Review: House of the Dragon season one
Joseph Vinton provides a broad, balanced season sweep of House of the Dragon, with particular praise for the show’s writing and performances.
One year ago, the first teaser dropped for House of the Dragon. Having been a fan of the first four seasons of its parent show (Game of Thrones), turned vehement critic at the time of the abysmal finale in 2019, I can safely say that I was in two minds when I saw that George R. R. Martin had got around to making a prequel. Would this new show capture the highs of its predecessor whilst avoiding the unsatisfying conclusions that have weakened Thrones’ legacy? Who knew? The teaser posed these questions, but I forgot about them until I heard of the House of the Dragon‘s August release date. My writing a “series so far” article shows that I stayed longer than the first episode and, perhaps more importantly, that starting the show is a good idea if you haven’t already.
Whether this is your first visit to the fictional realm of Westeros or your hundredth, you will start at the same point: 200 years before King Robert Baratheon arrives at Winterfell. Prior knowledge of the world is not required to enjoy the series, but an appetite for political intrigue and messy family drama is advised.
Prior knowledge of the world is not required to enjoy the series, but an appetite for political intrigue and messy family drama is advised
From the opening prologue in the first episode, the show sets out its stall when Rhaenys says that “the only thing that could tear down the House of the Dragon was itself.” Immediately, we know the scope will be confined to the reigning Targaryen family. Whereas Game of Thrones had more factions and conflicting political motives, showrunners Ryan J Condal and Miguel Sapochnik (Thrones veteran) are careful not to bloat the opening with too much information. Instead, we focus on the central characters and begin understanding the early relationship between the protagonists, Alicent Hightower and Princess Rhaenerya Targaryen. In many ways, this setup is more accessible than the first season of Thrones because location and plot are carefully confined to what’s paramount. This gives the story some time to breathe.
Episodes 1 – 5 feature extremely compelling performances from Milly Alcock and Emily Carey as Alicent and Rhaenerya, respectively. It is a shame they only get the first half of the season to dig into their characters because, by the time we get to episode 6, we are propelled ten years into the future. Yes, there is a fat time skip, and more than one. Look out for these. Let’s also say some characters age better than others, and some look like they need to go and seek out Melisandre’s ruby necklace. We can’t all be blessed with Ser Cristan Cole’s ability to seemingly defy age.
Episodes 6 – 10 are entirely different from the season’s first half. We learn about the next generation of the Targaryen dynasty and see how seeds of discontent planted ten years before have germinated into a wholescale succession crisis. History students will naturally see the parallels between this plot and the medieval Wars of the Roses conflict. Still, the show’s genius lies in its ability to refresh and reincarnate old stories and historical figures. This is most effectively seen in the character of King Viserys, played by Paddy Considine. In my opinion, the show is worth watching for Considine’s performance alone. Matt Smith will surely get the most praise for his swaggering, cocksure, mischievous portrayal of Prince Daemon. As much as this is understandable, the subtlety and believability of Considine’s interpretation of the King is what raises House of the Dragon above most cash-grabbing spinoffs and turns it into a drama in its own right. If you need proof, look no further than episode 8. It will be challenging not to get emotional whilst watching it.
The subtlety and believability of Considine’s interpretation of the King is what raises House of the Dragon above most cash-grabbing spinoffs and turns it into a drama in its own right
Overall, House of the Dragon is better than I expected. The season so far has served up some outstanding performances and captivating drama. Do I think it is perfect? No. It misses Tyrion’s wit, Joffrey’s villainy and the white walkers beyond the wall. It does, however, pick up the bones of the carcass left in the wake of Game of Thrones and reminds me of everything I enjoyed about the first time I set foot in Westeros. House of the Dragon is undoubtedly one to watch.
However, one undisputed thing is that the dragons need more screen time. I know they are difficult to tame on set, which is probably why the directors try to avoid working with them! Maybe in the future, we will see more of them, but at least in terms of drama, HBO is onto a winner.