Small Council: Let’s talk about the first official House of the Dragons images

Steve Toussaint as Lord Corlys Velaryon, “The Sea Snake” in House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO
Steve Toussaint as Lord Corlys Velaryon, “The Sea Snake” in House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO /

HBO has released the first official pics from House of the Dragon, its upcoming Game of Thrones prequel series. What do we make of them? Let’s discuss!

Image: Game of Thrones/HBO
Image: Game of Thrones/HBO /

DAN: Alright, HBO is taking its swing: new Game of Thrones show. Will it go, will it flop, will it become a phenomenon to surpass Game of Thrones or a strange also-ran? Is it Frasier or JoeyBetter Call Saul or That ’80s Show?

We won’t know for sure until 2022, but for now, these photos definitely give off an air of the familiar. The bleached blonde wigs, the chic renaissance faire attire, the natural locations…if not for the presence of Matt Smith and other new actors I feel like these could have come from a new episode of Game of Thrones.

I’m sure that’s all intentional on HBO’s part. The network wants to start its “Game of Thrones Universe” (I get a little nervous just typing that) with something people will recognize. Daenerys Targaryen’s platinum blonde hair was one of the most iconic images from Game of Thrones, so why not make a show full of people with that trait?

And I think it looks pretty good on these characters. I also like it on Steve Toussaint, who will bring some diversity to the main cast in the key role of Corlys Velaryon. Olivia Cooke and Rhys Ifans also look sharp as Alicent and Otto Hightower. (Sidenote: Both women from these photos are wearing earrings, but apparently no women on Game of Thrones ever did? I haven’t actually confirmed this but I think it’s interesting. Maybe earrings were in style during the Dance of the Dragons?)

Anyway, what do you all make of these images? Anything stand out to you? Does this fire you up for what’s to come?

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 /

DREW: It feels like there’s an exciting new House of the Dragon development every time I wake up in the morning to check my phone. So far, the pictures of the actors inhabiting the characters I’ve grown to adore from Fire & Blood don’t disappoint. That being said, I’d love to jump aboard the speculation train for a minute and talk about what these pictures mean for the plot of the show.

Where are we picking up the story at the beginning of House of the Dragon? At which point in King Viserys’ reign? How much lead up until his death and the beginning of the Dance of the Dragons? What can we gleam from these photos alone?

A few things. First: If one looks carefully, they can notice the distinct pin of the Hand of the King on Otto Hightower’s (Rhys Ifans) lapel. Hightower serves as Viserys’ hand twice during the King’s reign, getting removed at one point for bringing up the matter of succession one too many times. Ten years later, he’s renamed to his position after the death of Lyonel Strong. Now, my guess would be that the show will shorten the timelines laid out in the books. Since Fire & Blood is written in the style of a history textbook, the adaptation will most likely take certain events and push them closer together in order to tell a complete story. Still, my guess would be that this is Hightower’s second round as the King’s hand, right before the King’s death.

The picture of Alicent and Otto tells a story, as well. Without it, one might wonder whether this coastal setting is meant to represent Dragonstone, which we saw a lot of on Game of Thrones, or Driftmark, home of House Velaryon. The Hightower’s presence confirms it to be Driftmark, for those two never set foot on House Targaryen’s ancestral home. Of course, that could be reading into things too much, but that’s the fun of stuff like this.

So if Otto Hightower is Hand of the King and he and his daughter are at Driftmark, then the following assumptions can be made: One, there will be no Lyonel Strong. The Strongs are another house, like the Velaryons, that are important to House of the Dragon’s story but have not been seen before on Game of Thrones. It would be interesting to see casting announcements for Harwin and Larys Strong, but I assume we won’t be seeing an actor cast as the House Patriarch. Second, if these pictures are all taken at Driftmark, then all of them have gathered for a funeral.

Early in the story, both Laenor and Laena Velaryon — the only children of Corlys and Rhaenys Velaryon — die. Laena was married to Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) and her death has far-reaching implications for all of our characters and the realm at large. This event would be a reasonable starting point for the show, as it brings all of our main characters together early on and introduces the conflicts in the plot. Fans have speculated that John Macmillan, seen in the photo of the cast table reading, has been cast as Laenor Velaryon, whose death is another very important moment in the story.

Laenor’s funeral is even more eventful because it includes a fateful fight between the children of Rhaenyra Targaryen and Alicent Hightower; young Aemond Targaryen claims the dragon Vhagar as his mount but loses his eye fighting with one of his cousins. I’d imagine that this key event would happen further down the line, especially if fans are correct about Macmillan playing Laenor. The absence of pictures of Macmillan makes me feel like this is even more likely, although I’m only going off of what the show has released and wants me to see. That being said, I’d stake my official guess on these pictures being taken during the filming for that very consequential moment for the first season. I imagine we will see Laena’s death, or at least it’s aftermath, as well. But if there’s to be a big funeral scene on Driftmark, Laenor’s is the more important.

