Season One Review – House of the Dragon

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Overview

Directing Miguel Sapochnik, Clare Kilner, Greg Yaitanes, Geeta Vasant Patel, Alan Taylor

Producing Ryan J. Condal, Miguel Sapochnik, Jocelyn Diaz, George R.R. Martin

Writing Ryan J. Condal, Miguel Sapochnik, Sara Hess, Charmaine De Grate, Gabe Fonseca, Kevin Lau, Ira Parker, Eileen Shim, Based on characters created by George R.R. Martin

Starring Matt Smith, Paddy Considine, Rhys Ifans, Fabien Frankel, Milly Alcock, Emma D'Arcy, Emily Carey, Olivia Cooke, Eve Best, Steve Toussaint, Jefferson Hall, Bill Paterson, Matthew Needham, Gavin Spokes

Genre Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy

Platforms HBO Max

Release Date August 21, 2022

House of the Dragon is an American television show executive produced by Miguel Sapochnik and Ryan Condal for HBO Max. This fantasy series is HBO’s second installment within the streamer’s hugely popular world of Game of Thrones. House of the Dragon takes place 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones and is based on George R.R. Martin’s novel Fire & Blood which follows the complex history of the infamous Targaryens.

G.R.R Martin is known to be overly protective of his intellectual property and has had enormous influence over HBO’s adaptation of his novels. During the production of Game of Thrones‘ fifth season, HBO approached Martin about a potential spin-off to replace the network’s most popular hit series. Martin would give the network his blessing as long as they focused on material from his novel Fire & Blood.

In October 2019, the Game of Thrones prequel series House of the Dragon was green-lit for a 10-episode season with an option for additional seasons. Game of Thrones original series creators and showrunners Benioff and Weiss departed the franchise after its final season to pursue other projects. HBO looked to Game of Thrones series director Miguel Sapochnik, who directed arguably the best episode of the series (Battle of the Bastards) to executive produce and show run the anticipated prequel.

Ryan Condal, who had unsuccessfully pitched adaptations of Martin’s novels to HBO in years past, was also brought on as an executive producer and co-showrunner. Sapochnik was also set to direct the pilot along with additional episodes of the series to set the tone of the show and ensure the cohesiveness of the overall franchise. HBO fast-tracked the production of House of the Dragon in order to ride the momentum of its predecessor. Writing began in January 2020 and, by July of that same year, casting was already underway. Filming began in April 2021 in England with a series premiere set for the summer of 2022.

The anticipated next installment of the Game of Thrones universe, House of the Dragon premiered on HBO Max on August 21, 2022, to extraordinary reviews from both critics and general audiences alike. Rotten Tomatoes awarded the premier season a 86% critic score with a similar 84% audience score, indicating an overall consensus of positive receptions. Metacritic scored the series with a 69 out of 100 and 5.0 out of 10 user score. IGN gave the series a 9 out of 10 calling it “amazing”.

Generally, critics praised the series for its performances, directing, writing, and visual production value. The positive reception for House of the Dragon comes as a sigh of relief as it trails possibly the most successful series run of all time. The series has very large shoes to fill. Along with high expectations, the producers and HBO feared its predecessor’s failed final season might have left a bad taste in audiences’ mouths. Thankfully, the series captured the attention and praise of audiences.

The premiere episode broke viewership records on its platform with 9.98 million viewers, a 25% increase from the record set by the season finale of Game of Thrones. Five days after its series premiere, HBO announced House of the Dragon was unsurprisingly renewed for a second season. Co-showrunner Sapochnik announced he will be departing the franchise after an 11-year run of adapting George R.R. Martin’s material. Ryan Condal will continue on as executive producer and showrunner and will begin filming the second season in spring 2023.

*Content Warning: This show is intended for mature audiences.*

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: Westeros features the worship of many gods. Prayers to these gods and the use of dark magic can be seen.

Violence: The world of Westeros is full of brutality, cruelty, and savagery. The series blatantly features grotesque violence which could turn sensitive viewers off. House of the Dragon is hyper-violent and full of blood and gore. Multiple episodes feature sword battles, jousting, dismemberment, limb removal, crushed skulls, and human incineration by dragon fire. Additional hyperrealistic acts of violence showcased in the series include the removal of male reproductive organs, hanging, beheadings, and detailed medieval-esque c-sections.

Language/Crude Humor: Foul language is used throughout the entirety of the show including distasteful humor. There are multiple uses of the word f**k throughout the series. Some episodes use more profanity than others. Other profane words such as s**t, c**t, c**k, and b***h, are used. Derogatory words such as w***e, t**t, and b*****d are frequently spoken as well. Crude references and humor pertaining to male and female reproductive anatomy are used as well.

Sexual Content: Much like its predecessor, House of the Dragon prominently features mature sexual content. Unlike the previous series, it does not feature this content in almost every episode. However, when the series does feature sexual content, it is extremely explicit. Scenes depicting fully nude characters engaged in sexual intimacy can be clearly seen. Some of these scenes feature male-on-female, male-on-male, and female-on-female sexual content. Fully nude male and female figures are clearly shown during these explicit scenes. The series also prominently features interfamilial physical relationships. Two main characters of the show begin a physical incestual relationship. These characters are seen intensely kissing and engaging in intercourse. There are multiple graphic sex scenes.

