During its eight-season run on HBO, Game of Thrones changed the television landscape forever, with its globetrotting productions, cast of hundreds and film-sized budgets. Along the way, the fantasy epic, based on the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin, racked up 164 Emmy nominations — the most for any drama in TV history. The show went off the air with a bang in 2019, but HBO couldn’t stay out of the dragon business for too long: This month sees the premiere of the new prequel House of the Dragon, which follows the downfall of House Targaryen. Here, everything you need to know before starting what is sure to be another epic saga. And be warned: If you haven’t read the source material, thar be spoilers ahead!
Who are the Targaryens again?
If you watched Game of Thrones, aka GOT, you’re certainly familiar with Daenerys Targaryen (played by four-time Emmy nominee Emilia Clarke), the platinum-blonde exiled princess who earned the nickname “The Mother of Dragons” due to her maternal instincts around her three pet fire-breathers. At the start of the series, she and her brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd) were some of the last surviving members of their family’s once-powerful dynasty, who ruled Westeros from the Iron Throne for centuries before being ousted from power about 15 years before the start of Game of Thrones. The prequel series dives deep into their family tree, offering a long-lens view of the political and military machinations that led to the start of GOT.
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So, when does the prequel take place?
House of the Dragon picks up about 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones and, like its predecessor, will tell the bloody story of the fight for control of the Iron Throne. Interestingly, the show will have a slightly different structure from the original series in that it will zip more quickly through history, employing time jumps à la The Crown. In fact, there will be a 10-year fast-forward halfway through the first season that will see the two female leads age from teenagers to adults. “This is how you tell this story correctly,” co-showrunner Ryan Condal told The Hollywood Reporter. “We’re telling a story of a generational war. We set everything up so by the time that first sword stroke falls, you understand all the players.”
What’s the source material?
The series is largely based on Martin’s 2018 novel Fire & Blood, which charts the history of the House Targaryen over the course of some 736 pages. Fans may remember this encyclopedic book as one of the many projects the author undertook instead of completing the much-anticipated (and much-delayed) sixth novel in the original A Song of Ice and Fire series, The Winds of Winter. But that’s not the only source material. Martin wrote on his blog, “If you’d like to know a bit more of what the show will be about ... well, I can’t actually spill those beans, but you might want to pick up a copy of two anthologies I did with Gardner Dozois, Dangerous Women and Rogues.” For reference, Dangerous Women is a fantasy anthology published in 2013 that includes the Martin novella The Princess and the Queen, or, the Blacks and the Greens, about a civil war between a Targaryen princess and her stepmother. Rogues, meanwhile, was another anthology published the following year that includes the novella The Rogue Prince, or, a King’s Brother, which traces the story of King Viserys I Targaryen’s brother, Prince Daemon Targaryen.
Are there any performers you’d recognize in the cast?
House of Dragons is filled with acclaimed actors whom you might not immediately recognize in their medieval getup. Take, for instance, Paddy Considine, who plays King Viserys I Targaryen and who won raves for his appearance as an Irish immigrant dad in the 2002 film In America and later earned a Tony nomination for Broadway’s The Ferryman. You might recognize Matt Smith, who plays heir presumptive Prince Daemon Targaryen, from his performance as another prince: Philip in seasons one and two of The Crown (and Doctor Who, if you’re a fan of British sci-fi!). Princess Rhaenys Velaryon, meanwhile, is played by British theater powerhouse Eve Best (51), who costarred alongside Edie Falco (59) as Dr. Eleanor O’Hara in Showtime’s Nurse Jackie. And if you can’t quite place the man behind Ser Otto Hightower, it’s Rhys Ifans (55), the Welsh actor best known for playing the sloppy roommate of Hugh Grant (61) in Notting Hill.
Is anyone from behind the scenes on GOT returning?
If you loved the sound of Game of Thrones, you’re in luck: The two-time Emmy-winning composer Ramin Djawadi will be coming back to write the score. And among the directors who are helming episodes in season one is Miguel Sapochnik, who won an Emmy for directing the GOT episode “Battle of the Bastards.”
Where was the series filmed?
Game of Thrones filmed all across Europe, with many of its shooting locations in Northern Ireland, Iceland, Malta and especially Croatia (where Dubrovnik stood in for King’s Landing) emerging as tourist pilgrimage sites for fans. The prequel will have an equally expansive global backdrop, with crews already spotted in Cáceres, Spain, a medieval walled city that appeared in GOT; Monsanto, Portugal, which is known for its enormous boulders and hilltop castle; and Cornwall, England, where the island castle of St. Michael’s Mount is believed by fans to be depicting Driftmark, the ancestral seat of House Velaryon.
So will there be dragons?
If the title and the official trailer are any indication, there will be so many. According to that same Hollywood Reporter article, the series will feature at least 17 dragons, including some that will have beards like tropical lizards. In Game of Thrones, dragons were presented as an extinct species that came back to life with the help of Daenerys; in the prequel, they’re absolutely thriving, and as Condal explains, “[There’s] an infrastructure built around them. There’s a dragon pit, saddles and dragon keepers — this monk-like order that takes care of them.” We’re excited.
And is that it for spinoffs or prequels?
HBO knows when it has a good thing going, so you can expect quite a bit more Game of Thrones content in the future. There has already been one notable misstep: The network reportedly spent $35 million filming the pilot for a spinoff called Bloodmoon, which starred Naomi Watts (53) and was set 8,000 years before the original series, but executives canceled the show in 2019 before filming any more episodes. The prequel would have depicted the rise of the White Walkers during an event called the Long Night. According to Entertainment Weekly, other shows that have been either unofficially announced or rumored to be in development include The Sea Snake, a prequel about the seafarer Corlys Velaryon; Ten Thousand Ships, which would be set 1,000 years before GOT and follow the warrior princess Nymeria; a Jon Snow sequel; The Tales of Dunk and Egg, a prequel set 90 years before GOT that follows the knight Sir Duncan the Tall and his squire; another prequel about Flea Bottom, the poorest slum in King’s Landing; and The Golden Empire, an animated series set in the wealthy eastern empire of Yi Ti.
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.