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House of the Dragon Season 1 Review – One of the biggest surprises of the year

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[Movie] House of the Dragon
[Movie] House of the Dragon
Game of Thrones will forever go down as one of the biggest TV disasters of all time. At its height, it was unrivalled, almost surpassing the brilliance of Breaking Bad at times. Sure, the narrative deviated from the books (where’s Lady Stoneheart?!) but largely managed to keep things tense and, more importantly, its audience hooked.

A lot of the reason Game of Thrones worked so well is because of the way it bucked the usual trends seen in fantasy. The noble, virtuous good guys weren’t necessarily safe (RIP Ned Stark) while the tumultuous realm, plunged into backstabbing powerplays, made it all the more tense because you knew the threat of the White Walkers were looming heavy over our characters. How were they to defeat them? How on earth would everyone in Westeros work together to see off this threat?

Of course, the final two seasons completely threw that out the water, with one of the worst endings to any TV show of all time.

Prequels and sequels to Game of Thrones have been on and off for a while now and when House of the Dragon was announced, with the intent of diving back hundreds of years ago to see the rise and fall of the Targaryens, many people approached with trepidation. Although a little slow and with a few problems along the way, House of the Dragon is one of the biggest surprises this year. A well written, politically charged period drama with a lick of fantasy paint for good measure; this is a surprisingly good show.

Created alongside George R.R. Martin (Because honestly, George will do anything but write Winds of Winter at this point) House of the Dragon depicts the bloody history for the Targaryens, 172 years before the birth of Daenerys Targaryen. King Viserys I is on the throne, and he’s desperate for a son to take over his succession. However, he doesn’t get one, so instead his daughter Rhaenyra grows up with the potential of inheriting the throne. That is, until Viserys marries Alicent Hightower, Rhaenyra’s good friend, and the pair have children together.

Through a number of jumps forward in time, Rhaenyra also weds, but to Lord Corlys’ son, Laenor Velaryon. With the bonds between Valeria and Targaryen strong, the attention soon turns toward the Iron Throne, and the seeds of war begin to sprout alongside Alicent and Rhaenyra’s children.

To give much more away would be a disservice to this series but suffice to say, all the usual hallmarks of George R.R. Martin’s work are present. There’s a complicated family hierarchy at play, plenty of shocks and some poetic and foreshadowed dialogue throughout.

What’s particularly great here though is how the show doesn’t treat you like an idiot. So many shows nowadays spoon-feed you exposition while character dialogue spells out exactly what people want or need in a way of keeping the audience invested. House of the Dragon however, does not. In fact, the series intentionally obfuscates much of its character motivations, leaving you to figure out what people want and desire, making for some fascinating discussions between fans.

Visually, House of the Dragon is pretty good and the series refreshingly doesn’t go all gung-ho with its dragons either. A lot of this season is shot in dark interiors and with minimalist sets, intending to build this world and the political allegiances, more so than throwing dragons into bombastic action set pieces for the sake of it. However, when the dragons do show up, it’s all the more powerful and majestic, with the sheer size and scale of these creatures jaw-droppingly at times

House of the Dragon is not without its flaws, especially when it comes to where this story ends up and the distinct lack of tension hanging in the background like Game of Thrones had. Not only that, there are a couple of logic-jumping liberties taken with different parts of the narrative, including a questionable end to episode 9 and a poorly developed early antagonist in the Crabfeeder.

House of the Dragon plays out like a very complicated fantasy period drama and if you’re looking for a fast paced action flick, you definitely won’t find that here. While it won’t make up for the ending to Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon is a fine example of a series exceeding expectations and focusing exclusively on its narrative and story beats rather than attempting to wow with flashy spectacles and empty worldbuilding (hello Rings of Power). House of the Dragon is well worth watching.