‘House of the Dragon’ Boss Sees Dragons as Nuclear Weapons in Cold War-Inspired Season 2

“House of the Dragon” Season 2 picks up with Westeros on the brink of a civil war that showrunner Ryan Condal likens to a Cold War-era nuclear conflict— a steep escalation from the stinging family dynamics found in the inaugural season of the “Game of Thrones” spin-off.

“We had spent a lot of time with them in Season 1 under one roof, hopefully setting up all the interfamily dynamics and getting to know these two very complicated sides of Viserys’ family,” Condal told TheWrap, noting that Viserys’ death, the stealing of the Iron Throne by Aegon and the murder of Rhaenyra’s son, Lucerys, at the hands of Aemond happened in quick succession.

“It was a momentous end to the season and we knew that that was going to kick off, if not an all out war, definitely a conflict going into Season 2,” Condal said. “This season is largely about these two sides getting their heels dug in, and figuring out how they’re going to prosecute the war that they suddenly found themselves fighting.”

As a conflict brews between the rival factions supporting Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) — known as Team Black — or King Aegon II Targaryen (Tom Glynn-Carney) and House Hightower — known as Team Green — Condal embraced the slow start to medieval wars with the added nuclear-like element of dragons.

“We really wanted to lean into this idea of an armed nuclear conflict,” Condal said, noting that the launch of a “super weapon” like a dragon would be met with a dragon from the other side. “They’re finite super weapons as well … if your super weapon dies on the battlefield, then not only do you lose, but then you diminish your own power.”

As the dueling sides kick off an “unprecedented style of warfare against each other,” Condal hopes the staging of the conflict, along with its hurrying up and waiting, delivers a sense of suspense and tension to viewers.

“Nobody wants to make a move that results in their side getting annihilated or burning down the the the city and the throne that they’re fighting for,” Condal said, adding that are “big battles and sequences” that will take place this season. “It has a very James Bond-era, just post-World War II, Cold War feel to it with with these hot conflicts that flare up from time to time.”

Whereas Season 1 challenged the “House of the Dragon” team with a substantial time jump — swapping younger versions of Rhaenyra and Alicent Hightower, initially played by Milly Alcock and Emily Carey respectively, before passing the baton to D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke — Season 2 finds its characters scattered across Dragonstone and Kings Landing in a similar position to “Game of Thrones.”

“The Lannisters were all under one roof in King’s Landing, the Starks were all under one roof in Winterfell, and then by nature of the war, this diaspora happens and you follow the characters out into the world and it creates more of a multi-POV structure,” Condal noted of the geography of early “Game of Thrones” seasons. “While that’s very standard and true to ‘Game of Thrones’ as a franchise, it was new to us.”

With the added physical distance between central characters — including dueling heroines Rhaenyra and Alicent — Condal and the team aimed to craft compelling moments of crossover through cinematic storytelling.

“[We figured] out ways to have them have them cross in the editing, where you’re moving from Alicent experiencing something and then cutting away to Rhaenyra either experiencing something similar or entirely different, and having those stories connect with each other,” Condal said, adding that a move Rhaenyra makes in Dragonstone would have a “resonating impact” on Alicent, despite not being in the same room.

Condal noted that the satisfaction brought by the reunion of characters separated by war in “Game of Thrones” is something he hopes to emulate, saying “the thing we hope has the audience leaning forward is the hope and the desire to see these people come back together in a meaningful way, hopefully, as more evolved people, or the very least to see how that dynamic has changed.”

While Rhaenyra and Aegon remain laser-focused on the Iron Throne, their adjacent figures Alicent and Daemond (Matt Smith) undergo their own complex moral dilemmas in Season 2, which Condal said reflects the show’s effort to “humanize” each character.

“In reading the book, because of the nature of how it’s written — it’s a history book — you don’t really get to dig into anybody’s internal thoughts or lives in it — it’s an objective history,” Condal said of George R.R. Martin’s “Fire & Blood.” “That is the fun of this adaptation is that we get to bring that literary layer to this wonderful outline of events that we have. We get to follow the history but also provide deeper texture to it.”

The book is told from three different points of view for the “Dance of the Dragons” section that chronicles the conflict between the two factions within House Targaryen: Septon Eustace, Grand Maester Munkun and court jester Mushroom. Condal noted the “brush” might have “affected the painting” of certain characters.

“This is a history written by a man drawing from accounts of three men talking about these two women and their central roles in this really, really ugly civil war that changed the the future course of Westerosi history,” Condal said. “We’re making this commentary on how history is written and how history is interpreted, and sometimes history is written with an agenda.”

“House of the Dragon” Season 2 premieres Sunday, June 16 on HBO and Max. Season 1 is now streaming on Max.

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