Some things have changed since the start of the pandemic that caused the three year wait between SDCC 2019 and 2022… and some things haven’t, like the intensity and zeal for which fans hold all things Game of Thrones.
HBO’s spinoff series House of the Dragon, taking place 200 years before the events in Game of Thrones, continued the tradition of generating a crowd with their House of the Dragon: Dragon’s Den offsite activation.
The imposing castle keep was located along the Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade across from the Hilton Gaslamp Hotel. Even though an extensive queue area was provided along the side of the structure, the lines often (actually, almost always) spilled out onto the sidewalk and created some congestion in the area. Employees running the queue lines would ask (several times) if you had downloaded the House of the Dragon: DracARys AR app. Engaging with the app at the end of the activation allowed fans early access to their virtual dragons.
A dozen potential mothers and fathers of dragons were led first into a staging courtyard, where the acting talent of the “townfolk” and the “guards” really sparkled. A roaming bard composed songs on the spot, inspired by the fans. A spice merchant tempted you with his colorful wares. Guards did their part to keep a watchful eye on us, questioning where we came from and playing off our answers. The ground was covered with straw and from somewhere the sounds of sheep and goats could be heard. It was a fantastic way to set the stage for the next part of our adventure.
Once the doors to the keep opened attendees were led by an expertly played “dragonkeeper” through the process of choosing a large dragon’s egg from a fiery looking mantle (or did the egg choose us?), into a room with a giant dragon skull replica ringed by candles, where we paid homage to the past and connected to our dragon’s egg before moving onto the next room where we placed those eggs in crevasses to (hopefully) hatch.
All the rooms were ambiently lit, and there was quite of bit of smoke and fog. We found it a bit too much, especially in the crevasse room where we were repeatedly told that only two eggs were allowed per crevasse but darn if we could see anything in that room, much less count eggs or find an empty crevasse.
After a walk down a very dark hall, using a rope to guide us, and hearing the sounds of dragons, we then spilled into a light filled throne room, where the very familiar “Iron Throne” was displayed.
A group of troubadours played in the corner, a photo was taken (to be downloaded later), and residents of the keep mingled. We were so impressed with the residents and their acting skills, especially when approached by one well dressed woman who could not help but be astonished that I, a “lady”, was wearing pants. It was great fun to play along.
The last room of the activation is all about the House of the Dragon: DracARys AR app. Fans were once again asked if they had the app. As the owner of an older model Android, the functionality of the required NFC was lost on me and I was made to wait for my dragon egg to be hatched like any other app holder.
We were also given a souvenir pin, which over the course of the weekend I saw at least three different versions of.
Overall, the Dragon’s Den was very enjoyable and filled with lovely acting and steeped in lore that any Game of Thrones book or series fan would enjoy. I know that they have brought out the Iron Throne for other photo opportunities so having it as the “grand finale” to this dragon-centric activation, and not say a dramatic and awe-inspiring dragon, feels like a gentle nod rather than a grand culmination of themes.
We read reports of unofficial lines for #HotD (their official hashtag) beginning in the dark of night and lasting upwards of eight hours. These kinds of problems could easily be solved with a reservation system akin to what was offered for the Dungeons & Dragons Tavern off-site, especially since this is a timed activation with a limit of 12 people to push though in each group.
HBOMax did have their “Drop Zones” which could grant V.I.P. entry to the lucky winners, but several of these were ill-placed (after all, does a VIP ticket in the middle of the line queue when you’re already on hour seven really “save” you time?). A reservation system would have been a better solution for everyone.
For more from inside the House of the Dragon: Dragons Den, check out this walk-through from our own Outside Comic-Con.
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