Did House of the Dragon change Daemon to make him more villainous?

HBO's adaptation of George R.R. Martin's book Fire & Blood made some characters softer and more likable, and others...not. What did they do to Daemon Targaryen?
Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen in House of the Dragon season 2
Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen in House of the Dragon season 2 /

HBO’s flagship series House of the Dragon is set to return to our screens on Sunday, June 16 for its second season. As millions of fans around the world await one of the most highly anticipated shows of 2024, HBO is pumping up the drama. In March, they released dueling trailers highlighting both sides of the Targaryen civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons: the Blacks and the Greens.

The trailers focused heavily on the main female characters representing each side of the war, Rhaenyra Targaryen and Alicent Hightower, whose friendship and rivalry define the show’s first season. These two women are the titular characters of George R.R. Martin’s 2013 novella The Princess and the Queen, one of the works on which House of the Dragon is based. One of the other source texts for the series, Martin’s 2014 novella The Rogue Prince, revolves around another of the show's protagonists: Daemon Targaryen, Rhaenyra’s uncle, lover and husband.

House of the Dragon season 1 did a lot to soften the edges of Rhaenyra and Alicent, who are harsh, ambitious, and even outright cruel in Martin's book Fire & Blood, which collects and expands upon the writings above. The producers made the decision to portray them as childhood best friends, which they are not in the source material, to humanize both characters and deepen the tragedy of the civil war where they're on opposing sides. The unexplained animosity displayed between Rhaenyra and Alicent in The Princess and the Queen is depicted in the show as a tragedy of circumstance in which love, lust, duty, ambition, and family force apart two otherwise good-natured people who care very deeply for one another. I personally think this was a good decision, as it allowed viewers to sympathize with someone on each side. However, in soliciting our sympathy, the show has omitted some of the more unlikeable things these characters did and said in the source material. For instance, in the book, Alicent says she hopes Rhaenyra dies in childbirth.

But did House of the Dragon season 1 give a similar treatment to the rogue prince Daemon Targaryen? Interestingly, they seem to have gone in the other direction. In multiple instances throughout season 1, Daemon Targaryen (played brilliantly by Matt Smith) is shown in a dark light, his actions as bad or worse than they are in the source material. And Daemon does a lot of terrible things in the source material, so this is really saying something. Here are some of the instances where House of the Dragon takes the darkest possible path with Daemon:

House of the Dragon episode 5 /

Daemon kills his first wife

In the cold open of House of the Dragon episode 5, Daemon surprises his estranged wife Rhea Royce near her castle and spooks her horse, causing her to fall off and break her neck. He then smashes her head in with a rock, killing her offscreen.

Fire & Blood is presented as a history book written long after the fact, and sometimes multiple versions of the same events as presented. The possibility that Daemon killed Rhea is raised, but written off as outlandish, in large part because he's many miles away, fighting in the Stepstones. More likely, the book posits, Rhea Royce's death was an accident.

House of the Dragon episode 8 /

Daemond kills Vaemond Velaryon on his own

Episode 8 of House of the Dragon features a memorable scene where the aging King Viserys demands the tongues of members of House Velaryon for declaring in open court that his grandsons by Rhaenyra (Jace, Luke, and Joffrey) are bastard born and illegitimate. (In this case, bastardy would mean that they cannot inherit the Velaryon castle of Driftmark… or the Iron Throne). The show version of this scene features only one Velaryon, Vaemond, who accuses Rhaenyra's sons of bastardy (he also insults Rhaenyra for good measure) prompting Viserys to demand his tongue, at which point the king's brother Daemon simply steps up behind Vaemond and cuts his head in half.

In the source material, Vaemond Velaryon isn’t even present for this dramatic scene, since Daemon already killed him on Rhaenyra's orders. And then Rhaenyra feeds Vaemond’s body to her dragon. So Daemon still kills Vaemond in the book, but only on Rhaenyra’s command, and the ‘Rhaenyra desecrates the corpse’ part is left out entirely. Matt Smith plays this scene with suave charm, so we as viewers are still lapping it up, but doesn’t it seem like the scales are tilted against Daemon?

House of the Dragon episode 2 /

Daemon lies about Mysaria being pregnant

The main conflict of Episode 2 of House of the Dragon revolves around a confrontation after Daemon steals a dragon egg for his ‘pregnant’ lover Mysaria, despite already having being married to Rhea Royce, and takes up residence in the castle of Dragonstone. Adding insult to injury, the dragon’s egg Daemon steals was one meant to be given to Viserys' son, who died shortly after being born. After dithering about what to do, Viserys sends Alicent’s father Otto Hightower (played by Rhys Ifans) to retrieve the egg; when Otto is on the point of failure, Rhaenyra shows up uninvited on dragonback and forces Daemon to give back the egg.

The book version of this beat has no dramatic standoff. Also, Mysaria actually is pregnant but loses the baby after crossing the seas in a storm, sent away by Daemon after his brother King Viserys demands it. The version of the story where Daemon’s lover is forced into a miscarriage by the King and the Small Council is definitely more sympathetic to Daemon's character than the version where Mysaria was never pregnant and Daemon stole a dragon egg to piss off his brother.

House of the Dragon Episode 10 /

Daemon advocates an immediate attack on King’s Landing

In the final episode of House of the Dragon season 1, Rhaenyra and her advisros debates what to do after the Greens execute a coup and crown Rhaenyra's half-brother Aegon king after Viserys' death. The episode is excellent and features several dynamic scenes between the various members of the Blacks, Rhaenyra’s faction. Rhaenyra struggles to find a way out of the coming war, exhausting every effort to salvage the situation, while her husband Daemon sounds the trumpets and plans an imminent attack on King’s Landing. In his advocacy for war, Daemon takes account of both sides, and says that if they attack immediately with all their dragons, they will destroy Aegon and the Greens within a month.

Notably, in the source material, Daemon is the one arguing against an attack upon King’s Landing. He points out the dangers of a confrontation between the two factions’ dragons, saying, “it is no easy thing for a man to be a dragon slayer. But dragons can kill dragons, and have… I will not throw our dragons against the usurper’s unless I have no other choice.” While he is no peacemaker in either the show or the book, he is more conservative and cautious on the page, whereas the show portrays him as reckless and bloodthirsty.

House of the Dragon Episode 10 /

Daemon is physically abusive to Rhaenyra

Also in the final episode of season 1, Daemon grabs Rhaenyra by the throat in anger upon finding out that Viserys never told him about the prophecy of Ice and Fire. It is a shocking and upsetting scene both for the audience who loves Daemon and for Rhaenyra herself. While inexcusable, Rhaenyra does seem shocked by Daemon’s behavior, so we can hope that nothing similar had ever happened before.

It was very interesting that House of the Dragon chose to show us these things in the final episode of the season. It was as if the showrunners wanted to demonstrate that, despite the character growth we saw from Daemon over the season, he was essentially unchanged from the man who he was 20 years earlier in the series premiere. Whether Daemon’s antics make you like watching Daemon more or less, it will be interesting to see if the show keeps tilting the scales in season 2. Without going into spoilers, things are about to het very dark, and if the showrunners do tilt the balance against Daemon, he might end up being a straight-up villain, albeit one we are very excited to watch.

Tune in on June 16 to watch the season premiere of House of the Dragon season 2, featuring Daemon and more of our favorite Targaryens!

Emma D'Arcy and Olivia Cooke reunite and react to the best House of the Dragon scenes. dark. Next. Emma D'Arcy and Olivia Cooke reunite and react to the best House of the Dragon scenes

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