'House of the Dragon' review: Deliciously complex writing makes this first season a winner

A large table, on which is engraved a map of the landmarks and the many houses of the realm, stands in the centre of a royal hall in Dragonstone.

Published: 26th October 2022 11:15 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th October 2022 11:57 AM   |  A+A-

Poster of the English TV series 'House of the Dragon'. (Photo | Twitter/House of the Dragon)

Poster of the English TV series 'House of the Dragon'. (Photo | Twitter/House of the Dragon)

Express News Service

A large table, on which is engraved a map of the landmarks and the many houses of the realm, stands in the centre of a royal hall in Dragonstone. It’s a table that has been used by the likes of Stannis Baratheon, Daenerys Targaryen, and Jon Snow in Game of Thrones.

House of the Dragon, set hundreds of years before the events of Game of Thrones, shows the same table being used by Daenerys’ ancestor Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy). When Rhaenyra’s claim to the throne is challenged by her best friend-turned-foe, Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), she counsels her people on what can be done.

In tradition with Targaryen practices, a fire is lit below the table, setting alight each of the striking places engraved on it. It’s almost a precursor for the war that seems imminent, for the fire that the many dragons of the land are sure to unleash. These little touches make HOD a worthy spinoff.

The big challenge for this series was to shake off the underwhelming final season of GoT and convince us to invest once again in new characters. A few episodes in, we feel right at home, involved in the complicated machinations of the Targaryen family.

The success of this first season can be attributed to its faithfulness to George RR Martin’s novel, and the writer’s own involvement with this series in which he is credited as an Executive Producer as well.

HOD makes us privy to the genesis of a series of events--with the Targaryen civil war of succession being the primary focus. While GoT largely spanned a few years of events, HOD’s timeline spans almost three decades—right from Viserys (Paddy Considine) being crowned the king to his death which sparks unrest in the kingdom.

Despite this series set many hundreds of years before the events of GoT, it’s admirable that the writers speak up for the women in the show, with two of them—Alicent Hightower and Rhaenyra Targaryen—fighting in their own ways against the patriarchal set-up.

The chain of events is also fascinatingly cyclical. For instance, princess Rhaenys Targaryen, who was supposed to be crowned queen, gets passed over in favour of her younger cousin Viserys, on account of her gender. Viserys later crowns his daughter Rhaenyra as his successor, only for the plot to thicken when Rhaenyra’s best friend Alicent ends up marrying Viserys and birthing sons.

Much like in GoT, in which women like Daenerys, Cersei, Arya and Sansa are such key players, here, Alicent and Rhaenyra—two women with contrasting backgrounds, beliefs and ideologies—pull the strings.

Rhaenyra, aware of her royal blood and the responsibilities that come with it, is a free-spirited independent woman, while Alicent is a meeker, god-fearing daughter of Ser Otto Hightower, the Hand of the King. Starting as pawns for the men, the two grow up to be strong individuals who learn how to manoeuvre the very ropes that bind them.

These aren’t women who are eager to kill; neither are they motivated to crush enemies. They are simply two friends who have no choice but to live as women sculpted by their respective fathers. As Cersei says in GoT, “When you play the game of thrones, you win, or you die.” By the end of Season 1, Rhaenyra and Alicent both become acutely aware of this.

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Terrific performances are among the foremost pleasures of HOD Season 1. While Cooke and D’Arcy’s constantly walk the thin line between self-preservation and friendship, Paddy Considine deserves plenty of recognition for the way in which he plays Viserys, the peace-loving, emaciated king. Not far behind is the eccentric yet fierce Daemon played by Doctor Who-fame Matt Smith. HOD is sure to be a strong contender at the next Emmys.

As for GoT fans, references to the Song of Ice and Fire prophecy and the ‘prince that was promised’ are sure to be a treat. Gratuitous nudity and violence, that GoT was often known for, are dialled down here. Perhaps the biggest problem is how unlike in GoT, we don’t get invested in many secondary characters. In fact, by the end of Season 1, I wasn’t even sure I could remember the names of some important secondary characters.

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On the whole, House of the Dragon is an excellent spinoff that pays tribute to the Game of Thrones world, while forging its own identity. The second season might not be out till 2024—which unfortunately is a long wait.

But given the developments of Season 1 and how minor changes from the novel have been implemented already, many surprises are sure to be in store for even those who have read the books. Team Alicent has the upper hand right now, given that her son has been crowned the new king and enjoys the support of many prominent houses.

Team Rhaenyra, however, cannot be underestimated, given all the dragons at their disposal. The battle lines have been drawn, both houses are ready to face off, and as for us, well, we can’t wait for the imminent dance of the dragons.

House of the Dragon

Showrunners: Ryan J Condal, Miguel Sapochnik
Cast: Olivia Cooke, Emma D’Arcy, Paddy Considine, 
Matt Smith, Rhys Ifans
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
Rating: 4/5


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