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HBO Achieves New Heights of Corporate Synergy With Bizarre ‘House of the Dragon’ Tie-Ins

House of the Dragon, HBO’s attempt to cash in on the popularity of Game of Thrones via a spin-off prequel, premieres on Sunday. It has had some truly silly and inexplicable marketing tie-ins.

Despite having an array of bad wigs, yet again, HBO seems hopeful that House of the Dragon will be a smash hit, just like Game of Thrones was. It’s already unveiled a licensed merchandise store, which sells not just t-shirts and Funko Pops but barware and artisanal serving planks as well. Given the sheer tonnage of merchandise that Game of Thrones produced, this isn’t all that surprising. HBO’s partnership with the wrestling outlet AEW is a little bit more unusual.

Wednesday night’s AEW Dynamite brought back Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, who is 69, for a House of the Dragon tie-in event as a “special guest timekeeper” for a match between “The American Dragon” Bryan Danielson and Daniel Garcia, who debuted new nicknames for both himself (“The Dragonslayer”) and his scorpion deathlock (“The Dragontamer”). Steamboat previously had a gimmick in WWE called The Dragon, which  was either a nickname he used while dressed in a keikogi like a karate practitioner or, at times, just his name, as he dressed like an actual dragon and “breathed fire”. (Steamboat’s mother is Japanese American, and given WWE’s long history of racial sensitivity, it is little surprise that they elected to have their half Asian wrestling star dress as a racial stereotype.) The connections between all this and House of the Dragon are perhaps even more tenuous than they seem, given that Steamboat’s persona was modeled after Asian dragons and George R. R. Martin’s fictional kingdom of Westeros features European dragons, but no wrestling fan has ever been upset at someone coming up with a pretext for Steamboat getting a rousing ovation.

If you’re a dragon purist and that is your main draw to the new series, then look no further than the Los Angeles Natural History Museum tie-in. Its House of the Dragon: The Targaryen Dynasty exhibit displays costumes and paraphernalia from the series, as well as a giant dragon skeleton, which is a prop, because dragons are not real. In a review for the Los Angeles Times, staff writer Jessica Gelt described it as “an underwhelming promotional ploy unspooled in a room large enough to hold little more than one giant dragon head and a replica of the iron throne made famous by the original eight-season epic.”

HBO has also partnered with Duolingo, the language learning app, which has updated itscourse in the fictional language of High Valyrian with over 150 new words and 700 new sentences. 

“At Duolingo, we know content drives interest in language. Our data shows a direct correlation between user growth and what’s happening in the cultural zeitgeist, from K-Pop to Eurovision, and various international shows and movies,” George Audi, head of business development for Duolingo, said in a press release. “This unique partnership around learning High Valyrian will enable fans across the globe to see how fun learning a new language can be while connecting closer with the world of Westeros.”

I am unsure in what circumstances learning High Valyrian will be useful for anyone, but I suppose it is possible that after a few lessons, one might opt to learn Spanish instead.

HBO appears pretty confident that people are excited for House of the Dragon specifically for the dragons, because it has at least two other major, dragon-related marketing pushes. One is a “3D billboard” of a dragon in Times Square:

It’s unclear what the billboard looks like from other angles, as a brief perusal of social media does not bring up any pictures or videos from fans of the billboard, and only this one video which was posted on the official feeds for House of the Dragon

Perhaps instead of an adult dragon, you’d like to raise one from an egg? That too is possible, with HBO’s augmented reality DracARys app. While the #DracARys hashtag has a little more action on Twitter than images of the Times Square billboard, some of the popular posts within the tag are not people raising their dragons, but unrelated tweets like Star Wars fancams.

What surely would have been the most popular tie-in—fresh hardcover copies of The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in the ongoing and still-uncompleted A Song of Ice and Fire saga from which Game of Thrones is adapted—is unavailable because Martin hasn’t finished the book. Alternatives are available.

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