“Madness and greatness are two sides of the same coin. Every time a new Targaryen is born … the gods toss the coin in the air and the world holds its breath to see how it will land.”
It is that time again. The return of the labyrinthine world of Westeros, this time in Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon (HOTD), and all of the scholarly research and rabbit holes it requires to figure it all out. But beware the Google and Twitter scrolling this time, as spoilers abound. The series is based on a finished book, unlike the final seasons of Thrones.
To help you make sense of it, we’ve created a quick and spoiler-free Watercooler guide and glossary, one that will help both novices and Thrones fans connect far flung dots and sort through all those adjacent vowels and consonants, repeat names, and byzantine references.
First: Viewing Homework
To truly understand the world of HOTD, you might want to watch /rewatch the very first episode of Game of Thrones — Season 1, Episode 1. The pilot sets up the back story of the Targaryen family, the sprawling dynasty at the center of Thrones as well as this prequel, and it introduces young Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), which is important. From the hints, HOTD serves as a kind of origin story to explain the wild arc of her character in Thrones.
But you don’t actually need to watch the pilot to jump in. The new series is set nearly 200 years prior, with all new characters, and requires its own “cheat sheet” to sort through some of the intricacies and terms behind “the dance of the dragons.” Here’s your starter:
A “House of Targaryen” Refresher
A primordial version of the British monarchy, the Targaryens are the royals of Westeros, having ruled over the continent for three centuries. House of the Dragon captures the clan at the height of their reign.
What makes them so powerful? Well, their dragons, a whole arsenal of fire breathing behemoths with the power of close range nuclear missiles. Only the Targaryens know how to tame and deploy them. Yet several Targaryens also have the power of prophecy, what are often referred to as “dragon dreams,” the ability to envision what lies ahead. The question is whether Targaryen visions are signs of madness, self-fulfilling prophecies, or an actual sixth sense.
The Targaryen’s are also known for marrying each other, as was the case with many powerful families throughout (actual) history. Incest, whether intentional or unintentional, continues to be a theme throughout the sprawling clan.
The first episode sets up the era known as the “Dance of Dragons,” when the question of succession divided the Targaryens, ultimately leading to a civil war.
What came before it? A long and chaotic epoch of fighting known as the Faith Militant Uprising, which ended when the reigning king, Maegor the Cruel, who ruled 60 years before, died mysteriously. In his wake, the only remaining son of the previous king, Jaehaerys I, succeeded to the throne.
As the line of succession from King Jaehaerys was unclear, he called upon a council to choose the next in line. The Targaryen with the strongest claim to the throne was his granddaughter/grandniece, the oldest in line, Rhaenys. But the council chose his grandson, Viserys, to be the next ruler. The first episode of HOTD focuses on Viserys and his preoccupation with his own succession; his wife is pregnant, and after years of miscarriages and still births, he is desperate for a son, despite the fact that he has a very capable dragon taming daughter, Rhaenyra (yes, just a few letters off from her aunt’s name, and confusing things further, she looks like a dead ringer for a young Daenerys).
The Source Material
House of Dragon adapts the final third of George R.R. Martin’s Fire and Blood, the collection of stories published years after Game of Throne’s Season 1 finale, which is where the title originated. Written to accompany the Song of Ice and Fire series that is the basis for the Game of Thrones universe, Fire and Blood is a partial history of the Targaryens, whose reign stretches back to the first king of Westeros and continues all the way to Daenerys in the final season of GoT.
House of the Dragon is set halfway between the reign of the first Aegon Targaryen, aka Aegon the Conqueror — the man who united all of Westeros — and the era of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). For a deeper dive into the history, check out this TIME timeline from GOT era.
A House of the Dragon Glossary
Westeros: The continent of the Seven Kingdoms.
King’s Landing: Still the capital of Westeros and seat of government, as it continued to be during the Game of Thrones eras. In House of the Dragon, there’s a large dome in the middle of the skyline — the Dragonpit, home of House Targaryen’s army of dragons.
The Red Keep: The castle of the King of the Seven Kingdoms, which overlooks King’s Landing. Contains the Tower of the Hand (the King’s chief advisor), the High Council chamber (for the King’s advisors) and the great hall of the Iron Throne — which has many more sword-like spears in the new series.
The City Watch: The army of King’s Landing, also known as the Gold Cloaks, which are tasked with defending the Iron Throne. Daemon Targaryen commands the Watch shortly after Viserys is crowned king.
The Iron Throne: Aegon the Conqueror, a Targaryen, built the throne out of the blades of his enemies to create a symbol of power over his subjects, but also to ensure that it isn’t comfortable to sit on, because “a king should never sit easy.” Getting wounded by the throne is a sign that the king isn’t fit to rule.
The Abomination on the Iron Throne: King Maegor the Cruel, who was found dead on the Iron Throne, the blades from the Throne itself sticking through his neck. Many believed it was the Throne itself that killed him – a rejection of his evil and tyrannical rule.
House Velaryon: Like the Targaryens, they trace their roots to Old Valyria and share the same long platinum hair. Yet where the Targaryens are dragon riders who inherited their wealth and power, the Velaryons are seafarers who built their wealth — thanks largely to Lord Corlys and his voyages. House Velaryon members are based on the island of Driftmark.
Lord of the Tides: The title given to the head of House Velaryon.
The Triarchy: An alliance of the Free Cities of Essos, the continent on the other side of the Narrow Sea from Westeros, which is formed to rid the Stepstones of pirates. Initially the alignment is welcomed by the Iron Throne.
The Stepstones: A series of islands in the south of the Narrow Sea, which divide Westeros from Essos, and represent an important trade route.
Dragonstone: The ancestral home of House Targaryen.
The Great Council of 101 AC: Where the precedent was set for the line of succession in Westeros. After King Jaehaerys’s infant son died, all the lords of Westeros gathered to pick a successor. They chose Viserys, the king’s grandson, over Rhaenys, his older grandaugther /niece.
Kingsguard: The order of knights sworn to protect the king and the royal family. There are typically seven such knights, who are prohibited from inheriting land, holding titles, taking wives, or starting families. They wear white and are commonly called white cloaks.
Small council: The group of seven trusted advisers who aid the king.
Dragonseeds: Bastard children of House Targaryen. Especially common on Dragonstone, where many common folk claim that the blood of the dragon runs through their veins.
Blackfyre: The Valyrian steel sword of Aegon the Conqueror that is typically wielded by Targaryen kings. Before the start of the Dance it is in the hands of Viserys I.
Dark Sister: The Valyrian steel sword wielded by Queen Visenya Targaryen during Aegon’s Conquest. King Jaehaerys I gave the sword to Daemon Targaryen, who currently possesses it.