Game of Thrones has finally confirmed its first spin-off, with original novel series author George RR Martin, Colony screenwriter Ryan Condal and Thrones director Miguel Sapochnik teaming up for a prequel set during the early days of dragon-riding House Targaryen.
Apparently House of the Dragon is set 300 years before Game of Thrones (so not quite as far back as that OTHER prequel, starring Naomi Watts and John Simm, that was cancelled) and may be adapted from Martin’s 2018 fictional history treatise Fire & Blood – and these details give us a pretty good idea of what we might expect from this nascent series.
You see, it’s a matter of canon that 300 years before Game of Thrones began – well, 293 years to be precise – Westeros was pretty busy being invaded by Aegon the Conqueror, who rode in on dragonback with his two sister-wives (Visenya and Rhaenys) and a small army to claim dominion over the then-separate Seven Kingdoms.
This is roughly where Fire & Blood kicks off – before that, the Targaryens were minor dragonlords in the Freehold of Valyria, a culturally and scientifically advanced land in the East that the family and their dragons escaped from before it was destroyed in a mysterious cataclysm – with Aegon electing to invade after a couple of generations of his family and their dragons living on the island of Dragonstone.
Anyway, this invasion was how the Targaryens (ancestors to Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys) first formed the Iron Throne and Westeros as we know it, and it’s easy to see why HBO would be considering it for the prequel treatment.
Game of Thrones parallels
While it’s long enough ago that we’d have no familiar characters or storylines, the events of Aegon’s Conquest will be fairly familiar to Game of Thrones fans, as they were often referred back to throughout the series.
Even casual fans may remember the massive dragon skull kept in the King’s Landing dungeons, and in this series we’d actually meet that beast (Balerion the Black Dread) in his prime. Also, remember Harrenhal, the burned and twisted castle used as a Lannister base? In this series you’d see what happened when Aegon’s dragons first poured their flame on it, turning hard stone to liquid and burning Harren the Black and his sons within.
And dramatically, there’d be some intriguing parallels for Game of Thrones fans to enjoy. For example, House Baratheon – the second royal house whose leader, Robert Baratheon, deposed and killed the Targaryens prior to the series – starts out as House Targaryen’s closest ally, as represented by Aegon’s best friend (and rumoured bastard brother, Jon Snow-style) Orys Baratheon.
We could also see the rise of wealthy House Tyrell, mere stewards to the powerful House Gardener at the time of Aegon’s Conquest but a ruling family (with characters played by Natalie Dormer, Finn Jones and Diana Rigg) by the time of Game of Thrones.
A series based on Aegon’s Conquest would also definitely deliver the sort of incredible fantasy battling demanded by Game of Thrones fans, with the Targaryen invasion featuring many stand-out moments.
Chief among those would probably be the Field of Fire, a clash between the allied House Gardener and House Lannister against the Targaryen forces, which the locals seemed to be winning – until Aegon and his sisters flew in on their dragons and burned thousands of men alive and ended more or less all resistance once and for all.
Think Daenerys’ attack on the Lannisters in season seven, but five times bigger, with more (and larger) dragons, and you get the sense of how it would look – and feel – to have dragons properly unleashed onscreen.
Other exciting moments could include the surprise victory of Dorne against the Targaryens, with the Dornishmen successfully killing one of the dragons in a one-in-a-million shot and remaining independent from the Iron Throne for generations to come, or the terrible battle against Argilac the Storm King, as well as many other clashes throughout the land.
Of course, it’s not all perfect. Despite all the positive points about adapting Aegon’s story, there are one or two details about the conquest that make us wonder if there’ll be more to this prequel than meets the eye, or whether it may diverge from the narrative as presented in Fire & Blood.
Obviously, there’s the usual prequel problem – we kind of know how this all works out – but also, Aegon’s conquest of Westeros came about relatively easily, with his dragons giving him an unassailable advantage in combat and many houses (including the Starks) opting to just bend the knee instead of die burning.
Sure, there were some setbacks and defeats, but not too many, and generally it’s hard to see how it could be as compelling or sprawling a story when compared to Game of Thrones itself. It’s just one family winning the whole time!
Plus, the endless battles and dragon-battles – rather than Thrones’ usual one or two huge battles a series – could become a little wearing in an ongoing series, and prohibitively expensive to make at the level fans would now expect. And if you’re going to do the Field of Fire, you’d want to do it right…
One possible solution
There are a couple of ways around the difficulties of Aegon’s conquest, however. One solution could be to set the new show further back – when the Targaryens were still in Valyria or had just escaped the Doom, perhaps, and gradually build up to Aegon’s Conquest (which was partially inspired by some snubs from Westeros’ lords) over a long, slower-burn period. Basically a bit like how Game of Thrones took a few seasons to get to Daenerys’ Westeros arrival.
Considering the series is set “300 years” before Game of Thrones as opposed to 293, it could be that this is indeed what HBO have planned for the series. Alternatively, the series could take the opposite approach – concentrate more on what happened when Aegon actually had to rule Westeros after the conquest, and explore how various rebellious territories were brought into line and Westeros as we know it came to be.
And of course, it could be that the series can introduce extra characters and storylines not seen in Fire & Blood – it’s not a novel, after all, just a historical account – making Aegon’s Conquest as big and dramatic a story as Game of Thrones ever was.
But either way, we’ll be excited to have one more trip to Westeros booked into our diaries. Statistically, dragonback is the safest way to travel…
This article was originally published on September 13th 2019, but was updated to reflect the confirmation of House of the Dragon's full series order
House of the Dragon will air on HBO and Sky Atlantic at a later date