Television will never be the same as it was before Game of Thrones (2013-2018) slithered onto screens across the globe and vanquished an already vibrant industry. The epic HBO series grabbed us by our throats and sucked us into its own scintillating, imaginative, and brilliantly constructed little universe. The only caveat, of course, is that it ended on a sour note—with a final season (the most anticipated final season in TV history) that left millions of viewers distraught and dissatisfied. And now, four years later, it’s about time we received that feeling of redemption. Unfolding around 172 years before the events that transpire in Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon follows Westeros under the reigns of a peak Targaryen dynasty. We are only halfway through the first season, so I can’t testify too much about the essence of this new HBO feature, but what I will say so far is that House of the Dragon captures everything that made Game of Thrones so consummate in the first place—while replacing the duo that spoiled GoT: i.e. D.B. Weiss and David Benioff (who diminished George R.R. Martin’s original novels with an airball of a final season), instead opting for a new writing team featuring Martin himself.
The ambitious prequel series, based on Martin’s 2018 prequel novel Fire and Blood, features visceral parallels with the original Game of Thrones series. From the scope of the acting ensemble to the quality of the set, cinematography, and writing to the nature of the characters, you see the many connections between the epic dramas. Perhaps the most evident is that of Daenerys of Game of Thrones and her ancestor Rhaenyra of House of the Dragon; both begin as young, innocent, blonde princesses who initially struggle to prove themselves to a misogynistic world wherein their worth lies in their beauty and fertility, only for each to gradually decimate anyone who stands in their way. But indeed, what made Game of Thrones so iconic was its ability to outperform the rest of popular television in such a multi-pronged manner. For there are thousands of components constituting the ostensible quality of a series, and House of the Dragon does shine in a multitude of avenues.
In particular, the way the character dynamics are framed is striking. You think after watching the pilot that certain characters will construct a particular type of relationship together, and then they end up getting pitted against each other. You think another set of characters will face off as enemies, but they surprise you by developing an amicable relationship. It’s kind of the quintessential dynamic we see in dramas, and the only difference between it rendering a boring, uninspired, banal ensemble and a truly compelling one is how well the actors play their characters within the parameters established by the screenwriters. Fortunately, though, House of the Dragon flexes its high budget with an ensemble of established actors, many of whom have been due for a high-profile role after playing more peripheral ones in the past. What drew me in is the underrated Matt Smith as Daemon—as well as Milly Alcock as a young Rhaenyra and Paddy Considine as King Viserys.
As for the inevitable question of whether you should watch Game of Thrones in order to understand and appreciate House of the Dragon: I honestly don’t think it’s necessary. Sure, if you are relatively familiar with the world of Westeros, it will expedite the process of familiarizing yourself with House of the Dragon; it will also enable you to spot certain parallels and nuances that you wouldn’t see otherwise. But again, you will be fine even if you never saw an episode of Game of Thrones. After all, the two main plots are separated by two centuries. And while we’re on this topic, let me say that things that may have deterred you from Game of Thrones might not necessarily manifest themselves this time around. In other words, certain polemics that divided Game of Thrones fanatics, namely the graphic and promiscuous sex scenes, are less frequent in the new hit. I suspect that, while writers in the early GoT days relied on sex to generate headlines, stir controversy, and reel certain audiences in by the hook, none of that is needed anymore. Why? No Game of Thrones spinoff will encounter any trouble garnering viewers.
As for the actual plot of House of the Dragon: I’ve only seen the four episodes released thus far (four being the prototypical number of episodes critics watch before they begin working on a review), but what I can say is that the fresh series essentially follows an internal succession war within House Targaryen, which controls the monarchy of The Seven Kingdoms, tracing a kaleidoscopic struggle between an array of characters vying for a spot in the line of regal succession for when an aging King Viserys passes away. Furthermore, the Targaryen-themed series lays all of the groundwork for the whopping, bewildering, stunning, sensational multitude of events to materialize in a few generations.
Needless to say, though the lucid parallels are evident, the spinoff series does adopt some subtle changes in tone and approach while, of course, injecting a fresh new consortium of characters. Plus, with a pilot episode premiering nearly a decade beyond when the GoT pilot debuted, there are improvements in not only the cinematography but also the set designs and the editing. However, flashy elements aside, the series feels a bit too overindulgent. The CGI is cool at times, but on some occasions you get the feeling that you’re watching a Michael Bay film: explosions, dragons, people getting incinerated by dragons, etc. It’s a beefed-up Game of Thrones—perhaps to a fault. Perhaps the directors are trying so hard to recreate the magic of GoT when they should be pushing audiences in new directions.
At the end of the day, I have only seen four of the first season’s ten episodes, so my review is subject to a variety of potentially volatile changes. Who knows? House of the Dragon could end up a masterpiece. It could also end up an absolute flop; likewise, I implore you to remember that my review, as well as my final rating of the show, could end up changing in a slew of ways. I just hope that I don’t have to find myself in a few years roasting this series for conjuring a stale, haggard wannabe series that ultimately fails to amass enough funding to even continue after two or three seasons. Only time will tell. But hey, I can’t think of anything more exciting (at least in the arena of popular television) to watch unfold this fall.