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The Biggest Differences And Similarities Between House Of The Dragon And Game Of Thrones

"Game of Thrones" is one of the most popular TV shows of all time, so returning to the world in which it's set made perfect sense for HBO. Set 200 years prior to the events of the original show, "House of the Dragon" tells the story of the Targaryen family, the dragon-riding Valyrians that ruled Westeros for three centuries. While the world, aesthetic, and overall tone of the shows are quite similar, "House of the Dragon" diverges from its predecessor in a number of ways. It's a slower and more intimate show driven by political intrigue and in-family fighting, as opposed to the much larger-scale action of "Game of Thrones."

That makes sense given when the prequel series is set. The reign of King Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine) and the so-called "Dance of the Dragons" civil war take place long before the White Walkers approach the Wall. While Aegon the Conqueror's Song of Ice and Fire still casts a shadow over the events of "House of the Dragon," the bigger supernatural elements of the franchise are generally kept in the background.

And yet, the newer series goes to great lengths to remind you of its predecessor. It uses the same theme song and features the same brand of shocking deaths. Even the costumes, sets, and overall image of Westeros are nearly identical to those in "Game of Thrones," despite the major timeline divide. Here are the biggest similarities between "House of the Dragon" and "Game of Thrones," as well as their biggest differences. Spoilers ahead.

Different: A smaller story

"Game of Thrones" is a sprawling epic that reaches from the far North of Westeros to the distant corners of Essos. Its story ranges from the political scheming of King's Landing's royals to Dothraki warmongering, magical resurgences, and the literal zombie apocalypse. In short, it's a show that covers a lot of ground, both in terms of its subject matter and the sheer number of characters who get notable screen time.

By contrast, "House of the Dragon" is a much smaller and more focused series. As the name suggests, its story is primarily interested in the Targaryen family, and while that family is a large one, it's nowhere close to the cast size of "Game of Thrones." At least, not yet. Scenes generally take place at Driftmark, King's Landing, or Dragonstone, and most episodes deal directly with the power struggles between the Hightower side of the family and Rhaenyra Targaryen's (Emma D'Arcy) faction, which includes most of the Velaryons. Prophecies of dark powers and fateful events still lurk in the background, but they don't play much of a role in the core story. As a result, "House of the Dragon" is able to go deeper rather than wider, exploring the parallels between its core characters and slowly building tension for their inevitable clashes.

As the show progresses beyond Season 1, of course, its scope may expand significantly, with major families like the Starks and the Arryns likely to enter the conflict.

Similar: Aesthetics

If you were to show someone five minutes of a random "Game of Thrones" episode and the first five minutes of a random "House of the Dragon" episode back-to-back, they likely wouldn't be able to tell you that they're watching different shows. Even if you showed them the intro sequences side-by-side, the only giveaway would be the cards proclaiming two different titles. From Ramin Djawadi's Emmy-winning musical score to the look and feel of the Red Keep, most of the aesthetic touches that defined the first show are still present — largely unaltered — in the prequel.

That's not to say that there aren't changes. The biggest difference is probably the pervasive dragon imagery in House Targaryen's domain, which is understandably done away with after Robert's Rebellion. And, of course, some things are tweaked, like the specific details of the Kingsguard uniform. But unless you're a student of costume design or George R.R. Martin history, you probably won't notice.

"House of the Dragon" may take place hundreds of years before "Game of Thrones," but you wouldn't know that by looking at it. Whether that's a good or bad thing is a matter of opinion. On one hand, the familiar production design remains gorgeously detailed, making it easy to escape into the world of the show. On the other hand, it might have been nice to see a bit more distinction between the two eras, even if the culture and technology of Westeros don't change that much. At the very least, "House of the Dragon" introduces a bit more diversity into the world of Westeros, which is nice to see.

Different: Way more incest

There are a lot of disturbing moments in "Game of Thrones." Children are murdered in cold blood, sadistic bullies torture and terrorize at will, and there's gore galore in nearly every episode. There's also incest, most significantly by way of Jamie and Cersei Lannister's secret relationship and Jon Snow's "romance" with his aunt Daenerys. The case of the Lannister twins is clearly abusive and problematic from the start, even without going into the whole sibling situation. And while Jon and Dany's dynamic starts out innocently enough, it certainly doesn't last long.

If you watched "Game of Thrones" and thought, "This was great, but it could have used a lot more incest," then boy are you in luck. By nature of the Targaryen family's historic predilection for keeping it in the family, there's almost more incest than you can reasonably keep track of in "House of the Dragon." Brothers marry sisters, cousins marry cousins, and the fate of Westeros itself hangs on a family tree that should probably be rotting with genetic defects by this point.

