The climate after game of thrones concluded that his final season in 2019 was tense to say the least. After eight years, fans who ardently followed the story of the Starks and the Lannisters and the Targaryens were treated to a bloodbath and ultimately an ending that left many longtime fans wondering what happened. to their favorite show. This impact was reflected in the impressions of Dragon House. Although the creators, story and cast are all different, the persistent bad taste of game of thrones‘ The series finale left viewers skeptical.
Personally, the end of the historical series left me with a sense of betrayal, and so it was with an initial bias against the series that I began my Dragon House screeners. For those who have consumed everything A song of ice and fire linked, they will know that Dragon House is based on the novel Fire & Bloodwritten by George RR Martinwho is also co-creator of the television series alongside Ryan J. Condal. The prequel show primarily focuses on one of the book’s sections that covers a famous civil war in Westeros history: the Dance of the Dragons.
If you thought courtroom politics were complicated during the reign of Robert Baratheon, you haven’t seen anything yet. Dragon House almost immediately plunges the reader into this sphere, and therein lies its strength. This time around, the name of the game is succession, but in Westeros the idea of a female reigning on the Iron Throne is unknown, and therein lies the problem, when King Viserys Targaryen I (Paddy Constantinelisten) is left without a male heir when his wife dies during childbirth. With only one daughter, Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock/Emma d’Arcy), he named her his heiress. However, he also has a younger brother, Prince Daemon (Matt Smith), who believes himself to be the rightful heir because he is the next male in line. Things get even more complicated when the king remarries, this time to Rhaenrya’s friend, Lady Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey/Olivia Cooke), and Alicent becomes pregnant.
Taking place over a large period of time – the first six episodes of Dragon House cover almost 10 years of events – it’s often a little shocking to jump into a new episode and find that four years have passed since the last one. Given that the meat of the action takes place at the start of the Civil War, it makes sense to hurry, but the inconsistency of the time jumps often left me wondering what vital character moments I had missed over the years. Children are born, marriages are made, alliances are made. This leaves you with a bit of uncertainty as to when we will enter a character’s life next.
It’s at its most shocking just over halfway through the season, when many of the younger characters age and their appearance changes, now played by a different actor. Alcock, as young Rhaenyra, does a magnificent job playing the strong-willed young princess. A bit naive, but eager to prove herself, she’s a fitting protagonist to follow – and it’s clear that, in some sense, we’re meant to support Rhaenyra. Alicent is, in some ways, his foil, along with his second cousin Rhaenys Velaryon (Eve Best) to a lesser extent. As Rhaenyra draws closer to the day she’s supposed to be crowned, we watch as the people around her continually remind her of the dangers of being a female leader, especially in Westeros. There are threats of war and insurrection if a woman dares to sit on the throne, and it is impossible not to be indignant in Rhaenyra’s name, especially when she repeatedly proves capable and powerful .
There’s less of D’Arcy’s Rhaenyra and, admittedly, the casting change isn’t the smoothest transition. The two actors don’t portray the character the same way, and maybe that can be brushed off with a ten-year jump, but it’s noticeable. Similarly, Carey’s Alicent hardens over time into the older version of Alicent played by Cooke, though her transformation is explained a bit better.
The surprise of the season is Smith’s Daemon Targaryen. Smith, who gained notoriety as an eccentric and effervescent doctor in Doctor Who, is all swagger, arrogance and charm here as a rogue prince. While the initial cast certainly surprised people, Smith is very comfortable in his role and is easily one of the most entertaining characters to follow. Of course, those who know game of thrones will recall that the Targaryens had a custom for many years of marrying within the family in order to keep their blood pure. So yes, there is heavy incest in the show. And, unlike Jaime and Cersei’s relationship, which was often called perverted or abnormal, marrying brother to sister here isn’t considered unusual. If you’re sick of the idea of incest in a TV series, this isn’t the show for you.
Another highlight for Dragon House, which should surprise absolutely no one are the dragons themselves. Daenerys and her dragons were often the best part of the original series – but by then dragons are considered all but extinct. At the time of Dragon House, winged beasts are numerous. It’s clear that a large chunk of the budget has gone into filming those majestic dragon-flying scenes, and it’s paying off. The flip side means we’re mostly confined to King’s Landing, but that benefits the story more than it hurts it. The capsule setting is the perfect environment for our characters, as their ambitions and destinies collide in the crowded capital. We’re working with a much smaller cast of characters than the original series, and that helps. It’s hard to say if a newcomer will find the series as much fun as someone familiar with the material. There’s very little explanation when it comes to houses or references to the original show.
When Dragon House mentions the original show, it’s a roll of the dice to see if it has the intended effect or not. Sometimes we are given a glimpse into the past, the beginnings of a house or family that we know will have a strong hold on Westeros. Other times, most overtly, we are given a direct reference to the future through the eyes of prophecy. This is where the show caught my attention. Tying the new series to one of the original series’ weakest points is a mistake and will only serve to remind viewers, especially those unhappy with how things ended, about that fact. It goes off-script and off-book, and it’s clearly meant to tie the two series together.
But these moments are few and far between. The courtroom politics and plot of shifting dynamics are enough to keep you hooked, and I found myself hungry for more episodes and eager to know the fate of these characters. While we only knew the Targaryens as a folk dynasty seen through Daenerys’ eyes, it’s exciting to see the house when it was at its peak. There’s enough love in Dragon House it keeps me coming back for more. Between the dragons, the strength of the cast, and the plot twists, I can’t wait to see where we’ll be taken next.
Dragon House premieres August 21 on HBO and will also be available to stream on HBO Max.
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