Drug/ Alcohol Use: Throughout the series, many characters drink wine and ale during meals and council meetings. Wine is drunk throughout the entirety of the show. Though conventional drugs are not used, a version of opium called “Milk of the Poppy” is used often to dull the pain of the injured or suffering.

Other Negative Themes: Throughout House of the Dragon people are seen gambling and engaging in lying, cheating, and manipulative behavior including gossip. Characters make racist comments that hint at differences in skin color.

Positive Themes: The series features smart, strong women. Although mostly marginalized, these women exhibit strength and wisdom which allows them to navigate the patriarchal world.

Story

House of the Dragon is set 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones and follows House Targaryen and its reign over the seven kingdoms. The series picks up as the first century of the Targaryen dynasty ends. The Targaryens were at the height of their power after 60 years of peace and prosperity brought on by the ten fully-grown dragons under their control. In spite of this power, King Jaehaerys failed to produce a proper heir after both his sons tragically died.

Without a true heir, King Jaehaerys calls a kingdom-wide counsel to decide his succession. After fourteen claims of succession were considered, including the king’s eldest daughter Rhaenys Targaryen and the king’s oldest male descendant her cousin Viserys Targaryen, it was decided Prince Viserys would inherit the Iron Throne. The kingdom was not ready for a female leader and King Jaehaerys allowed the council to determine succession to prevent the House of Targaryen from turning on itself.

Almost a decade after King Viserys assumes power over Dragonstone, he finds himself in the same predicament as his predecessor…without a male heir. King Viserys must now choose who will inherit the Iron Throne without causing strife among his people. The king’s counsel argues who would be best suited to take on the weight of the kingdom upon their shoulders. Some seek what is best for the kingdom, while others seek personal gain.

The king’s brother, Daemon Targaryen, an ambitious skilled warrior with a short temper, argues he should be named heir, while Lord Corlys Velaryon, King of the Sea Snake and husband of Rhaenys Targaryen, desires to be named the rightful inheritor. Meanwhile, the king’s second hand, Ser Otto Hightower, encourages his daughter Alicent, best friend of the king’s daughter Princess Rhaenyra, to keep the king company as he grieves the death of his wife.

As the anticipation builds as to who will be named successor, King Viserys breaks from century-long tradition and names his firstborn, his daughter Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, as his successor, the first female in Targaryen history. This decision causes disunion in the Targaryen house. Though the rulers of the realm pledge allegiance to the soon-to-be queen, secret plotters and schemers attempt to manipulate and set plans in place to achieve power for themselves. King Viserys unknowingly, yet with the best intentions, lit the fuse leading to the beginning of the end of House Targaryen. This continued dissension leads the realm to the Targaryen civil war of succession known as the “Dance of the Dragons.”

Review

House of the Dragon was a huge risk for HBO. Though developing a spin-off series from one of the most popular television runs of all time seems like a no-brainer, the final season of Game of Thrones might have left audiences feeling glad to leave Westeros behind them. HBO took the gamble and won. HBO’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s Fire and Blood showcases a masterclass in every aspect of series production.

As a prequel, House of the Dragon is tied closely to Game of Thrones and succeeds in achieving a similar cinematic style. The dynamic cinematography of Game of Thrones is perfectly replicated. Viewers will feel right at home with the series as it visually and stylistically feels like a part of the world of Westeros. Though the visuals are stunning and provide a vast scope of the world, subtle differences between Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon in visual effects and lighting can be seen. However, this can be contributed to the enhancement of digital effects.

The series seems a bit brighter than Game of Thrones. This brightness hints at the era of prosperity for the Targaryens, while Game of Thrones was shrouded in darkness prior to the long winter and the death of its king. The series struggles with its overly digital feel. There is a slight lack of realism when overlooking large set pieces. There is an over-reliance on digital sets where practical sets or location shots would have provided a more realistic feel.

Where the series shines in its visual effects is in its dragons. Game of Thrones featured dragons toward the last half of its run. At times, the dragon effects in Game of Thrones were spotty. House of the Dragon improves its dragon effects in every way. The dragons seem realistic, tangible, palpable, and absolutely terrifying. The series is visually stunning and gorgeous to watch in spite of its overuse of digital effects.

The highlight of House of the Dragon is its performances. This stellar cast puts on a clinic of dramatic acting. Each and every actor shines in their role. Performers can relay a monologue’s worth of exhibition in a simple shift of an eye or slight curl of a grin. One of the many notable performances comes from Milly Alcock who plays a young Rhaenyra Targaryen. Her portrayal as the young princess destined for the iron throne is magnetic. While she is absolutely her own character, she exhibits reflections of Daenerys Targaryen. She inhabits an innocent hopefulness while being wise beyond her years. Rhaenyra Targaryen, along with a handful of others characters, is played by multiple people as there are numerous significant time jumps spanning years throughout the series. Emma D’Arcy portrays an older Rhaenyra and continues the portrayal of a wise successor who has matured into a strategic politician. Series standouts, among several Emmy-worthy performances, come from Paddy Considine and Matt Smith. Their performances breathe life into King Viserys Targaryen and Prince Daemon Targaryen. Considine showcases the ability to portray vulnerability and strength simultaneously. Smith oozes charisma in spite of his character’s devious behavior.

