HBO’s House of the Dragon deviates significantly from the source material in one key respect, setting up the prequel to recycle a highly successful tactic from the original series. House of the Dragon is set around 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones and covers the significant era of House Targaryen’s reign known as the Dance of the Dragons. King Viserys I Targaryen’s brief but significant reign over Westeros will begin and conclude with the events of House of the Dragon.
House of the Dragon is based on George R.R. Martin’s novel Fire & Blood, specifically the portion titled “Dance of the Dragons,” which is a detailed look at the genealogy of House Targaryen. This gives HBO great creative freedom in adapting the story for the small screen. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books inspired Game of Thrones.
However, by season 4, television had already outdone the literature. Character arcs and storylines on Game of Thrones started diverging controversially from the books at this point, although this is unlikely to be an issue on House of the Dragon. The characters introduced by Martin in Fire & Blood are fleshed out much further in House of the Dragon.
George R.R. Martin has hinted that his original vision for King Viserys I Targaryen would be drastically altered for House of the Dragon, but he has also observed that HBO’s Viserys is an upgrade on his own character. Martin said that King Viserys in House of the Dragon is given a “tragic majesty” that he “never acquired” as a character.
This glowing review is fantastic news for the overall success of House of the Dragon, but it also confirms that the first season will have a plot twist similar to Game of Thrones’ biggest surprise. House of the Dragon’s alterations suggests that Paddy Considine’s King Viserys will replicate the tragic brilliance of Ned Stark’s character journey rather than Robert Baratheon’s role as the king whose death triggers a series of terrible events.
House of the Dragon alludes to a greater viewer engagement and compassion for Viserys than would have been the case with a straight book adaptation by giving him a more sad portrayal. Viserys’s death in Fire & Blood spark a Civil War within House Targaryen because he staunchly supports his daughter Rhaenyra’s claim to be his successor over his son Aegon.
Besides being named Jaehaerys’ heir and having children dispute over who gets the Iron Throne, Viserys doesn’t influence the story much. The alterations made to House of the Dragon imply that his legacy would live on through his offspring and the driving forces behind the realm long after his death, making his demise sad rather than foreseen. Ned Stark’s death after season 1 after functioning as the show’s primary protagonist is a significant part of what made him so interesting.
Ned Stark’s death after season 1 surprised many viewers, especially considering that Sean Bean was the most recognizable actor at the time. When Ned Stark was tragically killed off in episode nine of Game of Thrones, he had already become the show’s most popular character.
It is widely assumed that King Viserys will meet an untimely end by the end of Season 1 of House of the Dragon, setting the stage for the civil war to begin in Season 2. This is because the showrunners intend to give Viserys the same level of attention and development as Ned Stark, resulting in a shocking end and a significant impact on the prequel series.