Series Created by Ryan Condal & George R. R. Martin.
If I am being totally honest, I didn’t really miss Game of Thrones. Its final season made some missteps that soured me on it to an extent that I didn’t really think much of the spin-offs in development. Still, out of this idea that I like to at least try to complete what I’m following along with, I gave it a go (also because I quite liked the cast). And I am happy to report that it didn’t take long to hook me. The first season of House of the Dragon is Game of Thrones at its very best. It is an outstanding first season of television that well and truly won me back.
Based on parts of George R. R. Martin’s fantasy book Fire & Blood, House of the Dragon takes place around 200 years prior to the events of Game of Thrones. The Targaryens with their many dragons (and deeply inappropriate relationships) rule Westeros from the Iron Throne, where King Viserys (played by Paddy Considine) sits and tries to keep the peace. Viserys is desperate for a male heir, but so far has not been so lucky. Thus far the King only has a single daughter, Rhaenyra (played by, first, Milly Alcock and, later, Emma D’Arcy), whose best friend is the dutiful daughter, Alicent (played by, first, Emily Carey and, then, Olivia Cooke), of the manipulative and power-hungry Hand to the King, Otto Hightower (played by Rhys Ifans). The King’s brother, Prince Daemon Targaryen (played by Matt Smith), is a thorn in the eye of Otto, who tries to plant distrust between the King and his brother. Daemon, unlike the King, is unpredictable and wants to make good use of his dragon. The first season follows these characters over the years as they come of age and become distrustful of one another before it all leads to a nasty Targaryen civil war known as the ‘Dance of Dragons.’
House of the Dragon has all of the ingredients that made Game of Thrones a must-watch television show. This includes, but is certainly not limited to, great, big dragon action and great actors (who are all excellent here). It also included some deeply gripping and fascinating political maneuvering. House of the Dragon has more dragons and you can actually tell which is which, for the most part. And the intriguing politics of it all are top-notch. So much of this show is about characters marking their territory and grasping after the Iron Throne as the line of succession is up for debate. This is all really gripping, especially because of the great cast who help to establish these new characters as more than just re-workings of previous Game of Thrones archetypes. I was particularly fascinated by the complex nature of Daemon Targaryen who is as scary, unpredictable, and charismatic as an enormous transfixing dragon. Everything Matt Smith does in the role is fascinating, especially so when it appears to tell us something more about his relationship with his brother the King, played exceptionally well by Paddy Considine, whose character fights to keep his house in order while being manipulated and dying slowly.
At the heart of the show, though, you find two women — Rhaenyra and Alicent. Milly Alcock and Emily Carey play the young versions of these characters so well that you initially really hate the idea that excessive time jumps mean other actors have to take over, but Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke do take over and they succeed. D’Arcy and Cooke never miss a beat and this prevents the show from losing you completely, but the time jumps come a little bit too soon. It really should be said that show is deeply concerned with the role of women in Westeros circa 200 years before Daenerys took the throne (there are also many scenes depicting childbirth). The female characters are used as pawns to claim the throne regardless of their age or high regard. They are presented as something to be seized and toyed with and disposed of. It’s a sad, misogynistic Westeros, but as the season moves forward the primary women in the show — Rhaenyra, Alicent, and also Rhaenys — take center stage and prove that they are more than what the Westeros patriarchy perceives them to be.
As for negatives, I must note that episode seven has a problem with a poor day-for-night transfer, which limits the effect of an otherwise outstanding episode. Adding to that, I think the more general problem that this show has had this season is with pacing and what the many sometimes jarring time jumps does to our understanding of, and vestment in, characters. While, as noted, it is true that the performances are uniformly excellent in spite of the change in the cast from time to time, there are certain relatively important characters that you barely get a multi-dimensional understanding of. This is especially true for several members of the Velaryon house but also for two of Rhaenyra’s partners, whose identity is of utmost importance to not just this season but the entire show’s trajectory.
Just when I thought I was out, House of the Dragon pulled me back in. In spite of the problems relates to the excessive time jumps, I think this is an epic and super confident season of television. I would even argue that it might be superior to the first season of Game of Thrones. I really loved it.
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.