‘House of the Dragon’ Review: Rising From the Ashes

Photo courtesy of TV Insider

Photo courtesy of TV Insider

“Game of Thrones” had one of if not the worst ending to any significant franchise, TV or otherwise. In just 6 episodes, the showrunners completely ruined every single major character on the show in spectacular fashion. More than that though it betrayed the heart of “Game of Thrones” and the books that it’s based on “A Song of Ice and Fire.”

Instead of focusing on the nuanced politics of the world of Westeros along with the resulting interpersonal drama, they decided to fall victim to generic fantasy tropes that focus more on action and spectacle rather than drama.

In a matter of weeks, nearly all cultural relevance of this show was lost to the ether so when “House of the Dragon” rolled around I wasn’t particularly hopeful for it to revive the franchise.

Boy was I wrong though because “House of the Dragon” is surprisingly good and a great return to form for the franchise. The story is set approximately 200 years before the events of the original show and follows House Targaryan in its prime.

While not perfect, “House of the Dragon” reminded me of why I love the early seasons of “Game of Thrones” and what makes this world so unique compared to other fantasy series. It’s not focused on big battles, knights in shining armor, and crazy magic but rather on the complex and ruthless nature of statesmanship in the world of Westeros and the resulting interpersonal conflicts..

This show has a notably smaller cast than the original. Where the original focused on events spanning all of Westeros, this show is solely focused on house Targaryen and two adjacent houses, Hightower and Velaryen. Because of this, the show has a smaller barrier of entry than the original show which could very often get confusing with the sheer amount of different plotlines.

On the other hand, however, the series features frequent and significant time jumps in between episodes that often become disorienting. One season of “Game of Thrones” will span only a few months and sometimes just a few weeks, but in “House of the Dragon,” there are about 20 years between the premiere and the finale. It doesn’t ruin the show, but I very often felt like I had to re-learn what’s going on and where each person is at in their life.

Most egregiously, halfway through the season, there is a 10-year time jump which ends up feeling like the show moved to an entirely different season because some main characters were replaced by completely different actors to account for the jump.

The time jumping also presents a problem with the characters’ aging. Apart from season protagonists King Viserys, Rhaenyra Targaryen, and Alicent Hightower, none of the main cast age throughout the show. We watch both Rhaenyra and Alicent age and mature, and the rest of the adult cast look the exact same for the 20 years this show spans.

While this show does have a smaller cast than the original show, it gets confusing following all the characters in the latter half of the season, specifically with all the children. After the ten year time jump, the show sometimes feels like running a daycare just from the amount of annoying little brats you have to keep track of.

Despite the invasion of the rug rats, the character writing in this show is great. King Viserys is one of the few people in this franchise that I would say is a genuinely good person. Throughout the season he constantly tries to improve people’s lives, but it often proves fruitless and ineffective.

His brother, Daemon, at first comes off as violent, brash, and creepy but as the show goes on you see the layers peeled back as he shows a deep love for his family (sometimes a little too much). Seeing the relationship between Rhaenyra and Alicent unfold was probably my favorite aspect of the season as it becomes more and more messy and complicated.

Visually speaking, “House of the Dragon” is impressive even by “Game of Thrones” standards. With the original show, a lot of it still felt like a TV show but “House of the Dragon” looks like a 10-hour movie. They get more creative with the camera work here, especially with an impressive single-take shot in episode 6 that displays how unbelievably massive the set for the Red Keep is. Visual effects are also top-notch, and the show is actually surprisingly more reliant on them than “Game of Thrones.” There are a ton of big set pieces and uses of dragons and fire.

What’s most impressive about the show is simply how it adapted the original source material. The book “House of the Dragon” is based on is not a traditional novel. The book, “Fire and Blood” is more of a mock history book that details the history of house Targaryen during the 200 years before the events of “A Song of Ice and Fire.” Because of this, there is hardly any plot, dialogue, and character development so the show had to extrapolate essentially from a rough template rather than a full robust story.

 To put it lightly, “House of the Dragon” had both big shoes to fill but also a lot to make up for and it did both in spades. Despite all odds, this show manages to harken back to the old days of “Game of Thrones” while also forging its own identity. While there are certainly issues, the show feels like a proper return to form for the land of Westeros, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next, especially after that final scene.

Score: 8/10