House of the Dragon: What Rickard Stark Means for the Game of Thrones Spinoff

Lord of Winterfell Rickard Stark makes an appearance in the latest House of the Dragon trailer. How does the direwolf fit into this dance of dragons?

The Iron Throne room in House of the Dragon
Photo: HBO

This article contains light spoilers for the A Song of Ice and Fire prequel Fire & Blood.

The latest trailer for House of the Dragon, HBO’s first attempt at a Game of Thrones prequel, features a lot of elements we’ve come to be familiar with throughout this lengthy marketing campaign. There are many shots of dragons, Matt Smith in a Barbie doll wig, and gratuitous violence all around.

Roughly 20 second into the trailer, however, even the most casual Game of Thrones viewer heard a name that likely made them sit up and take note: Rickard Stark. Who exactly is this previously unheard of Stark? What will his role be in the series? And what does his presence mean for House of the Dragon? Thankfully, we have read Fire & Blood, George R.R. Martin’s Targaryen history novel that the HBO series is based on, so we can offer up some answers.

For starters, though his name could be heard as “Rickard” or “Rickon”, closed captioning on the trailer confirms that he is indeed called the former. Both names pop up a lot throughout the history of House Stark and in fact the two “Rick” variations combined are likely the second most popular name in the family behind only “Brandon.” Rickard Stark was actually the name of Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark’s father. He, along with his eldest son Brandon, was killed by Aenys II a.k.a. The Mad King roughly 17 years before the events of Game of Thrones

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Interestingly, though this character is definitively called “Rickard” in House of the Dragon, in Martin’s Westerosi history his closest analogue is called “Rickon.” It’s likely that the series’ writers opted to change his name to Rickard to avoid confusion with the youngest of Ned’s children in Game of Thrones called Rickon. Most viewers would be more familiar with that name than Ned’s father, Rickard. 

Whatever he’s called, this Rickard Stark in House of the Dragon fulfills the same role that just about every Stark did before Ned rode south in Game of Thrones: he’s the Lord of Winterfell, and Warden of the North. Lords of Winterfell very rarely leave the confines of The North. The region they govern is geographically massive and quite different culturally from the rest of the realm to the south. If a Stark Lord is to visit King’s Landing, he’ll need a very compelling reason to do so. 

And yet, here in this trailer we see Lord Rickard in the Iron Throne room alongside fellow major lords like Corlys Velaryon of Driftmark and Boremund Baratheon of Storm’s End. So what brought Rickard down to the political pit of vipers that is the Red Keep? Simply put: succession. This House of the Dragon trailer, and Lord Rickard Stark’s involvement in it, sets up a hugely important political event that will eventually lead to one of the most destructive wars in Westeros’s history. 

Have you ever wondered why most of the dynasties in the Game of Thrones world operate under a primogeniture model of succession in which male descendents always take precedence over female? Maybe not, as even in our own Western world, primogeniture was the de facto law of the land in many areas for a long time. But did anybody in the Game of Thrones universe ever get together to hash things out and establish male heirs as the realm’s stated preference? Well, it turns out they did!

Well before the events of Game of Thrones and even before the events of House of the Dragon, King Jaehaerys I assembled a Great Council of Westerosi Lords to figure out who should succeed him on the Iron Throne. Jaehaerys was a great, much loved monarch, but his family tree was a bit of a mess after several of his chosen successors died prematurely. Ultimately The Great Council decided that the element most important to them in a successor was to maintain primogeniture. Therefore Jaehaerys I’s grandson Viserys was selected as heir and indeed ascended to the throne after Jaehaerys’s death.

How did the now King Viserys I respect his supporters’ desire to maintain primogeniture? By naming his daughter Rhaenyra as his heir, of course. And that is the moment we see in this House of the Dragon trailer. Rickard Stark, Corlys Velaryon, and Boremund Baratheon all promise to be faithful to King Viserys AND to his named heir Princess Rhaenyra. 

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How faithful will Rickard Stark and company remain to Viserys’s named heir when the rest of the realm makes a stink? That remains to be seen. But for now the House of the Dragon trailer has given us Rickard Stark: feminist icon.