By Andrew Warren
House of The Dragon started with one of the biggest disadvantages I’ve ever seen a show carry; It is the prequel to one of the most popular shows of all time with a historically unpopular endinge. To make matters even more difficult, HOTD is not based on a standard novel, but rather a fictional history book of sorts, with a story that frequently jumped ahead in time. I was not looking forward to the show, but I figured that since the showrunners of the original show were gone and George R.R. Martin was heavily involved (the author of the book the show is based on), I would check out the first season.
The show centers on the Targaryen dynasty, a family that has ruled the fictional land of Westeros for generations. King Viserys boldly breaks tradition and names his daughter and only child Rhaenyra heir. Later, Viserys has a son with his second wife, Allicent Hightower, and certain allegiances conspire to put their son on the throne. Tensions between Rhaenyra and Allicent rise as each feel threatened by the other’s presence, until the kingdom is plunged into a civil war.
The story is rounded out by several intriguing figures. Daemon, Viserys’s brother, is a cunning rogue whose unpredictable behavior makes him one the most entertaining characters. Otto, Allicent’s father, is a classic Game of Thrones schemer, who uses his daughter as a tool to achieve his ends. Corlys and Rhaenys Valerion, relatives of the Targaryens, are an older couple who face multiple tragedies as Corlys strives to get his family closer to the Iron Throne. There are at least seven other interesting people who I don’t have the page space to list.
The casting in HOTD, like its predecessor GOT, is its biggest strength. Nearly every actor does an amazing job at bringing these characters to life. Six major people go through actor changes due to time jumps, and five of them were seamless. Emily Carey and Olivia Cooke look nearly identical as they play Allicent. Emily does a great job at portraying Allicent’s shift from naiveite to total awareness of her situation. When Cooke steps into the role, she doesn’t miss a beat as Allicent’s anger grows when she sees Rhaenyra flout tradition. Leo Ashton and Ewan Mitchell’s performances as Aemond, Allicent’s second child, were probably my favorites in the show. Ashton has a tragic viciousness that Mitchell really builds on as he adds an imposing physicality to the role. His body appears constantlytense and ready to snap at a moment’s notice.
There were, however, a few acting blights in the show. Sonoya Mizuno, who plays Mysaria the prostitute, is genuinely terrible; she chooses to speak in an outrageous accent that stiffens her delivery. The other qualm I had was the portrayal of Prince Aegon. I thought the two actors who played him had very different takes on the characters, resulting in a choppy transition between the two. .
The sets, wardrobe, CGI, and makeup are all top notch. Many of the behind the scenes workers from the original show continued on to this one and the show really benefits from it. It still looks and feels like Game of Thrones.
There’s one major reason why I don’t love the show: the structure of the story. Each episode contains extra scenes that are light on plot and heavy on character. In Game of Thrones, those moments were some of the best. Think of the “chaos is a ladder” scene, the conversation between Robert and Cersei in season one, or the entirety of Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, the second episode of season eight. However in House of the Dragon, the frequent time jumps rob the audience of the context needed for those scenes to be effective. For example, a woman dies in childbirth in the final scene of the sixth episode. Even while watching her husband and children crying, I felt nothing, because up until this episode she had just been a child with a mere ten minutes of screen time. I hardly knew her and the show acted as if her death was the most heartbreaking moment.
Every couple of episodes the show softly reset. It needed to tell the audience what had changed over the years and what everyone is up to now. It does not always do a great job of it. Frequently throughout the show I had to ask myself, “Did I miss something or is this just badly written?”
Luckily for the audience, future seasons should not suffer from this problem. The showrunners have said publicly that there will be no more extended time jumps. Season 1 had a very strong ending and as the civil war is finally upon us, I’m confident that Season 2 will be very entertaining.
I’d recommend HOTD if you: are a patient Game of Thrones fan, enjoy period dramas, or like being a part of watercooler TV show conversations