Folks who read George R.R. Martin’s Fire and Blood, the fictional history book on which House of the Dragon is based, have been on the edge of their seats, Iron and otherwise, waiting to see how the HBO series will adapt certain passages from the source material. In that regard, the show’s fourth outing, “King of the Narrow Sea,” stands out as the edgiest episode yet.
By now, you know the series premiere’s horrific death-by-childbirth scene comes from little more than a single sentence in the book. You also know the Crabfeeder (Daniel Scott-Smith) is only name-dropped a handful of times, accounting for his swift death in episode three. But much of the content from “King of the Narrow Sea” is drawn from pages and pages of text—specifically, Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) and Daemon’s (Matt Smith) kiss, as well as Rhaenyra and Criston Cole’s (Fabien Frankel) sex scene. The show’s depiction of events is notably different from what’s in the book, but here’s the catch: these differences are very much by design.
For those who don’t know, Martin’s novel is presented to the reader as a historical text within the world of Westeros. Under those circumstances, Fire and Blood comes from a maester of the Citadel named Gyldayn, writing about the Targaryen dynasty during the Game of Thrones era. Maester Gyldayn’s reporting relies on a variety of sources. Some of those sources are very reliable. Others? “Less reliable” doesn’t quite do it justice. Gyldayn relies on that latter category to chronicle much of what we saw in “King of the Narrow Sea,” leaving showrunners Ryan Condal and the departing Miguel Sapochnik with a lot of room to tell their own version of the story.
The key differences begin with Daemon Targaryen’s arrival in King’s Landing, following his war against the Crabfeeder. A year passes between the events of episodes three and four. In the book, it’s even longer; Daemon takes three full years between killing the Crabfeeder and returning to his brother’s side.
“Wearing a crown and styling himself King of the Narrow Sea, [Daemon] appeared unannounced in the skies above King’s Landing on his dragon, circling thrice above the tourney grounds,” Martin writes, “but when at last he came to earth, he knelt before his brother and offered up his crown as a token of his love and fealty.”
The specifics of Daemon’s immediate arrival are pretty similar between the book and the show, but the aftermath? Very different indeed. According to the book, “Daemon did remain at King’s Landing for half a year,” even resuming his role on the small council. During this period of time, he and his niece Rhaenyra grow closer, spending long hours sharing stories and riding dragons together. At some point during these six months, Daemon and Viserys (Paddy Considine) have yet another falling out. The reason? Well, that depends on who you believe.
Martin’s fictional author Gyldayn cites two different sources with two very different versions of how the brothers Targaryen reached their breaking point. The first is a man named Eustace, a septon of the Red Keep during King Viserys’s reign, who claims Daemon “seduced his niece the princess and claimed her maidenhood.” Septon Eustace goes on to say Rhaenyra loved Daemon and wished to marry him, with Viserys rejecting the notion, in no small part thanks to Daemon’s own marriage to Rhea Royce of The Vale. Clearly, this isn’t how it played out in “King of the Narrow Sea,” but could there be love between Daemon and Rhaenyra? With six episodes remaining in season one, there’s still time to find out.
The second of Maester Gyldayn’s sources is “far more depraved,” according to the text: Mushroom, a vulgar court jester with Targaryen tales so salacious, I dare not repeat them all in a publication as prestigious as Vanity Fair. As I said on this week’s Still Watching podcast, if I never read another one of George R.R. Martin’s sex scenes again, it will be too soon. Much of that feeling falls at the feet of Mushroom, and how he goes about telling his tales of Rhaenyra and Daemon’s physical relationship with one another.