How House Of The Dragon Changed Viserys' Death From George R.R. Martin's Lore (And Why It Matters)

Paddy Considine as Viserys sitting the Iron Throne one last time House of the Dragon
(Image credit: HBO)

The inevitable happened at the end of House of the Dragon’s eighth episode when King Viserys finally died. He passed away after coming to Rhaenyra’s rescue and enjoying a peaceful dinner with both warring sides of his family (as far as he knew, anyway), and seemed to have a vision of Queen Aemma before breathing his last. It was as peaceful of an end as anybody in this show can really hope for, but chaos is undoubtedly on the way in the aftermath. So, let’s look back at how Viserys’ death in House of the Dragon is different from George R.R. Martin’s lore in Fire & Blood.

The HBO show has made a lot of changes from Fire & Blood, as the book is a history of the Targaryen dynasty as told by sources in Westeros rather than a novel like those in the A Song of Ice and Fire series that inspired Game of Thrones. Those differences have affected the story in some key ways, so it seems safe to say that the changes to Viserys’ death will matter. 

Otto Hightower cropped with Rhaenyra Targaryen in House of the Dragon

(Image credit: HBO)

Otto Was Ruling, And Rhaenyra Didn’t Come Back

In Viserys’ swan song in House of the Dragon, he was bedridden from his advanced leprosy (which had cost him an eye) and basically living every hour of the day on milk of the poppy to control the pain. Queen Alicent sat at the head of the small council and seemed to be making decisions alongside her father, and the Greens were getting their way until Rhaenyra and Daemon came to King’s Landing to defend Luke’s claim to Driftmark, which was enough to get Viserys out of bed. The situation ahead of the king’s death in Fire & Blood was similar, with some key changes:

His chest pains had grown so severe that he could no longer climb a flight of steps, and had to be carried around the Red Keep in a chair. By the second moon of the year, His Grace had lost all appetite and was ruling the realm from his bed…when he felt strong enough to rule at all. Most days, he preferred to leave matters of state to his Hand, Ser Otto HIghtower. On Dragonstone, meanwhile, Princess Rhaenyra was once again great with child. She too took to her bed.

Unlike the show, the Fire & Blood history states that it was Otto rather than Otto and Alicent together handling matters of state. Rhaenyra was nowhere to be seen in King’s Landing, as she had entered her confinement with her third pregnancy with Daemon. She never had the last reunion with her father, and he didn’t take one last stand against Hightower influence. 

Paddy Considine as Viserys in House of the Dragon

(Image credit: HBO)

Viserys Wasn’t Obviously About To Die

Even though Viserys seemed on death’s door through pretty much the entire first season, it seemed in Episode 8 like a stiff breeze could take him out for good. His end was clearly near even before he exerted himself to sit the Iron Throne and then attend a dinner with his family. He wasn’t exactly spry at this point in Fire & Blood, but he also wasn’t very obviously about ready to keel over: 

On the third day of the third moon of 129 AC, Princess Helaena brought her three children to visit with the king in his chambers. The twins, Jaehaerys and Jaehaera, were six years old, their brother, Maelor, only two. His Grace gave the babe a pearl ring off his finger to play with, and told the twins the story of how their great-great-grandsire and namesake Jaegaerys had flown his dragon north to the Wall to defeat a vast host of wildlings, giants, and wargs. Though the children had heard the story a dozen times before, they listened attentively.

None of Helaena’s children with her brother-husband Aegon have appeared on screen yet, although at least the twins have been born. Viserys sounds like he was pretty animated in George R.R. Martin’s lore prior to his death, at least compared to his last days in the HBO show. Was it smart of him to hand his two-year-old grandson a choking hazard? Not exactly, but that doesn’t mean he was drugged out of his mind on milk of the poppy on his deathbed. 

