The world of Westeros has returned back to TV screens with the new series House of the Dragon. It is based on the Targaryen history book “Fire & Blood,” a prequel to the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. There is much pressure on this series to be good considering the unfortunate taste Game of Thrones season 8 left in the mouth of most of its loyal followers. Within the first five minutes of House of the Dragon, they respect Daenerys Targaryen more than the entirety of the final Game of Thrones season. I could instantly tell that showrunners Miguel Sapochnik and Ryan J. Condal knew that they were going to face an uphill battle to win back the audience. If the first episode is any indication of the possible heights the show could reach, then I feel that House of the Dragon is safe in their hands. The series stars Paddy Considine as King Viserys, Milly Alcock and Emma D’Arcy as young and adult Princess Rhaenyra, Matt Smith as Prince Daemon, and Rhys Ifans as Otto Hightower.
While Game of Thrones episode 1 held the viewers hand and explained everything so plainly and clearly, House of the Dragon does not. For a seasoned veteran of Game of Thrones, this show includes many references and easter eggs that will be delightful to see (a Weirwood in King’s Landing!), but it is easy enough for someone unfamiliar with the world to use their context clues to figure out what is happening and why it is important. Also, the first season of Game of Thrones had a much lower budget. Luckily for us, the viewers get to see the full majesty of dragons, King’s Landing, and sword fighting within the first episode. The world feels so built out already.
The show begins in the legendary fortress of Harrenhal. King Jaehaerys I had gathered all the lords of Westeros to pick his successor. They voted between the two strongest claimants: eldest relative Rhaenys, and younger cousin Viserys. The lords chose Viserys, but within a decade another succession issue was to come to light. Would male primogeniture always be the rule of law or is there another viable option? Later, Queen Aemma details the way women, especially high-born ladies, are to serve the realm. She is pregnant with a potential male heir that would put all concerns of succession to rest.
I was most excited to see Matt Smith as Prince Daemon, who is quickly set up to be the antagonist in the series. I was surprised to see just how nuanced and careful he is. He is no Joffrey or Ramsay Bolton. Though he may be egotistical and brutal, he is no fool. In fact, the words exchanged to King Viserys in the throne room were rather reasonable. Matt Smith does an excellent job balancing Daemon’s most extreme tendencies with his kinder ones. Milly Alcock is absolutely wonderful as the rebellious Rhaenyra, the loving daughter of King Viserys. Her mother’s words of royal wombs and the battlefield of pregnancy coming to her one day makes it easy for the audience to root for her to receive the Iron Throne. The entire show hinges on these characters, and their introduction to one another sets up the stakes perfectly, especially considering how much they seem to care for one another.
House of the Dragon does a wonderful job of showing why the Targaryen name was so revered, why Daenerys’s brother Viserys would believe that the people are praying for their return. The rather long stretches of peace, their penchant for heat, and their prophesied visions are a few things within the episode that stand out. It retroactively makes Daenerys Targaryen even more epic. It also shows how important it is to have the right Targaryen on the throne. Power should only be in the hands of those with the right demeanor for it.
Will the Lords of Westeros be able to accept a woman as Queen? How will the added pressure of the White Walker prophecy affect Rhaenyra? I couldn’t be more excited to see how everything will play out this season. As the famous quote by Barristan Selmy goes, “Every time a new Targaryen is born, he said, the gods toss the coin in the air and the world holds its breath to see how it will land.” If the House of the Dragon pilot were a coin flip, I can easily say it has landed very well.