“We should start back,” Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. “The wildlings are dead.”First line in A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
As a fan of Game of Thrones, I obviously tuned in when HBO Max started airing their new prequel series that was going to follow the Targaryens 170 years before Daenerys. Also as a Game of Thrones fan, I was slightly skeptical since that last season can only be described as a train wreck. Was the prequel series just going to give us more of that?
I still started watching it because I could at least just cut ties after season one and not get too invested if it turned out to be garbage.
I freaking loved it!
This first season deserves all the stars and all the awards. The show feels like Game of Thrones before Game of Thrones destroyed itself, so every Monday when I sat down to watch the newest episode, it felt like I wasn’t breathing for an hour because I was just in awe of how perfect the show was. And now I want to tell you how. The first part is spoiler-free but I’ll be talking spoilers at the end. I should also say that I haven’t read the book on which the show is based, Fire and Blood by George R. R. Martin, so I’m not reviewing it as an adaptation. I’m sure someone will have done that so I’ll just focus on why it works as a show.
Characters and Acting
Like with the original series, House of the Dragon is very character-focused but also more intensely focused because the cast is not as big. We’re staying with the Targaryens and while that family does grow a whole lot throughout the season, the story still feels very contained. They do expand upon the scale and the stakes as the season goes on but I think it’s a brilliant move to start small. Especially when you have such an easily likeable main character in Rhaenyra who is the only child of King Viserys. I loved the actress Milly Alcock who played her in the first half of the season (a time jump midway through the season ages up the young characters and new actors are brought in) because I think she perfectly captured the innocence of young Rhaenyra but also gave us examples of her fire (yes, that’s a pun). Her chemistry with Matt Smith who plays her uncle Daemon was just wild so I was sad to see her go after episode 5. Not that Emma D’Arcy (older Rhaenyra) wasn’t amazing but Alcock had set the bar supremely high. Instead, D’Arcy shined in the very serious scenes where we see Rhaenyra act like a leader.
Generally, the acting is amazing all around and that is such an important part of why this show works. A couple I want to praise (besides the ones already mentioned) because they had going “OMG” several times are Paddy Considine (King Viserys), Olivia Cooke (Alicent) and Ewan Mitchell (Aemond).
One big point I want to make about the characters is that you can tell the writers knew their first and foremost job was to give depth to the characters and thereby make me care about them. Good writers don’t need much time to do that so I found myself invested in characters who only appeared in one episode. A heads up about that, though; Try not to get too attached to anyone because they will most likely be dead by the end of the episode (learned that one the hard way).
Then, of course, the season also shows us what happens when you give good writers a lot of time to develop characters and the result is both interesting and engaging. The season spans almost two decades (or something like that) and there’s still such a clear line for every character about how they went from point A to point B. Nothing feels coincidental. Nothing feels forgotten. It’s just beautiful and other shows should take note (looking at you Rings of Power).
Writing and Direction
A mistake I often see in fantasy shows nowadays is that the creators focus on making it as flashy and beautiful as possible and that often comes at the expense of the writing. House of the Dragon could very easily have done the same by giving us a ton of dragon shots because they know those are a hit with viewers. But for a show with ‘dragon’ in the title, there actually aren’t that many scenes with them in the season and we have several episodes that are completely dragon-free. I noticed that about halfway through the season and also found that I actually didn’t miss the dragons. They are there occasionally but the point I want to make is that the writers have made sure that their appearance always serves a purpose, that purpose often being developing the human characters. You don’t get Rhaenyra flying onto the scene on the back of her dragon just because it looks good and needs to provide a shock effect. You get it because it is essential to showing her power and her ability to take control of a precarious situation.
The writing and direction of the season are truly what made it so fascinating to watch. Nothing is coincidental and every shot had a purpose. It gave the viewers so much to analyze about every single scene from what clothes the characters were wearing to what was in the background of a scene for two seconds. Such small techniques were especially used to foreshadow what was coming and build tension. Then there’s also the dialogue which feels so real because the characters don’t need to give information to the viewer. The information we need is all shown so the characters can actually just talk to each other. And every word has a meaning and feels true to the specific character. Not wasting the viewers’ time and letting them think for themselves in terms of reading between the lines is what makes for a highly engaging TV show.
