There's No Such Thing As A Hero Or A Villain In House Of The Dragon [Comic-Con]

"A Song of Ice and Fire" is to literary fantasy what "Watchmen" is to superhero comics: a deconstruction that still managed to find popular success, even among fans of the genre it was deconstructing.

When the books entered television as "Game of Thrones," it brought that deconstruction out of the niche and became a mainstream hit. Viewers had never seen a fantastical world portrayed with all the complexities, ambiguities, and brutalities of reality. That's one reason why the final seasons of "Game of Thrones" are often considered a disappointment; the story became more black-and-white, typical good guys versus bad guys stuff. According to the series' author George R.R. Martin, the upcoming prequel series "House of the Dragon" will be opting for the same "gray" approach that fans loved so much about the early "Thrones" seasons.

Tolkien imitation

Martin has spoken at length about his simultaneous reverence for and critique of J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of the Middle-earth Legendarium. Interviewed at the TIFF Bell Lightbox theater in 2012 (when "Game of Thrones" was on the upswing of cultural power), Martin said, "My admiration for Tolkien and his work is second to none." However, he feels archetypes that Tolkien created, such as "Dark Lord" with an army of monstrous minions, were wielded poorly by later writers.

Subverting these archetypes was one of Martin's goals with "A Song of Ice and Fire." In the character of Robert Baratheon, Martin also wanted to explore what happens after the typical fantasy story ending where the hero overthrows the evil king and takes the throne for himself. Martin specifically cites how "Lord of the Rings" simply writes that, as king of Gondor, Aragorn "ruled wisely and well," without detailing what that means.

Indeed, one of the clearest indications that "Game of Thrones" lost its way from Martin's vision is the character of The Night King, who is the exact sort of "Dark Lord" Martin has decried. Since the books remained unfinished, it's unclear how the written story will resolve the White Walkers (or "Others," as they're called there). However, I doubt Martin will use the very trope he's lambasted.

The best characters are grey

That brings us to "House of the Dragon." Martin appeared on a panel at San Diego Comic-Con to promote the series. Asked whether the series has heroes and villains, this was his response:

"It depends on how you define those terms, we're not gonna have anyone who's called Lord Evil or Mister Atrocity or anything like that, we don't have orcs or... anything like that, but there's certainly evil, I believe the most interesting characters as grey characters... capable of generosity, and love, and doing good, then next week they do something selfish and bad. We all have things to be proud of and ashamed of."

The "Lord Evil" joke is Martin's past critique of Sauron wannabes rearing its head again. Martin went on to paraphrase William Faulkner, saying, "The only thing worth writing about is the human heart at conflict with itself."

For reference, "House of the Dragon," is based on Martin's book "Fire and Blood." Both the book and series focus on House Targaryen, the white-haired nobles who ruled Westeros for centuries thanks to their control of dragons. On how the book's reception influenced "House of the Dragon," Martin said:

"I liked the fact that the readers of "Fire and Blood" divided as to who actually is the hero and who actually is the villain, I hope the viewers of the show will have the same [reaction.]"

I guess we'll be able to see for ourselves if Martin's wish comes true when "House of the Dragon" premieres on HBO come August 21, 2022.