HBO’s House of the Dragon is introducing one significant change from the books, which sets up the prequel to repeat an incredibly effective Game of Thrones strategy. Set approximately 200 years before Game of Thrones’ timeline, House of the Dragon depicts a monumental era in the reign of House Targaryen known as the Dance of the Dragons. House of the Dragon will see the beginning and end of King Viserys I Targaryen’s rule of Westeros, with the character expected to have a short yet impactful tenure on the series.
House of the Dragon is based on the Dance of the Dragons section of George R.R. Martin’s book Fire & Blood, an informational deep-dive into the history and family tree of House Targaryen, which leaves HBO with plenty of room for narrative liberties. Game of Thrones was adapted from Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, but the TV show had surpassed the books around season 4. As such, Game of Thrones’ character arcs and storylines began to controversially depart from their book sources, but this isn’t apt to be an issue for House of the Dragon. Rather, House of the Dragon is able to give even more nuance to the outlines of the characters given by Martin in Fire & Blood.
George R.R. Martin has already teased that House of the Dragon will be making a significant change from his version of King Viserys I Targaryen, but remarkably comments that HBO’s Viserys is an improvement of his own character. Martin explained that House of the Dragon’s King Viserys is given a much more effective “tragic majesty” that his own character “never achieved.” This high praise isn’t just good news for House of the Dragon’s larger success, but also that the first season of the series will repeat the greatest twist from Game of Thrones. Rather than Paddy Considine’s King Viserys mirroring Robert Baratheon as the ruler whose death kicks off a chain of catastrophic events, House of the Dragon’s changes hint he’ll actually repeat the tragic brilliance of Ned Stark’s character arc.
By giving Viserys a more tragic characterization, House of the Dragon is hinting at giving him far more audience investment and care, which wouldn’t have necessarily been the case with a pure book adaptation. In Fire & Blood, arguably the most important aspect of Viserys’ character is that he adamantly defends his daughter Rhaenyra’s claim as his heir over his son Aegon, with his death inciting House Targaryen’s Civil War. Other than being chosen as Jaehaerys’ heir and his kids fighting for the claim to the Iron Throne, Viserys’ personal impact doesn’t last long in the book. House of the Dragon’s changes suggest he’ll have a much more substantial bearing on his children and the realm’s motivations after his death, thus giving him a more tragic rather than anticipated death. This is exactly what made Ned Stark’s character in Game of Thrones so compelling, as he died at the end of season 1 after largely serving as the series’ main character.
Those unfamiliar with George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books wouldn’t have expected Ned Stark to die at the end of season 1, especially since Sean Bean was arguably the best-known actor in the cast at the time. Ned Stark’s shocking death occurred only nine episodes into the series, but Game of Thrones had made his character the one that audiences had grown to root for the most. King Viserys is expected to die by the end of House of the Dragon season 1 in order to kickstart the civil war in season 2, so repeating the investment into his character that Ned Stark received is apt to grant him a similarly shocking death and pervasive influence on the prequel series.