After 10 episodes, House Of The Dragon has officially emerged as a worthy successor to Game Of Thrones

House of the Dragon - Season 1 Review


House Of The Dragon is now streaming on HBO Max. The below review discusses some details of the plot, but no major spoilers. See below our spoiler-filled reviews of each episode:
House Of The Dragon: Series Premiere Review
House Of The Dragon: Episode 2 Review
House Of The Dragon: Episode 3 Review
House Of The Dragon: Episode 4 Review
House Of The Dragon: Episode 5 Review
House Of The Dragon: Episode 6 Review
House Of The Dragon: Episode 7 Review
House Of The Dragon: Episode 8 Review
House Of The Dragon: Episode 9 Review
House Of The Dragon: Season 1 Finale Review

Season 1 of Game Of Thrones’ prequel finished with a bang – or a dragon snap anyway. After ten episodes House Of The Dragon has established its core cast, introduced us to three generations of Targaryens, and laid the groundwork for a civil war that looks set to consume Westeros, as well as the next few seasons of the show. It also brought us a dragon battle: huge lizards dogfighting through a storm before one comes to an abrupt dental stop. In real life it would sound perverse, but in a Game Of Thrones spin-off it’s positively a compliment to note that it has delivered the dragon-related mayhem, family plotting, and murder we hoped for.
Set some 200 years before Thrones (meaning there are no shared characters), House Of The Dragon had a huge amount of world-building to do – though viewers at least arrived with a basic understanding of the geography and a sense that all those platinum blondes might have something to do with Daenerys. Sure enough, her Targaryen ancestors are here at the height of their power on Westeros, exercising a near monopoly on the weapons of mass destruction that are dragons and ruling unopposed because the alternative is being toasted to a crisp.
Showrunners Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik (who has bowed out of Season 2 ) set the tone with an opening episode that offered grisly violence, royal plotting, and medieval pageantry – and a small blonde girl on a dragon, lest we forget where we’re coming from. The ties to Game Of Thrones were obvious and immediate in those early episodes, down to the reuse of Ramin Djawadi’s iconic theme music. But the brand new cast, and the focus on a family already in power but riven against itself, felt fresher.
That’s not to say it was always smooth sailing. Even the showrunners seem to understand this first season as a slow burn, and recently promised that the next season would pick up the pace. Some episodes dragged, and the shift from the immensely likeable and charismatic Milly Alcock and Emily Carey to Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke, as Rhaenyra and Alicent respectively grew up, took a disjointed minute to process. But to the credit of the cast and creators they’ve covered 20-odd years of Targaryen family history without stinting on the requisite plotting and gore. Not bad for 10 episodes.
The show has also faced, mostly with success, its core problem: the Targaryens make less sympathetic leads than Thrones’ Starks. Ned’s family stuck together; circumstances may have divided them but they rarely knowingly took up arms against one another. They also didn’t sleep with one another, leading to, for example, cases where one’s son is also one’s great-nephew. Of course, that’s the entire point. A civil war brews because of House Targaryen’s original sin: when they came to Westeros they fought to preserve their dragon-riding abilities via inbreeding rather than standing up for their women’s right to rule. Otherwise, Rhaenyra would simply take the throne and no one would make a fuss.
Paddy Considine is an actor who can’t help but draw you in, so his Viserys remained sympathetic.
To overcome the ick factor of the incest, House Of The Dragon has gone out of its way to make at least some Targaryens likeable. Paddy Considine is an actor who can’t help but draw you in, so his Viserys – even in moments of selfishness or foolishness – remained sympathetic throughout. A family dinner where he nakedly begged for peace between his rancorous offspring was moving on a level that neither this show nor its predecessor have often reached. Rhaenyra, whether played by Alcock or D’Arcy, is similarly well-meaning, even if her reserve means that few outside her immediate family realise it. And even Matt Smith’s Daemon is an uncannily shrewd judge of character, for all his intemperate outbursts, violent tendencies, and immoral ways. He may, in fact, be more dedicated to the preservation of the family than either his brother or Rhaenyra, the people directly in line for the throne.
Against that, however, the show makes Alicent’s offspring significantly more grotesque than they were in George R.R. Martin’s Fire And Blood. They weren’t what you’d call nice kids even there, but neither did they show quite the depths of depravity that Aegon Targaryen (Tom Glynn-Carney) does onscreen, nor appear quite as outrageously sinister as Ewan Mitchell’s Aemond (points to Leo Ashton too, for making him unbearable even as a kid). Those little shits are matched by Larys Strong (Matthew Needham): schemer, sadist, and foot fetishist. At least that’s an original twist on the basic model plotter.
Not everything has been as clearly laid out. The idea of “Greens,” supporting Alicent, and “Blacks,” supporting Rhaenyra, might have worked better if there had been much sign of House colours being significant at any point before or after Alicent came to dinner in a nice new look. Similarly, the fundamental point of differentiation between the Targaryens (and, OK, their allies the Velaryons) and everyone else is the fact that they have dragons, and that too has been strangely underplayed.

It's not totally absent. House Of The Dragon has faithfully delivered the dragon bit of its promise. But what has been under-examined is what those relations between beast and rider mean beyond mere firepower (pun intended) in a world with numerous dragons and multiple dragon riders. Are they broadly similar for everyone or as different as each person and dragon? Viserys rode old Black Balerion just once, only to be left dragonless when the great beast died. The mere fact of his flight bolstered his claim to the throne, but how much did Balerion’s death then emasculate him? We were first introduced to Rhaenyra proclaiming her love of dragonflight, but she’s barely mentioned it since. Worse, there have been few scenes of riders simply visiting their dragons, or talking to each other about how those relationships work. You don’t even need expensive effects. Wouldn’t some dragon chat have made sense as a way for obvious dragon geek Daemon and self-professed enthusiastic flier Rhaenyra to bond? We need to care as much about dragon deaths as we do about the humans for the coming war to hit as hard as it should, rather than simply having them lurk expensively in the background.
House Of The Dragon has managed to take Martin’s deliberately dry pseudo-history and turn it into a character-led drama.
Perhaps, despite the slow build, that was too much to fit in this season; perhaps it will come. Perhaps, too, the show’s rather frequent and obvious callbacks to Game Of Thrones will ease off now that it’s established its own characters and identity. Djawadi could remix that Thrones theme to give this show its own sense of identity; judging by the rest of his superb score he has many new ideas to give. House Of The Dragon needs to move out of the shadow of its predecessor. It will still be plenty similar enough; the commissioners ensured that when they rejected the reportedly much stranger alternative pilot.
But enough nitpicking. It’s a great time for fantasy when House Of the Dragon, Lord Of The Rings, Wheel Of Time, and The Sandman are reaching the screen, and while we can quibble about detail they’re all generally doing their source material justice. House Of The Dragon has managed to take Martin’s deliberately dry pseudo-history and turn it into a character-led drama that could be every bit as thrilling as Thrones, and that’s impressive in itself. What’s even better is that we will look back on this season – despite the riots and dragon action and sea battles – as the calm before the storm. Next season, the Targaryens go to war. We have around two years before we get to see it, but if they nail the Dance of the Dragons, it’s going to be worth the wait.
This story originally appeared on: IGN - Author:Helen O'Hara

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