House of the Dragon review: a return to greatness, or a pretender to the throne?
The epic prequel looks and sounds like Game of Thrones, with many of the same qualities, but takes time to come together
IT’S unavoidable: whenever something even tangentially related to Game of Thrones comes up, some snide comment about the controversial (to put it mildly) ending is soon to follow.
Despite how immensely popular the show was during its run, becoming a worldwide cultural phenomenon (to the befuddlement of the fantasy allergic), the ending left an exceptionally sour taste in many viewers’ mouths.
The cultural hangover audiences have for Game of Thrones is just one of the hurdles House of the Dragon will have to surmount, and there are a few others.
However, watching the first episode, the show quickly ticks off all the boxes of what fans expect from Game of Thrones. Dragons? Check. Political intrigue? Check. Family drama? Check. Gruesome violence? Double check. Orgies? Check. And if you’re missing the incest, well just wait a few episodes.
This lavishly made prequel, based on the book Fire and Blood by Thrones creator George R.R. Martin, is set about a couple of hundred years before the events of the original series and features entirely new characters and conflicts that audiences will have to familiarise themselves with.
While Game of Thrones focused on a fight between different royal houses like the Starks and Lannisters, House of the Dragon is focused on House Targaryen, who conquered and ruled Westeros with their dragons. You can tell who they are based on their ash white hair – this show must have a huge wig budget.
As we begin, the realm has been at peace for 60 years and is ruled by King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine). Unfortunately, the king, who seems nice enough, has not been able to produce a male heir, which he needs to ensure stability.
Weak-willed and easily manipulated by his supposed advisors, he has to name either his brutal and much-disliked brother Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) or his daughter Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) as his heir.
Despite how qualified Rhaenyra seems – and she’s an awesome character – no queen has ever sat on the Iron Throne.
The central drama between these three characters (and very good actors) is the core of House of the Dragon, with many others orbiting around them. It’s a sprawling cast, which unfortunately means some supporting characters don’t really make an impact because of how little screen time they get.
After all, despite all the spectacle in Game of Thrones, what made fans stick with it were the iconic characters like Jon Snow, Arya Stark, Daenerys, Tyrion, the Hound, and literally dozens of others.
It will be curious to see who from House of the Dragon will become fan favourites, though Rhaenyra and Daemon are the standouts in the early going.
One thing that takes getting used to at the start of each episode, are the time jumps in between. Sometimes six months pass between episodes, sometimes it’s many years. It’s not necessarily confusing, but it resets the story, and with the many, many characters, it takes time to figure out who’s who.
Not to mention that each episode seemingly adds more characters, with episode six introducing new lead cast members and complexities.
In terms of what actually happens on the show, while there is plenty of fire and blood, featuring the titular fire-spouting airborne lizards, there are also many scenes at the royal court and the small council chamber, as characters seriously intone about politics, succession, and family alliances.
A lot of it is well written, with juicy dialogue as curse words add an edge to fancy verbiage, but is there more than surface-level drama?
There’s plenty of shocking and exciting stuff, such as the aforementioned violence, incest and dragonfire, interspersed throughout, so it’s never boring. But a handful of episodes in, it still feels like the show is concerned with setting up future drama.
The big takeaway after seeing a few episodes is that House of the Dragon looks and sounds incredible, with some of the best special effects, production design, and costumes ever put on screen – often better than most movies.
While the central drama is exciting from moment to moment, it lacks that magic that elevated Game of Thrones above other TV shows, when it was at its best.
It’s probably unfair to compare a handful of episodes to a complete show with many all-time great highlights, but that’s the unenviable position House of the Dragon finds itself in.
*House of the Dragon premiers at 9am, Monday, August 22 on HBO Go
source – The Vibes