House of the Dragon: Battle of… the Same House?
Everyone has a fictional TV universe they can lose themselves in. Whether the power dynamics and schemes of political dramas do it for you, or you’re more of a fantasy fanatic like me, we all get our television fixes somewhere. For me personally, Game of Thrones scratches my itch for TV fiction like nothing else.
If you’re not familiar with George R. R. Martin’s literary universe, he wrote a book series called “A Song of Ice and Fire.” The television series Game of Thrones was adapted from its pages. The show is about families competing for a seat on the throne of Westeros, trying to stay in power, and inevitably losing their throne to another family, as you might gather from the name. Martin later wrote a prequel to his book series called Fire & Blood, chronologizing the legacy of the ruling Targareyan house, and the 2022 TV series House of the Dragon was adapted from this prequel. It is an effort put forth by writer and producer Ryan Condal, in collaboration with former Game of Thrones producer Miguel Sapochnik.
What makes Game of Thrones so great was the richness and jubilant rapport of its characters, the wayward adventures in its outlandish lands, and of course, the clever humor which undercuts the narrative’s violence. You may wonder what House of the Dragon possesses from this list. Uh… well, they’ve got dragons if that counts for anything. But not much else.
My partner and I initially debated whether viewers were supposed to like the characters in House of the Dragon. Neither of us could find a friend in any of the characters we met in the show’s first couple of episodes. Protagonist Rhaenyra, a wild sexually mischievous princess, seemed too angsty and self-involved to reach either of us in a substantial way. She wasn’t likable whatsoever. Meanwhile, the supposed mighty king of Westeros, Viserys Targaryen, whined about anything his advisors brought to his attention and he managed to avoid making decisions of any consequence.
Granted, Game of Thrones had unrelatable, despicable characters. Cersei Lannister, a queen bitch, was hated far and wide by GoT fans because her character was so good at being bad. Perhaps the biggest villain six episodes into House of the Dragon is Queen Alicent Hightower, whose fear of her sons losing their claim to the throne and being ousted from power drives just about every choice she makes. Sure, her character acts somewhat predictably, but the clash between Queen Alicent’s traditional values and Princess Rhaenyra’s free-spirited lifestyle is quite intriguing. Apparently, not everyone in Westeros thinks it’s okay if the princess passes her three children off as belonging to her husband, even though they bear a striking resemblance to the commander of the king’s guard.
Maybe it’s a me thing, but I need to be rooting for at least one character if I’m going to invest myself in a TV show. House of the Dragon tends to kill off characters before you even get to know them and decide whether or not you like them. Harwin Strong (Rhaenyra’s lover and the likely father to her children) was introduced in episode six. This followed a ten-year jump in time from episode five. In the span of this one episode, Hawrin teaches his sons how to be men. He shows them how to sword fight and he treats their mother with respect. This father figure, who the audience just started to get to know, perishes in a fire by the end of the episode. There is a lot of information from the Fire & Blood prequel that the show writers need to cover. There is no doubt about that. But it’s impossible to care about the death of a character when we’ve known them for literally one episode.
By the fourth episode of House of the Dragon, I found myself wondering why I was still watching. What storyline was I waiting to see unfold? This is a show about a single family: the Targaryens. There are no side quests into the harsh, frozen land beyond the wall, voyages to foreign places across the narrow sea, or tales of the slums of Westeros’ capital city. Call me picky about my fantasy TV, but House of the Dragon is supremely boring in comparison to Game of Thrones. Everything that happens in the show can be tied back to drama the Targaryans create for themselves— within the walls of their castle. So what satisfaction do I gain from continuing to watch House of the Dragon? Next to none. House of the Dragon is an overhyped prequel series that is so dramatic and slow-moving that it’s akin to pulling teeth. The show pales in comparison to my beloved Game of Thrones. And yet, like so many fans, I’m on a witch hunt for whatever scraps of entertainment I can get my hands on that vaguely allows me to re-live the elaborate fictional universe created by George R. R. Martin.
If you’re someone who is fascinated by family drama tinged with a hint of incest, I would highly recommend that you give House of the Dragon a watch. But if you’re someone who watched Game of Thrones and was impressed by the journeys of characters blurring the lines between innocence and evil and starting wars to defend their honor, don’t bother with House of the Dragon. Just watch Game of Thrones again. Or better yet, tune in to Rings of Power— a TV series that actually lives up to the beauty of its original literary source.House of the Dragon fans, I understand why you want to like this show. It feels good to be back in Westeros watching status-hungry houses vie for the seven kingdoms like in the good old days when Game of Thrones was still airing. Besides, it would be hypocritical of me to say that I “hate the show.” After all, I still tune in every Sunday to watch it. In fact, I think last week’s action-packed seventh episode was a satisfying culmination of season one’s humdrum, soapy plot line. But in the end, House of the Dragon is a TV summary of two hundred years of the fast-forwarded historical background to set you up for the real deal: Game of Thrones.