HBO's 'Game of Thrones' prequel wrapped its epic first season on Sunday.
House of the Dragon wrapped its epic first season on Sunday with an explosive finale, immersing viewers in the early lead-up to the Dance of Dragons civil war. The Targaryen family conflict over control of the Iron Throne is inspired by Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin's fictional history book, Fire & Blood.
When comparing plotlines and intimate details between Martin's work and the HBO drama, the biggest difference between the two actually lies in the storytelling method itself. Unlike the Game of Thrones novels, Fire & Blood is written not as a narrative, but as a scholarly document penned by Archmaester Gyldayn including an unreliable narration of historical events from a cast of varying sources.
The style of Martin's telling has allowed show creators plenty of room for creative liberties -- expanding throwaway details into fully formed plots, developing characters and relationships, and even inventing jaw-dropping new scenes -- leaving plenty of room to surprise even the most loyal of book readers.
Though, yes, writers have also changed aspects of the story to be more adaptable -- and entertaining! -- for televised storytelling.
"We're taking more of the approach [of] playing with the history as it was written," co-showrunner Ryan Condal told IGN in an interview. "Essentially, saying that this is the objective truth that happened. Some things will line up. Other things will be told very differently. But the idea is that, in the end, the events are the same. It's just the 'why' and 'how' they happened that changes as you see the actual history."
Heading into Sunday's finale, ET is breaking down eight of the wildest changes in Fire & Blood's transition from page to screen.
Spoilers ahead for House of the Dragon season 1!
1. King Viserys and Princess Rhaenyra Were Much Younger
One of the main plot points in the series premiere involves the friendship between Princess Rhaenyra and Alicent Hightower, who appear to be close in age as teenagers at the start of the show. Later, a rift forms between them as Alicent is betrothed to the much-older father of Rhaenyra, King Viserys. At the time of filming, the actors playing Alicent (Emily Carey) and Viserys (Paddy Considine) were 18 and 47, respectively.
While Alicent was still said to be 18 years old at the time of the marriage in Fire & Blood, Viserys was written as a much younger 20-something, and Rhaenyra, just a child aged 8 or 9.
2. The Death of King Viserys I Targaryen
The king's age also seems to play a factor in his overall wellness on the show and, eventually, his poignant death. Viserys was in extraordinarily poor health and suffering from a flesh-eating leprosy throughout the duration of his reign on House of the Dragon, appearing weak, emaciated and with chunks of flesh literally gone from his face in his final days.
And while he had long been approaching death's door in the show's depiction, which included a dramatic misunderstanding of his final words on his death bed, the book Viserys died in a much more sudden and less consequential manner: at 52 years old, the king -- who was said to be obese in the book -- simply took a nap and never woke up.
Martin himself has heaped praise onto Viserys actor Considine for his powerful performance.
"I got a text message that simply said, 'Your Viserys is better than my Viserys,'" Considine revealed in an interview. "It was from George R.R. Martin. And I thought, 'That'll do it. Thanks for trusting me.'"
In his own reaction to the "Lord of the Tides" episode, specifically, Martin mused on his Not a Blog that Considine deserved an Emmy. He wrote that the on-screen character "is so much more powerful and tragic and fully-fleshed than my own version in Fire & Blood that I am half tempted to go back and rip up those chapters and rewrite the whole history of his reign."
(He quickly noted that it was a joke and he would not, in fact, be re-writing the book.)
"Meanwhile, I am going to give Archmaester Gyldayn a smack for leaving out so much good stuff," he playfully teased, referencing his book's fictional narrator.
3. The "Song of Ice and Fire" Prophecy
Because the book never delves directly into the thoughts and dreams of its characters, Aegon the Conqueror's prophecy (and convenient Game of Thrones tie-in) called "A Song of Ice and Fire" simply does not exist in the written text.
On the show, King Viserys shares with daughter Rhaenyra a Targaryen family secret passed down through generations. Their ancestor, Aegon, he says, once had a dream that a terrible winter was coming and the only way to survive it was with a Targaryen ruling over a united Westeros. (Sound familiar, GoT fans?)
It's this lore that becomes tragically twisted in Viserys' final, confusion-filled conversation with Queen Alicent, setting off a misguided battle of succession for the Iron Throne.
4. The "Death" of Laenor Velaryon
In a surprisingly romantic move -- as far as the Game of Thrones universe goes -- the show has spared one life that was unflinchingly taken in its source material.
In the book, Princess Rhaenyra's first husband, Laenor Velaryon, dies in a fight with his lover, Ser Qarl. On the show, we watch as Laenor and Qarl escape to Driftmark by boat after faking Laenor's death. It's an apparently happy ending for the pair, as they will be able to live and love openly on the island. Meanwhile, Rhaenyra is now free to remarry.
5. The "Accidental Death" of Rhea Royce
In another deadly plot twist, Prince Daemon's first wife, Rhea Royce, did not appear to fall victim to his murderous hand in the book. In fact, Daemon was said to be away fighting in the Stepstones at the time of her fatal accident, while none of the story's narrators ever claimed she was murdered -- let alone by Daemon.
