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House of the Dragon season one review: Fire, blood, and the dance of the dragons

House of the Dragon may not be near-perfect as the first five seasons of Game of Thrones, but the series certainly stakes its claim as one of the finest TV shows of the year 

House of the Dragon season one review: Fire, blood, and the dance of the dragons

Last Updated: 02.35 PM, Feb 26, 2024


Story: Nearly 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones, House Targaryen is at the height of its powers under the rule of King Viserys. When he names his daughter, Rhaenyra, as his heir, several people in the Small Council begin to scheme to find a new heir — one who will represent their best interests. The hand of the King, Otto Hightower, weds his daughter Alicent to the King after the Queen’s death, and when the new Queen’s first child Aegon is born, Rhaenyra’s claim to the throne is challenged. It sets in motion a chain of events as former friends Alicent and Rhaenyra begin the Targaryen civil war called the Dance of the Dragons.


Review: The expectations and hype surrounding House of the Dragon before the pilot episode premiered in August were immense for several reasons. Being a prequel to arguably the most popular TV show ever created was principal among them, but there was also added scrutiny as a result of Amazon Prime’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premiering just a few weeks after the first episode of House of the Dragon. And considering the controversial ending of Game of Thrones, anything short of spectacular could have been met with severe criticism from critics and fans alike. House of the Dragons has pleasantly surprised everyone with its complex characters and engaging story. And it has essentially relegated The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power to the backseat in the ‘medieval dark fantasy’ streaming wars.


There are several reasons why a Game of Thrones or A Song of Ice and Fire story has connected well with audiences yet again — some more obvious than others. But the one aspect that truly sets it apart from any other show is the depth and complexity of each character. It is one of the signature styles of George R R Martin. While House of the Dragon most certainly lacks characters of the same ilk as Game of Thrones, it still manages to thoroughly flesh out all the primary figures of the story. Of course, the writers, including Ryan J. Condal, have taken a few liberties in terms of storylines and characters when it comes to adapting straight from the novel, Fire and Blood. But these changes have not shackled the story in any form, in fact, it has surprisingly elevated House of the Dragon.


Two of the most essential characters in the show are Queen Alicent and Princess Rhaenyra, and they are essayed by Olivia Cooke and Emma D’Arcy respectively while Emily Carey and Milly Alcock play the younger versions of both. As one would expect both Cooke and D’arcy immerse themselves into the role, but so do relative newcomers Carey and Alcock. But if one character benefited from a live-action adaptation, it is Paddy Considine’s King Viserys. It is a performance that improved the character’s arc from the original as envisioned by George R. R. Martin. In fact, the acclaimed author praised Considine by admitting that the actor’s version of the character is far superior to his own. Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen perfectly embodies the dual nature seen in popular Game of Thrones characters such as Jamie Lannister, Sandor Clegane, and Theon Greyjoy. When the former Doctor Who was cast as the rogue Prince Daemon, there were concerns that his popularity would work against him in this role. However, Smith has immersed himself in his role and has completely transformed himself into Prince Daemon of House Targaryen. Rhys Ifans as Otto Hightower and Eve Best as Rhaenys Targaryen have also delivered stellar performances in season one.


The first season’s greatest strength is its ability to manage the time jump without hindering the pacing of the narrative. The screenplay and the various set pieces keep one invested in the series after the end of each episode. Queen Alicent’s evolution from an innocent and relatively naive young woman to a paranoid and vindictive Queen of the Seven Kingdoms is intriguing. She is also a tragic reflection of how a person can be groomed from a young age into being submissive. Rhaenyra’s evolution from a rebellious yet ambitious young princess to a cautious and protective mother is also central to the story. However, Prince Daemon remains an enigma throughout the entirety of the first season – one who’s capable of doing good but also has the potential to indulge in the worst of human instincts. These characters are undoubtedly complex and morbidly fascinating, and it certainly makes for excellent television, but this does present with possibly one of the only minor flaws of House of the Dragon – the lack of a Stark or a Stark-like character, someone the audience can completely get behind. It seems likely that season two of House of the Dragon could feature Lord Cregan Stark of Winterfell, ‘Wolf of the North’. As per the lore of Fire and Blood, Cregan is another version of his descendant from Game of Thrones, the honourable Lord Eddard ‘Ned’ Stark.


The finale has all but confirmed that the ‘Dance of the Dragons’ is imminent, thanks to Prince Aemond’s recklessness. Rheanyra’s plans of showing restraint have also been shattered in the process. It is a shame that they did not introduce Winterfell or the Starks in the finale. However, it is likely the first episode of season two could open with scenes from the northern territory of Westeros.


Verdict: HBO’s House of the Dragon is an excellent addition to the Game of Thrones franchise. It features exciting characters, compelling storylines, and of course, dragons. The season concludes with one of the first dragon battles as Team Green and Team Black rally their bannermen as the Targaryen civil war, called the Dance of the Dragons, looms on the horizon. The series does lack a truly heroic figure and the visuals lack the polish of Gamer of Thrones, but it is certainly one of the best TV shows of 2022. Season two, which is scheduled for 2024, could feature the Starks of Winterfell and the audience can hopefully find a character they can fully get behind.


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