‘House Of The Dragon’ Premiere Plays Like An Apology For ‘Game Of Thrones’

HBO’s House Of the Dragon has a lot to live up to.

The prequel series is tasked with getting viewers excited about the world of Westeros again, in the wake of Game of Thrones’ much-memed final season, which fans viewed as a major disappointment, a rushed conclusion to an epic story.

House of the Dragon needs to get viewers invested in something they’ve seen before – another clash for the Iron Throne, more backstabbing, incest and dragon fire. But things are a little different this time; the scale seems a little smaller, the story less sprawling.

The premiere marks a strong start, but there’s a certain sense of self-consciousness, an almost implicit reassurance to the viewer that this time, the tale of warring royals will stick the landing; another chance at doing Game of Thones, another chance to capture the zeitgeist.

But things have changed – the streaming wars have become as ruthless and bloody as a battle for the Iron Throne. Viewership has become increasingly fragmented – the only show that truly united audiences since the Thrones reign was Squid Game, and that’s already being squeezed out into spin-offs and sequels. House of the Dragon needs to bring back everything viewers liked about its predecessor, while making its own distinctive mark.

King’s Landing is now inhabited with swooping dragons, the strength of the ruling Targaryen dynasty. There are grand dragon statues, a sea of silvery wigs (some more convincing than others), and an edgier Iron Throne, spiky enough to be a health hazard. This is set almost two centuries before Games of Thrones, but the realm is facing the same problem – whose inbred bottom gets to sit on that metal chair?

It’s the same setting, sure, but tweaked slightly, new faces, familiar archetypes. Our new fiery dragon queen is Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), bearing a striking resemblance to Daenerys Targaryen, in appearance and disposition.

Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) is our resident royal sociopath, a Blue Lives Matter thug wrapped in ornate armor, hungry for power and prostitutes. The kind-hearted king destined for a short life is Viserys (Paddy Considine), a people-pleaser who makes the fateful decision to appoint Rhaenyra as his heir, sparking the wraith of Daemon, and every other misogynist in the realm.

All the pieces are set up for an interesting power clash; the Targaryens are set to mimic the poisonous dynamic of the Lannisters, the deeply repugnant (yet incredibly compelling) ruling family of Thrones. It’s a tough act to follow – every single one of the Lannisters was perfectly cast.

But the Targaryens are like the Lannisters on steroids – they’re crazier, blonder, more incestuous, and with their dragons, have the power to enact more violence and destruction.

The premiere promises to explore the patriarchy intertwined within Westeros, with a politically timely plot twist featuring a forced birth, in which the queen’s life is sacrificed for the sake of her son. The senseless violence of the patriarchy manifests in a brutal joust, in which the sons of the wealthy play-fight to the death.

It’s a uncomfortably visceral scene, all thudding metal and torn flesh, intersecting with the dying queen’s screams, as her son is torn from her womb, only to die a few hours later.

On the nose? Yeah, kind of. But we all know what we signed up for – we’re watching the ugliest problems of our time playing out against a fantasy backdrop, with the hope that this time, the showrunners know what they’re doing.

The premiere ends with the heads of the most powerful Houses pledging a grudging allegiance to Princess Rhaenyra, as Prince Daemon flies away from King’s Landing in fury, having been denied his claim to the throne.

Technically, Daemon is no longer the heir, but the institutions of violence will absolutely be on his side – the promise of a ruling queen is a genuine threat to their tyrannical order. In one strangely meta scene, Viserys tells Rhaenyra of a prophecy, literally titled “A Song of Ice and Fire,” telling of the rise of the White Walkers we saw in Thrones.

Viserys believes a Targaryen must be on the throne to unite the realm against the undead hoard, but we already know how that turned out. The show is telling us that Rhaenyra’s struggle is ultimately futile – we know misogyny will still thrive in Westeros, and that the Targaryen dynasty will end. We also know that the Long Night isn’t that big a threat – Arya’s dagger put an end to it pretty quickly.

Is it enough to keep viewers invested, knowing it’s all for naught? I think it depends on the next episode, and most importantly, the characters; the exposition has been stated, the pieces are in place. Now, it’s all about the execution.

The premiere concludes with the Game of Thrones theme song, another reminder of the show we once loved, a promise that this time, there’s going to be a real conclusion.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/danidiplacido/2022/08/22/house-of-the-dragon-premiere-plays-like-an-apology-for-game-of-thrones/