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'GOT' prequel 'House of the Dragon' starts on Sunday


Confession time - I never got into "Game Of Thrones." I tried. I did. But honestly, life is too short. Now, I know many of you had a different experience with the HBO series based on George R.R. Martin's fantasy novels. "Game Of Thrones" was a rating juggernaut, and it racked up 59 - five, nine - Emmy Awards. Now a prequel is coming out - "House Of The Dragon." It starts Sunday night on HBO again. And Glen Weldon, a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, is here to get us all ready. Maybe, maybe even me. Hey, Glen.

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: All right, you're going to have to just walk me through this here.

WELDON: Oh, no. Look. I get it. I recapped "Game Of Thrones" for NPR, and I kept hearing from all kinds of folks, telling me why they weren't watching. Some said it was just too many characters, and they were mostly, you know, beardy, middle-aged white dudes who all looked alike. That's fair.

KELLY: Exactly.

WELDON: Right. For some, it was the violence, which was extreme - also a fair point. For others, it was its treatment of women, which the show was rightly critiqued for, I think. And for some, it was all the fantasy stuff - the magic and the dragons - that kind of snuck into the series slowly at first, and then that's pretty much when it all became about. So, Mary Louise, trust me; you're not alone.

KELLY: There were an awful lot of dragons. The name of this prequel is giving me pause already. "House Of The Dragon." Does it correct for the dragons or any of the other things you mentioned?

WELDON: Well, I mean, it still throws a lot at you - character names, place names, history. But essentially, the story of this show is a war over succession. This is War of the Roses, right? So if you can follow Shakespeare's history plays, if you can read Wolf Hall, you can get this. The show opens 200 years before the events of "Game Of Thrones," so you won't need to remember any of the original characters. You'll be visiting some familiar places, yes. But the conflict mostly takes place within one single family, so there's less to keep track of.

KELLY: OK. Well, that's encouraging. I can start with a clean slate.

WELDON: Yeah. I mean, the Targaryens are the family in question. They were the folks with the long platinum hair. They tend to intermarry. They have a kinship with dragons. And "House Of The Dragon" is set back at the height of the Targaryen dynasty, when they're still the most powerful force in the world because they got a lot of dragons.

And as the series opens, the king, who's played by Paddy Considine, is ruling during a time of peace. But he is getting older, and he hasn't had any male heirs. And his younger brother, Daemon, who's played by "Doctor Who's" Matt Smith, is an excellent soldier, and he thinks he's in line for the iron throne. But he's also very cruel and impulsive, so everyone around the king is jockeying to suggest any alternative to that guy. And one of them is the king's youngest daughter, Rhaenyra. She's played in the first half of the season by Milly Alcock. But there has never been a queen on the iron throne before, you see. So you can imagine what all those beardy middle-aged white dudes think of that idea.

KELLY: Yeah. OK. So you have seen the first couple episodes. What would you say to someone who didn't make it through "Game Of Thrones?" - me, hypothetically. Should we dive in?

WELDON: Well, it depends on why you gave up. I mean, if it was because of all the characters, yeah, this is a bit leaner in that regard. If it was because the violence, I mean, it's still there. It's just as intense. If it was because of its treatment of women, well, there's still a lot of boobs and butts, but it does feel less gratuitous. I mean, your mileage may vary. But, Mary Louise, if it's because of all the fantasy stuff, like it sounds like you were, look it - it's right there in the name. As you say, this is "House Of The Dragon." This is all dragons, all the time. But I think the most important thing for people to know is that "Game Of Thrones" famously went past the books that Martin has written, and you could feel that. The showrunners were trying to land the plane in the dark.

KELLY: Right. I mean, I didn't even know what the ending was because I didn't watch "Game Of Thrones." But I know nobody liked it.

WELDON: Oh, I heard from a lot of those people, yeah. But if you are worried that you're going to get burned again, don't be because this is a story with a beginning, a middle and a definite end taken right from a book. There will be no vamping. And what's interesting is that the book it's based on, "Fire And Blood," is presented not as a novel but as conflicting historical accounts written in different styles from different points of view. Now, that makes for a very fun read, but television has different demands. And so what's left ambiguous in the book is going to have to be explicitly dramatized one way or the other. So the showrunners are going to have to pick a side, and that's going to be fun to see.

KELLY: So you say. Glen Weldon - he's a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. Thank you, Glen.

WELDON: Thank you.

KELLY: Happy watching.


Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.