Warning: This post contains spoilers for House of the Dragon.
Everyone is getting a hero edit. The Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon has billed itself as an adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s book Fire & Blood. But throughout the first season, showrunners Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik have made several major changes to the story, seemingly in hopes that the audience will sympathize with characters who were painted as villains in Martin’s story. The finale was no exception.
The final episode of Season 1 ended with a major death. Lucerys Velaryon (Elliot Grihault) arrives at Storm’s End, only to find his uncle Aemond Targaryen (Ewan Mitchell) already there. A confrontation is sparked and Lucerys, with the support of Borros Baratheon, retreats to his dragon and takes off. Aemond then chases him on dragonback through a stormy sky with his much bigger dragon. Aemond loses control of his dragon, who accidentally takes a bite out of Lucerys’ dragon, killing young Lucerys in the process. That’s not exactly how the fight above Shipbreaker Bay goes in Fire & Blood. Analyzing the changes may offer some insight into how the show’s writers are thinking and what their plan may be for future seasons.
Here’s everything you need to know about how House of the Dragon’s first season strayed from the books and what it might mean for the series.
Aemond murders Lucerys in the book
In the books, as in the show, Rhaenyra’s second son Lucerys takes out the right eye of Alicent’s second son Aemond. He does so while defending his brother Jacerys from Aemond in a fight as children.
When Aegon is later crowned king, Rhaenyra decides to try to forge alliances. Rhaenyra sends her second eldest son Lucerys as an envoy to Storm’s End to curry favor with Lord Borros Baratheon, assuming Lucerys will receive a warm welcome.
Unfortunately for Lucerys, when he arrives at the Baratheon stronghold, he finds Aemond, the younger brother of Aegon, already having struck a deal with Borros to marry one of his daughters. Lucerys cannot make a similar offer—he’s already betrothed to another—so Borros quickly sends him away.
In the book, Aemond acts aggressively toward Lucerys right away. He insults him and tries to snatch Rhaenyra’s message to Borros away from the boy. Borros’ soldiers have to intervene.
When Borros tells Lucerys to go home, Aemond draws his sword and insists Aemond put out his own eye as payment. Lucerys refuses to fight, but Aemond continues to challenge him. Borros’ men keep Aemond inside while Lucerys is escorted to his dragon.
Here’s where the stories begin to diverge: In the books one of Borros’ daughters mocks Aemond after Lucerys leaves, further incensing him. Aemond asks Borros to leave and Borros tells Aemond, “It is not for me to tell you what to do when you are not beneath my roof,” essentially egging Aemond on. Aemond mounts his dragon Vhagar and chases after Lucerys as a storm rages.
Vhagar catches up with Lucerys’ dragon, Arrax, and the two engage in an all-out battle. Witnesses at Storm’s End see blasts of flame from afar. That battle is quick and Arrax falls into the water. Accounts differ as to how Aemond reacted—some believe he cut Lucerys’ eyes out of his dead body and gifted them to one of the Baratheon daughters, while others think Vhagar ate the boy.
Regardless of the truth, the story at least heavily implies that Aemond fully intended to murder Lucerys. Why else would he chase after him with a dragon after demanding revenge?
In the commentary that aired after the episode, showrunner Ryan Condal offers insight in the character’s motivations:
“Maybe he was trying to scare Luke. But I don’t think that ultimately he intended to kill him. But now he’s done it, and he has to decide whether or not he’s going to own it in his travel back to King’s Landing. Because obviously if the usurping of the throne and them crowning Aegon in the Dragonpit wasn’t the start of the war, certainly killing one of the Queen’s sons is.”
This isn’t the first time the show has softened a character
Several times this season, the House of the Dragon showrunners have tried to add depth to characters committing dastardly deeds.
Take Laenor’s death. In the books, he dies, and it would be easy to suspect that Rhaenyra and Daemon, who wed soon after, played a role. The show absolves our incestuous hero couple of this sin. Instead, Rhaenyra and Daemon help Laenor fake his death and escape.
Alicent’s justification for crowning her son king also differs significantly from the books. Alicent never hears the Song of Ice and Fire prophecy, and therefore doesn’t mix up her dying husband Viserys’ reference to it with a wish to crown their son Aegon king. She and her father just decide to lead a coup.
These changes largely serve to soften Rhaenyra and Alicent, the two main characters in the show, and spare them some of the nastier turns in the books. In this instance, Aemond is spared committing the act of nepoticide and can claim Vhagar eating Arrax was merely an accident.
But the book is told through unreliable narrators
Fire & Blood is an intriguing read, and differs from Game of Thrones, because George R.R. Martin wrote it as a series of conflicting historical accounts. In the book, several maesters offer their retellings of what happened during the Dance of Dragons, the civil war that consumes the Targaryen clan. Some narrators are more reliable than others, and it’s clear that some writers are purposely painting certain historical figures in a bad light to curry favor with the current regime. But ultimately, as with all historical texts, it’s up to the reader to decide which accounts they believe.
The book makes for a rich adaptation: The showrunners of House of the Dragon can decide which version they think is the most accurate—or if all the maesters got the facts wrong. Presumably what we’re seeing on House of the Dragon is the “real” history and everything catalogued in Fire & Blood is an interpretation. So Laenor “really” faked his death, and none of the maesters ever found out.
Similarly, we might assume in this case that Aemond really did not want to kill Lucerys—that he merely tried to scare him—but either nobody believed Aemond’s account or the maesters intentionally tried to portray Aemond as a villain.