Differences between House of the Dragon and George R. R. Martin’s book

house of the dragon season 2 filming locations
What HotD changed from Fire & BloodHBO

"Spoilers" for prequels is always kind of a weird thing to talk about, since in theory we already know how it ends – and that goes double for book adaptations. So how likely is it that book readers are going to spoil House of the Dragon season 2, the prequel to Game of Thrones that's all about a Targaryen civil war?

Given that the George R. R. Martin book it’s based on is actually finished, I'd say pretty likely! But maybe you don’t care. Maybe you’re the type of person who reads the Wikipedia page before going to see a horror movie, flips to the end of the book to see how it ends, and knew about the Red Wedding before it happened on Game of Thrones because you looked it up or begged someone to tell you everything about those sweet Starks.

Here’s how House of the Dragon season 1 and season 2 compare to the book it’s based on, and what to expect in future seasons now that the Dance of the Dragons has begun. They’re making some creative choices and I’m…cool with it?

As you see in the familiar-ish opening credits of the show, House of the Dragon is based on a book called Fire & Blood. Loads of folks have read Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, but fewer, I would imagine, got into Fire & Blood — the fictional history book published by Martin in 2017 that covers decades of Targaryen rule. It takes a very specific (affectionate) type of person to read a book like that.

If you wanted to borrow the book and get spoiled on what’s going to happen on House of the Dragon, that’s pretty easy. The years we see portrayed on the show are only a few chapters in Fire & Blood.

Be warned: because reading Fire & Blood is basically like doing AP Westeros homework, it can get pretty boring. There are some fun passages, but it’s not a super-fun read overall. So just to make it easy, here are some of the key differences between the book and show so far.

The ages in House of the Dragon are a bit different

As was the case with Game of Thrones, the characters on the show are not the same ages as they are in the book. For example, in the book, Alicent Hightower is 18 when she marries the 29-year-old King Viserys, and his daughter Princess Rhaenyra is about 8 or 9. In the show, Rhaenyra and Alicent are both about 15 and Viserys, played by 48-year-old actor Paddy Considine, is older as well. By the end of the season, Rhaenyra is 33 and her oldest child is 15, BTW.

...So are some of the relationships

One of the most revealing differences, but not necessarily changes, between the book and the show is that Alicent and her future stepdaughter were friends in court. The book only talks about how they became rivals later in life. As you may have read on a bumper sticker, well-behaved women rarely make history, so, like…of course the book wouldn’t include the part about them being besties.

A big reveal happened in season one episode one

At the end of the premiere, just before Viserys names Rhaenyra as his official heir to the Iron Throne, the king tells his daughter a secret that has been passed on from one Targaryen to another for centuries. He says that Aegon the Conquerer, more or less the founder of Westeros, had a dream that a terrible winter would come and that the only way to defeat it was with a Westeros united under a Targaryen on the throne.

Viserys then says that Aegon called his dream “a song of ice and fire.” Did you point at the screen like that Leo meme when he said that? A Song of Ice and Fire is the title of Martin’s series! Now we know, officially, what it means! That’s not in any of the books, but it did come from Martin himself, according to an interview with the showrunners, per Insider. And because this wasn’t a part of the book, that means the part where Viserys slips up and accidentally tells Alicent wasn’t either.

One character likely won’t show up

In the book, there is a dwarf called Mushroom (which feels offensive, especially given that this book was published in 2017) who served as a fool during the reign of King Viserys I Targaryen and a few subsequent Targaryen regents. According to the book, the nobles at court thought that Mushroom seemed less intelligent than he actually was, which made it easy for him to be unsuspecting and learn everyone’s secrets. After Tyrion Lannister and Peter Dinklage’s performance changed how people with dwarfism are viewed onscreen, particularly in fantasy, it would feel like a step backward to introduce a new dwarf character who’s the butt of jokes. It’s 2024!

But while we likely won’t see him on the show, Mushroom’s POV is important to the book because…

The book has an unreliable narrator

The book is by George R. R. Martin IRL, obviously, but the title page adds a fun narrative convention by saying that Martin is simply transcribing a text “by” Archmaester Gyldayn of the Citadel of Oldtown. You may remember the citadel from Game of Thrones; it’s where Samwell Tarly goes to study when he decides to become a maester. In the book, Gyldayn as the narrator makes a few editorial comments. He specifies that some things are just rumours. Mushroom is one of his sources. So that means that not everything in Fire & Blood is necessarily “true,” so to speak. Gyldayn and Mushroom and the other fictional historians who contributed accounts to the book could have gotten the facts wrong. Like anyone in the Song of Ice and Fire universe, these are human beings with opinions and loyalties that are anything but objective.

Because the book has an unreliable narrator, small changes from the text to the show are way easier to justify and not necessarily going “against” canon. For example, in episode two, we learn that Daemon’s lover Mysaria can’t get pregnant because she “ensured long ago that [she] would never be threatened with childbirth,” even though Daemon had already announced to a lot of people that she was carrying his child.

