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Even in the earliest days of adapting George R.R. Martin’s book Fire & Blood into a Game of Thrones prequel series, the creatives were faced with a big challenge. Fire & Blood seemingly stretched across far too much time. The book covers 150 years and tells the story of the rise and fall of various Targaryen monarchs ruling Westeros. Even centering the show on the Targaryen civil war presented challenges since the conflict’s roots extend back decades into the characters’ lives.
The first attempt at an adaptation began with the death of King Viserys Targaryen (played by Paddy Considine in the show). But doing that would have left out so much pivotal backstory that directly impacted everything that transpired next. So when showrunner Ryan Condal came on board the project, he crafted a story that would span decades.
It was a daring move, yet not entirely without precedent: Netflix’s The Crown has similar time jumps and cast changes … just not after only five episodes of the show’s debut season.
“I’m excited about the pace and the structure of the story that we’re telling in the first season,” Condal told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s very complex. It happens over a long period of time because children need to get married off and then grow up themselves and then have children of their own who grow up in order to tell the story of this generational war that is fought. HBO gave [showrunner Miguel Sapochnik] the creative latitude to tell this incredibly complex story in a really patient and character-driven way that sets up a first season so that it launches you into one of the most famous and bloody conflicts in the history of Westeros — if not the most.”
“It’s what makes this premium HBO content versus the thing we would have been forced to make at a different outlet,” he added. “Most other places would not have had the patience and boldness to allow us to tell the story we’re telling. But this is how you tell this story correctly. We’re telling a story of a generational war. We set everything up so by the time that first sword stroke falls, you understand all the players — where they are and why they are. All the history is there instead of being told to you in exposition. This way you get to see it all happen.”
Asked if they were concerned if fans — or the network — would get begin antsy around episode 4 given the amount of groundwork being laid, the showrunners said they felt confident their approach would ultimately reward fans.
“No one ever said to us, ‘When’s the drama going to start?’” Sapochnik said. “There’s a real advantage to taking the time to get to know the characters because the investment is worthwhile. House of the Dragon season one is a slow burn. And it’s worth it because there’s enough in there to keep everybody interested, but we have purposely tried to move away from doing spectacle so that when we return to the spectacle we can do it properly.”
The season’s biggest time jump happened Sunday night, with episode six opening with Emma D’Arcy (30 years old) and Olivia Cooke (28) having taken over the female lead roles of Rhaenyra and Alicent from Milly Alcock (22) and Emily Carey (19), respectively. Several of the older male characters are still played by the same actors.
Some fans of Alcock and Carey’s performances have wondered why the younger performers couldn’t just play the characters throughout the show given the age difference between all four actors is less than a decade.
Part of the reason for the switch is that the show had to open with the leads as teens during certain key events in their lives (such as Alicent marrying her best friend’s father, the king, and Rhaenyra being named heir to the Iron Throne). But the latest 10-year jump won’t be the show’s last. Very soon, for example, Alicent’s son Aegon becomes older than Alicent in the show’s first episode.
Once civil war breaks out, however, it’s likely the show’s rapid timeline sprint will slow considerably. The war — dubbed the Dance of the Dragons — was said to only last around two years.
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Thomas Brodie Sangster