"There was this line in the book that always fascinated me: 'Daemon's wife, the Lady Rhea Royce of Runestone, fell off her horse and her skull was crushed in the fall,'" showrunner Condal explained in his Inside the Episode testimonial for the episode "We Light the Way." "And I read that and I was like, 'That's such a weird detail to include with no context around it.' So I stared at it, and I was like, 'Well, Daemon obviously went home and murdered his wife.' And we made a whole little short film story about it."
Director Clare Kilner added, "We never know whether Daemon went there to kill his wife or not. And that's what Matt [Smith] plays so interestingly. You never know what's going on in Daemon's head, yet you believe him when he makes split-second decisions and goes for something."
It's worth noting that the death of Daemon's second wife was also changed from the book, though not in any relation to his character's involvement.
Lady Laena Velaryon endures a traumatizing childbirth and, as it becomes clear that neither she nor the baby will survive, commands her dragon, Vhagar, to set fire to her body on House of the Dragon. While her fate was ultimately the same in Fire & Blood, she did give birth to a malformed child that died almost immediately. Laena, meanwhile, was said to have survived another three days before collapsing on her way to ride Vhagar one last time.
6. Larys' Foot Fetish
In a totally cringe-worthy bit from episode nine, "The Green Council," we see a new and disturbing layer of Alicent's relationship with Larys Strong.
He's known as "Larys the Clubfoot" in the book, but with his physical abnormality also depicted onscreen, his apparent infatuation with other people's feet is a new show-specific development.
As Larys continues to quietly execute the queen's dark bidding while delivering news and gossip to her chambers, we watch as Alicent slips off her shoes to expose her bare feet to him while he masturbates from across the room.
In his role as a villainous Lord Confessor, Larys' influence is sure to be a terrifying force in the season to come.
7. Rhaenys' Epic 'F**k You' Moment
Perhaps the show's most monumental moment yet, "The Queen Who Never Was" -- Princess Rhaenys -- explodes through the floor of Aegon II's coronation on dragonback to disrupt and protest the ceremony in episode nine.
Rhaenys is not only taking a stand against Otto Hightower, Alicent, Aegon II and the entire Green Council as they attempt to usurp the throne from Viserys' rightful heir, Rhaenyra, but she "is saying, 'F**k you all,'" actress Eve Best told ET. While she certainly sends a powerful message, Rhaenys stops short of any temptation to kill the family with a simple "Dracarys" command.
"I think when getting on her dragon and flying out of that arena, she just puts her huge two fingers up to the whole lot of them." She adds that after a "slow burn," Rhaenys "explodes in this most magnificent way. And I love that."
The hugely satisfying scene was dreamed up entirely by House of the Dragon show creatives, as it's absolutely nowhere to be found in Fire & Blood. In fact, the character of Rhaenys was not said to have even been in King's Landing at the time of Viserys' death in the book.
"We needed a penultimate scene, so we tried to come up with 'What's the worst thing that could possibly happen at the coronation?' and realized that it was a dragon to be let loose," co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik said on Inside the Episode. "We really wanted to make sure that there was meat on her character. Rhaenys was not passive and it felt this was an incredibly valuable moment to rather than have her just bear witness to something, be able to take part in it but her moral standpoint become the reason for inaction rather than action."
"We wanted a triumphal moment for her at the end of the season," Condal said of Rhaenys. "She knows that if she sets fire to that dais, she ends any possibility of war and probably sets peace throughout the realm, but I think probably doesn't want to be responsible for doing that to another mother. It's a complex choice and one that people might dispute or have a problem with, but that's the choice Rhaenys makes in that moment."
8. Aemond's Attack
In the season 1 finale episode, "The Black Queen," Aemond Targaryen and his larger-than-life dragon, Vhagar, deliver the deadly blow that will undoubtedly push Rhaenyra into declaring war against the Greens.
In the show, Rhaenyra's son Lucerys Velaryon and his dragon Arrax are killed in a horrifying attack by Vhagar, who snaps them from the sky with a single bite. While Aemond certainly eggs his dragon on, embarking on a menacing and torturous chase after Lucerys and Arrax through a storm, he appears to lose control of Vhagar in the end -- audibly protesting the fatal attack and then appearing stunned in its aftermath. While the outcome is the same in the book, the historical telling suggests that it was no accident -- Aemond did, in fact, intend to kill Luke.
"Historians have told us that Aemond intended to kill Luke, but I don’t think any of them could purport to know what was going on in Aemond’s head the time," Condal explained in a postmortem interview with Variety.
"Aemond got on his giant dragon and chased his nephew on his much smaller dragon through the clouds screaming and yelling at him, incensing his dragon and starting a fight. He didn’t know how Arrax or Luke were going to respond, and it ended in tragedy. I don’t think that was what Aemond intended when he threw his leg over the saddle, but he did a horrible, dangerous thing," he continued.
"That is the point: This is a war of many cuts that lead to a really, really bloody wound. It adds complexity and nuance to the character that’s potentially interesting. There’s lots of runway to go on with Aemond as a character and the story of the Dance. This is his first act as a dragon rider and a warrior and it’s gone very wrong. Now what happens as a result, and how does he respond? Those are the questions I’m interested in as dramatist."
Stay tuned for more from the upcoming second season of House of the Dragon.
For more of ET's ongoing Dragon coverage, click here.