House of the Dragon, HBO’s new successor show to Game of Thrones, is all about the Targaryen family, so it’s no surprise that it digs into their past. But in its first season, the series already jumps beyond its source material, Fire & Blood, to reveal previously unknown details about one of A Song of Ice and Fire’s most important characters. And according to the showrunners, the reveal comes straight from George R.R. Martin himself.
[Ed. note: This story contains spoilers for all eight seasons of Game of Thrones and the first eight episodes of House of the Dragon.]
House of the Dragon’s first episode revolves around King Viserys’ eventual choice to name his daughter Rhaenyra as his successor for the Iron Throne of Westeros. This goes against the precedents of the realm, specifically the Great Council of 101 AC’s decision that solidified in the minds of most that male heirs took priority for the crown above female heirs. None of this is news to viewers familiar with the prequel series’ story, but what King Viserys tells his teenage daughter should be a welcome surprise to hardcore A Song of Ice and Fire fans.
Inside the Red Keep, Viserys tells Rhaenyra a little bit about Aegon the Conqueror, the first Targaryen king in Westeros and the man that united the seven warring kingdoms of the continent into one that he could rule. Most importantly, Viserys reveals that Aegon first sought to conquer Westeros because he had a vision of the end of the world:
And just as Daenys saw the end of Valyria, Aegon foresaw the end of the world of men. It is to begin with a terrible winter, gusting out of the distant north. Aegon saw absolute darkness riding on those winds, and whatever dwells within will destroy the world of the living. When this great winter comes, Rhaenyra, all of Westeros must stand against it. And if the world of men is to survive then a Targaryen must be seated on the Iron Throne. A king or queen, strong enough to unite the realm against the cold and the dark. Aegon called his dream ‘A Song of Ice and Fire.’ This secret, it’s been passed from king to heir since Aegon’s time. And now you must promise to keep it. And to carry it.
This prophecy is both unique and important for its place in the series. While prophecies in modern fantasy stories, especially A Song of Ice and Fire, are often used ironically or as a misdirect, this one is handed to us as almost unambiguously true.
By being positioned next to Daenys’ correct prophecy of the end of Valyria, which saved the Targaryen dynasty from the Doom that destroyed Valyria and first sent them to Dragonstone and Westeros, Aegon’s dream is given a bit of extra credibility. We also know that it’s (mostly) true because... we’ve already seen the ending. We know that a Targaryen’s return to Westeros, and her dragons, are critical in the fight against the White Walkers and saving men from the Long Night. We even know that it’s a Targaryen named Aegon that does the saving — since that’s Jon Snow’s real name. (As a fun tidbit, this also gives us our second explanation of the A Song of Ice and Fire series name, which most fans normally assume refers to Jon as the child of a Stark and Targaryen — representing ice and fire.)
While all of this sounds like it could be convenient backfilling from showrunners Ryan J. Condal and Miguel Sapochnik, that isn’t the case. In an interview with Polygon ahead of House of the Dragon’s premiere, Condal confirmed that this specific dream came straight from Martin.
“That actually came from [Martin], at least the origin of that point,” said Condal. “He told us very early on in the room — just as he does, just casually mentioned the fact that Aegon the Conqueror was a dreamer who saw a vision of the White Walkers coming across the wall and sweeping over the land with cold and darkness. [...] So with his permission, of course, we infused that into the story because it was such a great way to create resonance with the original show.”
This is already a huge reveal about one of the most important characters in the A Song of Ice and Fire universe, but with a little speculation, it’s also easy to see how this could give us a clue about ways that Martin’s book ending for the series could deviate from the one we saw in HBO’s Game of Thrones.
According to Viserys, to save the world all of Westeros must be united against the threat from the north and a Targaryen must be seated on the Iron Throne. Both of those are sort of vaguely gestured at by the HBO series, but aren’t really true. Neither Dany nor Jon is actually on the throne by the time the Long Night arrives, and the final battle at Winterfell really only involves a small force rather than all of Westeros.
While this prophecy played a large role in House of the Dragon’s earliest moments, it turned out to be important later on too. In the first season’s eighth episode, we see that as Viserys’ reign comes to a close, the question of the prophecy and uniting Westeros against an enemy to the north is one that has been weighed on Rhaenyra’s mind throughout her life.
Meanwhile, and much more importantly, we also learn that Alicent’s son may Aegon have had a recurring dream, not entirely dissimilar to Aegon the Conqueror’s. This seems to imply that perhaps more Targaryen have had these visions than we may have thought. It also drives Viserys toward a last minute change of heart to seemingly prefer Alicent’s Aegon for the throne than his only remaining daughter, Rhaenyra (though we’ll have to see what the show ultimately does with that).
Then again, maybe Viserys has simply mistaken Alicent for Rhaenyra in this moment and is recounting the dream of the Conqueror that he told her as a child and accidentally filling Alicent with a belief in prophecy that he son must be king. Either way it’s clear that the royal Targaryen prophecy is now a little more complicated.
If Aegon’s prophecy is correct — and proves to be in the books — then it’s possible that we could see Jon or Dany (notice Viserys says king or queen) take King’s Landing and the Iron Throne long before the Long Night arrives. It also means that we could see the army of the dead march much further south, threatening far more of Westeros than they do in the series.
Another lingering A Song of Ice and Fire question that episode 8 seems to shed new light on is the reason behind the madness of King Aerys, the “last” of the Targaryen dynasty really was. On the one hand, it’s clear that he truly was a cruel person with no real handle on reality, particularly near the end of his life. On the other, it seems that the voices he heard are now much more likely to have been genuinely prophetic and a product of his Targaryen heritage, perhaps even a warning of the coming danger. But either way, it seems that Aerys was poorly equipped to receive this warnings as the voices drove him to torture and suffering instead of the union and preparation of the Seven Kingdoms.
For now, though, like most A Song of Ice and Fire questions, we’ll just have to wait for the books to find out if any of this pans out. But at the very least, this tiny bit of dialogue proves that House of the Dragon has more new information to share with viewers and hardcore fans than its status as a prequel and a Fire & Blood adaptation might suggest.