An exciting and GOT-worthy prequel gets off to a great start

How can a new TV series continue the legacy of game of thrones without continuing its story or following its characters? It’s a question Dragon House is clearly concerned – its first episode opens with a title card clarifying how long before Daenerys Targaryen’s birth it takes place. Fortunately, its response isn’t to dwell too long on those connections, but to stake its own claim as being lighter than its predecessor. Where game of thrones was a story of sprawling, even apocalyptic conflict, Dragon House is the story of a family struggle for succession, with fewer moving parts that are more intensely intertwined. The series is aware that it must lay the groundwork for these relationships that become wounds so deep that they create bloodshed. Over the course of the first six episodes of Season 1 (which have been provided for review), showrunners Ryan J. Condal and Miguel Sapochnik convincingly demonstrate that their return to George RR Martin’s Westeros should once again be a date.

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Even if it benefits from a restricted perimeter, Dragon House still has a cast of key players, and it moves through a lot of stories in its early episodes. This, however, proves no barrier to entry; though viewers may find it hard to name all character after half a season, who they are in narrative terms is still clear. At the center of the story are King Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine), an ailing peacetime leader struggling to avoid a descent into war; Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith), his violent and antagonizing brother and official heir; Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock), Viserys’ strong-willed eldest daughter; and Lady Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey), her best friend at court and daughter of the King’s Hand, Ser Otto (Rhys Ifans). Viserys doesn’t have a firstborn son to clarify royal lineage, and while he loves his brother, he fears what would happen if Daemon was ever allowed to sit on the Iron Throne. Others are more concerned about the civil war that could follow if Rhaenyra becomes the first woman to rule. What if Viserys ends up fathering a son, so what? The Targaryen family ruled Westeros for a century after their ability to ride dragons facilitated their conquest of the Seven Kingdoms, but what happens to this dynasty when the question of who should rule next didn’t matter. clear answer?


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This circumstance hangs over the series, and it is exciting to watch Dragon House expose the web of allegiances and rivalries at the heart of his coming conflict. This is largely because politics is made very, very personal. Two brothers who desperately want to love each other can’t help but hurt each other at every turn. A daughter yearns for her father’s respect after spending years watching over her and waiting for a son, but the chasm between them proves difficult to bridge. Two friends, as young women born into a political landscape, are told they must be pawns in bigger games for power. One accepts her role while the other resists it, and they find themselves pushed aside. These descriptions of key relationships are oversimplifications, but like the best character dramas, things are simultaneously and not so straightforward. Even as audiences watch political reality tighten around the Targaryens, sealing their fate in amber, they can’t help but think that all could be averted if even one of these pairs could just fix their problems. The time spent developing these conflicts is so wisely spent that when the first blows finally land, it will be thrilling.


It will also, as these six Season 1 episodes tease, make the whole show. The stability of Viserys’ rule is challenged early on in the form of a group of upstart marauders threatening Westerosi’s control of the seas, which proves to be a solid story choice. Not only does the relative lack of emotional stakes in this external threat add weight to the potential devastation of a civil war, it gives viewers a taste of the quality and epic-scale action cinema that awaits them. It remains to be seen whether this new show will succeed in arousing less controversy than game of thrones, but it doesn’t shy away from hard-hitting displays of violence, which bear the hallmarks of the effects work, craftsmanship and direction that made the original show’s battle scenes so acclaimed. Plus, the new series lives up to its name right from the start, with lots of dragon footageand their involvement in the war needs to be explored in much greater depth. Dragon House once again seems to be sitting in that sweet spot of commitment to character and high-quality realization of a fantasy world. As long as he doesn’t lose sight of it, it should make for some genuinely exciting television.


That said, much still rests on the second half of Season 1. In their commitment to properly establish the relationships at the heart of the conflict, the showrunners are taking the risky gamble of crossing over a decade from Episode 1 to Episode 1. 6. Purely in terms of storytelling, it seems well executed, without rushing into key development or unnecessarily stretching storylines too much. But, as a result, the actors playing young Rhaenyra and Alicent age from their roles midway through the season and are replaced by series regulars Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke, respectively.

Five episodes are long enough to tie into an actor’s performance of a character, especially when he’s as excellent as Alcock’s headstrong princess, and the viewer’s instinct will likely be to resist that transition. at first. Episodes 1-5 seem rich enough for more stories from the years of connection could have been said, devoting an entire season to that initial cast before moving on, and it’s possible that Dragon House comes to regret not having taken this route. It will be up to the remaining four episodes to prove that this set, and these characters at these ages, are worthy of the preference given to them.


Dragon House premieres on HBO and HBO Max Sunday, August 21 at 9 p.m. ET. Season 1 will consist of ten episodes which will air weekly.

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