House of the Dragon boss explains book changes to Blood and Cheese scene

House of the Dragon changed a lot about the Blood and Cheese sequence from Fire & Blood, and it sounds like there are more book changes on the way.
House of the Dragon
House of the Dragon /

House of the Dragon is based on the book Fire & Blood by author George R.R. Martin. Fire & Blood is written as a history book that narrates the story of House Targaryen over the course of hundreds of years. It's a broad overview, and House of the Dragon showrunner Ryan Condal and his team had the responsibility of turning it into a detailed TV show with fleshed out characters and precise plotting.

Adaptation is tricky at the best of times, but especially when you're adapting a book told in such a non-traditional way. But Condal said he intends to adapt Martin's work as faithfully as possible. "I think there are different demands in the show, given that it's an adaptation of a history book," he told ET Online. "But, no, the plan is to faithfully render George's history as as it's been given in the text."

Given that commitment, how does Condal account for all the changes made to the book in the season 2 premiere of the show, "A Son for a Son"? This episode ends with a key sequence from the book where a pair of mercenaries — known only as Blood and Cheese in the source material and completely unnamed in the episode — sneak into the Red Keep under orders to avenge the death of Lucerys Velaryon, the son of Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen. True to their mission to take "a son for a son," they kill young Jaehaerys Targaryen, the son of Queen Rhaenyra's rival King Aegon, right in front of his mother Queen Helaena.

In the book, Blood and Cheese force Helaena to choose which of her two sons they will kill: Jaehaerys or her younger son, Maelor. In the show, Maelor doesn't exist, so things played out differently. "It was less about trying to top the book, it was just more about the practicality of where we were," Condal told The Hollywood Reporter. "As long as the period of history season one covered, it was still a compressed time period — the book covered 30-plus years, and we crunched it down to 20. One of the side effects is you have Rhaenyra and Daemon’s children are much younger than they were in the book, as are Helaena and Aegon’s children. They haven’t been together long enough to have two generations of kids. So Maelor does not yet exist, and we only have the twins."

"So working from that place, we just wanted to try to make Blood and Cheese a visceral television sequence. We decided to tell it from their point of view and make it like a heist gone wrong. Whereas in the book, it’s depicted purely from Helaena and Alicent’s perspective. Blood and Cheese come upon Helaena, and she’s sort of the third act of their story. The idea was to build suspense and dread as they’re looking for Aemond, who Daemon names as the target, and then you put two criminals into a situation with gold in front of their faces and things can go wrong."

Condal was also quizzed about why we didn't hear exactly what orders Rhaneyra's husband Daemon gave to Blood and Cheese. He initially told them to find and kill Aemond Targaryen, but when Cheese asked if there was a Plan B if they couldn't locate Aemond, Daemon only smiled. "We intentionally cut away from that moment because I love Matt Smith and the look that he gives them just haunts me," Condal said. "He certainly gave them some kind of instruction, and to some degree, we hear them arguing about it in the room, that he said we need to bring a head. A son for a son. You can imagine Daemon maybe said to them, 'Don’t leave empty-handed.' But we left it open to interpretation."

House of the Dragon /

More book changes are coming in House of the Dragon season 2

Personally, I had no problem with us not hearing Daemon's exact orders, nor do I object to the "heist gone wrong" angle. Unfortunately, I don't think Condal and company succeeded in making "a visceral television sequence." My main objection is that in centering Blood and Cheese, Helaena and her predictiment feel minimized when they should be at the center of the drama. I wasn't able to connect with her panic and fear; the sequence passed quickly and her reaction felt very muted. "What you’re seeing in that sequence is a very human response," Condal said of Helaena's reaction. "It is shock, and she goes from a panic of thinking she’s going to be chased out and then she gets to the bottom of the stairs, and she’s wondering, 'OK, where do I go? Where do I go now?' She’s running for her life, and trying to figure out where to go next."

I think the sequence missed the mark, although I think it had less to do with the changes from the book and more to do with the staging. (And how in the hell are there no guards on the floor where the royal family sleeps?) But if you're concerned about changes from the book, the cast makes it sound like more are on the way:

  • Steve Toussaint (Corlys Velaryon): "Just go with it. The spirit of the story is still the same. Now, I haven't read the book, but they're two different medias, so you can't always have exactly the same thing that was in the book as on the script. But just go with it, 'cause it's still a wild ride."
  • Matthew Needham (Larys Strong): "I hope [Fire & Blood fans] can sort of find some peace that it is two separate things. But I understand when you really care for something, it is frustrating when you see differences, so I get that. I hope that it doesn't impede their enjoyment in some way."
  • Bethany Antonia (Baela Targaryen): "I see why it's so frustrating when your favorite books are, like, adapted not how you like. Try and find the glimmers that we as actors have really tried to bring out from the books. Try to find it where you can." 

New episodes of House of the Dragon air Sundays on HBO and Max.

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