The Painted Table Is House Of The Dragon's Coolest Prop Yet

Fantasy shows and movies, regardless of how good their plot is, how stunning their special effects work, or how big and expansive their world feels, depend heavily on the verisimilitude provided by their production design. If you're selling a big fantasy world that is not our own, you need to sell the feeling of your fantasy world being real, that there are people who live there, stories we're not seeing, a history that impacts current events, cultures and traditions that inform the characters.

"Game of Thrones" nails this idea, with a world that, even when it didn't have the budget of a big blockbuster movie trilogy in the early seasons, always felt like a window into a living, breathing fantasy land. The locations, from Winterfell to King's Landing to Riverrun, looked like actual places, the costumes, armor, house crests, weapons all looked real. Even the Iron Throne, a far cry from the design of the books, had an air of believability in this particular world. And now, "House of the Dragon" is carrying that torch, showing us a version of Westeros that is both familiar yet different. The locations are the same, but we see them unaffected by 200 years of war and decay, and even props that seemed cool but unimpressive in the original show are given extra meaning in this prequel, as we see a time where people actually respected certain ideas, objects, and traditions as small as the items used during Small Council meetings.

One of those props and traditions is the Painted Table, a large carved table with a map of Westeros that we first saw in "Game of Thrones" as the map Stannis used to plan his failed kingdom, and the place on which he made shadow babies with Melisandre. But it is much, much, much (much) cooler in "House of the Dragon."

Every good fantasy show needs a good map

Of course, the Painted Table is more than just some random prop that got carried over from "Game of Thrones," but part of the very history of Westeros. The table was commissioned by Aegon Targaryen himself, then simply known as the Lord of Dragonstone, and it was at this table that Aegon planned his conquest of Westeros. Indeed, if you're hoping to gain control of the Iron Throne, you must simply plan it at this table or else it doesn't count. Stannis did it (even if he failed to gain the throne), and even Daenerys planned some battles there (though she did forget about the Iron Fleet, and her reign was rather short). So it makes perfect sense that the table would re-enter the picture when the time came for Rhaenyra to plan how she'd take back her throne from the Greens.

But what's more important here is that there is one significant difference between this Painted Table and the one shown in "Game of Thrones," and it's the fact that THIS TABLE LIGHTS UP! It turns out, this is the Westerosi equivalent of one of those cool board game tables with LED lights, secret compartments, and more, as the map glows almost like lava flowing down a volcano because of a hearth and candles placed underneath the giant map. It is a fantastic and bright scene in the middle of an otherwise rather dark and somber finale, a scene that feels like when your friend who is really, really into board games invites your to their house and shows you their game room, with a dedicated and custom-made table specific for the one night a month when friends gather to play games and take everything super seriously.

No one told Stannis how to use the table?

Of course, what makes this even better and funnier is the fact that the coolest feature of the table is not some magical secret that required a special Targaryen ability to turn on, but something as mundane as lighting a candle. And that no one bothered to tell Stannis he could light up his map. We're talking about a guy who literally converted to a religion that worshipped a fire god, and he never thought of lighting up some candles for his cool war table.

It's not just that the Painted Table looks like a very fancy game table, it's that it is used like one. The moment it's lit, Rhaenyra's guards start looking for the royal gaming shelves, and taking out the royal gaming tokens, and placing them on the table like they're gathering to play Risk and are fighting over who gets Australia (the best location, don't @ me). We see figurines representing Queen Rhaenyra's armies and allies spread out over Westeros like a strategy board game, with the characters acting like a group of old gaming buddies who take everything very, very seriously.

Maps are extremely important to the fantasy genre, as J.R.R. Tolkien and "The Rings of Power" understood very well. The season 1 finale of "House of the Dragon" takes this a step further, arguing that not only are physical, tactile maps important, but cool-looking maps even more so, and there is value in making your fantasy map look extremely fancy.

"House of the Dragon" is streaming on HBO Max.