House of the Dragon‘s third episode did more than deliver another chapter in one Westeros’ most notorious events. “Second of His Name” also rectified George R.R. Martin’s biggest Game of Thrones regret. Years after Robert Baratheon walked into the woods for the last time, the prequel spinoff finally showed the author knows what a royal hunt actually entailed. That endeavor, full of great Easer eggs, was more than a fun callback, though. The King’s lavish event is a harbinger of what’s to come. Because if House of the Dragon is willing to put this many resources into killing a single deer, imagine what it will do when dragons start fighting dragons.
In author James Hibberd’s Game of Thrones oral history, Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon, George R.R. Martin was unequivocal about his “least favorite scene in the entire show, in all eight seasons.” But it’s almost certainly not a moment viewers would pick or even consider. It was a brief season one sequence, when Robert Baratheon went on his fateful hunt in the Kingswood. Here’s what Martin said about why that roughly 90-second scene bothered him so much:
Four guys walking on foot through the woods carrying spears and Robert is giving Renly shit. In the books, Robert goes off hunting, we get word he was gored by a boar, and they bring him back and he dies. So I never did [a hunting scene]. But I knew what a royal hunting party was like. There would have been a hundred guys. There would have been pavilions. There would have been huntsmen. There would have been dogs. There would have been horns blowing – that’s how a king goes hunting! He wouldn’t have just been walking through the woods with three of his friends holding spears hoping to meet a boar. But at that point, we couldn’t afford horses or dogs or pavilions.
Martin can now rest easy. Everyone has seen a “real” royal hunt take place in his fictional world. House of the Dragon‘s version had everything he ever wanted and more. The celebration for Prince Aegon’s second name day was a grandiose gathering with lots of important lords and ladies. And also lots of horses, dogs, and pavilions.
Like King Viserys, Robert went hunting in the Kingswood for a white hart, a rare, older majestic deer considered magical. And like Viserys, Robert got very drunk during his hunt. (Lancel Lannister secretly gave Robert fortified strongwine to endanger the king.) House of the Dragon showed how a wild animal could fatally wound an inebriated monarch. Viserys was stumbling and unable to focus and, even with the deer tied up, he was at risk. And we also saw how dangerous a charging boar is when it almost killed Rhaenyra. Viserys’ hunt really did give us everything Robert’s didn’t.
In fairness to Game of Thrones, though, its royal hunt was brief. It did everything it needed to quickly. It would have made more sense to cut it entirely than go all out. House of the Dragon‘s royal hunt was far more important. It was a major gathering of important figures, some new to the show, that took up half the episode and helped moved numerous plots forward.
It was also a lot of easier for the spinoff to execute an extravagant royal hunt, too. The original show’s first season had a per episode budget of $6 million. That was a lot for 2010 when Game of Thrones began production, but a far cry from what HBO lets House of the Dragon spend every week. The prequel’s per episode budget comes in just under $20 million. That’s a Brienne of Tarth-sized increase over its predecessor. (Even if you account for inflation, $6 million in 2010 is roughly $7.4 million in 2021, when House of the Dragon filmed.) Meanwhile, Game of Thrones‘ final season budget was “only” $15 million per episode.
Speaking of comparisons, the first episode of House of the Dragon gave us the kind of royal tourney Martin wanted for Game of Thrones. The author also told Hibberd the original show had to dramatically cut back on the scope of King Robert’s jousting tournament. Despite the budgetary restrictions, Martin doesn’t hate that scene. He just wishes it could have been a lot bigger, and seven bloody hells is that exactly what we got in House of the Dragon‘s premiere.
The difference between the two is staggering. Just look at them.
HBO is giving House of the Dragon the kind of financial backing it took Game of Thrones years to earn. It’s the single biggest advantage the prequel has over its predecessor. Game of Thrones‘ success is House of the Dragon‘s gain. But that doesn’t mean the show is only using that money to satiate A Song of Ice and Fire‘s creator. It’s also delivering for fans, and looks like it will throughout the entire run.
By the time “The Dance of the Dragons” ends, this royal hunt should seem quaint in scope. The first Targaryen civil war features some truly epic moments, both on the ground and high in the sky. If House of the Dragon is willing to invest massive resources in royal tournaments and hunts, imagine what it will do when dragons battle dragons.
Of course, we’re fine with the show spending money to rectify Game of Thrones‘ biggest issues. Just so long as those issues aren’t limited to just George R.R. Martin’s regrets. House of the Dragon should put money into making sure we can see dragons go to war. And, most of all, in delivering an ending we all love.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.