George R.R. Martin Would Have Started House Of The Dragon's Story A Lot Earlier

There's no denying the overwhelming popularity of "House of the Dragon," the hit series that has spent the past 10 weeks dominating our Sunday nights. As a prequel to the HBO juggernaut that first introduced us to Westeros, there was no question that this dragon-filled civil war would find its audience — and sure enough, the numbers definitely speak for themselves. But that hasn't prevented "House of the Dragon" from also being the target of criticism.

The most popular complaint about this show boils down to its structure. As an adaptation of "Fire and Blood," a fictional history book about the Targaryen dynasty, the series has a lot of time and context to cover before the war at its center can truly begin in earnest. The result was a season of television that sped through time at a breakneck pace, tracing characters from childhood to adulthood, skipping years of their lives and leaving us to fill in the gaps. 

Judging by the mixed reaction to this approach, you might be surprised to learn that the time skips could have been much more intense. If author and co-creator George R.R. Martin had gotten his way, "House of the Dragon" would have doubled down on exploring the historical roots of the Dance of the Dragons.

The many beginnings of House of the Dragon

In an interview with Penguin Random House, Martin explained that one of the earliest questions that the writer's room had to crack was where to begin the story. "Fire and Blood" is a tome that spans 700 pages and over 150 years of Targaryen family history; the era that "House of the Dragon" covers is just a fraction of that history, lasting around 250 pages. With so much past to pull from, figuring out exactly how to orient the audience in the Dance of the Dragons led to many "spirited discussions."

In the end, they decided to begin with a Great Council where Viserys is named heir to the Iron Throne. After that 3-minute prelude, the series jumps ahead many years into his reign. But there were plenty of other options on the table as well. According to Martin, one of the series' writers wanted to start with the death of Viserys' first wife Aemma, a plot point still covered in the pilot episode. Her death by childbirth (the first of many traumatic birthing scenes) ended up one of the most hotly debated moments of the season, so it's not hard to imagine the, uh, spirited reaction the series would have received if it opened on her death.

Another writer floated the idea of starting with Viserys' death, which ends up happening much later in the season, in episode eight. This would have started the story right where the Dance of the Dragons truly kicks off, and may have satisfied the many people who complained about too many time jumps. But it would have been at the expense of Paddy Considine's incredible performance as Viserys — not to mention robbing us of all the time we spent with Milly Alcock and Emily Carey as the young Rhaenyra and Alicent. Thank the Seven Gods that they didn't choose this route instead.

'The Heir and the Spare'

As for George R.R. Martin, his "favorite" idea was to start much earlier in the Targaryen family timeline — a change that would have meant more time jumps, more recastings, and yes, even more Targaryens.

The end of the debut season kicks off the beginning of a time period known as the Dance of the Dragons, the Targaryen civil war waged to determine who should sit on the Iron Throne: Rhaenyra Targaryen or her younger half-brother, Aegon. The season was spent planting the seeds of this inevitable conflict, which raises an important question: when it all erupts, who is at fault? Is it Otto Hightower? His daughter, Alicent? Rhaenyra? Or Viserys himself?

From Martin's perspective, the seeds of this war are planted much earlier than Viserys being named heir, which is why he would have begun the story even earlier. In the same interview, he said, "I would've begun it like 40 years earlier, with an episode I would've called 'The Heir and the Spare.'"

Martin went on to explain that his episode would cover the succession of Jaehaerys Targaryen, the Viserys' predecessor on the Iron Throne, who established the laws of Westeros and achieved decades of (relative) peace. Despite all the good he did, Jaehaerys inadvertently set the table for this civil war. Here's what Martin proposed:

"Jaehaerys' two sons, Aemon and Baelon, are alive, and we see the friendship but also the rivalry between the two sides of the great house. Then Aemon dies accidentally when a Myrish crossbowman shoots him by accident on Tarth, then Jaehaerys has to decide who becomes the new heir. Is it the daughter of the son who's just died, or the second son who has children of his own and is a man where she's a teenager?"

Oops, Jaehaerys helped to ignite a civil war

While some of this is covered in "House of the Dragon," much of it went unspoken. Ultimately, Jaehaerys decided to pass over Princess Rhaenys (Aemon's daughter and only child) by choosing Baelon instead. But Prince Baelon died less than a decade later of a burst appendix, leaving the question of Jaehaerys' heir open once more: would it be Viserys Targaryen, the eldest son of Prince Baelon, or Princess Rhaenys, the eldest child of Prince Aemon?

"House of the Dragon" begins here: as we saw in the opening scene, Jaehaerys called forth a Great Council to decide. The men of the realm (unsurprisingly) chose Viserys, which established a precedent that male heirs be favored over female heirs. Beginning with Jaehaerys' sons would have set the scene for Rhaenyra's conflict — but, per Martin, it would have meant "40 more years, and even more time jumps and recastings." He added, "I was the only one who was really enthused about that."

Here's how George can still win

As a "Fire and Blood" reader myself, I'd be lying if I said that Martin's idea doesn't pique my interest. The reign of King Jaehaerys is a crucial section of Westerosi history, but it's not hard to see why it wasn't a prominent focus of the series: it would put us years away from meeting core characters like Rhaenyra and Alicent. Then there's the fact that Jaehaerys' reign was largely peaceful. The Old King oversaw developments like roads and running water — which isn't nearly as sexy as fiery dragon battles or kid-on-kid violence.

I think showrunner Ryan Condal made the right choice and ultimately began the show in the best place possible for this particular story. But Martin has a point — the story of the two heirs would be a great addition to this tale. Maybe "House of the Dragon" should take a page out of Netflix's book and pull a move like "The Sandman:" start dropping bonus episodes that give us insight into other points in time. "The Heir and the Spare" could be a great 1 hour special that adds color to this story. Plus, it could tide us over until the second season gets here in late 2024! Or perhaps this great idea is just doomed to live rent-free in my head until the end of time.