Where House of the Dragon truly shines is in its writing and directing. Just as in Game of Thrones, the interconnected plot, twisted relationships, and manipulative backstabbing make scenes of simple conversations between characters just as intense as large epic battle sequences. House of the Dragon expertly weaves social themes throughout its complex story. King Jaehaerys’s decision to name a distant male heir instead of his immediate female descendant set a precedent of diminishing women throughout the Targaryen house, echoing our society’s historical belittling of women.

Unlike another show featured on a competitive streaming service running concurrently with House of the Dragon, the series subtly explores male chauvinism. Throughout the series, women and women in power are marginalized, which naturally tells the story of the prioritization of the patriarchy without beating the viewer over the head with preachy rhetoric. The show exposes how much men and social structures detest or fear the ideas of women in power. This fictional world places a mirror to the face of our own.

The political upheaval which the story is driven by once Rhaenyra is named heir shows how little society has, and in many ways still, dismisses women. House of the Dragon expertly, and at times brutally, highlights the worth of women. For example, in earlier episodes, a woman is forced to receive a grotesque and deadly C-section and another is forced to drink a tea that will terminate her possible pregnancy. Although the C-section scene features body horror, it perfectly informs the audience that the woman’s life does not matter. The writers of the series successfully and expertly depict the devaluation of women without endorsing it.

Conclusion

House of the Dragon is a brutally fantastic return to the world of Game of Thrones. The series features everything we loved about Game of Thrones with a new, exciting, and oftentimes uncomfortable story. HBO successfully keeps the same esthetic and visual tone of the world of Westeros and recaptures it in House of the Dragon. The series even doubles down on the connection between the two series by utilizing the same iconic musical theme from Game of Thrones during its episodes’ introduction. Though there are some slight differences, this leaves no doubt these two shows occur within the same world.

Similarly to Game of Thrones, the performances from this amazing cast highlight the series. Notable performances from Milly Alocock, Matt Smith, Paddy Considine, Eva Best, Olivia Cooke, Emily Carey, and Emma D’Arcy drive the series forward and makes the audience hang on every spoken and unspoken word. The series directing and writing propels the plot forward at a steady and determined pace. At no point is there a lull in the momentum of the plot. The series is perfectly paced. In fact, it’s during its quietest moments that House of the Dragon thrusts its story forward. The series is full of over-the-top gratuitous violence, disturbing body horror, and uncomfortable sexual situations and imagery which can be a huge turn-off to those sensitive to these themes. For those who can stomach it, House of the Dragon is a brilliantly directed and expertly performed series worthy of being the successor to Game of Thrones.

The Bottom Line

 

House of the Dragon is an epic in scope, brilliantly vibrant, and brutally worthy successor to Game of Thrones that will have you at the edge of your seat.

 

9

Noel Davila

Noel is a writer, performer, and Podcaster based out of the New York City area. With a background in acting, theater arts, years of stage and screen writing, composing and scoring utilizing his skills as a singer song writer, Noel looks to be an all around creator in the arts. Many of the films Noel has written have been selected and featured at a number of Film Festivals including The New York International Film Festival, The Hudson Valley Film Festival, The Art is Alive Film Festival, ect and have gone on to be nominated and awarded for multiple awards including "Best Comedy Short" ,"Best Of", "Best make up", ect. Noel continues to perform live original music all across New York City

2 Comments

  1. paul trade on December 13, 2022 at 7:49 am

    Thank you for this amazing informative blog that is exactly what I’m searching for how to watch House of Dragon in Ireland.

  2. Peter Phillips on November 3, 2022 at 2:03 pm

    You would think a purportedly Christian site would have a more Christian take on this show.

    The world Martin wrote is nothing but a fetish filled fantasy exploring, and often times celebrating every human passion that afflicts our earthly flesh. There are no redeeming qualities of this work.

    At it’s worst it is a Skittles porno celebrating debauchery and gratuitous acts of violence that leaves even professional butchers with a bad taste in their mouths. At its best it is a shining example of every evil, self-indulgent impulse that seizes the human soul when they are pitted against one another in a race to the top of their secular ‘throne’ to be worshiped and glorified as a god, answering to none above.

    I was also saddened to read the very modernist take on the feminist issue. As if the Bible has nothing to say about the proper ordering of the world He created. Stop pushing this ‘women must become men’ ideology, you are doing no one any favours. This show disspells with the ideal modest, feminine, life-giving beauty; replacing it with the greedy, masculine, life-destroying, usurping sex doll.

    Everything about the world Martin wrote is misaligned. INCLUDING the enjoyment of indulging in it. And that’s what this show is: Revelling in every passion afflicting Man. Titillation. Masturbation.

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