House of the Dragon: what Game of Thrones novices need to know

<span>Photograph: AP</span>
Photograph: AP

1 Winter is coming

Game of Thrones and its new spin-off, House of the Dragon, take place in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, a turbulent continent loosely inspired by the feudal societies of medieval Europe – think knights on horseback, stone castles and all-powerful royal dynasties making life miserable for everyone else. But this fantasy world has one notable USP: in Westeros, seasons can last for years, making the arrival of winter a terrifying, potentially apocalyptic prospect. Not least because (by the time of Game of Thrones at least) it’s ruled by a Night King who can reincarnate the dead as zombie-like “White Walkers”.

2 Here be dragons

Game of Thrones tracked the fortunes of a sprawling cast of characters after the collapse of a great royal dynasty: the Targaryen family. Having ruled Westeros for centuries thanks to their possession of the greatest weapons known to man – fire-breathing dragons – the Targaryens were brought low when the dragons began to die, robbing them of their unique advantage. It was only when three new dragons were hatched that the last surviving Targaryen – Daenerys, also known as Khaleesi, or the Mother of Dragons – was able to stake her claim on the Iron Throne.

A scene from House of the Dragon.
A scene from House of the Dragon. Photograph: Landmark Media/Alamy

3 Sexposition

Game of Thrones was sold as an “adult” alternative to the family-friendliness of other fantasy franchises, which meant four things: moral ambiguity, bloody violence, vigorous swearing and nudity. Lots of nudity. The term “sexposition” was coined to describe the show’s habit of delivering key plot points while the characters were busy in flagrante, but the joke soon started to wear thin. The fact that the nudity was almost exclusively female was problematic enough, but the show also developed a worrying tendency to use extreme sexual violence as a “gotcha” plot point, leading to accusations that the show wasn’t just depicting misogyny but indulging in it.

4 No one is safe

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Game of Thrones was adapted from the work of the American author George RR Martin, whose penchant for gleefully killing off major characters became a notorious talking point – there was always a chance your favourite might be next for the chop. In 2011, when the show first aired, Martin had written four books in his series and was hard at work on another. But by the time Game of Thrones hit its fifth season, the producers were running out of books, and had to start inventing stories based on Martin’s suggestions. It didn’t go well …

George RR Martin, the author of Game of Thrones, in 2014.
George RR Martin, the author of Game of Thrones, in 2014. Photograph: Sipa/Shutterstock

5 It ended badly

The last season of Game of Thrones was a mess, wrapping up painstakingly developed plotlines with absurd acts of happenstance and forcing characters to act in ways counter to everything we knew about them. The outcry from longtime fans was vocal, and ongoing – and it is this bitter disappointment that House of the Dragon must surmount if it’s ever going to escape the shadow of its predecessor.