I was late to the party when it came to joining the Game of Thrones fandom. I waited to watch the series until all the seasons had finished airing, and I watched it all in one epic swoop in the summer of 2019.
The ending of HBO’s massive hit series was a little, well, controversial (to say the least). I wasn’t necessarily bothered by the story choices myself; a lot of the season eight plot twists had been spoiled for me ahead of time, and things turned out OK for many of my favorite characters (#HouseStark4ever). However, I felt that the story was undercut by the rushed and clumsy pacing of the final season, and the fantasy show didn’t end on the celebrated note upon which it had begun.
House of the Dragon is the Game of Thrones franchise’s shot at redemption, and so far, it’s been a great ride.
Prequels have a somewhat unfair reputation that they’re automatically less exciting than the original story because everyone knows how the narrative will end (i.e. we already knew Anakin Skywalker was going to be Darth Vader). However, House of the Dragon works because it’s set further in the past and features all-new characters (plus more dragons, which are always a welcome sight in any fantasy story).
To be fair, we’ve only had three episodes so far, and this could all crash and burn by the end of the season just like Daenerys’ play for the throne. But I hope not, because this is exactly the sort of high-stakes political drama in a fantasy setting that I love.
In Game of Thrones, the battles were of course epic and exciting, but what really drew me to the show was the characters and the complicated game of shifting alliances. There are plenty of intriguing players on the stage in this prequel, with my favorite so far being young Princess Rhaenyra (played by Milly Alcock). I’m disappointed the show is already planning a significant time jump, because Alcock is amazing in this role and I want to see more of her.
Although Rhaenyra begins the show as the king’s only child, the realm resists her appointment as heir because she is a female. Her father defies tradition and names her as heir, but matters are complicated when the king remarries and does have a son. Rhaenyra fears she will be cast off, her talents ignored just because she isn’t a man.
One of the other most compelling characters is Prince Daemon, the king’s brother, played by Matt Smith. Daemon is violent, petulant, haughty, and scheming — a role I never would have imagined for Smith after watching him as the Eleventh Doctor. However, Smith throws himself into this performance, and even if you’re rooting against him, he’s magnificent to watch.
Of course it’s probably too early to call it, but House of the Dragon joins Star Trek: Strange New Worlds as one of my favorite geek stories of the year so far. It’s a very promising start and I hope it will return Game of Thrones to its former level of prestige.