House of the Dragon

Game of Thrones prequel turns on the visuals and grand storytelling - but can lightning strike twice?

CGI magicians can make almost anything happen on screen … a brutal Battle of the Bastards, Destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor, fiery dragons annihilating Kings Landing…

But can they make lightning strike twice?

That’s the challenge facing writer Ryan J. Condal and director Miguel Sapochnik, as the House of the Dragon successors to Game of Thrones legends David Benioff & D. B. Weiss.

On the one hand they must come up with a new series that satisfies Thrones purists, and on the other it will need to stand tall in its own right.

The first episode of House of Dragon certainly gives it a red hot go, if nothing else.

There are dragons, sprawling sets, extras, battles, violence and a top-shelf cast.

Set 172 years before GoT, the new series chronicles the beginning of the end of House Targaryen, based on works by famed author George R.R. Martin.

In this kingdom, King Viserys (Paddy Considine) is ready to welcome an heir to the throne, with wife Aemma Arryn (Sian Brooke) set to give birth within days.

But Prince Daemon (Matt Smith), the king’s ambitious younger brother has his gaze fixed on the throne. The rift between the two has caused Viserys to keep Daemon busy and largely absent, which only fuels the latter’s seething anger.

Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) is also reminded that females do not inherit the throne. At least she has her dragon for company, demonstrating all the serpent-whispering skills that will continue through lineage to Daenerys. All Rhaenyra wants to do is fly on dragonback.

Like all good kings, Viserys finds himself mistrustful of those closest to him. Between his council of high-level advisers grasping for power, and a deceptive brother, the life of a king is always looking over one’s shoulder for fear of a knife in the back.

The lengthy first episode includes jousting knights, threats, sacrifice, power games, sex and a hint of romance. There’s an opening episode orgy with (mostly female) nudity and even a ‘Sophie’s Choice’ moment…

Matt Smith and Milly Alcock emerge as two memorable stars from this first chapter. Alcock is outstanding in underplaying her role, making her own decisions and generally bringing life to the stuffy royal house. Smith is over-the-top brash as a villainous brother -a huge contrast to his other famed fantasy role.

House of the Dragon power games hint at politics of British, Asian, and literary royalty and while television has evolved over the lifespan of GoT, it addresses head on issues around equality, if less so around ‘blind’ casting of diverse actors.

As an opening chapter it is strong and satisfying, visually, dramatically, in homage to its predecessors.

Yet it leaves me unsure of how it will make its own mark rather than existing as a faithful second album. Much of that will lay in the writing and in what a fine cast can deliver.

On that front the dragon’s fire is burning brightly, so far and fans will welcome new chapters.

House of the Dragon airs 11am Monday on FOX Showcase / Binge.

21 Responses

  1. I enjoyed ep 2 better. As well as the tutor stuff ( a king without a male heir, a smart virgin princess nobody wants as heir, a young lady in waiting dangled before the king by a royal house to court favour) it actually started some sort of story. The first one was a hurried exposition that just crammed on some nipples and head being smashed open to appease GOT fans.

  2. Having watched episode one of House of the Dragon I would give it a thumbs up, it had a cinematic feel especially with the excellent jousting tournament which reminded me of ‘The Last Duel’, it’s a shame I don’t have a good enough sound system for all those nasty bits. Matt Smith should be careful or he could get type cast as the evil iconoclast, but I hope he stays alive for the rest of the series. Graham McTavish and Paddy Considine seems to get the first pick for these type of medieval shows and Milly Alcock couldn’t be better cast as young Targaryen, the GoT cloning of the supporting family characters is still excellent in this series and the CGI was perfectly okay. Hopefully the story will expand or this show could get too melodramatic using the current screenplay, for me part of the appeal of the early GoT series was the embedded narrative as the story progressed, just having visual adult themes like sex and violence are not always enough to remain invested.

  3. There’s weak King, more interested in building a model of old Valyria than ruling. Some trouble with pirates brewing. Rhaenyra, a young Daenerys clone, was made heir, but own once there was no choice. Her uncle isn’t happy. There was brutal and gorey combat at a supposedly celebratory jousting tournament which only served to introduce a possible love interest. An orgy in a brother staged by intimacy consultants that served as wall paper for a boring conversation that furthered the rift between brothers. Very little of interst happened in 80 minutes for $20m.

