One aspect where Game of Thrones thoroughly expanded on the work of author George R.R. Martin is in the language. Martin is no J.R.R. Tolkien, who created new languages for his fictional worlds; in contrast, Martin once quipped that he’d written approximately seven words of High Valyrian, and would write more as he needed them for the story.
On the other hand, Game of Thrones had thoroughly developed dialects for the ancient High Valyrian language, as well as Dothraki, Astapori, and others. There were long scenes done entirely in these fake languages, which meant that actors had to memorize extensive lines in tongues that were entirely made up for the show.
The man behind all that is conlanger David J. Peterson. He’s also returned to do the language work for HBO’s upcoming successor show House of the Dragon, the show based on Martin’s book Fire & Blood about a civil war between rival factions of the Targaryen family some 200 years before the story we know. Peterson recently visited the Bald Move podcast, where he talked about the differences between his work on Thrones and House of the Dragon, and gave listeners some insight into the large amount of work that’s going into the predecessor show.
House of the Dragon has “a lot more [Valyrian] dialogue”
“There was a lot more dialogue than I was expecting, which I was very pleased by,” Peterson said. “And a lot of very well written dialogue, which I was also pleased by. It really challenged me as a translator.”
While there were many different languages on Thrones, High Valyrian is the only language Peterson worked on for the first season of House of the Dragon, although he hopes to tackle other ones in future seasons. That said, the sheer amount of High Valyrian he created for season 1 of House of the Dragon is more than he did for any season of Game of Thrones.
"Because in seasons 3, 4, and 5 [of Game of Thrones], a lot of it was not actually High Valyrian. A lot of it was Astapori. And then starting around season 6, the amount of material I was able to do really dropped off steeply. So yeah this is probably the most High Valyrian that I’ve done in a season. I was really pleasantly surprised by that. It’s not the most work I’ve done on a season, but it’s the most Valyrian that I’ve done."
That makes sense. High Valyrian is the language of the old Freehold Valyria, which is where the Targaryen bloodline originated. Danaerys spoke the language fairly often throughout Game of Thrones. Who can forget her chilling language reversal on the Astapori Master Kraznys during season 3, where she proclaims “‘I am Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, of the blood of Old Valyria. Valyrian is my mother tongue,” right before ordering the Unsullied to take over the city? Targaryens likely teach their children High Valyrian from a young age, and considering how many Targaryens there are in House of the Dragon, it’s easy to imagine how we might hear the language a lot.
One character on House of the Dragon speaks “flippant” Valyrian
Peterson noted that he worked hard on a lot of High Valyrian dialogue for one House of the Dragon character in particular. “That is something I was dealing with in House of the Dragon because there is one character who, as he is speaking these lines of English, he speaks in a very different way from the other people he is talking to. Not necessarily less formal, but perhaps more flippant. I really wanted to be able to capture that in the Valyrian.”
"Yeah, so that was kind of a difficult thing. It was one of the challenges this season. How can I kind of convey that sense in Valyrian. I know how to do it in English but how do I do it in Valyrian. So that was a challenge. And I expect it to be an ongoing one. So I’ll keep at it."
Hearing this, the first potential character that sprang to mind was Daemon Targaryen, played by Matt Smith in the show. Daemon is the “Rogue Prince” of the family, who is often at odds with his older brother King Viserys and basically does what he wants, when he wants, as often as he wants. He has a reputation for debauchery and being exceedingly deadly when the mood strikes him.
Then there’s the “ongoing” part of Peterson’s comment. We’re getting into MINOR SPOILERS from Fire & Blood here, but Daemon is a major player who’s around for a pretty significant portion of the Dance of the Dragons. So we’re betting this is the character Peterson’s referring to here.
The writing on House of the Dragon is “better than anything I’ve worked on”
Overall, Peterson sounds pretty happy about how House of the Dragon is turning out. When asked about his impression of the show based on the scripts, he said that, “It’s very difficult to read a script and tell what it’s going to be like when you see it on screen, and tell if it’s going to be good or not. It’s very, very difficult. I’ve had experiences where I read things and I thought they were really great and then they played out a little prosaically on screen. And then I’ve had complete opposite reactions where it’s like ‘ok so this happens’ and then I see it and I’m like ‘wow that was really cool’. It’s just super hard to tell.”
"But what I know about this series is that the parts that I’m involved with – the writing that I’m reading is better than anything I’ve worked on. Outside of like Penny Dreadful, which for me is my favorite show that I’ve worked on…Just reading it — it’s really, really good. And it was one of the things that made it feel like a little bit of an extra challenge. It’s like, Jesus, they’re not phoning this in, I really want to bring my A-game here. Also by the way, it was also a real pleasure working on this. Because I’ve worked on a ton of different shows and movies now. And I’ve had a very drastic swing of experiences from show to show. And it was really nice working on this show so that was nice as well."
This echoes what we’ve heard from other people involved in the show thus far, who have talked about how strong the scripts and the production are. Of course, we’d be surprised if they said anything else…but still, it’s encouraging. We’ll find out if they’re telling the truth when House of the Dragon premieres on HBO and HBO Max sometime this year.