The Game of Thrones opening sequence is a tough act to follow. Its sprawling fantasy map informed viewers where in Westeros the episode would take them, making it necessary viewing. Add to that Ramin Djawadi’s instantly iconic theme, and you’re looking at an unskippable one and a half minutes of television.
Because of the sheer power of the Game of Thrones titles, one of the biggest questions coming into prequel series House of the Dragon was “Could its opening match up?” After an opening titles-free premiere, the show’s second episode finally gives us an answer: It’s complicated.
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House of the Dragon‘s opening credits certainly try to recapture the excitement of the Game of Thrones titles, even going so far as to use the exact same music and 3D animated art style. In this new sequence, we’re guided through an imposing stone city by a river of blood. The blood moves through gears carrying different insignias, charting a new path depending on how the gear turns. However, where the Game of Thrones title sequence helped viewers unfamiliar with Westeros get used to the geography of the world, House of the Dragon‘s opening is far more symbolic, and may be more rewarding to people already acquainted with the lore of George R.R. Martin’s Targaryen history, Fire & Blood.
Let’s break these titles down, starting with the stone city.
What do the House of the Dragon opening credits mean?
Credit: Ollie Upton / HBO
The backdrop for these new credits may look familiar to viewers, as it bears a resemblance to the stone model in King Viserys’ chambers in House of the Dragon‘s first episode. That’s because this city is Old Valyria, the original home of the Targaryen Dragonlords before they came to Westeros. By the time of House of the Dragon, Old Valyria is long destroyed. However, its legacy still weighs heavy on the Targaryens, making it a solid choice for a background for these credits.
Now onto the insignias and the blood. Each of the spinning gears we see in the title bears a crown or some other symbol linking it to a specific Targaryen. The very first gear we see contains a portrait of dragons during what is likely the Doom of Old Valyria, but once the circle fills with blood, all that remains is an iron crown signifying Aegon the Conqueror.
Some symbols are easier to puzzle out than others. For example, we’re able to identify Rhaenyra’s symbol because it’s the same interlocking design on the necklace that Daemon gave her. However, the sequence moves past many of the other gears very quickly, so we don’t always get a good look at them.
That’s where the blood comes in. Blood means a lot to the Targaryens: their house words are literally “fire and blood,” plus they’re obsessed with keeping their bloodline — the blood of Old Valyria — as pure as possible. Hence all the, um, incest.
In the House of the Dragon titles, the blood links the gears in the world’s most metal (and, once again, incestuous) family tree. At one point, we see nine trails of blood spin off from the union of two gears: Those gears would be King Jaehaerys and Queen Alysanne, and all those blood trails are their children. Thankfully the credits don’t follow every blood path, otherwise we’d be here all day. They do bring us to our biggest players, like Rhaenyra.
The blood also reminds us who is alive and who is dead: If a gear fills up with blood, that Targaryen is no more. That’s why Rhaenyra’s symbol remains above the river of blood, while others, like Aegon’s, Jaehaerys’s, and Alysanne’s, become submerged.
A cool sequence… or a sign of bigger problems?
Old Valyria, the crowns, and the blood are all effective symbols to represent the Targaryen family tree and House of the Dragon itself. There’s a clear focus on succession, history, and family lines, while the blood reminds us of all the violence that is soon to come. Still, these credits may be more interesting in theory than in practice. They’re full of elements that viewers may not understand if they’re not up to date on all their Targaryen lore. They’re also so much darker visually than that of Game of Thrones, making it harder to make out what’s going on. Even some identifying text on each Targaryen insignia could have gone a long way.
Finally, these credits get at one of my biggest worries about House of the Dragon: Will its desire to hew too closely to Game of Thrones prevent it from charting its own path?
Aside from the premiere’s neatly packaged Song of Ice and Fire mention, House of the Dragon is solidifying itself as, well, somewhat its own thing: a family drama on an epic scale that just happens to be set in Westeros. Yet the opening sequence feels like Game of Thrones-lite, an attempt to recreate something exceptional that unfortunately ends up being more confusing. Adopting the same art style is one thing, as it doesn’t hurt to be visually consistent. Using Djawadi’s exact same opening theme, though? That’s complete nostalgia bait. Why not use a new song, or at least a variation on any of the Targaryen themes?
If anything, this credit sequence feels like a sign that House of the Dragon is still nervous to spread its wings and fully fly free of its predecessor. Fire cannot kill a dragon, but an undue reliance on Game of Thrones just might.