Update: HBO has now given a straight to series order for what is now officially titled House of the Dragon. Original story follows.
It’s been a few months since HBO’s Game of Thrones ended. Things had quieted down, the last gasps of critical analysis and fan theories settling to rest. Fans knew production had begun on a pilot for an untitled Thrones prequel, set during the Age of Heroes, starring Naomi Watts, with further potential GoT-connected series still in development. Other than news about George R.R. Martin’s long-gestating The Winds of Winter novel, no major updates were anticipated in the near future.
Then, Deadline got the scoop that HBO was in talks with GRRM and Colony co-creator/exec producer Ryan Condal for a second possible prequel. Per Deadline:
[The show] is set 300 years before the events in Game of Thrones and tracks the beginning of the end for House Targaryen.
This is a gobsmacking tidbit of information. Fire & Blood is an in-depth history of three centuries of Targaryen rule. Much like another Game of Thrones companion book, The World of Ice and Fire, the Targaryen history is filtered through an in-universe lens. Fire & Blood is written by a fictional historian, piecing together tales, legends, and gossip. As such, inferences must be made, bias accounted for, and competing narratives examined. All of this is to say, the book comes in at a whopping 706 pages. Where would a single series even begin to tackle such a massive timeline?
We’ve got some answers, though of course keep in mind, if you want to go into the TV series cold, what we’re about to discuss would be considered spoilers, albeit from a published book.
IN THE BEGINNING
Remember when Game of Thrones began and everyone was like “Ew, gross! Jaime and Cersei are doing what!?” but by the end of the series we had moved onto “It’s totally okay with Jon and Dany marry even though he’s her nephew!”? Hold onto that energy because should Fire & Blood (should the series use that title) begin at the start, there’s gonna be a whole lotta incest.
The story of the Targaryen reign over Westeros began with Aegon the Conqueror. The Targaryens — and their cousins the Velaryons — had been ruling small islands in the Narrow Sea since before the Doom of Old Valyria a hundred years past. But Aegon was not satisfied with that for reasons unknown.
Aegon Targaryen was the second child and only son of a dying family line. Instead of marrying only his elder sister, Visenya Targaryen, Aegon also took his younger sister — Rhaenys — to the altar as well. Gossip passed down through the centuries characterized Aegon marrying Visenya for duty, and Rhaenys for love (though this writer reading between the lines believes Visenya may have simply preferred women). Whatever their family dynamic, together the three of them would launch an empire that would last 300 years.
Aegon and his sister-wives ruled Westeros for almost four decades, making it a time period ripe for adaptation. While the Painted Table at Dragonstone showed Aegon had a long-standing interest in the Seven Kingdoms, how that interest intersected with his invasion remains a mystery. Ostensibly, Aegon declared war on Westeros over a dispute with the Storm King. That would be like Ireland declaring war on all of Europe because they had a spat with Portugal. And what was this horrific offense? A marriage proposal gone wrong. Hoping to shore up his defenses, the Storm King had offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to Aegon. Aegon, declaring no need for a third wife, suggested his best friend (and bastard half-brother) Orys Baratheon instead. The Storm King was outraged at the slight and sent back the messenger’s disembodied hands.
Did the Storm King overreact? Definitely. Did Aegon purposefully seem to slight the weakened king, leaving open a meager pretense? Seems likely. After all, who gathers several hundred soldiers, puts anchor down on the most unwatched piece of land and manages to build a whole damn ringfort before anyone notices on a whim? Nobody.
What followed was two years of bloody conquest as Aegon, Visenya, and Rhaenys brought six of the seven disparate kingdoms to heel. Three dragons overthrew ancient houses from the Starks of the North to the total eradication of House Gardener in Highgarden. Then came the first of many attempts to subdue Dorne. The war of attrition ended in a crushing defeat for the Targaryens as a bolt took Rhaenys’ dragon through the eye mid-flight, killing him instantly. One mystery still unanswered by Martin involves the lack of a body for Rhaenys. No remains were ever returned and a letter to Aegon from the Princess of Dorne shook the Conqueror enough that he never again attempted to invade the southern realm.
Other plot points could include Aegon’s manipulation of the Faith of the Seven to get their blessing, the undercurrent of dark sorcery the family allegedly dabbled in, the creation of the Kingsguard, and the ongoing power struggle between the sons of Rhaenys and Visenya over who should rule once Aegon shucked his mortal coil.
THE GOLDEN AGE
After the death of Aegon the Conqueror, the kingdom teetered dangerously on collapse for several years. Aegon’s sons fought over who should rule, to the detriment of everyone. The less said about King Maegor the Cruel, the better. But following that king’s death, Aegon’s grandson Jaehaerys Targaryen inherited the Iron Throne at the age of fourteen. He would go on to become the longest-reigning Targaryen monarch as well as ushering in a time of unprecedented peace and growth.
