House of the Dragon Provides a Welcome, Though Familiar, Return to Westeros

Design by Karela Palazio

The year is 2019. Murmurs of the Iron Throne, House Stark, and White Walkers flood high school hallways across the globe. The final season of Game of Thrones (GOT) is about to premiere, and everyone is ready to tune in. Fast forward three years (has it really only been three years?) and things are not as rosy. GOT sputtered to a middling and rushed ending, leaving a once-beloved series tarnished.

When HBO announced House of the Dragon, a prequel series with new characters and showrunners, set hundreds of years before Robert Baratheon ever held the throne, I was skeptical. However, four episodes in, I am blown away at the care that was taken to create such a quality program. Locations like King’s Landing and Dragonstone feel truly alive and immersive. The detail in costumes is incredible, and the soundtrack includes new twists on some of the incredible themes from GOT. The cinematography, framing, and directing has been impressive so far, expertly depicting both large-scale battles and more personal conversations. Shots set at a conflict in the Stepstones in Episodes 2 & 3 are particularly beautiful.

House of the Dragon follows the Targaryen family as they rule the Iron Throne. We mostly stick with Princess Rhaenyra, played compellingly by Milly Alcock. Without diving into spoilers, Rhaenyra is the daughter of King Viserys, whose primary concern is strengthening his line of succession with a son. The writers masterfully balance her strong-willed independence in a patriarchy with the underlying desire for a caring and present father. 

Equally captivating is Viserys (Paddy Constantine), a man wanting to do right by his family yet still trapped within the traditional power structure of Westeros. A cast of intriguing characters fills out the rest of the story, including a star turn from Matt Smith as Daemon, the violently unpredictable brother of King Viserys. While it’s unclear whether anyone can become as iconic as Daenerys or Jon Snow of Thrones past, House of the Dragon has thus far done an excellent job world-building and getting the audience invested in the characters.

All of the classic politicking and scheming of GOT returns, along with the graphic violence and nudity. Without a world-ending threat on the horizon, we witness how difficult it is to hold the Iron Throne and the cunning required to take it. These slow-burn plot threads were the ones that felt most fulfilling throughout GOT’s eight season run and provide more than enough entertainment to keep House of the Dragon interesting off of the battlefield.

So far, House of the Dragon is missing immediately-bewitching players like Tyrion or Prince Oberyn, who leapt off the screen in GOT. In addition, while focusing on the Targaryens allows us to get to know the characters quickly, it also offers less variety than GOT. In GOT, the audience bounces from the Starks in Winterfell to the Lannisters in King’s Landing, all the way to Daenerys across the Narrow Sea. House of the Dragon is a bit smaller in scope; this has already led to time jumps between each episode, which are a bit disorienting and make the show feel less cohesive. With an even bigger time jump coming (and new actors to replace the younger versions of their characters), I do worry we might lose some of the magic of these first episodes.

That said, the production value on the show is immaculate. I already know the characters that make my blood boil and those I love (who will inevitably die horrible deaths). Most importantly, the communal aspect of GOT was one of the biggest draws for me. Every Sunday, my friends would gather like it was a big game and watch. By that metric, House of the Dragon is on the right track: only four episodes in, it’s already appointment viewing. At the end of the day, even with my few concerns, god it feels good to be back.

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