HOUSE OF THE DRAGON is a series I have a lot of mixed feelings on, mostly positive, but some negative. I was supporting an adaptation of the Dance of the Dragons from the very beginning. It’s one of the most important events of Westeros’ history as well as one of the few periods with as much intrigue as well as (to be honest) trashy relationships to make a series. I not just loved it from FIRE AND BLOOD but THE WORLD OF FIRE AND ICE as well as the two novellas (“The Princess and the Queen”, “The Rogue Prince”) that I read long before this. I think it could have easily been a fantastic seven season series.
Sadly, it’s going to be a three- or four-season series. This is something I will bring up as the biggest weakness of House of Dragons in that this show really runs past its most interesting concepts. The first eight episodes go through about twenty years of time with barely a moment to pause for breath. We could have easily spent two or three seasons dealing with just the build-up to the Dance with non-book fangs strung along by things like Criston Cole/Rhaenyra, Laena the Dragon Rider, and the shocking swerve of Laenor being gay.
I am not going to complain too much about the wasted opportunities, though, because I am so glad to have George R.R. Martin’s work once more onscreen. In the end, I believe fidelity to his source material is the primary source for the success of HBO’s fantasy milleu. When they stick close to the source material, they succeed and when they drift apart, they fail. I may think there’s some places they can and did improve on George’s work (I think the Velaryon race lift was brilliant and also appreciated the changes to good king Viserys) but really it’s the added fidelity to the source material that made HOTD stand above the final seasons of Game of Thrones.
The premise for those who haven’t experienced the joys of the show is that it is 400 years before the events of Game of Thrones. King Viserys (Paddy Considine) is the monarch of Westeros after being selected as heir despite his older cousin, Rhaenys, having her own claim. He is a mediocre man, easily led around by his Hand, and Small Council. Events lead him to remove his brother, Daemon (Matt Smith), from the line of succession for his daughter, Rhaenyra (Mily Alcock and Emma D’Arcy).
This is already a big issue for the patriarchal sexist culture of Westeros but becomes even worse when Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) and his daughter, Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey and Olivia Cooke), scheme to place the king’s later-born son, Aegon II, on the throne. In the show but not the book, Alicent and Rhaenyra begin as good friends. What follows is essentially ten episodes of palace intrigue, marriages, deaths, and other business that leads to them being on opposite sides of a civil war.
There’s a lot to recommend about the show and I would love to give this a ten out of ten. But I can’t help but feel like it is “yada-yada-ing” past the good parts. The effects are great, the acting is good, and the dragons are dragons. The sets and costuming is a step up from Game of Thrones as well. I’m not here for the CGI dragons but I’m not-not here for the dragons if you catch my drift.
Some of the characters suffered from changes in the books as Alicent Hightower’s literary straightforward scheming evil matriarch bears little resemblance to the show’s woman who just wants to do the right thing yet keeps making the worst possible decisions. Daemon also seems to zigzag from being a complete monster to someone showing a good deal more humanity. Other characters, like Mysaria, just get stuck with outrageously bad directing. Seriously, who gave her that accent versus asking her to speak with her normal one? Others get expanded on like Laenor being a badass warrior AND gay.
Still, overall, it was a victim of its own premise. They didn’t want to commit the time needed to developing the drama and inter-family rivalries that the material warranted. They wanted to jump to the war directly and I’m of the mind that is the least interesting part of the story. The characters also suffered a bit for the fact they needed to be antagonistic yet not hate one another when one or the other would be much better.