The Missing House of the Dragon Character That Season 2 Absolutely Needs

House of the Dragon season 2 could use some narrative chaos in the form of Westeros's favorite unreliable narrator.

Olivia Cooke and Fabien Frankel as Alicent Hightower and Ser Criston Cole on House of the Dragon
Photo: Ollie Upton | HBO

This article contains spoilers for House of the Dragon season 1.

Adapting a book for television always involves making some changes to the source material, and even a multi-season TV show does not always have time for every character and subplot from a long book. But sometimes, the cutting of a character takes away something the story really needs, and in the case of House of the Dragon, we think that character is the court jester, Mushroom.

We can see why the writers chose to cut Mushroom from the show at first. The book House of the Dragon is based on, Fire & Blood, is a pretend-history. Its narrator is Archmaester Gyldayn, a scholar writing up a history of the Targaryen dynasty sometime shortly before the start of the action in A Game of Thrones. There have been a few fantasy novels written this way – Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, for example – in which the story is written as if it were a history of the fictitious events, complete with references to its source material.

George R.R. Martin takes this idea further than most in Fire & Blood. He completely commits to the concept and writes in the style of ancient historians like Herodotus (the ancient Greek “Father of History” who wrote a history of the Greco-Persian Wars) or Suetonius (an ancient Roman biographer who wrote Lives of the Caesars). Archmaester Gyldayn frequently cites the various primary sources for his information, which are usually contradictory, and adds a line or two saying which version he thinks is more plausible. We can see all the problems of real history applied to the fictional history of Westeros – one of the big challenges for the TV adaptation has been the need to decide on a definitive version of what happened, with fewer incidents left ambiguous.

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Mushroom is part of this narrative set-up. He is a court jester who served primarily with King Viserys I and Queen Rhaenyra, though he also spent some time with Rhaenyra’s rival King Aegon II. Archmaester Gyldayn tells his readers that he has two sources written by eyewitnesses to the civil war called the Dance of the Dragons; a relatively somber history from a cleric called Septon Eustace, who was a supporter of Aegon II, and the Testimony of Mushroom, an account told by Mushroom – a supporter of Rhaenyra – to an unnamed scribe years later which revels in salacious detail and always includes the most shocking, vulgar, or violent version of every story.

During the part of the novel that was adapted into season 1 of House of the Dragon, Mushroom’s main role is as an historical source that disagrees with Septon Eustace and that occasionally provides intimate details, like claiming he found Rhaenyra and Harwin Strong in bed together one morning, for example. The only way the television adaptation could follow the pretend-history format would be to do some kind of documentary, which of course would not work in a Westerosi setting (not unless we want to jump very far forward into Westeros’ future!) so the TV writers needed to actually show intimate acts and secret meetings directly to the audience, and they did not need a narrator-character to walk in on anyone.

When it comes to Mushroom’s actual versions of events, the television adaptation has selected some incidents where they want to follow the Mushroom version, and others where they have gone with a different version of Westerosi history, or even more often, a slightly different story all together. With a book written in this format, reporting rumors and gossip and contradictory versions of events, the TV writers have a lot of freedom to show scenes that are different to anything in the book, on the basis that the book’s eyewitness characters were not there or were lying or mis-remembering things.

They follow Mushroom’s version of the last dinner Viserys has with his whole family before his death almost exactly, for example. They cleverly half-follow Mushroom’s version of what happened to Laenor Velaryon and Qarl Correy; Mushroom’s version becomes what people believed happened (Daemon had them both killed), while what really happened (they faked their deaths and ran away) is a secret. But the television show goes for a completely different story than Mushroom when it comes to who arranged for the fire that killed Lyonel and Harwin Strong, as Mushroom claims it was Corlys Velaryon, while “others” suggest it was Larys Strong, who is the culprit in the TV version. Rather than going for any one source as being the only reliable one, or the source that gives us the truth, the writers have decided that each source has bits and pieces that are true and things that aren’t, and things that are half-true – which is almost certainly the case for most real histories.