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 /

DANIEL: I’ll cut straight to it: I loved these new pictures, and definitely think it was wise of HBO to head off any more bootleg images by just releasing their own so quickly. It feels like we just got our first unofficial glimpse of Matt Smith and Emm D’Arcy as Daemon and Rhaenyra Targaryen, so for the network to put out their own (much better) photos within the same week seems like a really smart move.

I’m in the camp that thinks Matt Smith is going to probably do an awesome job as Daemon Targaryen, so to get to see how he looks with the trademark Targaryen hair is a nice bone to throw to fans. Maybe HBO was trying to help lay the debate of whether Smith can pull off being a Targaryen to rest a little by letting us see what he looks like in full costume?

Regardless, since this is a show about a Targaryen civil war, it feels very fitting that some of the first press shots are of the leaders from both ‘teams,’ so to speak. Rhys Ifans and Olivia Cooke look like they would be right at home in King’s Landing. It’s interesting to see that even three hundred years before the events of Game of Thrones, there is such a visible divide between the Targaryens and the other houses they’re ruling, represented right down to the amazing costuming and image composition. Alicent for some reason really reminds me of Cersei Lannister in this shot. Something in her bearing and costume, maybe? Compare it to Daemon and Rhaenyra, who look Targaryen to the bone even though their photo is much more casual-looking, and it paints a fascinating picture of the power dynamics at play.

Also, Alicent’s costume looks like it could possibly be some kind of mourning dress, so I have to agree with Drew that we may be getting a glimpse of some funeral or other. Considering how many important deaths and funerals there are early in the Dance, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw one at the outset of the show. Game of Thrones did start with characters gathering because of the death of Jon Arryn, after all, so it could feel like a cyclical callback to start House of the Dragon in a similar manner.

To me, the most intriguing photo of the batch is Steve Toussaint as Corlys Velaryon. Corlys is one of the characters I’ve been most curious about, owing to the fact that he was well known for all his journeys across the seas and his insatiable appetite for adventure. According to Fire & Blood, he was “remembered as wise in peace and valiant in war.” I love how much of this spirit Toussaint conveys in the photo, as well as how the sea and horizon are more central to his image. And of course, the fact that HBO is trying to pay more attention to the diversity of its cast with House of the Dragon is absolutely a good thing in my opinion. It makes me cautiously optimistic for what lies ahead.

House of the Dragon
Steve Toussaint as Lord Corlys Velaryon, “The Sea Snake” in House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO /

COREY: Well, well, well. Between the photos and the return of the Small Council, it’s almost starting to feel like a Game of Thrones site around here.

Kidding aside, it was nice to have some official new content from the World of Ice and Fire. With all the new Game of Thrones spin-offs in development, I suppose we should get used to it.

All that being said, I was pretty “meh” on the photos themselves. Perhaps I’m simply getting old, but there wasn’t much there to excite me. There’s nothing wrong with the photos, though I’ve seen some call them expensive-looking cosplay. I think the main takeaway here is that HBO is giving us official looks at the characters long before we ever got such information on GoT. I’d guess that’s largely due to the fact that we got unofficial looks at all of these characters last week, but I appreciate that HBO is attempting to take back the narrative, as opposed to simply pretending the images weren’t already out there.

I’d also say that had we gotten early looks at Ned Stark or Jaime Lannister, we’d probably call them expensive-looking cosplay as well. Look, people standing about in leather and fake wigs will never look natural to our eyes sans backdrop and world-building. If it looks like some Renaissance Fair troupe wandered down to the beach that’s because we have no context. Put these guys in a castle, on the Iron Throne, etc, and they’d look just fine.

All that being said, I’m excited about the show and the images were a nice way to help build hype. Hopefully HBO continues this trend.

CHELSEA: I’m firmly in the same boat as Corey: while the photos themselves don’t excite me, the fact that we’ve been given official photos already straight from HBO makes me feel optimistic that the network is learning from at least some of its mistakes with Game of Thrones.

Obviously, people are going to flock to House of the Dragon because it’s part of the Game of Thrones universe (GOT-verse? Thronesverse?). But many fans aren’t going to sit down and read George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood tome before watching the new show, so it’s great to see HBO already starting to build up the hype and introduce us to the main players.

Dan also made a great point in his article about HBO seizing the narrative for its Targaryen-focused Game of Thrones prequel series. The Game of Thrones leaks from the set were bad and, honestly, irritating for fans like myself who wanted the excitement and surprises of sitting down every weekend to watch the story play out in a new episode.

Getting official photos already truly surprised me in the best way. Oh, and Matt Smith looks like he was born to play Daemon Targaryen. I’m so pumped for another fantasy show with great and ridiculous wigs.

What do you make of the photos? Let us know!

Next. How HBO is seizing the narrative around House of the Dragon. dark

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