Olivia Cooke as Alicent Hightower in House of the Dragon

(Image credit: HBO)

He Didn't Speak With Alicent About A Prophecy

Arguably the most important difference between House of the Dragon and the source material was the introduction of the prophecy of “a song of ice and fire,” which was known only to Viserys and Rhaenyra prior to Episode 8. Unfortunately, the milk of the poppy had addled the king enough that when Alicent came to visit him minutes before his death, he thought he was talking to his daughter, and his mentions of Aegon as the “prince that was promised” made the queen think he wanted their son Aegon to be heir, with no idea that he meant Aegon the Conqueror. Fire & Blood states that his final moments went differently:

Afterward the king sent them away, pleading weariness and a tightness in his chest. Then Viserys of House Targaryen, the First of His Name, King of the Andals, the Roynar, and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm, closed his eyes and went to sleep. He never woke. He was fifty-two years old, and had reigned over most of Westeros for twenty-six years.

The last people who Viserys spoke to, according to the history book, were his daughter Helaena and his grandchildren, and he died in his sleep rather than with one last vision of Aemma before breathing his last. The prophecy in the show did not come from the book lore, so Alicent hearing part of it may make her think she has a valid reason for wanting to crown Aegon, instead of just wanting her son to take Rhaenyra's throne.

Viserys dying on House of the Dragon

(Image credit: HBO)

It Was Just Supposed To Be A Nap

Unsurprisingly, the book's death of the king and vacancy on the Iron Throne led to the conflict that will presumably drive the remaining seasons of the show. He lived long enough on the show for some touching final words (that will hopefully win Paddy Considine some awards as one of his best scenes) and then died. To contrast, Fire & Blood went the extra mile to reiterate that Viserys died without speaking to anybody: 

Long simmering, the conflict burst into the open on the third day of the third moon of 129 AC, when the ailing, bedridden King Viserys I Targaryen closed his eyes for a nap in the Red Keep of King’s Landing and died without waking.

Is it important that Fire & Blood made the same, very specific point about Viserys dying without waking twice? That’s hard to say, but it’s worth remembering that even though George R.R. Martin wrote the book, the in-universe history book was penned by a maester, drawing from contemporary sources with their own biases. The whole history is told by unreliable narrators, so perhaps there’s more to the story when the same point is made more than once. 

Otto Hightower and Alicent Hightower at dinner in House of the Dragon

(Image credit: HBO)

Was It Poison?

While Viserys was quite literally falling apart from almost the very beginning of House of the Dragon, one of the Fire & Blood sources posits a reason other than illness for his demise. (Notably, the king did not specifically have leprosy in the lore.) Mushroom – whose testimony in the book made some claims about Rhaenya and Daemon in the brothel, why niece and uncle married in secret, and why the princess named her son “Aegon” –  had his own take:

The dwarf Mushroom suggests a more sinister scenario, whereby Queen Alicent hurried King Viserys on his way with a pinch of poison in his hippocras. It must be noted that Mushroom was not in King’s Landing the night the king died, but rather on Dragonstone, in service with Princess Rhaenyra.

On the one hand, Episode 8 made it clear that Rhaenyra and Daemon had their doubts about the care that Viserys was getting from the Hightowers, with Daemon sniffing his cup of “tea” (a.k.a. milk of the poppy) and Rhaenyra wanting to bring in a different maester to evaluate her father. 

On the other hand, there’s no sign that anybody actually poisoned the king, or that the king was drinking anything other than the milk of the poppy. Mushroom tends to go for the most sensational and scandalous versions of events even when he’s not present for them, so House of the Dragon not poisoning Viserys wouldn’t so much be a change from Fire & Blood as a clarification. 

See the aftermath of Viserys’ death and how these changes/clarifications affect the Greens and Rhaenyra’s supporters with the final episodes of House of the Dragon Season 1 on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and streaming with an HBO Max subscription. If you’re a little fuzzy on how everybody is related to everybody else, be sure to check out our Targaryen family tree breakdown.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel, but will sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation.