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HBO's Games of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon is a chance for fans of the original show who were let down by what was generally considered a disappointing final season to feel the magic once again.HBO/HBO

Sunday sees the highly anticipated premiere of the HBO fantasy series House of the Dragon, the prequel to the wildly popular Game of Thrones, which ran for eight seasons. Fans of the original show who were let down by what was generally considered a disappointing final season now have a chance to feel the magic once again.

Many articles have already been written on what the new show entails – the ten-episode HBO Original is based on author George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood, set 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones, and tells the story of infighting aristocrats. Others have told viewers how to watch the show: In Canada, it’s available exclusively on Crave.

But the most interesting House of the Dragon question is not what and how, but why? The prevailing consensus among critics is that the franchise showrunners royally messed up the final season of Thrones, and so House of the Dragon is as a way to remind fans of all that was great about the original. Atonement, then.

“No, I don’t think House of the Dragon is an apology,” says Steve Toussaint, who plays the seafarer Lord Corlys Velaryon, also known as the Sea Snake. The 57-year-old British actor spoke to The Globe and Mail in Toronto. “I don’t believe you should ever apologize for a piece of art you make. You create it, you put it out there, and people will make of it what they will.”

People made Game of Thrones one of HBO’s most watched series ever. Broadcast from 2011 to 2019, the medieval saga adapted from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels piled up 59 Primetime Emmy Awards, a record amount for a drama series. Audiences responded to storylines involving throne-claiming no-good nobles, with plenty of sex, swords and a grumpy Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister.

House of the Dragon, co-created by Martin and co-showrunner Ryan Condal, stars Paddy Considine as a mild-mannered king in a story about a frightful war of succession. The prequel will stick to the original’s formula of fights, fire-breathing dragons and foxy maidens and fellas. In the first episode, heads and appendages are lopped, gowns are dropped, and dragon riders still have the best jobs.

Steve Toussaint as Lord Corlys Velaryon.Ollie Upton/HBO

As Game of Thrones was HBO’s biggest franchise ever, a spinoff was a given – and of the multiple successors put into development, House of the Dragon is the first to make it to air. Going with a prequel set two centuries years before the events of the original series keeps the built-in fanbase interested while inviting newcomers to a self-contained story.

“The trick here is, you don’t want to just remake the original show,” Casey Bloys, HBO chief content officer, told The New York Times. “You want to make a show that feels related and honours the original, but also feels like its own.”

Toussaint, who auditioned for but failed to land a role in Game of Thrones, agrees. “With this, you don’t really have to be concerned with any links to the original show. All the main players that you meet in the first episode of House of the Dragon will be long gone before the action of Game of Thrones.”

Despite the huge viewership of the original series, it is possible that the final so-so season turned some fans off the franchise for good. And yet, HBO is not only rolling the dice on House of the Dragon, it is doubling down. According to Variety, the 10 episodes of the first season cost nearly US$200-million to produce, whereas a season of Game of Thrones reportedly cost approximately US$100-million.

So, a lot is on the line. History shows, however, that these kind of succession sagas are catnip to the couch sitters. HBO knows it better than anyone – the pay television giant has a black-comedy corporate-family blockbuster that is literally called Succession. Others in the genre include The Sopranos and The Crown, to say nothing of oldies Dallas and Dynasty.

None of this is lost on Toussaint, a Shakespearean actor who knows his King Lear – and believes the new series will hit close to home for viewers. “Family is family,” he says. “The same rivalries exist. There are perceived favourites. There are flawed parents. And you can look at this show and think, ‘I’m just like that.’”

Really?

“Well, I mean, I wouldn’t cut somebody’s head off or anything.”

HBO’s House of the Dragon debuts Aug. 21 on Crave.

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