House of the Dragon season 2 has opted for a shorter length in runtime, composed of only eight episodes. That’s two arcs shorter than the critically-acclaimed first season, which weaved a dark fantastical tale based on George R.R. Martin’s ‘Fire & Blood’ novel — set 200 years prior to the events of Game of Thrones. While that show ended in disapproving mounds of ashes due to a rushed ending and odd creative decisions, this prequel series won its core fanbase back with a well-structured narrative about the Iron Throne’s successor, and securing a Primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Drama Series. Lowering the episode count understandably cast some doubts, and now one of its returning directors Clare Kilner has explained the reason why.
“There are eight wonderful episodes with so much happening in every episode, and we have trouble, at times, bringing them down to one hour,” director Kilner told The Hollywood Reporter. “Ryan’s [J. Condal] decision was to give it a good opening and a good ending, and they’re jam-packed with emotional and visually exciting events.” This reduction is easily comparable to the mistake Game of Thrones made with seasons 7 and 8, where the quality started to decline as co-creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss tried rushing through the events, presumably based on some footnotes author Martin gave them. The latter still hasn’t finished the book series, and therefore the show lacked a solid foundation to build upon. However, with House of the Dragon season 2, the focus is to give the chapter a good start and an ending, rather than forcefully stretching or condensing/ bringing in oncoming arcs to favour a 10-episode limit.
The concern among fans partly stems from author Martin’s comments from last year, where he mentioned that it would take four full House of the Dragon seasons to depict the Targaryen saga, each comprising 10 episodes. Now, if a showrunner’s vision does not match the original creator/ source material’s vision, it is bound to cause some level of outrage. We’ve seen this time and again with movies, with directors complaining that the final cut never matched their creative vision — a good example being Todd McFarlane’s issues with Venom’s tiny build in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. However, in House of the Dragon’s case, you need to consider that Martin was simply musing in his blog — at the early stages — and that he fully trusts Condal’s creative decisions.
Condal is now credited as the sole showrunner for season 2, since his original partner Miguel Sapochnik stepped down after the first season ended. Alan Taylor, who previously directed some GoT episodes like ‘Battle of the Bastards,’ came on board to assist, but in what capacity is unclear. Instead of rushing the arc like the penultimate and final seasons of Game of Thrones, Condal plans on taking his time with HOTD season 2 to ensure the story is solidly paced and the development of events feel earned. A season finale must end on the right note — a cliffhanger, for example — rather than delivering a lacklustre ending that wouldn’t work well with 10 episodes. Implementing a time jump to service a better season finale would feel rushed, in turn degrading the quality and namesake the show earned. It’s quality over quantity, basically.
Another thing worth noting is that ‘Fire & Blood’ isn’t exactly a full-blown novel like other books from Martin, instead functioning as a weird blend of an encyclopedia and a collection of short stories that explain Targaryen history. This scenario is quite reminiscent of the highly polarising The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, which was also sourced from the appendices of J.R.R. Tolkien’s mainline LOTR books with no guidance or direct influence, due to his passing. However, in the case of House of the Dragon, Martin is closely working alongside Condal and Taylor to ensure the best televised representation of its characters, as season 2 prepares to introduce familiar locations such as Winterfell and the House of Stark.