This review contains spoilers for House of the Dragon, to read last week’s review, please click here.
It is undeniable how culturally impactful Game of Thrones is to television. The rise in fantasy-set television series is an aftermath of the mid-2010s craze of the George RR Martin epic. Now with a prequel series set in the same world as the cultural zeitgeist – focusing on the Targaryen’s (DRAGONS) – it would feel refreshing to return to a world once beloved by many. But as House of the Dragon barrels on, the show continues to rely on it’s predecessor rather than giving us something new. Introductions to new characters in the world once thoroughly established in Game of Thrones is refreshing to an extent. However, it isn’t giving these characters anything new to play with. While I don’t think this is a bad show by any stretch, it’s treading familiar water with a couple more dragons and Matt Smith.
Episode 4 of House of the Dragon follows the return of Daemon after four years of banishment (Uh Oh!). In episode 3, Daemon finished some war that didn’t really matter with some crab people that were too interesting to flesh out (keeping the tradition of season 8 of Game of Thrones). Daemon tries to play the matured younger brother to the king while also making inappropriate advances with his niece (Sweeeeeet Home Alabama!). Otto Hightower hears about it and tells the king, even though he had placed spies on Rhaenyra in an attempt to discredit her. King gets mad, “you dirty dawg Otto, you were playing game of throne with me!”, then gave him the royal boot of social descension.
As of right now, House of the Dragon is playing too hard on political games. While we don’t need a reintroduction to Westeros, it’s a little odd to go straight back into it given how we last saw it. Playing coy after offering an abysmally rushed final two seasons for Game of Thrones isn’t fair to the viewer. We don’t know these characters, and ramming them into “the game” doesn’t allow us anytime to grow any attachment. Furthermore, the actresses for Alicent and Rhaenyra are going to change in future episodes. Pushing us further away from becoming connected with these characters. To an extent, these first few episodes of House of the Dragon feels more like the obligatory set up before getting to the good stuff.
This episode is shown through the lens of Rhaenyra. However, the show never made an attempt to make her story the forefront. Rather, she is a vehicle for the audience to observe the events. The irony of this is that it’s trying to make a claim about misogyny and how deep it runs historically. But, this episode primarily follows the events of Viserys, Otto, and Daemon. Yes, we did have a scene where Rhaenyra was deciding between suitors and sex scene between her and her guard. Then any event afterwards follows the greater picture of the King and his cohorts.
As of right now the only major item of concern is the king’s title. There is no greater threat looming, just political games and fielding suitors. Viserys isn’t particularly interesting, he just kind of exists. He seems to be too naïve as to how the game of thrones is played. If you watched Game of Thrones, you know that if you don’t play the game of thrones, you die. Once Viserys eventually dies, where do we go from here? We have no sense of direction to go off of.
In the first episode of Game of Thrones, we were introduced to the white walker threat and the Lannisters. A good foundation was laid, allowing curiosity to guide us to what’s next. “Oh, so we finished this portion of the Lannisters, now what’s happening with the white walkers!” With House of the Dragon we’re all just awaiting for what’s immediately next. Which isn’t bad for most shows, but for a Game of Thrones prequel a good offering as to what’s to come will be more engaging and exciting.
There is much to love with House of the Dragon. The set and costume design is near impeccable (just like Game of Thrones). The dialogue is crisp and fluid (just like Game of Thrones). And the more menacing characters, in this case Matt Smith as Daemon, really drive the show (just like Game of Thrones). With that said, how much can House of the Dragon rely on Game of Thrones? The high-quality-Game of Thrones depraved audience will only give so much before they check out. It’s been done before, and as of episode 4 – it’s been done better.
Maybe I’m a little too harsh on House of the Dragon at the present moment. Hell, even the recently finished Better Call Saul had an okay start. And Better Call Saul turned into an incredible show. I have no doubts House of the Dragon can attain to those same heights, but what differentiates Better Call Saul from it is that it was about an unfamiliar Saul Goodman. House of the Dragon is playing the same tricks with the same cards. If we continue to tread old water I hope that we can at least get a heads up for when the show goes south (just like Game of Thrones). – Jacob Mauceri
House of the Dragon is currently streaming on HBO Max. New episodes air Sundays at 9 pm EST.