When Game of Thrones came to an end after seven seasons in May 2019, showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss had accumulated plenty of accolades, sure. Game of Thrones is the winningest drama ever at the Emmys, after all, with 59 trophies from the Television Academy to its name.
However, the duo also earned plenty of criticism for depictions of unnecessary rape and torture, not to mention killing beloved characters in unexpected moments as per the world set out by author George R.R. Martin. There was also the controversial ending, in which fan favorite character Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) imploded, leading many series-long fans to revolt.
As a result, heading into the debut of the first Game of Thrones spin-off series, House of the Dragon, showrunners Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik have a lot to live up to, as well as reparations to make.
"I don't think we're in the business of not paying attention, especially now," Sapochnik recently told Metacritic during a roundtable interview. "There's stuff to learn from what happened in the past and from the previous show. I don't know that is relevant to what we're trying to do because we've come in with an approach to tell this story through the female perspective specifically. So, one of the things we need to do is listen to women. Otherwise, we're making it all up."
Ahead of the prequel series debut on Aug. 21, Metacritic chatted with the showrunners about how House of the Dragon will differ from Game of Thrones. Read on to see what they had to say.
Following reports from San Diego Comic-Con that House of the Dragon would continue the depiction of sexual violence despite the criticism Thrones faced, the showrunners clarified there are no on-screen acts of sexual violence at all in the first season. There is one incident, but it occurs off-camera.
"We're very aware of the time that we live in, we're very aware of how different the world is now versus 10 years ago, when the original show premiered," said Condal. "We're not in that wartime yet where sexual violence follows war. It's Game of Thrones; there is sexual violence as part of the story. But the particular way we've approached it is making sure whenever we have any sex or violence on-screen, there is a compelling story reason for it. It's a story that needs to be told, it's not being done gratuitously or to titillate or anything like that."
He added the show hired an intimacy coordinator for the first season and all the actors rehearsed the scenes well in advance so they "knew what they were getting into and consented on everything they ended up doing on camera."
"One should be unflinching when it comes to portraying sexual violence, not necessarily in the way that you portray it, but in the subject matter itself," Sapochnik added. "The industry is taking note and there may be a certain overcorrection happening, which is always a natural part of making an overall correction. It's really important to us that we be part of the solution. We haven't had any sexual violence in the season."
While Game of Thrones was known for taking viewers all over Westeros, House of the Dragon takes place mostly in the Red Keep where the Targaryens are hunkered down as the ruling house. However this story takes place over a 10-year period, so viewers should expect some time jumps.
To portray those jumps, some actors are aged up or down. Additionally, the role of Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen is being split by actors Milly Alcock and Emma D'Arcy, while the part of Alicent Hightower is shared by Emily Carey and Olivia Cooke. Other than that, the showrunners revealed viewers are on their own in terms of figuring out where they are in the story when each episode picks up.
"I always loved watching TV as a kid when you go to a new season of television, and you suddenly get dropped in and realize something's changed and you have to figure out time has passed and how much and catch up," Condal said. "The clever thing about this, we think, is we did it midseason. So we're demanding that of the audience and suddenly changing the cast."
If Game of Thrones was known for its killer weddings, House of the Dragon wants to go down in history for its memorable birthing scenes.
"The birthing bed is almost a battlefield," Sapochnik explained. "We gave themes to the births."
In other words, viewers can relax if and when any weddings happen this season. But if a character has a birth? Well, as Game of Thrones originally taught viewers, it's best not to get too attached to any character in particular.
In addressing the ending of Game of Thrones, the House of the Dragon showrunners conceded they understood viewer frustration for what happened to Daeny and how her character turned out. They also assured the same wouldn't happen to the female characters on this series.
"There were people who named their children Daeny. So when they found out they named their kid after a female Hitler, it must have been really hard," Sapochnik said.
When it comes to storytelling, he continued, "If anything, we should have learned from Game of Thrones [that] they're going to kill the people you love. That's what they made their entire brand out of. Should one follow that by making another female character who turns out to be crazy? No, probably not. That's probably not the best idea in the world because that's already been done now. So, why do you feel that you need to replay that? Should we look carefully at the way in which we portray female characters on screen moving forward? Absolutely. Although I think we would have done that anyway."
One thing fans can rest assured of heading into the Game of Thrones prequel is that the canon is completely there, unlike in the flagship series itself, in which the TV series eventually surpassed the novels comprising A Song of Ice and Fire. (At time of press there is still no release date for Martin's next tome, The Winds of Winter.)
This time around, the entire series is based on the standalone "historical text" book Fire & Blood, which includes unreliable narrators and opposing viewpoints to tell the story of what happened to the House Targaryen and how it fell. Sapochnik and Condal are using those events as guideposts for the series and filling in any blanks in terms of what may have actually gone down outside of the text.
"In some cases, you'll find that what was said to have happened didn't actually happen, for specific reasons," Condal said. "The thing that will make the audience engaged is how and why things happen. What was that private room conversation that led to that? Was that an impulse by the king? Or did he have some secret conversation with his hand that led to it? Was he manipulated? Was he changed? Did his wife have a conversation with him? Those are the sorts of things that wouldn't be in the court record and wouldn't make the history. We get to be the God's eye point of view in the story, telling the objective truth. We get to show those moments. That's the thing that will keep people leaning forward and interested."
House of the Dragon premieres Aug. 21 at 9 p.m. on HBO and will also stream on HBO Max.