The red flags of House of the Dragon


Work is officially underway on House of the Dragon, HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel show. But there are already some things that give this fan pause.

It’s full steam ahead on House of the Dragon, HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel show. The series is set to begin filming in a few months, and recently we’ve been getting a lot more news on it. The concept art for some of the dragons looks great, and it sounds like they’re taking the costuming seriously, as they should. We also have casting announcements: Doctor Who veteran Matt Smith will play Daemon Targaryen, Ready Player One’s Olivia Cooke is Alicent Hightower, and Truth Seekers star Emma D’Arcy is playing the key role of Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen.

While we still don’t know much about the show, a picture is starting to come into focus, and not every fan likes what they see. It’s still too early to say anything for sure, but in this column, I’d like to wring my hands about red flags potentially rising on the horizon and worry that they might screw everything up.

Best case scenario, this is all fretting about nothing and the show will be amazing. Worst case scenario: these are the signs of failure to come.

New year’s off to a great start, isn’t it?

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 14: Actor Matt Smith visits the Build Series to discuss the film ‘Mapplethorpe’ at Build Studio on February 14, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images)

Let’s start with the obvious: Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen. My first thought when I heard this was, “Really?” Like a lot of other people, I’m mostly familiar with Smith through his turn as the Eleventh Doctor on Doctor Who and as Prince Philip in The Crown, and neither of those roles made me think him a natural fit for the swaggering, sex-and-violence-loving Daemon.

Then again, I do think he’s a good actor, and others have convinced me that he could have the right look. I’m willing to wait and see on that score. What’s more concerning to me is the character description that accompanied the announcement, which described Daemon with this old cliche: “it is said that whenever a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin in the air…”

That saying is usually associated with Targaryen madness, most notably with Aerys Targaryen’s madness. But Daemon wasn’t really that kind. He lived on the edge, sure — he like fighting and sex and he had a temper, but he wasn’t mad in the way that Aerys Targaryen was mad. Daemon might be angry, but he’s not mad.

And yet the character description makes it sound like he was. It makes me wonder if the people writing it don’t have a good handle on the character. Best case scenario: this description was dashed off by some intern without being carefully read over by the higher-ups, which actually raises its own set of questions…

SAN DIEGO, CA – JULY 22: Executive producer Ryan Condal attends Universal Cable Productions Comic-Con Celebration during Comic-Con International 2016 at Omnia Nightclub on July 22, 2016 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

And just who are the higher-ups? First we have Miguel Sapochnik, the director behind great Game of Thrones episodes like “Hardhome,” “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Winds of Winter.” With him on board, I have no doubt the show will look good.

But looking good doesn’t mean anything if the script isn’t solid. Heading up the writing team is Ryan Condal, who’s written fun Dwayne Johnson movies like Hercules and Rampage as well as running his own sci-fi series on USA: Colony, which had a pretty good reception.

It’s not a bad resume, but so far as the wide world of Westeros goes, Condal is pretty untested. If he wrote that description of Daemon Targaryen, I am officially concerned about how seriously he’s taking his job, and/or how qualified he is. It’s times like this I wish that Game of Thrones writer Bryan Cogman, who worked on the House of the Dragon pitch before HBO shelved it for a while and he pursued other opportunities, was still involved.

The casting of Rhaenyra Targaryen and Alicent Highlight is interesting too. I don’t know much about either Olivia Cooke or Emma D’Arcy, but I do know that they look…weirdly young for these roles?

House of the Dragon tells the story of the Dance of the Dragon, the Targaryen civil war that tore the realm apart over a century before the events of the original show. By the time the war starts, Daemon is pushing 50, Alicent has just entered her 40s, and Rhaenyra is in her early 30s. And yet, Matt Smith is 38, Olivia Cooke is 27, and I can’t seem to find Emma D’Arcy’s age on Google, which could suggest that she’s still so new to the industry people haven’t bothered recording it yet.

Is House of the Dragon aging these characters down, and if so, why? I’d hate to think that they were doing it to placate executives who want to stack their shows with younger talent, particularly after Game of Thrones proved that we’ll fall in love with older characters like Ned Stark, Olenna Tyrell, and everyone in the Lannister clan.

It’s also possible that these actors are playing only the young versions of the characters (or in Daemon’s case, the younger version). Even though the Dance of the Dragons is where the bulk of the action is, there’s a lot of build-up before then that’s vital to understanding how and why it happens. Perhaps these actors will play the characters for that portion of the story, only to replaced later on, a la The Crown on Netflix? Or maybe they’ll stay with the roles the whole way through, but by the time we get to the war itself, they’ll be better able to pass as older.

Or maybe Condal is thinking of doing some kind of flashback/non-linear storytelling thing. Considering how important it is that we know what events lead to the Dance of the Dragons, that might be inevitable. And if it happens, I pray Condal steers clear of some of the pitfalls other showrunners have tumbled into when trying to be clever with time. (I’m looking at you, The Witcher. You too, The Stand.) Otherwise, he could just stick to the “no flashbacks” rule adopted by Game of Thrones, which lent that show an approachable clarity.

I’ve also got to point out that George R.R. Martin has been conspicuously silent about the recent spate of House of the Dragon news on his blog, whereas back in the day he was happy to talk about Game of Thrones announcements. Like I said, hopefully these worries end up being so much hot air and we’ll all be staring rapt at our screens when House of the Dragon debuts in 2022. Until then, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.