I have absolutely nothing to criticize about this show, but the main thing I heard from other viewers is that they dislike the time jumps. I get it but I also thought they were necessary. They broaden the scope of everything by not just having this be a little squirmish that takes place across a couple of months or even a year. You see how the wounds are created and then see them fester over many, many years to the point where no simple solution exists anymore. The issues become too ingrained in the characters even if they are ignoring them. That’s what makes the culmination so tragic and impactful.
Spoiler Thoughts I Need to Share
This is when the SPOILER WARNING starts so if you haven’t seen the show, stop reading and go watch it!
I couldn’t write anything coherent because I just had too much I wanted to talk about so instead you get a list of all the scenes I still think about a lot. There are a few.
🐲 Viserys wanting a son so badly that he deliberately killed his wife, only for the son to also die.
🐲 Whenever young Rhaenyra and Daemon spoke High Valyrian together.
🐲 Daemon ending a years-long war just because he doesn’t want to accept his brother’s help = peak sibling behavior.
🐲 Episode four. Just all of it.
🐲 Criston Cole going apeshit and violently killing Ser Joffrey right in front of everyone and Laenor being absolutely devastated.
🐲 The way the end plot twist in episode seven was written. It’s alluded that Daemon asks Qarl to kill Laenor and pays him off. We get a quick scene of Daemon killing someone (a scene you’re meant to forget and I totally did) and then the whole scene that makes it look like Qarl completed his task of killing Laenor. The disfigured body that is found is the person Daemon killed but you don’t remember that so you think Daemon and Rhaenyra had Laenor killed, just like his parents thought. But of course they didn’t. *Applause*
🐲 King Visery, barely able to stand, walking to the Iron Throne and dropping his crown by accident. All to support his precious Rhaenyra.
🐲 Daemon chopping the head of Vaemond for calling his wife a whore.
🐲 Adult Aemond (that’s it).
🐲 Daemon and Aemond having a stare-down. They will clash sometime in the future and I guess I’ll just die then.
🐲 WHY THE FUCK IS EVERYONE NAMED AEGON?!?
🐲 Whatever makeup or CGI was needed to make Viserys look like that when he died.*chills*
🐲 The entire scene between Alicent and Rhaenys where Alicent wants support for her son. It said so much about both characters. Alicent wants the support because she believes they can mold the men with power around them which is ironic because she has been manipulated by her father her entire life and has shown to have no control over her sons. Since Viserys’s absence, she is shown as powerful and as the one in charge but it’s all pretend. As soon as she does something against the men’s wishes, her power is gone and they overrule her. As Rhaenys also says: “You [Alicent] toil still in the service of men.” She has done everything right and has the right intentions but it’s not enough because she’s a woman. Rhaenys has already learned this lesson and we see Rhaenyra learn it in the final episode. Then there’s also the fact that because of her father’s manipulation, Alicent is basically asking Rhaenys to do the same to Rhaenyra which was done to her all those years ago when she was denied the throne. Alicent doesn’t even see the irony when she says Rhaenys should have been Queen and while watching the scene, I was hoping the writers hadn’t forgotten about the past and I felt so rewarded when they hadn’t. Throughout the season, we’ve seen Rhaenys’s husband fight to get back what was stolen from Rhaenys but she never expresses any interest herself because she knows it’s futile and because she knows peace is more important. Another strong thematic line in that scene from Alicent is exactly “A true Queen counts the cost to her people.” Not a true King or ruler, a true QUEEN. THIS is the feminism I want!
🐲 Just Rhaenys in the final episode. She barely speaks but her character still says so much!
🐲 When Aemond was chasing Lucerys through the sky and cloud formations looked like dragons.
🐲 Daemon singing to the dragon in the cave and the dragon breathing fire into the ceiling.
🐲 The last shot of the season.
I’m rather obsessed with House of the Dragon if you couldn’t tell at this point. I really need the creators not to fuck it up this time because it has the potential to get even better. If you’ve watched it, please share your opinions on it in the comments! And if you haven’t, do you plan on watching it?