In Fire & Blood, Gyldayn writes that Mysaria actually was pregnant and had a miscarriage at sea when Daemon was forced to send her away. Maybe Daemon just let people believe a lie so successfully that it ended up in the history book.

There’s also no record of Princess Rhaenys busting through the Dragon Pit floor after Aegon II’s coronation in Fire & Blood, but you can chalk that up to Gyldayn or Gyldayn’s sources thinking it’s unimportant or perhaps embarrassing for the Greens. The only casualties were small folk, aka peasants and commoners, and both House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones make it clear that anyone with even a little bit of power in Westeros does not care what happens to ordinary people.

Several deaths in season 1 were “different” in the book

The biggest discrepancies between the events as they were recorded in Fire & Blood and how we see them on House of the Dragon concern the deaths of three key characters: Harwin Strong, Laenor Velaryon, and Lucerys “Luke” Velaryon/Targaryen. In the book, Rhaenyra’s lover and the alleged father of her three oldest sons does die in a fire at Harrenhaal — but nobody knows who was responsible. The book suggests several suspects, but the show makes it clear that it was Westeros’s number one foot enthusiast Larys Strong who killed his own kin. A similar thing happened with Lord Beesbury, who became the first official casualty of the civil war when Cristin Cole bashed his head in during the Green Council meeting. The book has conflicting accounts of how/when he died, and the show makes a clear choice. Daemon Targaryen’s first wife dies in a hunting accident in the book, and people think that’s what happened in the show, but it’s secretly Daemon. You get the gist.

Also, Rhaenyra’s first husband, Laenor Velaryon, is said to have been killed by his lover Qarl Correy in the book. But the show “reveals,” so to speak, that his death was faked and the two ran away together. That’s actually a really nice change! Happy for them!

Finally, in the season one finale, Rhaenyra’s son Luke does technically die the same way that he does in the book. Fire & Blood tells us that Aemond killed Luke in a dragon duel at Storm’s End, seemingly in retaliation for his eye. But the show adds a little nuance. We see that both boys lost control of their dragons and that Aemond did not ask Vhagar to chomp on Luke and his dragon Arrax like that. Aemond is visibly shocked and maybe even feels a twinge of guilt. It makes him less of a villain. (Listen, the bar for decency is on the floor in Westeros. I’ll take any regret and empathy I can get.)

Season 2 is already taking some liberties

In the book, we learn more about the time that Jacaerys “Jace” Velaryon spends in Winterfell securing an alliance with House Stark. According to Fire & Blood, it's rumoured that he fell in love with Cregan Stark's bastard sister Sarah Snow. But on the show, Jace returns from the North fairly quickly. If any of that happened off-screen between seasons, we've yet to find out.

If you were firmly on the side of Team Black at the end of season 1 and believed that only Team Green has done anything wrong, that may no longer be the case. At the beginning of season 2, Daemon got revenge on Alicent’s family for Lucerys’s death using assassins named “Blood” and “Cheese.” In the book, it's only rumoured that he hired them. They were instructed to take "a son for a son" and that they did, though there were some other minor changes from the books. The baby is murdered in Helaena's room, not Alicent's. The Queen mother is not present, as she is in the book. She's busy getting busy with Ser Cristin Cole on the show, an affair that the "writers" of Fire & Blood seem not to know about.

In the book, Blood and Cheese ask Helaena to choose a son for them to kill and then do the opposite. That doesn't happen in the show. In fact, her second son isn't even born yet. But since the show is positioning Helaena to have some kind of supernatural foresight, it is smart to not have her get tricked so easily by two assassins.

Who wins the Dance of the Dragons?

Book spoiler alert! So, what can we expect from the rest of the series? The show has already been renewed for season 3, so buckle up for a lot of death and a lot of dragons. And hopefully no more time jumps. In fact, since the rough plan is for House of the Dragon to have four seasons, according to George R. R. Martin’s website, and the Dance of the Dragons lasted less than three years, the pace of the show should slow down drastically. There’s also room for a little more romance…and a return to some familiar locations for Game of Thrones fans.

While the Blacks and the Greens duke it out, Rhaenyra’s children are spread out to keep them safe. This means there are plenty of new characters to come from every corner of the map. We've already started to see that at the beginning of season 2.

Ultimately, the Blacks “win” the Dance of the Dragons and the civil war ends after approximately two years with the coronation of Aegon III, Rhaenyra and Daemon’s son. (Both Rhaenyra and Aegon II sit on the Iron Throne at least once over the course of the war.) But neither parent lives to see that happen. While many fan-favourite characters made it to the end of Game of Thrones, that’s not going to happen on House of the Dragon. There will be only a handful of survivors, and some of them haven't even been born yet.

But even though we ultimately know how the story of House of the Dragon ends, the show has a lot more freedom to play around with the narrative. It can include other families and other perspectives to the names and dates that are more set in stone and really flesh out this world. As we’ve seen from season 1, it already has!

WATCH NOW House Of The Dragon season 2 is now streaming on NOW

You Might Also Like