How HBO is seizing the narrative around House of the Dragon

Olivia Cooke as "Alicent Hightower" and Rhys Ifans as "Otto Hightower" in House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO
Olivia Cooke as "Alicent Hightower" and Rhys Ifans as "Otto Hightower" in House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO /

The other day, HBO released a trio of glossy, high-quality quality photographs from the set of House of the Dragon, its follow-up to the wildly popular Game of Thrones. We saw actors Matt Smith and Emma D’Arcy dressed up as Daemon and Rhaenyra Targaryen, two characters at the heart of the drama. We got a good look at Steve Toussaint as Corlys Velaryon and at Olivia Cooke and Rhys Ifans as Alicent and Otto Hightower.

House of the Dragon
Emma D’Arcy as “Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen” and Matt Smith as “Prince Daemon Targaryen” in House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO /

This is a good chunk of the main cast (like Game of Thrones, the show has a large roster of characters), and HBO is letting us see them right at the start of filming. This is a change from the days of Game of Thrones, when the network was more apt to do everything it could to hide what they were doing on set lest things leak…which they did, all the time. I was there; Game of Thrones fans were constantly snapping shots and publishing photos of this or that cast member or of a new set, and the fans would get to speculating what it all meant.

And that’s what was happening on House of the Dragon, which is set over 100 years before the original show. We were merrily reporting on pics of the cast members in their medieval finery and the crew’s misadventures when HBO released these official photos. This is a big shift from the days when HBO would literally film fake scenes to throw would-be shutterbugs off the scent, and I think it’s a great development.

If fans will leak House of the Dragon pictures anyway, put out your own

The logic is this: no matter what you do, fans will take pictures from the set and leak them, particularly if you film in natural, outdoor locations, which Game of Thrones did all the time. HBO spent a lot of energy trying to prevent this inevitable practice — including using high-tech devices to knock drones out of the sky — and it never worked. People weren’t fooled by the fake scenes and found ways around the precautionary measures. In a perfect world, everyone would mind their own business, but we don’t live in a perfect world and I can’t help but think that HBO wasted a lot of time and money trying to prevent leaks that were going to happen regardless.

So why not just take your own professional-looking pictures from the set and release them? Beat the leakers at their own game. That’s basically what HBO has done with House of the Dragon so far, and it seems to be working. Tons of outlets are writing about the new pictures, which are far more clear than anything a fan can snap from a great distance.

Of course, HBO isn’t going to show us everything it’s doing, but this is still a clever way to seize hold of the narrative. And they don’t have to make the actors get into full hair and makeup just to film a scene everyone knows won’t make it into the final episodes. It’s better for everyone.

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