This story was first published on 26 August 2022.
Game Of Thrones’ (GoT) prequel House Of The Dragon (HotD) finally aired its pilot this August, receiving overwhelmingly good reception from fans of the first series, as well as fresh audiences and critics.
Interestingly enough, the hype surrounding House Of The Dragon wasn’t as huge prior to the pilot release. Much of it can be attributed to the negative reception of Game Of Thrones’ final season, which aired in 2019. Both series are based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Fire And Ice books.
Despite the growing popularity of the series, however, it's been recently reported that one of the showrunners, Miguel Sapochnik, decided to exit the series' hands-on production, leaving co-creator Ryan Condal to solely man the fort. Still, Sapochnik will remain as one of the series' executive producers and will be replaced by fellow GoT veteran Alan Taylor. Sapochnik is most known to Game of Thrones' fans as the man behind some of the first series' most iconic episodes such as Hardhome and Battle of the Bastards.
House Of The Dragon plot and cast
The House Of The Dragon storyline is set 174 years prior to the birth of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) who is one of GoT’s most prominent characters. As the title suggests, the events of the series focus on the Targaryens (a.k.a. the legendary dragonriders among all of Westeros) and their rule over the Seven Kingdoms.
The story starts with a brief history lesson on how the Targaryens started ruling the Seven Kingdoms through their great ancestor Aegon The Conqueror. Aegon’s grandson, Jaeherys I, who later became king, was faced with the dilemma of not being able to produce an heir. Jaeherys I ended up choosing between his granddaughter Rhaenys and his grandson Viserys (Paddy Considine). Guided by a patriarchal council, Jaeherys I chose Viserys.
Fast forward to Viserys’ reign as king, he is faced with the same problem. His wife Queen Aemma (Sian Brooke) died from childbirth along with their newborn son, leaving him with only his daughter Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock). A new council forms to discuss the issue of Viserys’ succession, with divided opinions on whether Rhaenyra or Viserys’ brother Daemon (Matt Smith) be named heir.
Rhaenyra, this series’ protagonist, seems to mirror Daenerys (at least before GoT butchered her character). The princess is ambitious, spunky, and smart, as well as a great dragonrider. She recognises her limitations as a woman in the current system and wants to ‘create a new world order’ if given the chance.
Meanwhile, Daemon, is the city’s Commander of the City Watch. Despite this, he’s seen often lounging around the brothels on several occasions, avoiding council meetings, and showing his yearning to sit on the Iron Throne when King Viserys is away. In one occasion, Daemon and his guards went to ‘have their fun’ by brutally harassing and killing random people on the street. This behaviour infuriated Viserys, as well as the Hand of the King, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans).
After much deliberation given current circumstances, Viserys decided that the best person for the throne is Rhaenyra. He names her his heir, sharing the secret that only those in succession of the throne must know: according to a prophecy, a Targaryen must always sit on the Iron Throne. This same prophecy is also the one that Daenerys believed in throughout her entire quest during GoT, making things go full circle as the pilot episode of HotD wrapped up.
House Of The Dragon review: the good
1. It effectively brought back the GoT fever
Despite the many reservations we’ve had about this instalment considering the not-so-good delivery of Game Of Thrones’ final season, House Of The Dragon definitely reignited the excitement we once felt for the first series. It’s political, intriguing, and well, it’s not short on majestic dragons, which all felt equally familiar yet refreshing for former GoT fans.
Kenneth, a fan of George R.R. Martin’s books who’s also seen the first series, shared that he’s “glad the producers decided on a prequel because it’s always great to know more history of the Houses and characters.”
Meanwhile, Senior Features Writer Therese, who used to be a fan of the GoT franchise but was disappointed with how it ended, was intrigued by HotD’s plot after researching it for a story. Upon watching the pilot, she expressed being pleased with how it mostly turned out.
“It’s like Succession (an HBO dramedy starring Jeremy Strong) but with dragons,” she shared.
Creative Lead Laura, who was also a fan of the first series, found House Of The Dragon to be perfectly pleasing as well.
“It was a good pilot so I’m really looking forward to seeing how the whole season pans out,” she said.
2. The main female characters are treated more lovingly and fairly (to some extent) compared to Game Of Thrones
While the Game Of Thrones pilot focused more on the male characters of the show, House Of The Dragon highlighted more of the female characters. It focused on their ambitions, dreams, and loving relationships without antagonising their identities, as compared to the extreme contrasts represented by Sansa and Arya or Catelyn and Cersei in the earlier seasons of Game Of Thrones.
For example, Rhaenyra and Alicent (Olivia Cooke)’s friendship was portrayed healthily (at least for now), despite their contrasting personalities. Rhaenyra never asked Alicent to be more like her and vice versa. Women were represented in different lights in the beginning of this series and all of them are shown to be more than just side-pieces to their male counterparts.
3. The House Of The Dragon pilot presented hope for more — and better — diverse casting
As compared to Game Of Thrones where people of colour (PoC) were only cast as lower class characters, House Of The Dragon presented hope in better diverse casting by having PoC characters in power-driven and influential roles. The prime example is Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Touissant) who is part of the king’s council. Other PoC characters coming from rich and powerful clans were also seen in the tourney sequence, suggesting that we might see more of these
This casting has caused some backlash since people questioned the ‘accuracy’ of having people of colour in powerful positions in the government in what they consider to be a ‘period piece’. But honestly, in a series where dragons and ice zombies exist, we never really understood why the idea of having PoC characters in the plot is viewed ridiculous that it only happened in this prequel rather than the main series.
While it’s too early to tell if these moments in the pilot are simply a case of tokenism or an actual step to further diversify the cast, we’re hoping it’s more of the latter.
House Of The Dragon review: the not-so-great
1. The CGI’s too… CGI
Now, we know that there are no dragons in real life so some computer magic was definitely used in this series (shocker!). But it’s not the dragons that are the problem; it’s the sets. As compared to Game Of Thrones where the sets combine real filming locations in Spain or Croatia, House Of The Dragon looks like a video game. It’s not that bad and it doesn’t really affect the storyline overall, but if you’re very particular about the immersive experience of the series, there’s something about the graphics that is a bit distracting.
We totally understand, of course, that limitations due to the pandemic might’ve caused accessibility issues to more filming locations. But we hope that as the series goes along, this minor issue gets addressed so that the believable world-building we oh-so-loved about Game Of Thrones translates to House Of The Dragon as well.
2. The unnecessary violence
If unnecessary sex scenes were big on Game Of Thrones, House Of The Dragon may foreseeably bank on unnecessary violence for its filler scenes or character arc building. In the pilot alone, we got a taste of Daemon’s mindless assault and killing spree, as well as the gruesome death of Queen Aemma on her birthing bed.
While both are somehow important to the storyline, the way it was presented felt overly glorified. And yes, the GoT universe has always been filled with blood and gore, but we only hope to see it in a political context and not just purely out of whim.
When and where to watch House Of The Dragon
House Of The Dragon currently airs on HBO and streams on HBO Max with new episodes every Monday, 9AM (SGT).
(Cover photo from: @houseofthedragonhbo)
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