House of the Dragon is the long-awaited prequel series to the smash hit Game of Thrones, based on George R. R. Martin’s Fire & Blood novel. Unsurprisingly expectations for this series were high and despite my own personal misgivings about whether this prequel was necessary, House of the Dragon is undoubtedly a success.
Set 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones, the series opens as Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) is named heir to the Iron Throne over his cousin Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best) by their grandfather. Years later, Viserys is ruling as King and has a daughter Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), with his wife Aemma (Sian Brooke) hopefully pregnant with his long-awaited male heir. Viserys’ brother Daemon (Matt Smith) brutally commands the City Watch, and his Small Council includes Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), husband of Princess Rhaenys and Master of Ships, and Hand to the King Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans).
While competing in a tournament to celebrate the imminent birth of Viserys’ son and heir, Daemon is beaten by common-born knight Ser Criston Cole (Fabian Frankel), watched on by Rhaenyra and childhood friend and daughter of the Hand, Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey). During the tournament, Queen Aemma dies in childbirth and Viserys’ son survives for only a day. Viserys is pressed by his council to name an heir in the absence of a true-born son and after banishing Daemon for mocking his dead son, names Rhaenyra as heir to the Iron Throne.
The series continues to follow the fates of the Targaryens over the course of over 20 years. Viserys faces conflict and strife within his realm and mutiny from his own brother Daemon. Rhaenyra must contend with the trials of being named heir, which worsen when Viserys marries her friend Alicent and she bears him two true-born sons. These conflicts continue over the decades, as an older Rhaenyra (Emma D’arcy) and Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke) fight over bloodlines and heirs while an ailing Viserys cares for nothing more than bringing his family back together.
With all of the twists, turns and warring Houses, it’s not easy to try and summarise the plot for this first season of House of the Dragon. And like Game of Thrones, it’s not easy to watch either with all of the backstabbing and politics but it still makes for an entertaining and enjoyable watch. I wasn’t convinced we needed a prequel series to Game of Thrones, especially not after the divisive final season, but it didn’t take me long to change my mind. I was hooked after episode 1 and found it incredibly pleasing to be back in Westeros again.
The plot is exactly what you’d expect, plenty of politics, scandals and backstabbing along with a decent dose of blood, gore and of course nudity, and a clever, sharp script to go along with it too. Even the title music is back, which while unexpected, was a very welcome return alongside a stunning new title sequence. The characters too are engaging and, in some cases, despicable, and Rhaenyra especially is bright, spunky and very endearing – Milly Alcock and her chemistry with the rest of the cast make the first half of the season a delight to watch. Paddy Considine too has been heralded for his performance as Viserys and rightly so, it’s about time he got the recognition he’s long deserved.
Despite being very good, House of the Dragon isn’t without its flaws. It’s trying to tell a very long, complicated story in the space of only 10 episodes and it doesn’t seem long enough. But then at the same time, the finale feels like it ends the story far too soon, just when things are starting to get interesting. The multiple time jumps just make things more convoluted, especially when the characters don’t all seem to age in the same way – much has been said already about the changing of actors for the younger cast yet the likes of Ser Criston Cole and Otto Hightower barely seem to age a day over the 20-year span.
There are some issues with the CGI too, which is a major shock for such a high-profile and high-budget series. Some of the effects are stunning (Rhaenys on her dragon Meleys in the penultimate episode was particularly striking), but others look poor – especially those that involve darker lighting or movement of dragons and characters together. Some of the scenes themselves have incredibly poor lighting to the point where you can’t actually see the action on screen.
Overall, House of the Dragon is a welcome addition to the Game of Thrones universe and a very engaging and addictive watch. The ending to season one has me gagging for the next season already, I just hope they fix some of the technical imperfections as for the war to come, it’ll be needed.
A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!