Look, we were all … ahem … burned by the finale to Game of Thrones.
With the world watching, and without a book from author George R R Martin to work from, showrunners David Benioff and D B Weiss delivered a finale that in retrospect, thoroughly whelmed the audience to the point that the show dropped out of the cultural zeitgeist faster than you could say "valar morghulis".
But while we were willing to forget about Westeros, HBO didn't want to let go of the show that became its most-watched ever during its eight-season run.
Enter House of the Dragon, which begins streaming today, which the streaming giant is hoping will spark your love affair with the Iron Throne once more. And unlike the final seasons of Game of Thrones, smug book readers once again have a heads-up on what's about to play out before it happens on your screen.
The book guiding this one is Fire & Blood, and while it's written by George R R Martin, it's written in the style of an actual Westerosi history book. Basically, it's one for the uber fans, and was described by critics as "homework".
Dear reader, I've done the homework so you don't have to. Let's get you ready for House of the Dragon — without spoiling the whole thing.
Fine. Give me the gist of what this one is about
House of the Dragon is a prequel series to the Game of Thrones that we all loved … and then hated.
It's set more than 150 years before everything that made up the Game of Thrones you know. There are Baratheons, Starks and their ilk here. But don't expect a surprise cameo from a young Cersei Lannister in the crowd.
In House of the Dragon, Targaryens still sit on the Iron Throne. And boy howdy there are lots of them.
In fact, it's that surplus of Targaryens that sparks the events of the new series.
Like most things in Westeros, the conflict at the heart of this story is over power. Questions of who should wield it, whether anyone is entitled to it by blood, and the ensuing battles between those who seek to claim it as their own.
Succession is the topic of the day to begin this story, and by the end, you can expect plenty of those Targaryen house words — fire and blood.
Basically, this is still Game of Thrones. Expect lots of shocking betrayals, some good old-fashioned Targaryen inter-family nuptials, juicy political drama, and of course, dragons. So. Many. Dragons.
Dragons as in Targaryens or the literal, fire-breathing types?
The series will begin during the reign of King Viserys I Targaryen, the fifth ruler of the Seven Kingdoms (to give you some more context of how far back we're going, Robert Baratheon was the 18th ruler to sit the Iron Throne).
The Targaryen family is at the height of their powers. Just a few generations removed from the conquest of Aegon, the ranks of the dynasty of silver-haired dragon riders had swelled to have more than enough members to fill a Westerosi football team … and more than enough bastards and side branches to fill the stands.
They also still had a whole bunch of dragons.
There were more than 20 dragons still alive in Westeros (you would have spotted plenty during the trailer for House of the Dragon) during this time. And King Viserys I himself still rode the biggest, baddest and most famous dragon of them all, the very dragon used to conquer Westeros and melt the swords that make up the Iron Throne — Balerion, the Black Dread.
Alright the dragons were cool. Give me a non-spoilery look at the key characters
First up, we've got the king himself, Viserys I (played by Paddy Considine). It's worth noting that Viserys himself ascended to the throne in contested fashion after his grandfather, Jaehaerys, died without a son to succeed him.
Viserys I had three children in his first marriage, but only one survived past infancy — his daughter, Princess Rhaenyra (played by Emma D'Arcy). She was a favourite of the common folk, smart and proud, who rode the yellow dragon Syrax.
Without a son from that marriage to succeed him, Viserys's younger brother Prince Daemon (played by Matt Smith) assumes he will be the one to ascend the Iron Throne upon the eventual death of his older brother, as was Westerosi custom. Dashing, dangerous and possessing maybe a bit *too* much of the effects of Targaryen inbreeding, the prince was renowned for his skill with his Valyrian steel sword, Dark Sister.
Finally, don't take your eyes off the King's Hand Ser Otto Hightower (played by Rhys Ifans) and his daughter Lady Alicent Hightower (played by Olivia Cooke), both skilled in the shadowy arts of court politics. Expect some Cersei-smugly-sipping-wine-on-the-balcony-GIF moments from this pair.
I'm not going to read the book, just SPOIL it so I can be smug too
OK here's your chance to leave if you're worried about spoilers.
We're going to talk about events that will be in the ending of this show, in an effort to prove that there is actually one written by George R R Martin himself this time.
Seriously, back out now if you're even slightly worried.
Alright let's rip off the bandaid. What book readers are expecting to unfold in this series is a famous and terrible event from Westerosi history known as The Dance of Dragons. Basically, it's going to help answer the "why was Dany the last Targaryen?" question you've had floating in your head for a while.
In short, it's a civil war between the Targaryens that erupted after the death of our good King Viserys I. Before he died though, Viserys married Alicent Hightower and had four more children, making the question of succession complicated, and bloody.
One side of the war, led by Princess Rhaenyra and known as the "blacks", believe the princess is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne as Viserys's only surviving child from his first marriage (backed up by the fact that the king named Rhaenyra as his heir).
The other side, led by Otto Hightower and now Queen Alicent (known as the "greens"), believe Aegon II (the first son of Viserys and Alicent) is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne.
Given what we've seen in trailers, House of the Dragon's first season looks like it'll focus on arranging all these new pieces on the grand playing field that is the game of thrones. Subsequent seasons can then dive into the bloody events of the Dance of Dragons in earnest.
While the story doesn't have a happy ending, it does have an ending already written (and a pretty dramatic one at that). And endings are things Game of Thrones fans, especially the ones who've read the books, are very happy to see.
You'll be able to start watching House of the Dragon from today. In Australia, it'll be streaming on Binge.