  4. This just feels like a rehashing of the Daenerys story a couple of hundred years earlier (which is essentially the same world). Feel it would be much better without the unnecessarily extravagant budget too – that feels quite vulger in current times.

      1. There are the people of Westeros, who settled from Essos 8 thousands years ago. The people of Dorne where the Rhoyar fled after they were defeated by the Valyrians, The Nine Free Cites which are the remants of Valyrian colonies that survive as trading cities and speak Vulgar Valyrian. The Slave cities of the South, and the people they enslave and trade. And of course the Targaryen’s, remnants of Valyria who tried to rebuild an empire, but lost it and fleed to an island of the coast, before deciding Westeros would make rich pickings. The point is the casting isn’t random but deliberate to create the fictional world and make it believable (and not piss off fans of the book and TV show).

  5. I saw the first two seasons of GoT. The explicit degree of sex on that show at times felt like I was watching pornography. Certainly wasn’t a family friendly show. I hope this show has more substance with storyline than having to resort to attracting viewers with more sex scenes.

    1. The graphic violence, gore, murder and torture would be more of a problem. Some of the sex was part of the plot, some of it was to establish that Tyrion was a drunkard who frequented prostitutes, that Westeros was a nasty medieval patriarchy. But some it was just used to fill in between the action, or for levity, and was gratuitous e.g. Podric’s visit to a brothel.

      1. Stan will be debuting a new series soon called The Serpent Queen, the Stan promo suggests the show uses torture and gory medieval violence and executions for effect, so if House of the Dragon is a bit tame fans of this type of genre may have an alternative. I usually found the GoT sex scenes more amusing than titillating, especially the voyeurism.

    1. Different writers adapting Fire & Blood, with is tales and history of the Targeryens rather than epic Fantasy across multiple nations. If it’s awful it will be for different reasons than they only had a few outlines from Martin to work with, and couldn’t manufacture High Fantasy as complex and rich as Martin spend decades doing, while managing the logistics of a massive production and a huge amount of CGI.

  6. The original GoT series lasted far too long in my opinion, season 8 was like watching a studio contractual obligation with an extra amount of money thrown in to to hide some of the creative flaws. After GoT ended the 30 million dollars spent on the canned prequel which starred Naomi Watts didn’t surprise me at the time, plainly the creative mojo had fizzled out after the deflating and much criticised ending to GoT, the whole screenplay writing process that originally made GoT so successful needed a revival and I for one am interested to see the end result with the House of Dragon. This new series has a lot of ambition built into it, but this series could also be the final GoT version that fans may see for some time. The formula for GoT’s original success is not a secret but do the current writers and producers have the courage to revive those creative concepts that gave GoT so much success, we shall soon find out.

  7. Nope won’t be getting into this one. The finale of GOT still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I’ve never forgiven the writers and creators of the mess that was the last season.

  8. I’m with you @smacmel. If I’m brutally honest I’m glad Bennioff & Weiss have just [censored] off into the ether. The way they pitched the show as a “full run” of 90 episodes — with spin-off plants — before whittling it down to 70-odd was absolutely criminal (I know they weren’t exactly helped by the the lack of source material) and I won’t hide my delight at the fact they’ve never worked again.

    Confession time, you can stick Paddy Considine & Matt Smith in anything and I’ll watch it. Mostly looking forward to it, but I won’t lie, the “taint” is geniune.

    1. Bennioff and Weiss pitched the show as 90 episodes based on Martin’s supposed writing schedule. His publishers aren’t impressed either, they agreed to trilogy. Martin hasn’t had a single word of A Song Of Fire And Ice published in 11 years. Bennioff and Weiss didn’t a very good job of distilling a sprawling fantasy with a structure so complex that Martin has been unable to get books finished even in multiple attempts, into extremely watchable TV. Nor have they had trouble getting work. The made The Chair and are currently working on English and Spanish versions of The Three-Body Problem, one of the better SF novels published recently. HBO, Bennioff & Weiss had to end it after 9 years. Unlike Martin’s writing TV shows have a fixed time-span.

  9. I’m looking forward to Mondays debut of HOTD, especially the performance of Milly Alcock, who was great in Upright.

    I was a slow starter with GOT as medieval genre was at the bottom my viewing list. It became the best TV I believe ever produced.
    Yes the last one and half seasons were hurried to disappoint many viewers.

  10. For me the ending/last few episodes of GOT still leaves a bad taste and just didn’t hit the mark. I’m not super excited to see this new show but will check out the first few episodes.

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