- Warning: Spoilers ahead for “House of the Dragon” season one.
- In GRRM’s “Fire and Blood” book, King Viserys is described favorably and credited with prosperity.
- But “House of the Dragon” removes the male bias in that retelling, and shows Viserys’ weaknesses.
“Will I be remembered as a good king?”
This question comes in Sunday’s new “House of the Dragon” episode as King Viserys (played by Paddy Considine) confronts his looming death. He’s sick, covered in mysterious sores with blood dripping from his nose.
“What will they say of me?” Viserys asks Lyonel Strong, the Hand of the King. For readers of “Fire and Blood,” the George RR Martin book the show is based upon, this question may have brought a knowing smile. King Viserys may wonder at how history books will remember him, but fans at home know because Martin already wrote that history.
And it’s wildly different from the perspective we’re seeing in HBO’s “House of the Dragon” series.
The book version of King Viserys is described as well-loved and he’s credited with overseeing the “apex” of House Targaryen’s power in Westeros. But so far, the HBO adaptation is giving us a story that includes his daughter and second wife’s perspectives, and we see a whole different story play out in the patriarchal kingdom.
‘House of the Dragon’ star Emma D’Arcy said the series is built around the question of how to undo prejudice against women
Emma D’Arcy plays adult Rhaenyra, who we’ll see starting with next week’s sixth episode that jumps ahead in time once again.
“Westeros is a society that doesn’t afford women space,” D’Arcy said while speaking with Insider during a pre-season press junket. “Within this universe, womanhood is associated with motherhood, with amenability, with duty, with disability.”
They continued: “With regards to women in power within patriarchy, I think the fundamental question of the show is: ‘If you are a woman looking to rule, how do you convince an electorate? How do you convince male subjects that you are not ‘other’? How do you undo those harmful labels?’
As these first five episodes have demonstrated, Viserys’ choice to name Rhaenyra heir wasn’t enough to maintain a peaceful transition of power — a failure comes from all the moments afterwards when he fails to support her claim to the realm.
“It’s almost about allyship, right?” D’Arcy said. “You can give someone a mantle of power, but then you have to know that all the systems that mantle exists within are going to be working in opposition to it. support doesn’t happen.”
The actor said the world needs to “learn” how to change, not just have people who want it to.
So that brings us to Viserys, who muses about his legacy in the most recent episode.
‘Fire and Blood’ gives Viserys credit for prosperity and peace, while ‘House of the Dragon’ shows him letting the realm splinter before his eyes
The “House of the Dragon” writers had a unique jumping off point for the first-ever “Game of Thrones” prequel series. “Fire and Blood” is not a detailed novel tracing deep character arcs — it’s a fast-moving historical account of House Targaryen written as if from the perspective of maesters and witness accounts transcribed far into the future.
In other words, the story is entirely subjective. Flipping through the pages, you’ll read three different accounts of one person’s death, or competing tales about which princess slept with which knight. There’s hearsay and rumors and paraphrased quotes. And, because Martin wrote Westeros to be a patriarchal society (one where men are the rightful heirs to their fathers’ titles and homes, and where women are traded as political pawns and forced into birth), “Fire and Blood” has a deeply male -biased view of how these fictional events unfolded.
Starting with the very first episode of “House of the Dragon,” co-creator Ryan Condal and his writing team let viewers know that this TV adaptation would not only fill in the gaps of the events found in “Fire and Blood,” but correct the notion that the beginning of the end of House Targaryen was the fault of two women.
In “Fire and Blood,” the historians credit King Viserys’s reign as the “apex of Targaryen power in Westeros.” The writers say he had a “generous, amiable nature” and was “well loved by his lords and smallfolk alike.” People called him the Young King and viewed his reign by him “peaceful and prosperous.”
The historian notes that his “open-handedness was legendary” and the pages boast about how this was the strongest time for the number of dragons and dragonriders.
However, showrunners Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik have made adaptive choices for “House of the Dragon” that show King Viserys as weak and ineffective. He cowers from the chance to show strength in public, and puts off important conversations until he has a private outburst of rage or grief.
We see how he is at fault for the first major fracture in the relationship between Alicent and Rhaenyra when he chose his daughter’s peer and best friend to be his new bride. Throughout the hunting episode, Viserys also failed to counteract the realm’s perception of Rhaenyra as entitled and unworthy to rule compared to a male child.
To be fair to the book’s context, the descriptions of Viserys aren’t always glowing. The maester notes that Viserys “was not the strongest-willed of kings, it must be said; always friendly and anxious to please, he relied greatly on the counsel of the men around him, and did as they bade more oft than not.”
We see this come to life in “House of the Dragon” as Viserys tries to keep his Small Council meetings as conflict-free as possible, and takes the advice of his Hand without question.
But there’s one aspect of Viserys’ life in “Fire and Blood” that is decidedly not in “House of the Dragon” so far, and that’s his solution to the Rhaenyra versus Alicent conflict.
In the book, the maester writes that “King Viserys loved both his wife and daughter, and hated conflict and contention.”
“He strove all his days to keep the peace between his women, and to please both with gifts and gold says and honors,” the book.
So far, Viserys has barely seemed to register the fact that Alicent (second wife and mother to his two youngest children) is unhappy, and that her close friendship with Rhaenyra (his daughter and heir) has been weakened ever since he chose his bride without privately revealing his choice first.
‘House of the Dragon’ is changing the book’s fictional history to lay the blame for House Targaryen’s ruin at the feet of men
Insider also spoke with Condal and Sapochnik prior to the first season premiere of “House of the Dragon,” where they reflected on the approach to this particular story and the special adaptation opportunity it presented.
“We’ve come in with an approach which is that we want to tell this story through the female perspective specifically,” Sapochnik said. “And so, one of the things we need to do is listen to women because otherwise we are making it all up.”
The most recent episode as well as the previous week’s (in which Rhaenyra had a sexual encounter with Criston Cole and her uncle Daemon while Alicent was performing her anxiety-inducing duty of letting King Viserys have sex with her) were directed by Clare Kilner, the first woman behind the camera for this HBO series. Sunday’s wedding episode was written by Charmaine DeGrate, who is the first woman writer with a solo episode credit on the series, as well as a credited producer.
In “Fire and Blood,” the male perspective paints both Rhaenyra and Alicent in cold, unflattering light. Little is explored when it comes to their motivations and inner lives. But “House of the Dragon” changes that revealing that it was really Viserys’ weaknesses that led to the decline of House Targaryen.
The first five episodes hop in time throughout young Alicent and Rhaenyra’s lives, changing the book’s story so that the two women are both 14 years at the start of the story, instead of several years apart in age and never friends before they are stepmother and stepdaughter . With the younger cast of Emily Carey and Milly Alcock in those roles, we got almost a miniature prequel within this larger “Game of Thrones” prequel story.
Starting next week, Olivia Cooke and Emma D’Arcy step into the adult roles as the story kicks into higher gear with the story arc that eventually leaves House Targaryen in the ruin that “Game of Thrones” fans know is coming.
“We get to be as the God’s eye point of view in the story telling the objective truth, we get to show those moments,” Condal said. “And I think that’s the thing that will keep people leaning forward and interested.”
“House of the Dragon” airs Sunday nights on HBO at 9 pm ET. For more analysis of the series, read our breakdown here of the best details you might have missed in the latest episode.