The biggest difference between House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones is that the new prequel is based on a finished work, meaning that fans of the book know how it will end. Since the show is set almost two centuries back in Westerosi history, that includes the death of almost every major character. Read on to hear how Rhaenyra Targaryen, but fair warning: this may include spoilers – assuming the show faithfully adapts the book.
Rhaenyra is one of the characters who has been changed the most for the TV show so far – in George R.R. Martin's book Fire & Blood, Rhaenyra is declared the heir to the Iron Throne at a much younger age, and therefore she does not feel that the responsibility was foisted on her so suddenly. Still, so far most of the plot points of her life have been followed pretty faithfully, so far as we know. Since the book is written like a real historical text, it utilizes unreliable narrators, especially during the portion describing Rhaenyra's life at court. Her romances with Daemon, Criston Cole and Harwin Strong were all explained more clearly on the screen than on the page.
What is clear in the book as well as the show is that Rhaenyra is proud to be a dragon rider but annoyed by the misogyny inherent in so much of Westerosi culture. She finds it frustrating that the idea of a queen rather than a king is so revolutionary to the lords of the Seven Kingdoms, especially since other cultures in this world have powerful female rulers. Much of the conflict in Rhaenyra's life arises when she acts just like a male Targaryen monarch would but is treated differently because she's a woman.
Even if you haven't read the book, you've probably guessed by now that Rhaenyra will go to war to win the crown she was promised by her father. The show will center around a civil war known as "the dance of the dragons," with Rhaenyra and her sons vying for their birthright against Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey and Olivia Cooke) and her sons by Rhaenyra's father, King Viserys I (Paddy Considine). The war is short but incredibly gruesome, as there are dragonriders on both sides capable of leveling a city singlehandedly.
Around the climax of the war, Rhaenyra was able to seize control of King's Landing and occupy the Iron Throne, though her younger brother and direct competitor for the throne, Aegon II, was able to escape the city. Rhaenyra did capture Aegon's sister-wife Helaena Targaryen, and a few months later Helaena died by suicide in captivity. This set off a massive riot in the city as Helaena was extremely popular among the smallfolk. The chaos was so intense that Rhaenyra needed to flee the city too.
Rhaenyra retreated to Dragonstone only to find that that was where Aegon II had taken up residence. As she arrived, she was betrayed by some of her loyalists and taken into custody by her brother. Aegon II and his dragon, Sunfyre, had both suffered grievous injuries in the war, and Sunfyre was stuck in the yard at Dragonstone, unable to fly or walk very far.
Aegon II sentenced Rhaenyra to death by dragon. In front of all the assembled courtiers, he fed his older half-sister to Sunfyre, who breathed fire on her before devouring her remains. That was the end of Rhaenyra's life, but as fans may get to see on the show, not the end of the war.
Again, there's no telling how these events may be altered in the TV adaptation, nor how they may be clarified since the book uses the unreliable narrator trope so liberally. Fire & Blood is available now in print, digital and audiobook formats for those interested in reading ahead. Otherwise, House of the Dragon airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max.