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‘House of the Dragon’ Review: It’ll Make You Love ‘GoT’ Again

Heavy is the head that wears the crown. HBO’s Early Moments Dragon House see Viserys Targeryen inherit a huge responsibility when he is crowned ruler of the seven kingdoms. He agrees that much of the show’s first season, which starts this sunday, revolves around a king who struggles to live up to his predecessor. This is the exact burden shared by House of the Dragon itself, which must follow Game of Thrones, one of the most famous television shows of all time.

Only time, and the subsequent seasons it brings, will tell if House of the Dragon can climb that wall. But after watching the first six episodes, it’s clear that House of the Dragon at least has a chance. It’s great television, fantasy drama that doesn’t require Game of Thrones fans to enjoy.

Equally important, House of the Dragon gives Game of Thrones fans burned by that show’s controversial final season a reason to love the world of Westeros again.

House of the Dragon airs on HBO starting Sunday, August 21. The show begins 172 years before “The Mad King” Aerys Targaryen died and Daenerys was born. Chronicling the rise and fall of the Targaryen dynasty, House of the Dragon is based on Fire and Blood, a fictional history volume George RR Martin wrote about the Targaryens. Yes, Martin wrote a 900-page book on the Targaryens. No we are never have the winter winds.

Much of Game of Thrones centered on the combative Houses of Westeros vying to become the dominant clan. By contrast, House of the Dragon is about the internal conflict generated by different Targaryens all claiming the same Iron Throne. It starts with such a contest. In the opening minutes of House of the Dragon, after Jaehaerys’ death, the Grand Council holds a succession vote that pits Prince Viserys against his cousin, Princess Rhaenys.

Viserys wins because the lords of Westeros won’t accept a woman as ruler. This does not prevent him, later in the opening episode, from naming his daughter Rhaenyra Targaryen as his successor. Viserys was obviously a progressive guy for his time – but things get complicated when he remarries and his new wife gives birth to a son, Aegon. Viserys says his son’s arrival doesn’t change anything, but an ominous question arises: if Viserys died, who in Westeros would support a woman’s claim to the throne rather than a man?

Viserys and Rhaenyra’s relationship is a highlight, largely because of the actors who portray them. Paddy Considine is strong in his role as a decent man turned average king, a man who struggles to balance the needs of his family and Westeros simultaneously. But the shining star of the opening episodes of House of the Dragon is surely Milly Alcock as Rhaenyra. She has an enchanting expressive face – a simple squint of the eyes or purse of the lips can betray the range of emotions that accompany the politics of the king’s court.

You’ll notice, if you scan the House of the Dragon Wikipedia page, that Alcock plays “young Rhaenyra Targaryen” – she’s one of two people who play the character. Where Game of Thrones expanded, focusing on different families across the continent, House of the Dragon goes long. There are time intervals between episodes that vary from month to year. This makes sense, since the book it’s based on covers 300 years of history, compared to the much shorter time frame depicted in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels.

Even after six episodes of the series, the scope of House of the Dragon is still mysterious. This is clearly Dance of the Dragons, a famous Targaryen civil war in the lore of ice and fire. But when it gets there, and how deeply the show delves into the 172-year history that separates it from Thrones, it’s woefully unclear.

House of the Dragon’s faster pace helps it feel different from Game of Thrones, which is helpful. Comparisons to Game of Thrones are unfair. Thrones was famous for its complex characters, harrowing surprises, and outlandish battles, each of which took years to build. Fans who weren’t disappointed by the show’s controversial final season will have high expectations for House of the Dragon, and fans who were the disappointed will demand something exceptional to win them back.

But as unfair as these comparisons are, they are also unavoidable. At the end of the first episode of House of the Dragons, I wondered if it was as gripping as the first of Game of Thrones. I wondered if any character was as compelling as Ned Stark, or if the politics within the King’s Little Council would rise to the levels of intrigue of Littlefinger vs. Varys.

This changed midway through the second episode. Instead of reminiscing about the Starks and the Lannisters, I focused entirely on the Targaryens. House of the Dragon may never be the next Game of Thrones, but from the six hours I’ve watched, it seems poised to at least step out of the giant shadow cast by its predecessor. It’s a feat that any king – or queen – could brag about.


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