The most prominent of these relationships in the show is between Rhaenyra and her uncle Daemon (Matt Smith), an incestuous and tempestuous wombo combo of adolescent grooming and outright abuse. Despite this, some people think it's "hot." Go figure. "House of the Dragon" doesn't necessarily pass judgment one way or the other on these relationships, but it certainly has a lot of them.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Similar: Queer fridging

It's no secret that "Game of Thrones" didn't earn many gold stars in the queer representation department. Renly Baratheon — described in the books as the spitting image of Robert in his battle-ready prime — is reduced to a pretty egregious gay stereotype in the HBO series. His lover, Loras Tyrell, is later put on trial for his sexuality and killed without ever raising his sword. As of the end of George R.R. Martin's "A Dance with Dragons," Loras is still alive after single-handedly spearheading a successful assault on Dragonstone. Daenerys Targaryen herself is also suggested to be bisexual in the novels and has intimate moments with other women, though that detail was changed in the show. Yikes.

"House of the Dragon" fares a bit better with its own attempts at LGBTQ+ representation, but it continues to stumble. The show's first gay couple — Laenor Velaryon (John Macmillan) and Ser Joffrey Lonmouth (Solly McLeod) — is introduced in Episode 5. By the end of that episode, Ser Joffrey has been beaten to a bloody pulp by Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel). Admittedly, Laenor goes on to find a new love in Ser Qarl Correy (Arty Froushan), and they escape together to live in presumed happiness after faking Laenor's death. But it's still hard not to see Joffrey's brutal murder as a reminder of this franchise's history with fridging. Hopefully, the show can do better in the future.

Different: A show about patriarchy

There are a lot of complex and compelling female characters in "Game of Thrones." Arya and Sansa Stark, Lady Catelyn, Daenerys Targaryen, Brienne of Tarth, Yara Greyjoy, Cersei Lannister — the list goes on and on. But where "Game of Thrones" is a show with a lot of women, "House of the Dragon" is a show about women.

The whole premise of the series is predicated on the fact that a qualified woman was passed over as queen in favor of a less qualified man. From there, the Targaryen family dynamics continue to twist and tangle, until former friends Rhaenyra and Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) become full-blown enemies. One is fighting for the right to rule Westeros as a woman, while the other is unable to escape the supporting role she's constructed for herself. Everything that happens in "House of the Dragon" comes back to this core division, and many of the episodes deal with the unique challenges faced by women in a primitively patriarchal society.

"Game of Thrones" never had such a singular thematic center. It deals with plenty of big-picture ideas, such as the corruptive nature of power and the effects of mob rule, but it can't be boiled down to a single point in the way that "House of the Dragon" can. The prequel series goes to great lengths to show how oppressed even the noble women are in Westeros.

Similar: Violence against women

As you might expect from a fantasy series inspired by the patriarchal systems of medieval Europe, "House of the Dragon" features its fair share of violence against women. Your mileage may vary on how acceptable or necessary you feel those depictions are. You could argue that the story the show is trying to tell requires a level of intensity and brutality. You could also argue that, after the multiple rape scenes in "Game of Thrones," it might have been a good idea to ease off the gas a bit here.

To be fair, "House of the Dragon" Season 1 doesn't feature any actual scenes of sexual assault. Before the series even premiered, executive producer Sara Hess claimed that "we do not depict sexual violence in the show," which is true (per Vanity Fair). The aftermath of assault is dealt with at different points, but it's not depicted on screen — a step in the right direction but also a low bar. However, we still get plenty of graphic scenes involving women in pain, including bloody miscarriages, wives being murdered, and multiple women dying while giving birth.

Again, how necessary or egregious these scenes are is up for debate, but make no mistake about the kind of show this is. Just like "Game of Thrones" before it, "House of the Dragon" puts its female characters through the wringer.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Different: More dragons

Breaking news: The show called "House of the Dragon" has a lot of dragons in it.

While "Game of Thrones" only has three dragons, who don't grow to adult size until the very end of the show, the prequel has dragons for days. And credit where it's due to the show's special effects team — they look pretty great. Each dragon has a distinct design and personality that helps them feel like real characters, even if some of their names can be tough to remember at first.

While there isn't a ton of dragon action in Season 1, we do get a few glimpses at what the winged beasts are capable of. Caraxes tears things up while Daemon is fighting in the Stepstones, and we're treated to a terrifying dragon duel at the end of Episode 10. As the "Dance of the Dragons" civil war continues to heat up, we'll likely be treated to a lot more showdowns between the great mounts of House Targaryen. But even in Season 1, if you're here to get your dragon fix, you'll likely leave satisfied.

Similar: Rampant death

If you thought that the middle of the Targaryen Dynasty would be a less violent period for Westeros than the "Game of Thrones" timeline, think again. All your favorite ways to die are back and bloodier than ever: Being burned to death by dragonfire, getting mauled in a melee, having your skull bashed in by Criston Cole (this happens on multiple occasions). In fact, one could make the case that "House of the Dragon" goes even further in its grotesque depictions of death, possibly in an effort to one-up its notorious predecessor.

