With the weeks counting down before the premiere of House of the Dragon as the highly-anticipated Game of Thrones prequel, HBO has finally released a full-length trailer to give the closest look yet at what’s to come. Running for nearly three minutes, the footage features the key characters of the series in different (albeit close) time periods. It also sheds more light on Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) as a claimant to the Iron Throne, and the trailer left me wondering: will Season 1 of House of the Dragon make up for Daenerys’ Game of Thrones ending with Rhaenyra’s storyline?
The second half of Game of Thrones’ final season famously – or perhaps infamously – focused on Dany finally heading to King’s Landing to claim the Iron Throne, only to prove herself the daughter of the Mad King Aerys and unleash dragon fire to roast the capital city of the Seven Kingdoms. After eight seasons, she never ruled from the Iron Throne, but was assassinated by her nephew/lover/murderer Jon Snow. While we obviously can’t judge Rhaenyra’s full arc based on just the trailer, there’s enough to make me suspect that fans who were unhappy with Dany's ending may find a new and perhaps more rewarding Targaryen heroine in Rhaenyra... in Season 1, at least.
What The Trailer Tells Us About Princess Rhaenyra And The Iron Throne
The trailer quickly establishes that King Viserys (Paddy Considine) has to consider the line of succession, which means either his firstborn child who happens to be a princess instead a prince, or his younger brother Daemon (Matt Smith). Viserys says that he “will not be made to choose between my brother and my daughter.”
Now, in the very incestuous Targaryen dynasty, there seems like a pretty obvious solution to that problem, but apparently House of the Dragon won’t kick off its first season by marrying uncle to niece. Rhaenyra clearly has some supporters to become the first queen to sit the Iron Throne as Viserys' firstborn, but Daemon as a man is the preferred candidate for others.
Based on the trailer featuring scenes with Milly Alcock as young Rhaenyra, it looks like the debate over the succession will take place years before the fighting begins, at which point Emma D'Arcy's older version of the character is in the mix. With two versions of Rhaenyra, viewers will evidently see at least two different time periods in the first season.
Daemon doesn’t look like he’ll easily accept his niece as queen when he believes himself the rightful heir, and Alicent Hightower (a.k.a. Viserys’ second wife and mother of his younger children) appears likely to cause some trouble, but as the king’s firstborn during the height of Targaryen power, Rhaenyra seems to be on fairly solid footing to stake her claim.
Why Rhaenyra's Story Could Make Up For Dany's
Rhaenyra and Dany do have some similarities, and not just the blonde hair and place behind a Viserys in the line of succession. Rhaenyra will clearly have to fight if she wants the Iron Throne, and Game of Thrones viewers watched Dany do just that for eight seasons (which are currently available streaming with an HBO Max subscription). Both were ultimately the oldest surviving child of a Targaryen king, and both seemingly believe in their birthright to rule the Seven Kingdoms.
Now, there are also a lot of differences. For one, Dany was actually wrong about the Iron Throne being hers by right, because the last Targaryen ruler was defeated when Robert Baratheon took the throne by conquest. (Gendry technically had the strongest claim after she legitimized him.) Rhaenyra would likely be uncontested as next in the line of succession after her father if not for the complication that she is a woman and Daemon is a man.
Rhaenyra is also the daughter of a reigning Targaryen king, with the show set at the height of the Targaryen dynasty, so she presumably wouldn’t have to burn her way across Westeros to make headway like Dany did. Plus, House of the Dragon takes place about 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones, which means that the Targaryen line isn’t yet so inbred as to produce rulers like the Mad King Aerys and arguably Mad Queen Daenerys.
Basically, Rhaenyra has far more political and diplomatic advantages in the Seven Kingdoms at the beginning of House of the Dragon than Dany did for most of Game of Thrones. There are enough similarities between them that if she succeeds where Dany did not, it may start to make up for how quickly Dany fell apart and became a tyrant before she was assassinated.
Will anything erase the Game of Thrones finale that still remains so divisive, years after it aired on HBO? Definitely not, but Rhaenyra could be a Targaryen royal to root for after watching Dany’s swift fall into madness and ultimate defeat.
Will Rhaenyra Become Queen Where Dany Did Not?
Well, the Fire & Blood book by George R.R. Martin on which House of the Dragon is based can reveal some spoiler-ific details on that front, but Rhaenyra’s ascent (or lack thereof) to the Iron Throne in HOTD really depends on how long King Viserys lives. It’s technically possible that he is already dead by the beginning of the series and that kicks off the action, much like how Jon Arryn’s death was the inciting incident for Ned Stark going to King’s Landing on Game of Thrones. Co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik did indicate that the prequel won’t be too different from the parent series.
Paddy Considine appears in trailer scenes seemingly set in the past, so we shouldn’t rule out that Viserys has already died or dies relatively early in the present of the series. I’ve been imagining House of the Dragon pulling a Ned Stark with him and killing him off toward the end of the first season, but I’m starting to suspect that he’ll die much earlier on. If that’s the case, then Rhaenyra’s big steps toward the throne in Westeros could happen much earlier than Dany’s did on GOT.
Of course, House of the Dragon has a very large ensemble, and Daemon Targaryen clearly isn’t to be underestimated, no matter how long Viserys lives. Whether Rhaenyra wins, loses, or turns tyrant, it’s safe to say that she’s not in for an easy journey. Fortunately for viewers, the wait to see her and the rest in action is almost over.
House of the Dragon premieres the first of its ten-episode first season on Sunday, August 21 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. The new show has inherited the former time spot that worked so well for Game of Thrones; only time will tell if the Targaryen-centric series will become as massive of a hit. HBO chief content officer Casey Bloys has said that there’s “no threshold” that the GOT prequel is expected to hit, but it’s a fair bet that plenty of people will tune in. George R.R. Martin certainly had good things to say after watching the premiere!
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.
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