10 Key Differences Between ‘House of the Dragon’ and ‘Fire & Blood’

In adapting George R. R. Martin’s Targaryen history for the small screen, showrunners have made some major changes, from aging up certain characters to showing others getting frisky.
George R.R. Martin’s ‘Fire & Blood’ and key art from Season 2 of ‘House of the Dragon.’
George R.R. Martin’s ‘Fire & Blood’ and key art from Season 2 of ‘House of the Dragon.’ / Left: Bantam/Amazon (book cover), anand purohit/Moment/Getty Images (background); Right: Key Art courtesy of HBO

Although the showrunners of Game of Thrones were often forced to condense George R. R. Martin’s 800-plus-page novels into merely 10 episodes a season, the House of the Dragon showrunners have had a lot more room to breathe: The infamous Dance of the Dragons accounts for only around 200 pages of Fire & Blood. Between that and the book‘s more detached format—rather than being told from the point of view of the characters, it’s a scholarly history of the Targaryen dynasty—House of the Dragon has been allowed to make a ton of bold changes to the source material. Ahead, you’ll find 10 of the show’s most notable adaptive flourishes. Warning: Spoilers below!

Alicent is significantly older than Rhaenyra in the book.

Emily Carey and Milly Alcock in ‘House of the Dragon.’
Emily Carey and Milly Alcock in ‘House of the Dragon.’ / Ollie Upton/HBO

In Fire & Blood, Alicent is 18 years old—and roughly nine years older than Rhaenyra—when she marries King Viserys. Not only does this make her marriage far less repellant (as Viserys himself is only around 30 in the book), but it removes any of the usual awkwardness that comes when a father marries his daughter’s best friend.

The show not only chose to make young Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) and Alicent (Emily Carey) close childhood friends of the same age, but also to make their complicated, devolving relationship the driving conflict of the series. It’s adult Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) facing off against Alicent (Olivia Cooke) in the show, whereas in the book, the feud is more focused around Rhaenyra and Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney).

Viserys is a happy, carefree king in Fire & Blood.

Paddy Considine in ‘House of the Dragon’
Paddy Considine in ‘House of the Dragon.’ / Ollie Upton / HBO

Characterized by Westerosi historians as youthful, optimistic, and prone to extravagant celebrations, the Viserys of Fire & Blood is almost unrecognizable from his TV counterpart, played by Paddy Considine. TV Viserys is old, sickly, and perpetually stressed out (at least when he’s not working on his model of Old Valyria). It doesn’t quite forgive how he let the seeds of civil war fester throughout his reign, but at least TV viewers can see he wasn’t enjoying himself while he did it.

Alicent is far less conflicted in Fire & Blood.

Olivia Cooke in ‘House of the Dragon.’
Olivia Cooke in ‘House of the Dragon.’ / Ollie Upton/HBO

Given HotD’s choice to center the show around Alicent and Rhaenyra, it makes sense that TV Alicent is more complicated and sympathetic. Plenty of screentime is dedicated to her reluctantly turning against Rhaenyra, as well as her flirting with the idea of rekindling their friendship. If book Alicent had any real guilt over her actions or any warm feelings towards Rhaenyra, the historian narrator either never found out or neglected to mention it. The two managed to have a brief period of polite friendliness, but as early as Aegon II’s birth, their relationship was starting to fray.

The book makes no mention of the prophecy.

One of HotD’s most controversial early decisions was to have Viserys tell Rhaenyra about a prophecy called “The Song of Ice and Fire,” which foretells the events we saw in Game of Thrones. It was decried by some fans as a forced tie-in to the original series, not to mention an awkward reminder of how many viewers felt that season 8 dropped the ball. However, adding the prophecy also helped to make Rhaenyra’s claim to the throne more sympathetic to some, and Alicent’s misunderstanding of the prophecy helped to give the Greens another reason to go through with their coup.

Fire & Blood features Mushroom, a court jester for the Targaryens.

Archmaester Gyladyn, the narrator of Fire & Blood, relies on a handful of firsthand accounts of the story’s events, and Mushroom the court jester is one of his key sources. This is both a blessing and an annoyance for the narrator, as Mushroom’s recounting is always filled with absurd sexual details and other scandalous, over-dramatic claims. As for how much of these are true? That’s up to the reader; the ambiguity’s a big part of the book’s appeal. Mushroom’s a fan-favorite for Rhaenyra supporters in particular, as he’s the only one of the major recurring sources to consistently paint her actions in a flattering light.

Although Paddy Considine fought for Mushroom’s inclusion in season 1, the character remains absent even in season 2. It’s a shame because he’s easily one of the most intriguing characters in the book—a dwarf who pretends to be a simpleton, all while shrewdly keeping track of everyone’s actions and presenting himself as a safe ear to vent to.

There’s still some hope for disappointed Mushroom fans, though. Some of the character’s most interesting moments don’t happen until later in the war, during events the show probably won’t cover until seasons 3 or 4. HotD has so far wasted its chance to feature such a beloved character, but there’s technically still time to make amends.

Laenor died for real in Fire & Blood.

