‘Game of Thrones’ Spinoff ‘House of the Dragon’ Shows ‘What Daenerys’ Family Lost’

House of the Dragon Season 1 Milly Alcock and Paddy Considine
Ollie Upton/HBO

You hear the flapping of wings first. Then, yes, bursting through the clouds over Westeros, a majestic, roaring dragon: Syrax, ridden by princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock). That’s just one thrill in the Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon’s premiere. The temperamental teen and her beast will one day face battle. Now they’re just…joyful.

“She’s constantly followed around by [minders]. It’s liberating when she gets to fly,” says Alcock of the young royal, played as an adult by Emma D’Arcy about halfway through the 10-episode series.

House of the Dragon Season 1

(Credit: HBO)

Freedom to do what you please is rare in the sharp-elbowed court of the ruling Targaryens — a family with 17 dragons! Like Thrones, House of the Dragon is based on the work of George R.R. Martin, specifically the novel Fire & Blood. It’s set 172 years before the birth of the hit drama’s Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), who rose from an unwilling, powerless bride to a capricious leader who used her dragon to torch a city — a classic Targaryen act of madness.

“This series shows what Daenerys’ family lost,” says Ryan Condal, who cocreated Dragon with Martin and runs it with Emmy-winning Thrones director Miguel Sapochnik. “The Targaryens were revered, rich, powerful. Nobody could stand against them. They ruined it from within, tearing apart over a contested succession.”

Many elements that made Thrones (2011–19) so talked-about are here: twisted relationships, gossipy brothels, bloody showdowns, incest, and conflict over who sits on the Iron Throne.

House of the Dragon Season 1 Matt Smith

(Credit: HBO)

At the Red Keep, King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) is planning a tournament to celebrate the imminent birth of a son (he saw the boy in a prophetic dream). “Viserys fully understands what the throne means. It’s like giving a curse to your child,” Considine says, calling his ruler “a vulnerable man — way too sensitive for that world.”

For tougher Rhaenyra, the preparations are reminders that she disappointed her father by being a girl, who in the rules of succession can’t inherit the throne. For her uncle Daemon (Matt Smith), Viserys’ charismatic brother and official heir, a boy threatens his hopes for ascension. Smith likens Daemon to his dragon, Caraxes: “cantankerous and grumpy and obtuse and a loner.” Plus, “Daemon harbors a grudge.” You don’t want to be on his bad side — see his bloody joust with lowborn knight Criston (Fabien Frankel).

House of the Dragon Season 1 Paddy Considine

(Credit: HBO)

The niece and uncle have much in common, says D’Arcy: “They’re made of the same stuff, yet the rules apply differently. Her uncle can claim his name, own what he is. It alerts her that at some point, she’s gonna have to do the same.” And sooner than expected. When a tragedy upends the succession, Rhaenyra’s star goes on the rise — and courtiers scramble.

One of them is Viserys’ cousin Rhaenys (Eve Best), a dragonrider known as “The Queen Who Never Was” after being passed over (female? next!). “She sees her younger self in Rhaenyra and feels protective,” reveals Best. “At the same time, [jealousy makes her] want to strike her eyes out.” Her husband, naval warrior Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), strategically “goes around the king’s council, and that has ramifications for him,” Toussaint says.

The move that leads to the most heartache: Hand of the King Otto High-tower’s (Rhys Ifans) manipulation of his daughter, Alicent (teen Emily Carey/adult Olivia Cooke), Rhaenyra’s best and much-needed friend. “They’re close as sisters. Rhaenyra breaks the rules and Alicent tries to keep her in control,” says Carey.

Then, Cooke says, “A massive wedge is put between them.” Like splitting the atom, it releases destructive energy. “It’s about pride, power, ambition, people feeling they haven’t been given all they deserve,” Condal says.

House of the Dragon, Series Premiere, Sunday, August 21, 9/8c, HBO