At this point, everybody should know what kind of show they're watching. For eight long seasons, "Game of Thrones" killed characters with reckless abandon, and "House of the Dragon" keeps that trend going strong. Nothing, not even being an innocent child, can spare you from the show's wanton violence, and that's a big part of what makes the show so dramatic. But if you come into the prequel series expecting less gore, you'll quickly learn to look elsewhere.

Different: No real heroes

There are a ton of morally detestable characters in "Game of Thrones," but there are also some truly heroic ones. Ned, Arya, and Sansa Stark; Jon Snow; Tyrion Lannister. These are the kinds of characters you can really root for — people who sometimes make questionable decisions, but who do their best to fight for good in a corrupt and broken world. In "House of the Dragon," there are no such heroes.

Rhaenyra is as close as it gets. Her desire to see Westeros install a ruling queen is admirable, but it can't be undersold that this queen should be her. In the interest of preserving her own claim to the Iron Throne, she effectively banishes her husband and remarries her uncle — a man well known to have killed his first wife for no reason other than personal gain. After Rhaenyra, the cast only gets more gray. Rhaenys (Eve Best) could have made a great queen, and she's clearly suffered a lot, but does that excuse her killing countless civilians in her escape from the Dragonpit on Meleys? Alicent is deeply sympathetic, but she continues to support the abuses of power happening all around her. Similar arguments can be made about Viserys and Lord Corlys, and many of the other characters are outright villains.

If you need a morally unimpeachable figure to root for in the stories you consume, then "House of the Dragon" may not be for you. But if you just want to watch morally gray characters battle it out, it's excellent.

Similar: Evil villains

While a good portion of the characters in "House of the Dragon" are morally gray, plenty are completely evil — just like many of the villains in "Game of Thrones." If you lamented the deaths of deplorable characters like Joffrey Baratheon and Ramsay Bolton, you might be a danger to yourself and others, but you'll also be happy to see similarly grotesque bad guys parading through the prequel.

The most obvious culprits in the "evil for the sake of evil" sweepstakes are Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney) and Aemond Targaryen (Ewan Mitchell), two of Alicent's children. We barely get to see either of them interact with their father, but it's understood from the get-go that Aegon is a bad person. Aemond gets a bit more motivation in the form of childhood bullying, but even that doesn't quite justify the level of evil to which he rises. In brief, both of the Targaryen lads are pretty wretched, and the elder brother doesn't really get any justification for his behavior.

Other characters of mildly more explained evil come and go. Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) repeatedly claims to have the best interests of the realm in mind, but it's pretty clear that his only real interest is seating his progeny on the Iron Throne. And then, of course, there's Daemon — a man who appears at points to be at Rhaenyra's service, but who proves time and again to be a deeply violent and self-interested person.

Different: Less action

In tandem with the reduced scope of "House of the Dragon" comes a reduced level of action. We do get some proper fights in Season 1, like the tourney in the premiere and Daemon's battles in the Stepstones, but most of the episodes are composed of less explosive plots. Season 1 is a story of setup; of political schemes and shifting alliances. There are no White Walkers and no raiders from the Iron Islands, only a bunch of dragon people fighting over an uncomfortable chair.

Of course, the action is likely to pick up as the show continues. "Game of Thrones" was also relatively slow-paced in its debut outing, but the battles and budgets both grew with each successive season. War is definitely coming to Westeros in the wake of King Viserys' death, but it still might not be quite on the scale of the conflicts seen in "Game of Thrones." Fortunately, "House of the Dragon" delivers more than enough drama and tension without having to rely too much on big fights.

Similar: So many secrets

Like "Game of Thrones" before it, "House of the Dragon" takes place in a world run by information. The kings, lords, and knights of Westeros are rarely the ones calling the shots. Rather, it's the people hiding in the shadows — the brokers of secrets — who make the wide world of fire and blood turn.

Littlefinger gets a pretty direct replacement in the form of Lord Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), who asserts his own penchant for dastardly behavior early on by murdering his own brother and father. Larys gets a Varys-esque rival in King's Landing madam Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno), aka the White Worm. From her perch in Flea Bottom, Mysaria sees all things in and around the Red Keep, and she leverages that information to great effect. Though it's suggested that Mysaria might be dead by Larys' hand at the end of "House of the Dragon" Season 1, she's almost surely still alive and kicking.

Just like in "Game of Thrones," these characters wield a tremendous amount of sway in the story. As the Dance of the Dragons continues to pick up steam, they'll likely become even more important to Rhaenyra's Blacks and King Aegon's Greens.