But just because everyone isn’t actively at war doesn’t make this time period any less interesting to adapt to the small screen. It would just have a different flavor, because, above all else, this time period is a love story.
King Jaehaerys grew up in a very tumultuous time. The Faith of the Seven revolted against his father, Aenys I, when the king wed his two eldest children to each other. Turning on the incest of the Targaryen line after years of ambivalence led to open rebellion and kick-started a series of events that would end with Jaehaerys’ uncle Maegor usurping the Iron Throne after killing Aegon — Jaehaerys’ elder brother — in dragon battle. So just how is this a love story? Enter Jaehaerys’ younger sister, Alysanne.
Only a year apart in age, Jaehaerys and Alysanne always assumed they’d be wed in the tradition of their family. By all accounts, they fell desperately in love as teenagers and remained that way until their deaths, despite several legendary disagreements. Having been crowned at such a young age though, King Jaehaerys’s marriage was arranged by his mother, who feared another rebellion and forbid her children to wed. That went about as well as any parent forbidding any teenager to do something went. The two lovers outplayed courtiers three times their age to emerge triumphant.
During their reign, Jaehaerys and Alysanne would promote dozens of quality-of-life improvements to Westeros, all while popping out thirteen children. A code of laws for the entire country was put into place, dispensing with regional justice. Plumbing was introduced to the King’s Landing water supply, the crushing debt the crown owed the Iron Bank of Braavos was cleared, and the interconnected roadways between major cities began construction. Queen Alysanne even got the rite of First Night revoked permanently. Beloved by nearly everyone, the couple was even able to convince the Faith to create the “Doctrine of Exceptionalism” that allowed Targaryen royals to intermarry legally.
But not everything was roses. Even times of peace have their trials. There was an attempt on Queen Alysanne’s life. Thirteen children plus other extended family meant a constant steady stream of bickering and petty in-fighting that make for good drama. One daughter went so far as to steal three dragon eggs from her parents and ran away to become a pirate. Then there was Jaehaerys’ poor niece Aerea, who desperately fled from her mother on a dragon she couldn’t control, only to return years later infected with vile creatures and near death. That event would lead to Septon Barth researching the Blood of Old Valyria in such detail his book be banned and burned by future Targaryen kings. Details Game of Thrones fans would love to know.
DANCE OF THE DRAGONS
After the death of King Jaehaerys I, the kingdom maintained peace for another generation under his grandson King Viserys I before collapsing completely into civil war. A bloody fight between siblings, the war known as the Dance of the Dragons destroyed the robust Targaryen bloodline and began the slow extinction of dragons themselves. It would also make for riveting television.
Long story short, when King Viserys I died he left behind two potential heirs: his daughter Princess Rhaenyra by his first wife, and his son Prince Aegon by his second wife. Up until this point, only male heirs had inherited, but Princess Rhaenyra was a different story. For ten years, she was her father’s only heir. She was treated as such, learning how to rule the realm. The King even had his lords pledge themselves to her, and the princess was known as the Realm’s Delight. But then Viserys remarried and along came Aegon, whose mother believed her child should rule. The two sides had been in a cold war for years, with the Princess’ men known as the Blacks and the Queen’s men known as the Greens. When Viserys died, Princess Rhaenyra was at Dragonstone preparing to give birth. A coup was formed at King’s Landing and the young Aegon was crowned King Aegon II, kicking off a war that would last two years. The event would leave such a bad taste that Queen Daenerys Targaryen would run into hesitation some two centuries later.
This time period has everything: dueling family branches, a corpulent corpse of a king rotting while his wife plots the downfall of her step-daughter, a trading of cruel deaths in vengeance, dragon battles against stormy skies, lords who turn their cloaks and then turn them again. There’s the slaughter of dragons and false kings. In fact, this time period mirrors the narrative of Game of Thrones perhaps a little too closely, though on a far grander level.
BEYOND FIRE & BLOOD
Despite its length, Martin’s Fire & Blood only delves into the first 130 years of Westerosi history. However, the second half can’t be published until A Song of Ice and Fire is finished. Martin claims the adventures of Aegon IV and his mistresses can’t be told until then, indicating spoilers may be hidden in the Targaryen past. But there is so much more left to discover. Future series could focus on the diplomacy that brought Dorne into the fold where war did not. There are the multiple Blackfyre rebellions sparked by King Aegon IV legitimizing all his bastard sons on his deathbed. With such a proliferation of offspring, Blackfyre pretenders harried the throne in various plots for decades.
Then, of course, there are events nearer to the ones of Game of Thrones. The life and times of the Mad King, the origin of Jenny of Oldstones, the truth behind the Tragedy at Summerhall, the final days of Robert’s Rebellion and the fall of the Targaryen empire. Would George R.R. Martin allow even more closely guarded secrets to be revealed on television instead of in his own time? Only time will tell.