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House of the Dragon (2022) | Review

From dragons to daughters, the Game of Thrones prequel paves its way to an explosive finale.

By Susanna Lehtonen

Finally, after three years of anticipation (and weeks of teasers through impressive posters across every platform imaginable), the theme song we all know and love fills our homes. Regardless of whether you wanted to rejoin the hate-train after season 8 of Game of Thrones, or you were just excited to revisit Westeros and its captivating characters, I’m sure I can speak for all of us when I say we were excited for House of the Dragon. Although the premiere of the show garnered an impressive viewership of around 10 million across HBO and HBO Max, it’s a far cry from the nearly 20 million who tuned in to watch the season finale of Game of Thrones. Now that the prequel has finished, the question on everyone’s minds is—‘Was it as good as Game of Thrones?

To give a quick summary, House of the Dragon, a prequel to Game of Thrones, follows House Targaryen at the peak of its rule over the Seven Kingdoms. King Viserys fails to conceive a male heir and ends up naming his only remaining daughter, Rhaenyra Targaryen, as his heir. In a kingdom historically ruled by men, this decision is controversial and opposed by many in the King’s Council. The matter of succession is further complicated by Alicent Hightower, Rhaenyra’s childhood best friend, who is also daughter of the King’s most important advisor, the Hand. She marries King Viserys after the death of his wife and provides the King with his long-anticipated male heir. The series follows the dispute over succession of the Iron Throne between the Hightowers and Rhaneyra, ultimately leading to the beginning of the end of Targaryen reign over Westeros.

Courtesy of IMDb

The project was taken over from writers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss by Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik, though the former has never worked on Game of Thrones before. With the massive international success of Game of Thrones, Condal and Sapochnik had big shoes to fill in creating the highly anticipated prequel to the series. HOTD is set 172 years before the birth of Daenerys Targaryen, at the peak of Targaryen power, and is set to follow the fall of the great dynasty—the outcome of which is apparent through the events that unfold in Game of Thrones. Although the plotline is seemingly predictable, I was geared up to see what schemes the Targaryens would get up to that bring about the downfall of their own house in classic GOT style. In many ways I do think HOTD achieved that, but not without some questionable writing choices along the way.

For me, the casting was the first thing that drew my attention. To my delight, I found the casting for the HOTD to be excellent, if not one of the best aspects about the show as a whole. With a blend of both experienced and well-known actors, such as Matt Smith, and up-and-coming actors (the highlight for me being Milly Alcock as young Rhaenyra Targaryen), the casting was diverse and well balanced, leaving enough room for each actor to deliver their take on the complex characters. Paddy Considine gave an excellent performance as the idealistic but inherently weak-minded King Viserys, with his performance culminating in the touching family dinner scene in episode 8. Viserys’ final and rather desperate attempt to bring the so-called family together served as a powerful symbol to show how divided and fragile the House had become because of personal ambitions of each member. The theme is visually highlighted by the colours each character wears not only to the dinner but throughout the show particularly in the later episodes, with Rhaenhyra and Daemon wearing Targaryen black and red and Alicent sticking to vibrant Hightower green.

Although the show received much praise for its characters and soundtrack, the unnecessarily quick pacing of some episodes was the main criticism voiced by many and it’s one I agree with. Most episodes were introduced with time skips spanning years, leaving little room for on-screen development of the relationships between each character. The deaths of the two arguably least controversial characters—Ser Harwin Strong and Lady Laena Velaryon—were also brought on too quickly which didn’t allow any time for the viewer to truly bond with these characters. More so for the fact they were perhaps the only likeable people in a show full of self-centred, ambitious, and frankly unhinged characters. Especially Laena, who is Daemon’s second choice of wife, is nonetheless smart and strong-willed. However, this is established and destroyed in the span of a single episode. In a show where the characters are the source of the drama we’re all here for, it’s regrettable that so little time is actually given for constructing the feuds that are to lead to the downfall of the Targaryens.

Overall, House of the Dragon definitely rises to the expectations I had for the show back when it was first announced. The superb acting and impressive worldbuilding together with the drama brought about by the actions of the characters kept me on the edge of my seat each week. Yet, because of the quick unfolding of what seemed like key events in the family drama, it fails to meet the legacy of Game of Thrones. I do however believe the show sets a great foundation for the story, and cannot wait for the next season to air.


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