How will 'House of the Dragon' season 2's Rhaenyra Targaryen story differ from the book?

Emma D'Arcy as Princess Rhaenyra in House of the Dragon finale
(Image credit: HBO)

Rhaenyra Targaryen, the "House of the Dragon" heroine and rightful heir to the Iron Throne, made quite the impression in the first season of the "Game of Thrones" prequel series, thanks to the strong performances of Milly Alcock as the young princess and Emma D'Arcy as her adult counterpart. 

The latter actress will take full reins on Rhaenyra's story in the upcoming "House of the Dragon" season 2, which is reportedly set to premiere on HBO in August 2024 (at least, according to series star Matt Smith, who plays Rhaenyra's uncle-slash-husband Daemon Targaryen). 

However, Rhaenyra's trajectory next season will reportedly differ from the one set out in the book upon which the HBO fantasy drama is based, George R. R. Martin's history tome "Fire & Blood," if the teaser trailer for season 2 is any indication.

Rhaenyra Targaryen in the book vs show

Set nearly 200 years before the events of "Games of Thrones," "House of the Dragon" centers on the succession war within House Targaryen during the height of its power, between heir apparent Rhaenyra Targaryen and her half-brother Ageon II (Tom Glynn-Carney) over their father Viserys I's throne.

The final moments of the show's first season certainly set that civil war, known as the "Dance of the Dragons," into motion after Rhaenyra (D'Arcy) is informed that her young son Lucerys (Elliot Grihault) was horrifically killed near Storm's End by the dragon of his uncle Aemond Targaryen (Ewan Mitchell), who is allied with Aegon II.

“Maybe he was trying to scare Luke, but I don’t think ultimately he intended to kill him,” showrunner Ryan J. Condal said of Aemond's action, in HBO's "Inside the Episode." “But now he’s done it, and he has to decide whether or not he’s going to own it in his travel back to King’s Landing.”

If he does travel back to King's Landing, he will undoubtedly have to face Rhaenyra's wrath at some point. The last we see of the character, she is gazing defiantly straight at the camera in grief and fury over her child's death. And given that the first scene of the season 2 teaser features Rhaenyra tearfully looking upon Storm's End, and the last finds her fierce and fearless riding a fire-breathing dragon, it's clear the queen's quest for vengeance is only getting started.

This is a bit of a character departure from the Rhaenyra readers know from Martin's books. Though Rhaenyra is still a vital figure in the action of "Fire & Blood," the royal is far more passive on the page, choosing to stay on Dragonstone and act as a figurehead while the war of succession begins. 

But given the sneak peeks of "House of the Dragon" season 2, it seems that the TV series is instead ramping up The Black Queen’s active participation in the conflict and making her much more of an in-the-trenches leader going forward. 

We're still waiting for the official announcement of the "House of the Dragon" season 2 release date, but while you wait to see how Rhaenyra's revenge will pan out, you can stream the show's first season with a Max subscription. 

Christina Izzo
Writer

Christina Izzo is a writer-editor covering culture, food and drink, travel and general lifestyle in New York City. She was previously the Deputy Editor at My Imperfect Life, the Features Editor at Rachael Ray In Season and Reveal, as well as the Food & Drink Editor and chief restaurant critic at Time Out New York.