Despite your stance when it comes to the divisive and much maligned final season of Game Of Thrones, the show as a whole changed the landscape of both cinematic television and mainstream fantasy for good. For that, us nerds and high fantasy enthusiasts owe Game Of Thrones, and the creative team behind it, a great debt. In setting fire to the old ways of predictable story-telling and the formulaic heroic-deaths-for-heroic-characters model, it paved the way for House Of The Dragon. Though a more focussed and hushed affair with the Westerosi monarch, King Viserys (Paddy Considine), and his closest advisors debating the ins and outs of his succession, it still bears all the hallmarks of what made GoT so successful. Cue conspiracy, intrigue, betrayal and no small degree of violence.
Of the many things it borrows from its predecessor (not least of which, the iconic opening theme and a lesser, highly derivative credit sequence) House Of The Dragon fully embraces the steady pacing, a welcome influence. The politics and plotting running throughout, ebbing and flowing in their potential consequences, are developed incrementally, even spanning large time-jumps in the show’s chronology. This model makes up most of this first season – simmering resentment, shadowy conspiracies and swelling pressure among our key characters, very reminiscent of early GoT. Not to say that action and spectacle are absent entirely, but those moments are seldom, a product of the precision and care being taken over the re-telling of George R. R. Martin’s book Fire & Blood.
The acting across the board is solid and, in some cases, shining. Considine, (in what could be the performance of his career) inhabits a dying king magnificently and injects an unexpected level of humanity to the character, something Martin himself said wasn’t nearly as present in the book. Milly Alcock and Emily Carey play Viserys’ daughter and wife respectively and perform well as the show’s emotional anchors in the early episodes. But after a time-jump, they are replaced by Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke who’s age and experience sets them apart and infuses the show with a much needed intensity as their characters attempt to decipher one another’s intentions. An enigmatic Matt Smith plays Visery’s volatile brother Daemon and is one of the show’s more unpredictable and temperamental characters. It’s just a shame he can’t pull off a blonde wig if his life depended on it.
As expected, the set design and costuming is impeccable and Westeros has never looked so good, although we only get to see a small corner of it due to the intimate nature of the story. Frustratingly, there are still a few blemishes when it comes to the green screening of dragon riders, which was a significant flaw in GoT, one that you would hope would have been addressed. The dodgy compositing is less egregious but still, with a budget of roughly 20 million dollars per episode, it should be spot on. The Dragons themselves look stunning however and where in GoT Daenerys’s three children all look more or less the same, differing only in colour and size, HotD has clearly spent time and money on the creature design, making each of the many dragons that appear in the show, distinct.
Ruling – If you liked Game of Thrones, you’ll like House of the Dragon. It’s a lesser show, with a shallower bench of compelling characters, but enough to sustain interest. And for those of you who want more Westerosi carnage and betrayal, then fear not you’ll get your fix – by all accounts, Season 1 is but the tip of the iceberg in that respect.