A prequel to Game of Thrones? What could go wrong?
There's no doubt that crafting a sequel to the world's biggest series is a thankless task, and it's almost impossible to imagine it living up to even half of its expectations. Despite Game of Thrones ending in 2019 with an infamous implosion of unprecedented proportions, interest in Westeros is still kept alive by an extremely passionate and active fanbase, dedicated to the source material A Song of Ice and Fire. The huge demand, combined with a sea of books yet to be adapted into films, makes it only natural that the series finds its successor just three years after its conclusion.
House of the Dragon is primarily based on George R. R. Martin's 800-page 2018 novel called Fire & Blood (popularly known as "GRRMarillion"), which, as the title suggests, deals with the history of House Targaryen. Set 200 years before Game of Thrones takes place, the series covers the final years of the Targaryen's rule before it culminates in the great civil war known as the "Dance of Dragons".
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House of the Dragon was of course developed in collaboration with the man behind the books, George R. R. Martin, and this time producer and screenwriter Ryan J. Condal. Condal is best known for the films Hercules and Rampage, both starring Dwayne Johnson, which I think speaks for itself. Stylistically, however, this isn't something that shines through in the series' first episode, which neither has The Rock on the cast list nor preaches action from start to finish. The series is very reminiscent of Game of Thrones, which attempts to blend fantasy, politics, drama, action and intrigue, albeit at a slightly slower pace.
The first episode deals primarily with King Viserys I Targaryen, his daughter Rhaenyra, the king's brother Daemon, Otto Hightower, who is the Hand of the King, and the Hand's daughter Alicent. The series is therefore more streamlined than Game of Thrones, where the focus shifted more between families and characters from all over Westeros. While on paper this sounds like a passable decision, it unfortunately results in neither interest nor excitement being established over trying to guess how the different narratives will potentially be tied together and who will meet who. Therefore, the future seems more predictable, at least at this stage when no mysteries are introduced. A slow pace fused with a streamlined focus results in an episode that feels incredibly drawn out and pointless. The episode lasts 65 minutes, but it's hard to fathom why it wasn't possible to get there in half that time.
The cast is largely made up of unfamiliar faces, save for a few, including the Hand of the King, Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill, The Amazing Spider-Man) and Matt Smith (the 11th Doctor Who, Morbius), who portrays the King's brother Daemon. The decision to use a relatively unestablished cast definitely introduces more uncertainty as to who will survive in the end, which is appreciated. Unfortunately, the two aforementioned actors draw some focus from the remaining cast. Additionally, the costumes are of varying quality, with some armour appearing cheap. On the other hand, as expected, the series is incredibly visually impressive; there are, like Game of Thrones, countless admirable shots of both CGI dragons, buildings and landscapes that, only because they are too beautiful to exist, seem inauthentic. Likewise, the soundtrack is outstanding, albeit often borrowing more than a few stanzas from the original background music, no doubt to cash in on some nostalgia from the original series.
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As first mentioned, it is difficult to see a possibility of the series being able to reach the heights of Game of Thrones. Currently, I'm a tad disappointed with how similar the series tries to be to its predecessor, both in its set-up of upcoming disagreements and romances but likewise the build-up of plot across not just episodes but seasons. The plot feels recognisable and predictable, which is immensely disappointing given the many pages of intricate source material almost begging to be adapted to TV. I fear that like the later seasons of Game of Thrones, some complexity and nuance will be lost in the translation from page to screen.
Of course, it's early to judge the series completely after only the first hour, and I sincerely hope that future episodes play out differently than expected. In any case, I eagerly await to be proven wrong and watch the series escalate and develop in new directions from the next episode.
House of the Dragon has its premiere on Monday, August 22 for those in the UK, and will continue on a weekly basis until all 10 episodes, of approximately 60 minutes-duration, have debuted.