It is a shame that there was not room for Mushroom in season 1, because as a jester, he is able to say things that no one else can say and his role is specifically to be funny, offering an opportunity for a bit more comic relief in a fairly dark show. According to his own history, Mushroom was the only person who could still make Viserys laugh during his last days, something that might have brightened that rather grim episode of season 1.

On the other hand, there was a lot going on in season 1 and a lot of characters to introduce to the audience, so without the need for the pretend-history framing device, we can see why he was left out. Scenes like Viserys’ death bed might also have been less intimate and less grimly dramatic if there had been a jester coming in and out and telling jokes. Going forward though, we would really like to see Mushroom brought in for season 2 and beyond, especially as he starts to play a bigger role in the actual plot itself, beyond just being a narrator, witness, and source of information.

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We can see the influence of two major literary characters on Mushroom and his role in the story. The first is Robert Graves’ characterization of the Roman Emperor Claudius in his novel I, Claudius. This was adapted into a TV show in the 1970s that is one of Martin’s favorites, as we have covered before. Graves’ Claudius is able to survive a murderous imperial court for many years because he is overlooked and not considered a threat because of his physical disabilities (a limp, a stammer, and a twitch). Mushroom is a dwarf, and we know from Tyrion’s experience in A Song of Ice and Fire how badly dwarfs are treated in Westeros; Martin’s narrator tells us that, “Mushroom was thought feeble-minded, so kings and lords and princes did not scruple to hide their secrets from him.” That is what makes Mushroom such a good source for the pretend-history.

But the other inspiration for Mushroom has the potential to have far more influence on the other characters around him and on the story as it unfolds. In Shakespeare’s play King Lear, the King’s Fool (the court jester) is the only character who is able to speak truth to the king. He usually frames it as a joke or wraps it up in a metaphor, but the Fool becomes an important advisor and his advice can carry a lot of weight. In Fire & Blood, Mushroom starts to fulfill this role, particularly for Rhaenyra.

There is a lot of potential for a TV version of this character in this role. The book provides only slight details. There are scenes which are written more fully, but because it is written as a history of centuries of rulers, much of the story is told in a fairly brief format with odd lines of dialogue reported, and other important scenes described third hand in one paragraph. There is so much potential here for a character like Mushroom to be fleshed out and to be given some really juicy dialogue in the TV adaptation. With Mushroom whispering in Rhaenyra’s ear, the series could add an element of unpredictability and intrigue combined with wit and humor that might be missing if we have too many scenes of dry war councils.

With the characters spreading themselves out across Westeros, it would be good for Rhaenyra to have a character who could be her confidante other than her husband. Apart from Daemon, people who get close to Rhaenyra so far have either turned dramatically against her (Alicent, Cristan Cole) or died (Viserys, Harwin Strong). As compelling as her relationship with Daemon is, it would be good for the character to have another person she could turn to for advice and support and to show to the audience how she is really feeling and thinking, and her court jester is in a perfect place to play that role.

Mushroom is not a light-hearted character. The tone of Fire & Blood, and of House of the Dragon, is fairly grim throughout. Mushroom’s vulgar jokes about his own private parts and some of the truly unpleasant sexual or violent stories he tells are not the stuff of light comic relief. But what he could bring is a kind of black gallows humor, combined with potentially some actually useful political advice. He could carry out some of the secret acts not told in the histories (including his own), like the hustling away of Laenor Velaryon and Qarl Correy in season 1. 

According to Archmaester Gyldayn, the Dance of the Dragons was “a war marked by stealth, murder, and betrayal… a war fought in shadows and stairwells, council chambers and castle yards with knives and lies and poison.” Who better to carry out some of these stealthy acts in shadows and stairwells than an overlooked member of Westerosi society like Mushroom?

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