Game of Thrones backstory keeps dragons, adds variety

The Game of Thrones prequel is set to forge its own storytelling path, with a new cast of characters and a more diverse behind-the-scenes team.


what you should Know

  • House of the Dragon premieres Sunday, August 21 on HBO
  • The story focuses on House Targaryen, made famous in Game of Thrones by Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys and her fearsome dragons
  • The team making the prequel is more diverse, including a 50-50 split between male and female directors
  • The ensemble includes Emily Carey, Graham McTavish, Fabien Frankel, Rhys Ifans and Sonoya Mizuno

House of the Dragon takes place two centuries before the events of the original series, which ended its hit eight-season run in May 2019. The 10-episode prequel premieres Sunday on HBO and will be available to stream on HBO Max.

The story focuses on House Targaryen, made famous in Game of Thrones by Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys and her fearsome dragons. But don’t expect House of the Dragon to be a Game of Thrones remake, cast member Steve Toussaint said.

“It was done and they did it extremely well,” said Toussaint, who plays the very wealthy Lord Corlys Velarion. “You know you’re in that world, but you see a different story, different characters, different motivations.”

Among the new faces in the clan is Prince Damon Targaryen, played by Matt Smith. His villainous character is much more complex than it seems at first glance, the actor said.

“I think the reason I’m having fun is that maybe he’s not just a villain,” he said. “I think there’s actually a tremendous amount of fragility and depth and inner madness. … It’s not black and white. It can go either way with Daemon at any time.’

Based on George RR Martin’s Fire and Blood, the drama was co-created by Martin and Ryan Condall, whose credits include the 2016-19 sci-fi drama Colony. Condall is an executive producer and co-showrunner with director Miguel Sapocnik, who brings his Game of Thrones experience to the prequel.

House of the Dragon, like its predecessor, focuses on family succession, ignoring a female heir. But Sapochnik notes a key difference between the two series: The team making the prequels is more diverse, including a 50-50 split between male and female directors, including Sapochnik, Claire Kilner, Geeta Vasant Patel and Greg Yaitanes.

There was a conscious push for inclusion behind the scenes, Sapochnik says.

“We’ve really tried as much as possible to hire as many female crew as we can because we think that’s a really important change that needs to be both recognised, recognized and acted upon, maybe given opportunities to people who don’t get opportunities,” he explained.

The team behind Dragon is just as diverse and — for the fantasy genre — boasts a relative abundance of women in the writers’ room. The gender balance affects the story and tone of the show, according to some of the cast members.

The series opens with an aristocratic council appointing Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) as heir to the Iron Throne, bypassing his older cousin Princess Rhaenys Velarion (Yves Best). But Viserys must have his own heir, with dreams of power held by Damon, his younger brother, and Viserys’ daughter, Princess Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy plays the adult version, Millie Alcock the young one).

“You definitely don’t feel like a device or a prop, and you don’t feel like a hot girl or a mother,” said Olivia Cooke, who plays the elderly Alicent Hightower, Rhaenyra’s longtime friend. “You feel like you have a fully developed character that’s really nurturing to play.”

The ensemble also includes Emily Carey, Graham McTavish, Fabien Frankel, Rhys Ifans and Sonoya Mizuno.

Carey, who plays the younger Alicent, called the inclusion of women in all aspects of the production a step “in the right direction” for the fantasy genre.

Although virtually every female character faces misogyny, each is “still a fully developed, three-dimensional female character,” Carey said. “They still have multiple other storylines and a lifetime away from this misogynistic storyline. They aren’t just put on the show to serve a purpose. And I think that’s what makes it so special.”

House of the Dragon screenwriter Charmaine De Grate said that “it was important for George (RR Martin, executive producer of the prequel) to be that way. Female-led characters, female-led shows, and female-led writers’ rooms just kind of elevate the story. It’s a wonderful way to expand the universe.”

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