House of the Dragon: What we know about the Games of Thrones spin-off

By Rebecca Seales
BBC News, Comic-Con San Diego

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Emma D'Arcy and Matt Smith pictured in costume on a beachImage source, HBO
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Emma D'Arcy and Matt Smith star in the Game of Thrones spin-off

"What can we expect? Fire and blood!"

"And dragons!"

That's showrunner Ryan Condal and author George RR Martin on the upcoming Game of Thrones (GoT) prequel, House of the Dragon, which swoops onto HBO on 21 August.

Fans of Thrones, the endlessly feud-filled fantasy epic that became one of the most successful series in television history, can be reassured it'll have much in common with the original.

But those still furious about the divisive finale to season eight will want to know: Is it worth investing their time and emotions in yet more conniving candidates for the Iron Throne?

Here's what we learned about the series on Saturday, as the cast and creators revealed an extended trailer at Comic-Con San Diego - so you can judge for yourself.

It's a family affair (not unlike Jaime and Cersei…)

House Of The Dragon is set 200 years before Game Of Thrones, and follows the fortunes of the Targaryens - a noble family with the power to control dragons.

It's based on George RR Martin's 2018 novel Fire & Blood, in which the Targaryens unleash the worst imaginable family row - a gruesome civil war.

King Viserys (Paddy Considine) sits on the Iron Throne, the most dangerous chair in Westeros, as Lord of the Seven Kingdoms. And the succession is proving competitive.

"I will not be made to choose between my brother and my daughter!" he rages in the extended trailer for the series. As Viserys is described as a decent man, a good king who believes in duty, the brutal forces of Westeros will likely contrive to crush that goal like Gregor Clegane crushes skulls. (No spoilers…)

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The Stark and Lannister families, who dominated GoT, will appear mostly as bit players.

We meet the Targaryens at the pinnacle of their power and wealth. Oh, and they've got 17 dragons and they ride them.

The dragons are coming

GoT fans will recall what Daenerys Targaryen (a descendant of these characters, played by Emilia Clarke) managed to achieve with three dragons. That makes 17 an intriguing prospect - and a potentially devastating weapon.

"It was important to differentiate the way they behaved and acted and bonded with their riders," Condal told the audience at Comic-Con's highest-profile venue, Hall H.

"George [RR Martin] specified their colour and size and age", and the rest was fleshed out from there.

For example, Caraxes - whose riders include Prince Daemon Targaryen, played by Doctor Who alumnus Matt Smith, is dubbed the Blood Wyrm due to his cantankerous nature and general ferocity.

"We've designed dragons that you won't even see in Season one," promises Condal.

Describing what it's like to film the dragon riding, Milly Alcock - who plays young Rhaenyra Targaryen, mused: "You're propped up on what looks like a mechanical bull that you might ride in a bar or pub, and it lifts up six feet in the air and there are four guys with leaf blowers.

"It's strange."

Good and evil? Well, nobody's perfect

Panel host and podcaster Jason Concepcion asked Martin what the ideal ruler of Westeros would be like.

"Someone who regards being king as a duty rather than something they are entitled to," he replied. "… And cares about building roads and sanitation in Kings Landing!"

Image source, Variety/Getty Images
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Game of Thrones author George RR Martin told the audience he likes characters who have shades of grey

Of King Viserys, he says: "At the end of his life, he wants a little glory - but he wants to be a good king, a wise king and protect his people."

And his potential heirs, the firstborn child Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock and Emma D'Arcy) and younger brother, Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith)?

"I like the fact that the readers of Fire & Blood are divided on who is the hero and who is the villain," Martin observes. He hopes the show will evoke the same.

High Valerian and highlights

Fans of mythological linguistics may recall that the Targaryen family's mother tongue is High Valerian.

"Milly [Alcock] is the best!" was the cast's verdict when asked who had grasped it.

"I had one line, I think it's been cut!" joked Paddy Considine, before repeating it extremely convincingly.

What else goes into building a Targaryen?

"It's all in the wig!" says Emma D'Arcy.

Could a woman reign?

One final titbit from the trailer: We'll meet Princess Rhaenyra as she chafes against the path of a mother and passive court ornament that she fears has been set out for her.

Princess Rhaenys Velaryon (Eve Best) - herself passed over as queen in favour of her cousin, Viserys - is heard warning Rhaenyra: "A woman would not inherit the Iron Throne, because that is the order of things."

"When I am queen, I will create a new order," the younger woman replies. (Will this include banning such flummoxingly similar names for close relatives? We can dream…)

Image source, HBO
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Rhaenys Velaryon, The Queen Who Never Was

D'Arcy, who defines as non-binary, drew on their own experience to play a character dismantling what it means to be a woman.

George RR Martin contends that his fantasy world is no more sexist than the historical episodes that influenced it - though some medieval scholars have argued the era was less misogynist than GoT implies.

Could the Seven Kingdoms accept a queen on the Iron Throne?

Perhaps it depends if she brings her dragons.

House of the Dragon starts on HBO and HBO Max on 21 August, 2022 in the US. In the UK, it's Sky Atlantic on 22 August - or you can stream it online on NOW.