By Yasiri J. Kasango
If you’ve watched Game of Thrones, The House of the Dragons will intrigue you. The struggles of the seven kingdoms for dominance seem to be shown. Although it starts 172 years before Daenerys Targaryen was born and follows the Targaryen dynasty’s downfall, the true mystery after viewing the first six episodes of fighting and plotting is how it could take two centuries to come to an end. While the individuals change a little throughout the course of the series, succession is the theme that ties everything together. It starts with the Lear-like possibility of a dying king selecting his heir.
Young Princess Rhaenyra, the sole child of King Viserys I, is the focus of the first five episodes (played by Milly Alcock) (Paddy Considine). Rhaenyra is a young woman of strength, ambition, and bravery who would make a perfect heir had it not been for the Lords’ previous declaration that tradition requires a king, not a queen, to sit on the Iron Throne.
In this world, royal women are breeding machines and bargaining chips. “I am glad I am not a woman,” says one male character, later in the series. It could be the tagline for the whole thing.
Amid much grumbling about Rhaenyra, Viserys’s brother steps forward. Daemon is a hotheaded peacock who refuses to play by any rules he considers beneath him.
There is an increasing sense of urgency about where the political wheel will stop as Viserys starts to look feeble. Matt Smith portrays Daemon as a conceited and angry man who, despite his family name, can’t fully betray it. In my opinion, Game of Thrones thrived on the villains’ power much more than the qualities of its heroes. He is undoubtedly a horrible character, a sexist, and a sadist, but up until episode six, the only truly vile main character in King’s Landing. The House of the Dragon takes its time introducing the gritty villains who are so fun to rant about.
It is a more mature version of this world, which contributes to some of this. It involves a bit more conversation and a bit less action, to paraphrase Elvis Presley. After the opening, much of this is about whispered conversations and heated discussions over loyalties, betrayals, allegiances, and which children should be joined in matrimony in order to minimize the political fallout. There are large-scale fights and bloody beatings, and one particularly epic battle scene (“Crab Feeder” might sound cute, though wait and see how that works out). Many conversations take place.
It has a certain distinctiveness that sometimes enhances its effectiveness and other times lessens it. It features an enormous cast of characters, making the narrative focus required, and it is immensely deep. It is, of course, about the Targaryen family. This is the Targaryens’ narrative, despite references to other well-known names like Tully, Stark, and a haughty Lannister.
I doubt I could have kept up if it had darted between the houses and their many places of authority with such detail. I did, however, miss Game of Thrones’ scope and its ability to switch between such vividly detailed settings.
After a few years here and there, it jumps ahead another decade for episode six, when everyone has a lot of kids. (This contains just as much childbirth as a One Born Every Minute episode, but strangely enough, it doesn’t have the same nice, fuzzy feeling.) The action is reset, albeit not entirely as it first appears, and a few of the characters are recast as adults.
This was so sleek and correct, so plainly well-made, that there was really no opportunity of a misstep like that, even though the leap may have been startling. Beautiful, lavish, cinematic, and large-scale programming that pushes the limits of what television can do is House of the Dragon. It is little less enjoyable than its predecessor.