Differences between Fire & Blood and House of the Dragon: Episode 1

House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO
House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO /

How closely does House of the Dragon follow George R.R. Martin’s book Fire & Blood? We’ll be going over every episode in this new feature.

It’s clear from the very first episode that House of the Dragon is doing things by the book… literally. Showrunner and lead writer Ryan Condal is a big fan of the work of George R.R. Martin, and it shows. “The Heirs of the Dragon” is unbelievably faithful to Martin’s book Fire & Blood.

Of course, the source material is not a novel, but rather a fictional history book written centuries later by an external narrator who’s working from various primary sources, many of which disagree with each other. That means that, in the book, it’s never clear exactly what happened; we get competing perspectives on the same event and have to make up our own minds. House of the Dragon plays it more straightforward and gives us the story of what really happened.

How “The Heirs of the Dragon” expands on Fire & Blood without changing it

House of the Dragon also has more time to flesh out the story and explore the characters. We probably learned more about characters and their interpersonal relationships from this episode than from the entirety of Fire & Blood.

There are a few slight differences from book canon, but for the most part the episode is a faithful adaptation that allows for some additions; things that we barely hear about in the book are explored in full here. Like George R.R. Martin said in a recent interview, “There’s a lot of opportunity for expansion. That’s what we’ll find a lot of in the series. [What] Ryan and his team of writers have been doing great so far is to do an expansion that does not contradict the book. I mean, you can add a lot of things. You can add scenes. You can even add some characters. But you can’t do anything that affects the structure.”

Take the example of the relationships between the royal family. Fire & Blood tells us that, “The new king and his queen both doted on the girl, their only living child,” referring to King Viserys, Queen Aemma, and their child Rhaenrya Targaryen. House of the Dragon translates that one line into various scenes, like when a young Rhaenyra goes to see her mother before serving as cupbearer to her father during his Small Council meetings, or Aemma giving Rhaenyra sage advice about the world and their position in it. Viserys gives Rhaenyra a little kiss during the council meeting, and both her parents comment warmly that she smells of dragon.

You could call these changes, but you could also appreciate them as expansions of what’s in the text, blown up and enriched for the screen. The people who provided the testimonies for Fire & Blood didn’t know about these moments because they happened behind closed doors, or perhaps they did not think them relevant enough to report, or even because reporting them didn’t serve they narrative they were trying to spin.

House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO
House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO /

Differences between House of the Dragon and Fire & Blood

There are, however, a couple of actual differences. For instance, the show opens with the Great Council at Harrenhal, where the great lords of Westeros cast their votes for who should succeed King Jaehaerys I Targaryen on the Iron Throne. In the book, Jaehaerys famously did not attend the council but stayed in King’s Landing in 101 AC. On the show, he is present.

Alicent Hightower is younger

The show has changed some things about Alicent Hightower, the daughter of Hand of the King Otto Hightower and a good friend of Rhaenrya’s. House of the Dragon makes her younger: in the book she was born in 88 AC, making her nine years older than Rhaenyra, who was born in 97 AC. The show reduced their age gap significantly so that the two could have a different sort of relationship. In the show, they appear to be the best of friends. They are inseparable and Rhaenyra fully trusts Alicent, who dotes on the princess like a sister. Making Alicent younger is a plot necessity, to ensure the audience is more invested in the relationship between the two friends before it falls apart later in the season.

House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO
House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO /

The introduction of Cristin Cole

Criston Cole is a knight who gets Rhaenrya’s attention after defeating her uncle Daemon in a tournament. In House of the Dragon, his introduction to court is different. In the book, “He first came to the attention of the court when he won the melee held at Maidenpool in honor of King Viserys’s accession.” In the show, he participates instead at a tourney held in King’s Landing in celebration of the birth of Viserys’ son. A slight change of time and place.

Aemma Arryn gets the spotlight

I was very happy to see the show decided to give Queen Aemma more space, where the book only says she dies giving birth. Her words during the first episode are very poignant and I’m sure will resonate throughout the entire season, if not the series. She talks about women’s duties and “royal wombs” and warns Rhaenyra about her future. She also tells Viserys she won’t have any more children, as she has mourned as many as her heart can take.

While Aemma is giving birth to her son with Viserys, the king is faced with a terrible choice: to continue with the natural birth and probably lose both his wife and child, or to perform a medieval caesarean section, which will definitely kill his wife but could save the baby. It was excruciating to watch. We don’t hear about this in the book, although Maester Mellos may well have asked the same thing of the king. It gives Viserys’ story a layer of humanity and tragedy, since he’s the one who makes the choice. Aemma’s screams of pain will echo long after she is gone, and Viserys will have to live with the horrible memories of her last moments, knowing that he willed it, without even asking for her consent.

Speaking High Valyrian

One of the most powerful moments from the first episode is whenever Rhaenyra and Daemon speak in High Valyrian. The books don’t tell us how the Targaryens learn their mother tongue, but since Daenerys speaks it fluently, it makes sense that they would.

The details remain vague. But did Viserys learn it at court and in turn teach Rhaenyra, or did they learn it during their time in Essos? At any rate, establishing that the royal family speaks at least High Valyrian is a lovely touch. It will be interesting to see whether they’re all fluent in it, or if Daemon and Rhaenyra share a love for the language and learned it by choice… it definitely comes in handy when needing to communicate without being overheard.

The coming of the Long Night

Finally, there’s the scene close to the end of the episode where Viserys reveals a secret to his daughter Rhaenyra: that Aegon the Conquerer first came to Westeros in part because he had a vision of the Long Night when the Others would eradicate the world of men. This is basically what we saw in the final season of Game of Thrones. Knowledge of this has been passed from Targaryen ruler to heir over the generations, so that the continent can be united when the time comes.

This is a revelation that apparently came from George R.R. Martin himself. “It’s mentioned here and there [in the books],” he said. “I haven’t fully explained it all yet.” This creates a sense of continuity between House of the Dragon and its predecessor show Game of Thrones, and widens the scope of the series. This knowledge also makes Viserys a much more sympathetic character: the burden of the prophecy rests entirely on his shoulders and is almost heavier than the crown itself.

Were there any other differences you noticed? Is there anything you hope will be changed in future episodes? Let us know in the comments.

Next. Eve Best joined Game of Thrones prequel because she got to ride a dragon. dark

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