King Viserys (Paddy Considine) had to die so House of the Dragon could live, and a bunch of other people are going to have to die as well so House of the Dragon can live some more. At a certain point, maybe House of the Dragon shouldn’t be alive? And yet, just try looking away from it. Go on, try! We’ll wait!
Okay, no, stop, come back! You can’t leave yet, at least not until we’ve talked about all of the major ways this week’s House of the Dragon, “The Green Council,” interacted with George R.R. Martin’s Fire and Blood, the fictional in-universe history book on which the Game of Thrones prequel is based! Will you consider turning around if I were to tell you there are some huge differences between the show and the book this time around—some of which are, dare I say, quite controversial from this book-reader’s perspective?
Phew. Great. Welcome home. Let’s roll up our sleeves and sort through the rubble of the proverbial Dragonpit, because when it comes to House Hightower’s rushed coronation of King Aegon Targaryen II (Tom Glynn-Carney), there’s a lot of messiness to unpack.
The Corpse King
In Fire and Blood, as on House of the Dragon, the Hightowers quickly rally together to keep a lid on King Viserys’s death. Unlike the book, however, the lid bursts open in relatively short order. The Fire and Blood version of events sees the Hightowers so fiercely protective over controlling the narrative around Viserys that they leave his body to rot in his bedchamber for days and days, rather than let anyone in to dispose of the corpse and potentially dispense the news of his demise. There’s a world where House of the Dragon put Paddy Considine through his most arduous physical performance yet, in which his increasingly ill Viserys would lie in rot. Both he and we as an audience are spared that horrific image, mercifully enough.
The False Prophecy
Another major deviation from Fire and Blood: Alicent’s (Olivia Cooke) motivation behind installing Aegon as king. The show frames Viserys’s revelation about the Song of Ice and Fire prophecy as the reason why Alicent so fervently believes he wanted his son to take the Iron Throne, a tragic misinterpretation of the king’s actual wishes. But the Targaryen family’s generation-spanning secret Ice and Fire prophecy is completely new to the greater Game of Thrones franchise, so no such reason is given for Alicent’s motives in the book. Fire and Blood would simply have it that she and her allies believe the throne is Aegon’s by rights, prophecy be damned.
Both book and show follow Viserys’s death with the same next victim: Lyman Beesbury, the Master of Coin, played by Bill Paterson. When Alicent and Otto (Rhys Ifans) assemble the small council to discuss the matter of succession, only Beesbury protests about the treasonous act. All the conflicting narrators of Fire and Blood agree on what happens next: Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) kills Beesbury, making him the first blood spilled in the Dance of the Dragons. With that said, those same narrators disagree about how Criston killed Beesbury. One version suggests Criston slit Beesbury’s throat, while another claims he threw the man out a window and onto a spike. The show goes with more of a brute-force approach, as Criston slams Beesbury’s head into the small council table, his second crushed skull of the series.
Beesbury’s the first to die in the Dance, but the next blood spilled comes from the living. In Fire and Blood, Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) isn’t simply some aspiring power player vying for the Hightowers’ hearts, let alone other body parts. (Larys’s foot fetish, it should be noted, is news to me.) Instead, he’s already a member of the small council as the master of whisperers. In order to shore up solidarity among his fellow conspirators, he proposes they all make a blood pact “to bind us all together, brothers unto death.” All in the room swear their loyalty to one another, dragging daggers across their palms and mixing their blood with one another. It’s an evocative moment from the book, and a surprising omission on the part of the show.
The Rogue Knight
On the flip side, there’s a surprising inclusion during the small council scene: Graham McTavish as Harrold Westerling, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Saying more on this point could constitute a major spoiler in the eyes of some House of the Dragon viewers, so move onto the next sentence with some caution. Still here? How about one more sentence to give you some room to decide on whether you wanna stay or go? Hope that’s enough, because here we go: Harrold Westerling is not in the small council scene in the book, because he’s already long dead by the time the Dance of the Dragons begins. Harrold’s withdrawal from the Kingsguard is only surpassed in shock value by his continued survival on House of the Dragon. Much like the presumed dead Laenor Velaryon (John Macmillan), Harrold now stands as a major wildcard in the story, capable of making a major impact on the coming conflicts—unless he’s swiftly dispatched on his way out of King’s Landing next week. Anything’s possible.
The Brothers Cargyll
Two other knights came into focus in this week’s House of the Dragon: twin brothers Erryk and Arryk Cargyll, played by real-life twin brothers Elliott and Luke Tittensor. In the show, the two members of the Kingsguard are tasked with finding Aegon before Criston and Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) get to him first. There’s no such hunt in the book, as the brothers Cargyll are actually in different areas when the Dance begins. Arryk remains in King’s Landing, firmly ensconced with the greens, while Erryk lives on Dragonstone in service of Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) when news of her father’s passing comes down the pike. The show highlighted Erryk and Arryk’s points of view regarding the Hightower coup by having them both at the center of it, with Erryk making moves to break away from the treachery. It’s a smart choice to make that distinction now, considering the direction the story will take the twins moving forward.
The Reluctant King
Speaking on Aegon, the book and the show disagree on the king’s whereabouts leading up to his coronation, even if they very much agree on his depraved nature. Both book and show feature a scene in what Fire and Blood refers to as “a Flea Bottom rat pit, where two guttersnipes with filed teeth were biting and tearing at each other.” The book goes even further with Aegon’s gross involvement here, though the show certainly gestures at the new king’s disturbing interests. In both cases, Aegon is reluctant to accept the crown, only taking it on in the book when he’s convinced declining power will lead to his family’s death at Rhaenyra’s hands. In House of the Dragon, no such case needs to be made, as the series is clearly ridding Aegon of any shred of redeemable qualities.
The Queen Who Never Was There
“The Green Council” culminates in Aegon’s coronation, with a dragon-riding Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best) disrupting the event in fiery fashion. Actually, she holds back on the fire, choosing not to incinerate Alicent and her entire family, despite having every reason to want them dead, and the ability to make it happen. This choice in and of itself isn’t a major book divergence; Rhaenys does not, in fact, murder Alicent and the rest with dragonfire in the middle of Aegon’s big day. That’s because she never has the chance. In Fire and Blood, Rhaenys is nowhere near Aegon’s coronation, happily (well, maybe not happily) living on Driftmark as the Dance of the Dragons begins. The actual coronation goes off without a hitch according to the book’s version of the events. But this is the penultimate episode of a Game of Thrones show we’re talking about here, folks. Wouldn’t be much of an Episode 9 without some sort of huge moment, and it’s hard to get much bigger than a ferocious dragon popping up where you least expect it.
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