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What is House of the Dragon based on?

Milly Alcock in House of the Dragon
(Image credit: Ollie Upton/HBO)

The world of Westeros, which fans came to know so well with Game of Thrones, is back with the all-new series, House of the Dragon. George R. R. Martin’s fantasy world was taken from pages to TV screens and has become a prominent figure in pop culture. Though many were introduced to Martin’s work through the show, others had an introduction to it through his A Song of Ice and Fire books. That begs the question, is House of the Dragon based on any of Martin’s other work?

Long-time fans may be weary of that question because of what happened with the ending of Game of Thrones. The TV series began in 2011, just a few months ahead of when Martin released the fifth book in the series, A Dance With Dragons (opens in new tab). The first five seasons covered the first five books, but then the show began to move ahead of Martin’s writings with its final three (the author still hasn’t released the sixth book in the franchise). 

That’s where complaints began to creep in from fans that the writers, while having a broad outline and a few key moments of Martin’s intentions, began to lose control of the intricate plot and sow doubt about the show without the heavy guide of Martin’s source material.

So, does House of the Dragon have a source that serves as a playbook for an adaptation or is this an example of the writers set loose to play in the sandbox of Westeros with endless possibilities at their disposal? Well, in a way, both are true. Let us explain.

What is House of the Dragon based on?

Though George R. R. Martin hasn’t finished book six in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, The Winds of Winter, he certainly hasn’t been avoiding the world of Westeros in his writing. In 2018 he wrote a book called Fire & Blood; it is this writing that serves as the inspiration for House of the Dragon.

Many fans recognize Fire & Blood as the words of House Targaryen. Fittingly, Fire & Blood is a history of the legendary family that ruled the Seven Kingdoms for hundreds of years. It starts with the first Targaryen to come to Westeros, Aegon the Conqueror, who forged the Iron Throne, and chronicles the family's reign until a civil war that nearly destroyed their dynasty known as the "Dance of the Dragons." It is this latter event, the Dance of the Dragons, that House of the Dragon is expected to portray. 

Emily Carey and Milly Alcock in House of the Dragon

Emily Carey and Milly Alcock in House of the Dragon (Image credit: Ollie Upton/HBO)

George R. R. Martin has admitted though that those who have read Fire & Blood are likely to find some differences with how things play out in House of the Dragon.

"Sure, there are some changes from Fire & Blood — we could not present three alternative versions of every major event, not and keep our sanity — but I think Ryan Condal [the showrunner] and his writers made good choices. Even some improvements," Martin wrote on his blog (opens in new tab).

However, the author stressed that "it IS my story," meaning House of the Dragon isn’t going to go off and change the ending to what Martin has already written.

But that doesn’t mean the show won’t be able to expand on Martin’s story. Fire & Blood is 736 pages long, which would be the second shortest among his A Song of Ice and Fire books, and it covers hundreds of years of Targaryen history before it gets to the Dance of the Dragons. So the show is going to have the opportunity to expand on the story that Martin has laid out in ways that could surprise even those who eagerly read everything he writes.

House of the Dragon cliff notes

While it’s always a joy to read Martin’s writing and Fire & Blood (opens in new tab) is easily available if you want a bit of backstory for House of the Dragon before you start watching it on TV, the author recently gave a brief history lesson on the key events and players leading up to the start of House of the Dragon. Give it a watch below: 

House of the Dragon premieres on Sunday, August 21, at 9 pm ET/PT on HBO and is available to stream simultaneously on HBO Max. For UK audiences, the show debuts on Sky TV on Monday, August 22. 

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Peaky Blinders, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Saturday Night Live, Only Murders in the Building and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun.