House of the Dragon, the long-awaited follow-up series to HBO’s juggernaut Game of Thrones, is finally upon us, thrusting viewers back into the gnarly world of intrigue, violence and dragons. Based on the book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, GoT became a genuine phenomenon, garnering a massive fan base and delivering some of the most notable TV moments of the 2010s.
The series did not end on a solid note, with the final two seasons feeling rushed and a far cry from what made the show's initial episodes so engaging and worthwhile. Returning to Westeros is understandably an anxious proposition for fans, considering how things ended the first time, but hopping into House of The Dragon, that trepidation has given way to excitement and enthusiasm to be back in the world that captivated its audience for a decade. House of The Dragon is a prequel, set almost 200 years before the original series, when the Targaryens were at the height of their power as the rulers of Westeros, with a fleet of dragons. In the original series, the Targaryens are all but extinct, a condition shared by their dragons. The prequel follows the succession of King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine). He is without a male heir with his daughter Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock/Emma D’arcy), who could be an option but would shake up the patriarchy, and his brother Daemon (Matt Smith), who most acknowledge as the de facto heir despite his tendency for violence and decadence. The point of conflict occurs when Rhaenyra is named as heir to Viserys, which is a massive precedent in the world as there has never been a queen, setting up a conflict between her and her uncle Daemon.
The drama of a succession crisis and the backroom dealings of a council serving a king, who all have different motives and goals, with great actors sitting in ornate rooms, is what made Game of Thrones so popular. The politics and intrigue that the pilot set up are exciting, and that is the factor that made viewers who didn't necessarily like high fantasy get invested in the original series. The latter seasons couldn't measure up to the storytelling that came before, partly because the source material ran out, as Martins's book series is unfinished, and narrative decisions on some of the more fantasy-driven parts of the show caught up with it in a negative way.
Toward the end of Game of Thrones, there was no more intrigue or politics or a season-long build-up of conflict. Everything felt rushed and shallow. House of The Dragon is a complete story with an ending that's set in stone with enough up in the air for the showrunners and writers to tweak and surprise as the show goes along with all the politics, maneuvering and backstabbing that made the original compelling.
Choosing this story from the many available from George R.R. Martins reflects the events in the main series in some thematic ways but gives us a new power dynamic — showing what came before and how it affected what we have already seen and heard. The notion of opposing societal norms and the women's role in this world are immediately recognizable as ideas that were important parts of Game of Thrones and some of its more beloved characters. Hearing the names of the houses we are familiar with in different contexts will be thrilling for old fans. The show serves its previous audience well but is also perfect for someone who hasn't seen the original, so there isn't any required re-watching needed to jump right in.
The pilot episode had to be familiar and invoke some nostalgia for the original series while also explaining what's going on at this point in history and debuting all the new characters and what there deals are. The first episode does a great job at mixing exposition in its drama, which is a good sign for things to come as things get settled. The series also made sure to remind the audience that this is a brutal world with some hard-to-watch sequences.
In a scene that many die-hards are dissecting and discussing, where King Viserys tells Rhaenyra of the true purpose of their family conquering the seven kingdoms is where the fun can stop for a moment. Viserys talks about the Targaryen's duty to protect the world from a great evil that is coming down the line. It is cool and an exciting change to established lore, but to many brought back the lows of how that great evil was dealt with in the main show.
The prophecy scene is all the more evidence that HBO and the original show's creators should have ended it better. The weight of everything we are shown is amplified if you watched the original, so when the parts of the disappointing way it ended are shown to be central, it's kind of a bummer.
Overall the show is good and very promising. It's laying the groundwork through its first few episodes in what should be a strong first season. There was speculation as the show was gearing up its return on if there would be an appetite for this series. The line of thinking was the TV landscape had moved on, and the lackluster ending would stifle any chance for House of The Dragon to reach the heights that the original did.
As it turned out, the premiere reportedly was the largest viewing for any HBO original debut, with nearly 10 million viewers this past Sunday. It shouldn't be surprising that a prequel for one of the biggest shows of all time (despite its failings at the end) would be this popular. House of The Dragon still has a lot to prove, but with a complete story to tell, a great cast and all the good parts of the original, itis set to soar.
House of the Dragon is available on HBO and HBO Max.
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