Emma D’Arcy and John MacMillan in ‘House of the Dragon.’
Emma D’Arcy and John MacMillan in ‘House of the Dragon.’ / Ollie Upton / HBO

Rhaenyra and Laenor Velaryon were never going to make a good couple, so TV Rhaenyra chose to let Laenor (John Macmillan) run off to Essos with his male suitor while she and Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) faked his death at home. It’s almost a sweet moment, providing you ignore Rhaenys’s screams of anguish and don’t think too hard about who Laenor’s fake dead body belonged to.

Book Laenor gets killed at a public fair, where it would have been much harder for him to fake his death. Fire & Blood doesn’t offer any definitive explanation of what happened, but it’s strongly speculated by Mushroom that Laenor’s death was the result of Daemon’s scheming.

Rhaenys never breaks out of the Dragonpit during Aegon II’s coronation in the book.

Season 1’s penultimate episode, “The Green Council,” ends with Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best) escaping captivity with her dragon Meleys and ruining Aegon II’s coronation as king. It’s a triumphant, badass moment for Rhaenys—undermined by the obvious question of why she doesn’t just kill the usurpers right then and there, ending the bloody war before it can begin.

Fire & Blood contains no insights into why she’d let her enemies go, because book Rhaenys never gets the chance. She’s nowhere near King’s Landing at the time of Aegon’s coronation, which goes off without a hitch.

In Fire & Blood, there’s no indication that Lucerys’s death was an accident.

Because Fire & Blood is narrated by historians years after the fact, many of the events that occurred during the Dance of the Dragons are written based on secondhand accounts. According to the book, Alicent’s son, Aemond, held a grudge against Rhaenyra’s son, Lucerys, for taking out his eye when they were children. When Aemond and his dragon Vhagar kill Lucerys and his dragon Arrax above the seas near Storm’s End, Aemond brags about the killing; because of their heated past, it’s taken for granted that the murder was on purpose.

The show, however, surprised book fans with a big reveal: Vhagar eats Lucerys (Elliot Grihault) and Arrax against Aemond’s wishes. While some complained that it presented Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) as a clumsy fool rather than a scary badass, others appreciated how it tied into the ongoing theme of the Targaryens’ hubris being their downfall: Aemond brags about claiming the oldest, biggest dragon in the realm, only to realize too late that he can’t control it.

The Blood and Cheese incident was so much worse in the book.

Phia Saban in ‘House of the Dragon.’
Phia Saban in ‘House of the Dragon.’ / Ollie Upton/HBO

TV-only viewers were shocked by the season 2 premiere’s final scene, in which Princess Helaena (Phia Saban) is forced to pick out her son, Jaehaerys, for the assassins to kill. As they begin to behead her young son, she grabs her daughter, Jaehaera, and flees to her mother’s room, catching Alicent in bed with Ser Criston Cole. (Luckily for Alicent, Helaena does not seem to care at all about her affair with Cole.)

Book fans were underwhelmed by the scene, however, because most of the psychological horror of the sequence was omitted—as were major characters.

In Fire & Blood, the two assassins (named Blood and Cheese) go to Alicent’s chambers because they know Helaena takes her three children—the twins Jaehaerys and Jaehaera and youngest son Maelor—there every night. They kill the guardsmen and, once inside, restrain Alicent, bar the door, and tell Helaena to choose which of her two sons will die. She picks Maelor because she believes he’s too young to know what is about to happen. Cheese laughs and tells Maelor his mother wants him dead, and then Blood kills Jaehaerys instead.

They flee with the boy’s head, and Helaena is later found clutching Jaehaerys’s body. The incident is so traumatizing for Helaena because, in addition to witnessing the brutal murder firsthand, she’s filled with guilt every time she looks at the child she picked to die.

Alicent has no love affair with Ser Cristin Cole in Fire & Blood.

Olivia Cooke and Fabien Frankel in ‘House of the Dragon.’
Olivia Cooke and Fabien Frankel in ‘House of the Dragon.’ / Ollie Upton/HBO

One of season 2’s biggest surprises was the reveal that Alicent and Cole have been hooking up after Viserys’s death. It not only gives them some extra guilt to work through after the Blood & Cheese incident—Jaehaerys might still be alive if Cole was on guard instead of in her bed—but it implies a lot about their psyches: Cole can’t get over the fact that Rhaenyra wouldn’t give up the throne to be with him, and Alicent continues to obsess over Rhaenyra’s every infuritating move, past and present. They are united not by love but by their mutual hatred. Both seem perpetually hung up on Rhaenyra, and are using each other as substitutes.

Though Fire & Blood does discuss Rhaenyra and Cole’s relationship (one source has Rhaenyra spurning Cole, while Mushroom claims Cole spurned her), it makes no mention of any of Alicent’s post-marriage affairs. If book Alicent did hook up with Cole at some point, then once again, the narrator either never found out or didn’t consider it noteworthy. It’s a testament to just how much focus Alicent’s been given in the show; on TV she’s basically the co-protagonist, and in the book she’s almost an afterthought.

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