Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for Episodes 1-5 of House of the DragonWhen bringing an adaptation to life, playing within the parameters of the original plot line is generally considered a given, thanks to the much divisive license directed to creators of an artistic piece. However, straying too far from the source material is rarely taken with a grain of salt by fans of the fandom (especially if they happen to be literary critics and the like), if ever. Be too faithful to the book and the adaptation might turn into a literature class to sludge through, not a movie/show to look forward to. Adopt a cavalier attitude towards the story and the adaptation might end up becoming a joke among critics, or worse, a half-hearted venture that is wholly uninteresting.
House of the Dragon, hence, stands on an untraversed path – one that doesn’t promise stardom in theory, given how dead-set book loyalists are against adaptations that take too many liberties with the source material. In the case of House of the Dragonhowever, the transition from the page to the streaming screen enhances the original narrative of the insanely popular dystopian world instead of detracting from it.
How Far Does House of the Dragon Stray from Fire & Blood?
It strays pretty far, to put it simply. Being more or less a historical text, Fire and Blood may work as a book for background information on game of thrones but simply isn’t cut out for an on-screen adaptation for a number of reasons. Had the creators of the show stuck to adhering to the book from AZ, something they didn’t do with game of thrones, House of the Dragon would perhaps have made for a colossal disappointment, especially after the ambitious benchmark set by its world-renowned predecessor. The game of thrones world is essentially known for its action-packed, never-ending drama. The book, brought into existence for very different reasons, simply does not follow that formula, and therefore need not be set as a standard for judging the on-screen adaptation.
Why House of the Dragon Need Not Adhere to Its Source Material
House of the Dragonbased on George RR Martin‘s book – Fire & Blood – proves that adaptations don’t always have to adhere to the books they are based on. One of the reasons why the series is so different from the book is because Fire & Blood, more or less, is an in-universe historical text, narrated from the perspective of conflicting characters, including Maesters, Septons, and court jesters, the legitimacy of whose narrations are highly questionable. The show doesn’t rely on unreliable narrators, and, perhaps to prevent things from getting too complicated, runs a singular narrative path. Moreover, the adaptation finds a perfect balance between the authentic and the artistic, with Martin serving as the executive producer of the show.
Archmaester Gyldayn, a fictional character who takes readers into the sprawling world of Westeros by treating the book as a historical text. As such, Fire and Blood takes into account the narratives of differing sources, most of which contradict each other too much to form a coherent whole. The section dealing with the Dance of the Dragons, for instance, is narrated by highly conflicting and unreliable sources like Maesters, Septons, and a court jester called Mushroom, with some accounts being more extreme in nature than others. Since the TV show follows a singular narrative path, it will have to stick to one narration as far as Dance of the Dragons goes, or create an entirely new one – making for an incredibly fascinating take on one of the most interesting, not to mention head-scratching accounts, in the show.
Moreover, as a historical text, Fire & Blood rarely dwells on emotionally charged, heart-stopping scenes, focusing more on the events leading up to the downfall of the Dragon Riders. As an adaptation, House of the Dragon gets to play around within the parameters of the fictional text, enhancing some scenes by elevating them on an emotional, often distressing, level. This is something that Fire & Blood, as a book, could hardly accomplish, especially when Martin didn’t mean for it to be a typical novel following the classical trajectory of a tragedy. The TV adaptation also gets to add a lot of scenes and character arcs that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to, keeping House of the Dragon as unpredictable as possible.
House of the Dragon Fills in the Gaps with Emotional Bonds
The show, unlike its source material, draws a lot from the friendship dynamic between Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) and Alicent ((Emily Carey), investing fans not only intellectually but also emotionally into the events of the Dance of the Dragons. In the book, Rhaenyra and Alicent has, more often than not, rivals in every possible way. In the show, they are childhood fans, torn apart by ambition and the desire to claim the Iron Throne. While not being close works for the characters in Fire & Bloodgiven that as a historical account Martin couldn’t explore their relationship in detail anyway, but, without that shared history it would have made things rather dull on screen.
Now that the two share a bond, the rift between them has become so much more tense and personal, making it difficult for fans to choose a side, and not root for their friendship instead. Moreover, the friendship context will also bring out the predominant themes explored in Martin’s works, expanding on dysfunctional family dynamics and an insatiable thirst for power and recognition. Given how tense things have been so far in the show, as opposed to the book, one can only expect the plot to take an emotionally charged ride as far as these incredibly strong, independent women are concerned.
More examples of suitable deviations from the source material include Alicent’s character. In the book, she, more or less, sleeps with everyone she can to have a shot at the Iron Throne, or at least it is rumored to. In the show, she is pressured into comforting the king by her own father, something she is clearly not very comfortable with but goes along with anyways out of obedience. Fire & Blood does not dwell upon the details as more intellectually stimulating and less emotionally charged events await the reader.
Does an adaptation really need to be faithful to its source material?
Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. In the case of House of the Dragon, it’s a no-brainer. The show not only improves upon the original material in the context of entertainment, but it also makes the transition from the text to the screen remarkably refreshing. It is no less a treat for the fans of Fire & Blood than it is for those who are only acquainted with the TV version of the world.