SPOILERS FOR SEASON 1 OF HOUSE OF THE DRAGON!
Boy howdy I have no idea where to begin on this one.
I needed to dip my toe in to this one. I think we all felt like that. When the first spinoff series of Game of Thrones was announced I don’t think anyone was particularly stoked. HBO was a cold, refreshing glass of orange juice moments after we had brushed away the taste of Iron-Throne-Melting-Symbolism-ite (recommended by four out of five dentists) and we all took a drink.
When premiere day came I think I wasn’t alone among the masses when I had to say to myself “Oh, that’s tonight?” But as the day went on what started off as cautious optimism quickly turned into injecting milk of the poppy directly into my veins. I tried to stream the premiere on my phone but lo-and-behold HBO Max crashed during it’s biggest event since the finale of G.O.T. It was obvious from the get-go that the show was going to be a huge hit.
The first episode was an incredible reminder of just how amazing the early seasons of G.O.T. really were. Instead of a show about dragons, white walkers, and fighting for the world’s pointiest chair we were quickly introduced to a show about politics and family in a world we are already somewhat familiar with. Yes, the platinum blonde wigs on everyone with a speaking role looked ridiculous but it laid a solid groundwork for what to expect moving forward. From the prologue establishing the dynamic and rivalries within the Targaryen family, Viserys (Paddy Considine) having to make the impossible choice of saving his wife or unborn child and losing both in the process, Matt Smith knocking it out of the park as Daemon, Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) and Alicent’s (Emily Carey) friendship that we knew couldn’t last, and of course, dragons. The show came out swinging and it was only a sign of things to come.
One thing that the show nailed this season was using time as a plot device. One common complaint about the original series was how in the early seasons everything moved so slowly and built up to a big finale but by the end of the show everything was happening so fast and such great scale it felt like a completely different show. This season the showrunners chose to limit the number of locations and main characters but have months, even years, between episodes without making the audience feel like they missed last week’s episode. Just think, at the beginning of the show Rhaenyra (I’ll spell it right on the first try eventually) went from a teenage girl uninterested in her womanly duties to a badass mother of five played by a completely different actress, Alicent went from a kind and innocent young woman to subjecting her feet to being highly effective tools of gaining information, and Viserys went from a beloved king to the end of a fast-forwarded video of a fox decomposing.
Similar to Game of Thrones the cast is made up of mostly newcomers and journeyman character actors, highlighted by a former Dr. Who (Matt Smith) and “The Leg” from The Replacements (Rhys Ifans), and a promising up-and-comer with a solid list of indie credits (Olivia Cooke). One of the coolest things about G.O.T. was how it began with Sean Bean, Lena Headey, and Miles Finch being outshined by stars like Emilia Clarke, Kit Harrington, Richard Madden, Sophie Turner, Pedro Pascal, and Peter Dinklage plus a host of other actors that in years to come made us go “Oh, it’s The Mountain!” or “Oh, it’s Samwell Tarley!” or “Oh, it’s the dickless guy!” or “Oh, it’s the bald dickless guy!” or “Oh, it’s the bald dickless guy in the robe!” I can see the same thing happening to Milly Alcock, Emma D’arcy, Fabien Frankel, Eve Best, Ewan Mitchell, and whatever stud muffins they cast as the older versions of the Targaryen kids in season two.
In my opinion the show had no bad episodes with a handful that could go toe-to-toe with G.O.T. in its prime, including “King of the Narrow Sea (episode 4)”, “Driftmark (ep. 7)”, and “The Black Queen (ep. 10)” though no moment got me hyped like Daemon delivering the Crabfeeder’s sword to Viserys saying “Add it to the chair.” For me that was the moment where Matt Smith went from a great actor with the least marketable name in the industry to a certified badass. Each episode seemed to lead well into the next one, even if it meant having to catch your bearings with timelines and characters changing actors like a game of musical chairs.
The show had a number of notable arcs throughout the season, particularly Rhaenyra and Alicent as we watched grow from best friends to bitter rivals on the cusp of war. Daemon was perhaps the most consistently entertaining character throughout the season given that he is a total wild card and even in his old age he still doesn’t seem to have learned from his mistakes. Viserys was extremely well written and while he often was depicted as antagonistic toward Rhaenyra (fourth times a charm) it was obvious he had love for his family and I think his monologue at the dinner table in episode 8 captures this perfectly. Though two of my favorite characters were Ser Criston Cole (Fabian Frankel) and Aemond (Ewan Mitchell). Cole went from the heroic golden boy knight to a quiet protector capable of breaking into murderous rage at any moment. With Aemond, maybe this says more about me, I couldn’t get enough of how sleezy this dude is. To compare him to another G.O.T. character, Aemond is Ramsay Bolton. A power hungry oppressed son with a punchable face who uses his pets for no good. I hope we get to see Mitchell back in the cast at least for the beginning of season two, but with all these time jumps and re-casting of actors who knows what’s in store.
One thing that Game of Thrones did well for seven seasons was stick the landing on their penultimate episodes and season finales and House of the Dragon is no different. The two sister episodes to conclude the season focused on two sides of the the same rivalry. It had everything from allegiances being tested, characters embracing their new directions, calculated political gameplay, and younger generations beginning to lay groundwork for the future of the show. The first season finale not only wrapped up the season’s story and character arcs while also leaving us with an effective “what happens next?” plot twist.
House of the Dragon doesn’t necessarily expand on a world that’s already been built but rather it digs deeper into the history of a world we thought we knew. Fans of the early seasons of Game of Thrones should be ecstatic with the first season and those bitter about the ending will have to admit that this show helped numb the pain. Personally, I’m all in on this show moving forward though with a new showrunner coming in for next season I again will have to tread lightly.
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