The House of the Dragon manages to capture the magic that made Game of Thrones a smash hit.
I hate the Game of Thrones ending. I know that’s hardly a controversial statement, but it is, to be frank, a load of dragon dung. The White Walkers were dealt with too quickly; the prophecy of Azor Ahai was dropped, and Daenerys Targaryen turning into the Mad Queen was such a wild pivot it left me feeling car sick.
As a result, I was about as enthusiastic about the House of the Dragon release date as I am about a trip to the opticians. Sure, I’m not dreading it, but it’s an hour of my life I’d rather have to do anything else. It was with a degree of reluctance then that I turned on the TV and sat down to return to Westeros.
Well, my face is redder than the backside of a particularly red dragon because I was wrong. House of the Dragon isn’t just good, it’s very good, and I was delighted to return to the Seven Kingdoms after a few years away, smiling like a loon at just the sight of King’s Landing.
Set 172 years before the rule of the Mad King and Robert’s Rebellion, the TV series opens with the Targaryens at the height of their power. They’ve ten adult dragons at their command, and their authority is absolute.
Yet, all is not well in the Seven Kingdoms. King Viserys (Paddy Considine) is facing a succession crisis, and his ambitious brother Daemon (Matt Smith) seems to have set his sights on the Iron Throne. Still, there is hope. Queen Aemma (Sian Brooke) is pregnant, and Viserys is convinced she will finally give him an heir, as his daughter Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) cannot inherit the throne.
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House of the Dragon works for one simple reason. It takes us back to basics. Thrones was always at its best when it was about the plots and intrigue at court. There’s something very human about ambition, and seeing a group of people desperately squabbling for power made for incredibly compelling viewing.
As Thrones went on, this politicking fell by the wayside to be replaced by CGI-filled battles and battles against monsters. While these spectacles were exciting, they ironically weren’t as thrilling as seeing Game of Thrones characters like Tyrion finagle his enemies at court out of power. House of the Dragon, so far, has been all politics and power plays. It’s like watching mediaeval Succession, and it makes for incredible viewing.
I’ve no doubt that the monsters are coming; the ending basically promises it, and there’s an incredibly gory tourney that’ll satisfy fans looking for a bit of fire and blood. But for now, I’m enjoying seeing Daemon slowly gather support before the would-be-king inevitably decides to challenge his brother. Speaking of Daemon, Smith is the standout in a cast of standouts.
His role is the most pantomime, but he clearly understands the assignment. He’s not quite a mustache-twirling villain, but he’s not far off, and, as a sucker for bad guys being bad, I’m a huge fan.
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Without spoiling anything, House of the Dragon has had a promising start, and other than a few dodgy-looking CGI Game of Thrones dragons, I’m looking forward to returning to Westeros next week.
House of the Dragon is streaming now on HBO Max in the US and on NOW in the UK.