Even in the early days of adapting George RR Martin’s book Fire & Blood in a Game of Thrones prequel series, the creatives faced a major challenge. Fire & Blood seemingly stretched out over way too much time. Spanning 150 years, the book tells the story of the rise and fall of several Targaryen monarchs who rule Westeros. Even centering the show on the civil war in Targaryen presented challenges, as the roots of the conflict stretch back decades in the characters’ lives.
The first attempt at adaptation began with the death of King Viserys Targaryen (played by Paddy Considine in the show). But if you did, so much crucial backstory would have been left out that directly impacted everything that happened next. So when showrunner Ryan Condal came on board the project, he crafted a story that would last for decades.
It was a bold move, but not entirely without precedent: Netflix’s The crown has similar time jumps and cast changes… just not after just five episodes of the show’s debut season.
“I’m excited about the pace and structure of the story we’re telling in the first season,” Condal . said News Kidda. “It’s very complex. It happens over a long period of time because children have to be married off and then grow up themselves and then have children of their own who grow up to tell the story of this generational war that is being fought. HBO gave [showrunner Miguel Sapochnik] the creative leeway to tell this incredibly complex story in a truly patient and character-driven way that sets up a first season so that it launches you into one of the most famous and bloodiest conflicts in Westeros history – if not the most.”
“It’s what makes this premium HBO content rather than what we should have made at any other outlet,” he added. “Most other places wouldn’t have had the patience and audacity to let us tell the story we’re telling. But that’s how you tell this story correctly. We tell a story about a generational war. We’ve set it up so that by the time the first sword strike falls, you understand all the players – where they are and why they are. The whole history is there instead of being told to you in an exhibition. That’s how you see it all happening.”
Asked if they were concerned about whether fans — or the network — would get jittery around episode 4, given the amount of groundwork being laid, the showrunners said they were confident their approach would eventually reward fans.
“No one ever said to us, ‘When does the drama start?'” Sapochnik said. “It’s a real benefit to take the time to get to know the characters because the investment is worth it. House of the Dragon Season 1 is a slow burn. And it’s worth it because there’s enough in it to keep everyone interested, but we’ve deliberately tried to distance ourselves from doing spectacle so that we can do well when we return to spectacle.”
The biggest time jump of the season came on Sunday night, with episode 6 starting with Emma D’Arcy (30 years old) and Olivia Cooke (28) taking over the female leads of Rhaenyra and Alicent from Milly Alcock (22) and Emily. Carey (19), respectively. Some of the older male characters are still played by the same actors.
Some fans of Alcock and Carey’s performances have wondered why the younger performers couldn’t just play the characters on the show, given that the age difference between all four actors is less than a decade.
Part of the reason for the switch is that the show had to start with the protagonists as teenagers during certain key life events (such as Alicent marrying her best friend’s father, the King, and Rhaenyra being named heir to the Iron Throne). But the final jump of 10 years won’t be the show’s last. For example, Alicent’s son Aegon soon becomes older than Alicent in the show’s first episode.
However, once the Civil War breaks out, the show’s fast-paced timeline sprint will likely slow down considerably. The war – titled The Dance of the Dragons – would last only about two years.