Is House of the Dragon exploiting "toxic" fan culture with dueling trailers?

HBO dropped two new trailers for House of the Dragon, one for Team Black and one for Team Green! Is this a fun bit of marketing, or an invitation to a bloody stan war?
House of the Dragon season 2
House of the Dragon season 2 /

Last week, HBO dropped a pair of new trailers for the second season of House of the Dragon, its Game of Thrones prequel series. On this show, rival branches of the Targaryen family are fighting each other over who will sit the Iron Throne: Queen Rhaenrya Targaryen or her younger half-brother King Aegon II Targaryen. Rhaenyra's supporters are called the Blacks while Aegon's are called the Greens. Each trailers focused on a different team.

The posters accompanying these trailers advised that "All Must Choose." Pretty much everyone agreed that this was a great marketing idea. This war has two sides. Get people to pick one and encourage engagement. Folk are revved up and ready to watch when House of the Dragon season 2 premieres on HBO and Max on June 16. I see you, HBO.

But not everyone is a fan. Writing for Metro, Robert Oliver bemoans HBO's decision "to lean into this kind of toxic culture" in a way that "feeds the ugliness and pettiness that’s so rife in fandom culture at present." He encourages us to remember the bitter back and forth between fans of Teams Black and Green during season 1, likening it to "people yelling very loudly, and very angrily, about something you want to simply relax and enjoy." They're yelling so loudly, in fact, you can still hear it even after closing the door to the room. "That’s what it’s always been like to be a neutral viewer of House of the Dragon – desperately trying to ignore arguments over who’s best between Alicent and Rhaenyra, choosing to instead focus on the larger anti-war and anti-patriarchal story being told, but finding yourself unable to escape." Oliver sees HBO's choice to run with a "All Must Choose" marketing campaign as encouraging the type of behavior that "spoils the experience for everybody watching – from fans, to casual viewers, right through to the cast and the creative team...[I]t’s disappointing to see HBO so willingly playing up to it."

The question I'd like to ask is: Is there anything to this argument? Is HBO being irresponsible or even willfully malicious by asking fans to pick a side in this fictional war, knowing that this will lead to acrimony amongst some members of the fandom?

Blacks vs Greens

It's certainly true that online fandoms can get contentious, although I think Oliver misrepresents some of the details of what people were talking about when the first season of the show was running back in 2022. We covered that extensively here at WiC, and while there were a lot of debates, few of them were about "who's best between Alicent and Rhaenyra." I think one of the shortcomings of the show thus far is that, although it's made attempts to portray both sides of the conflict as equally interesting, most of the compelling material has gone to characters on the Black side of things, like Rhaenyra and her husband/uncle Daemon. Given this disparity, I was surprised that the marketing for season 2 tried to paint both sides as equally worthy of people's allegiance. It could be a good sign that the show wants to flesh out the characters on the Green side, which should make for a more interesting series overall.

My bigger nitpick is that I think Oliver is overstating the case somewhat. Yes, fans of House of the Dragon — like fans of any media franchise — can be loud and toxic, but when you're inundated with bafflingly passionate defenses of one side or another online, it can be helpful to remember that most fans of the show will never see any of this. You have to be online a lot, and once you're online, and you have to dig for it.

Most fans will never make it past the trailers and the posters. And there, the comments are pretty benign. Under the official release of the Black trailer on X, the top comment is a picture of Daemon Targaryen holding a flag that's been photoshopped to read "Rhaenyra," accompanied by the text, "WE FIGHT FOR OUR QUEEN!!!!" And then there's a little emoji of a girl with a crown on. Things are spicier under the Green trailer, where the first comment is a GIF of Patrick Starr from Spongebob Squarepants shouting "boo" and getting 300 likes for his trouble. Again, given that the first season of the show painted the Blacks in a better light than the Greens, I'm not surprised by this split. At a glance, there's nothing in the reactions to the trailers that's going to make me incapable of enjoying the show but for the cacophony. And again, a glance is all most fans are going to give this.

Things are even more civil over in the comments sections for the trailers on YouTube, where a lot of the comments, oddly, are about how good the marketing is. ("Give a healthy bonus to whoever came up with the marketing of two trailers for this. Bravo," @seanflynn7840 says to 18k likes.) It is true that a very popular comment on the Team Green trailer simply reads "Team black" to 16k likes and 255 comments, many of which are indeed variations on petty nonsense like "Go to your own trailer then omg" and "Team Trash." But those comments only populate once you click on the "replies" button. You can choose not to investigate further and go about your day, which I think is a privilege more of us should take advantage of. It is indeed loud behind that door, but most fans have the option to never enter that room in the first place, or even go in the building.

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

Fake war, real world

That said, there are people who don't have that privilege, namely the people who work on the show. Fan culture is at its most toxic and repellent when fans stop arguing with each other and start blasting hate at actors who are only doing their job. A good example is when House of the Dragon writer Sara Hess was attacked online following the airing of the penultimate episode of the season, "The Green Council." Some fans didn't enjoy the twists in that episode or what Hess had to say about them in interviews afterward, and so they screamed hateful things online. Another example is when Emily Carey, who played young Alicent Hightower in the first season, turned off her social media following a deluge of hate from fans angry about her implying that she didn't see her character as a villain, which is a natural position for an actor trying to get inside the head of a character to take. "Any hate that comes in, it’s just … It’s a person behind a screen. You just have to move on from it," the then-19-year-old told "But I will say I did delete Twitter [after Comic-Con] because it’s just so loud. Even when it’s good, there’s so many and it’s so loud."

This is a pretty common pattern. Certain fans get invested in an idea of what their favorite franchise should look like to the point where they're comfortable disparaging the real people behind the art, reliably reserving the worst of their vitriol for women. It's never acceptable, although I'm encouraged to see that Carey, a member of a younger generation who grew up with social media, seems to know that the smartest course of action is to unplug rather than engage. To quote the YouTuber Contrapoints, who was deluged with online hate after a video she made in 2019, "I then made the poor decision to try to solve the tweet problem with more tweeting, which 100% of the time is like trying to put out a fire with lighter fluid." Social media is still pretty new, and people are developing coping mechanisms to deal with the worst of it.

And absent some huge societal shift, dealing with it may be the best we can do, because this pattern — actors and writers do their jobs, certain toxic segments of fan communities online get angry and start screeching about it — seems endemic to fan culture as it is sometimes expressed on social media, which is why I don't think it's reasonable to point the finger at HBO's marketing. Emily Carey was attacked before a frame of the show had aired because of something she off-handedly mentioned at a Comic-Con. Toxic fans will find a way to surprise you with their toxicity without any help from posters or trailers. If anybody's in a position to address problems like this, I think it's the social media platforms. I don't think it's a coincidence, for example, that hate speech on X has risen since new owner Elon Musk has gutted much of the stuff responsible for moderation. I think these platforms should be giving users more tools to help deal with potential abuse, not less.

As for the marketing for House of the Dragon season 2, I'm not so much afraid of the "All Must Choose" campaign spoiling the show for people who want to enjoy it without being exposed to toxic fan backlash as I am toxic fan backlash spoiling things for people who want to engage with the marketing in the spirit with which it is intended. This show is about a war between two sides. Underlining that aspect with the marketing makes a lot of sense, and so long as people choose to express their misgivings with Spongebob GIFS rather than angry rants, it can be part of the fun.

Next. hotd trailers. 9 big events foreshadowed in the House of the Dragon trailers, with receipts. dark

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