martin’s literary source novels of “A Song of Ice and Fire,” nor even in Martin’s expanded literature like Fire & Blood, on which House of the Dragon is based—has it been revealed that Aegon Targaryen conquered Westeros to save it and the world from the White Walkers. Nor did we know that Aegon called this vision “A Song of Ice and Fire.”
So when we sat down with House of the Dragon showrunners Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik, we of course had to ask how they came to the decision to make this change to Targaryen and Game of Thrones lore, and how did Martin react.
“That came from George,” Condal says with a slight smile. “I don’t think we would’ve plunged into that without talking to George about it, but that was something George, as he often does, just said in casual conversation very early on in development of the story…. He told us that Aegon was a dreamer and that was the reason he decided to go and conquer, and unite, Westeros. He’s remembered as a conqueror, but he really meant to be a uniter, which is why he approached things the way he did.”
This is a bombshell revelation which changes everything we know about the Targaryen family history. Suddenly, they are more than just one more spoke on “the wheel” of Westeros’ great houses. In the original series, they ultimately seemed to be the most supernaturally gifted (or cursed) of the Iron Throne’s claimants. However, their entire purpose was just re-contextualized as one of initially good intentions. For as Viserys tells Rhaenyra, the secret of Aegon’s mission is only shared directly from one monarch to the next when they have chosen an heir. Although, it should be noted that this is Condal and Sapochnik’s own invention for House of the Dragon.
“George is very coy about that part of the history and what people know,” Condal explains. “And of course if it is a secret, the chroniclers that were writing the [historic sources] of Fire & Blood, they wouldn’t necessarily know it. But yeah keeping it alive, at least as far as this generation goes, was a really compelling thing for Miguel and I because it had resonance. We were looking for ways, despite there being a 170 years of history [between them], to create resonance with the original series. And we don’t have any characters that can crossover; there’s nobody you can meet. Young Old Nan is not going to show up in the series, even 170 years is too much… So that core mythology of the original series, keeping that alive and this idea that somebody has been aware of this or seen this as a vision 300 years before it happens was really compelling to us and made it feel really epic and appropriate for the world of Game of Thrones.”
Sapochnik also notes that it echoes the mysticism that was so relevant to Game of Thrones.
Says Sapochnik, “We wanted to keep alive the notion of spirituality that [was in] the original show. There was myth, there was folklore, there were stories, ice spiders as big as hounds, et cetera, et cetera. But we don’t have those things, so we needed to find something to hang the hat on of the spirituality, which plays such a large part. Fate and destiny is such a big part of that story.”
It’s also a fateful moment for Viserys and Rhaenyra. Before this scene, Rhaenyra has every reason to resent her father who drove her mother to the grave in his fanatical desire for a son and male heir. So when we sit down with Milly Alcock, we’re also curious if this revelation changes how Rhaenyra sees her intended role as queen. But the actor intriguingly suggests it primarily changes the way she sees her father.
Says Alcock, “I think that ultimately what’s going through her mind when she hears her father say this isn’t the significance of what is to come. We know what happens in Game of Thrones, but it’s ultimately about a daughter who’s seeing her father deteriorate before our eyes, and how heartbreaking that is and the reality of the tragedy that they’re both facing, and the way they’re trying to process it.”
Yet the ramifications of what this could mean are severe. Now Rhaenyra is the only Targaryen of her generation who knows the precious secret that the Targaryens must maintain from one century to the next, which will make it all the more vital that she retains her claim on the Iron Throne. Only through peaceful succession can her family be situated to face the Long Night when it comes again. However, as we know from Game of Thrones, that knowledge, and that claim to the Iron Throne, is eventually lost—putting an added anxiety on Rhaenyra’s position as she faces the intrigues and conspiracies to come.
“Rhaenyra wants change, and she views the opportunity of sitting on the Iron Throne as an agency of change,” Alcock says. “And she wants to afford other people the privilege of being able to choose where they sit and/or stand within the world that they live in.”
How things stand, however, will change very quickly as House of the Dragon inches ever closer to a Targaryen civil war.
House of the Dragon is playing on HBO and HBO Max now.