‘House of the Dragon’ Season 1 review: A grand, breathtaking prequel to ‘Game of Thrones’

The ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel has a riveting storyline, awe-inspiring visuals, toned-down gore...and breathtaking dragons!

Published - October 25, 2022 04:23 pm IST

A still from ‘House of the Dragon’

A still from ‘House of the Dragon’ | Photo Credit: HBO

What a jaw-dropping ending to the action and emotion-packed final episode of the first season of House of the Dragon! All who smugly claim knowledge of George R. R. Martin’s Fire & Blood, the book the show is based on (including yours truly), have learnt to their chagrin that a character surviving in the book does not ensure their survival in the show... and vice-versa.

Based 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones (172 years before the birth of Daenerys), House of Dragon recounts the events of the ‘Dance of the Dragons’, which is the civil war that happened within House Targaryen. The climax scene in the finale makes even more sense when you consider this Danse Macabre.

House of the Dragon
Season: 1
Episodes: 10
Runtime: 54 to 68 minutes
Creators: Ryan Condal, George R. R. Martin, Miguel Sapochnik
Cast: Paddy Considine, Matt Smith, Olivia Cooke, Emma D'Arcy, Rhys Ifans, Steve Toussaint, Eve Best, Sonoya Mizuno, Fabien Frankel, Milly Alcock, Emily Carey, Graham McTavish, Matthew Needham, Jefferson Hall, Harry Collett, Tom Glynn-Carney, Ewan Mitchell, Bethany Antonia, Phoebe Campbell, Phia Saban
Storyline: The battle lines are drawn between queen and princess

The war is between the Blacks led by Rhaenyra (Emma D'Arcy), King Viserys’ (Paddy Considine) only surviving child from his first marriage and named heir to the Iron Throne, and the Greens, led by Viserys’ second wife, Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke). There are, however, others who are moving in the shadows, and the chief among them is Alicent’s ambitious father, Ser Otto (Rhys Ifans).

Viserys’ brother, Daemon, (Matt Smith) is something of a loose cannon. A battle-hardened warrior and dragon rider, the Rogue Prince has ambitions and appetites to match his larger-than-life personality. The Sea Snake, Corlys (Steve Toussaint), and his wife Rhaenys (Eve Best), from the ancient house of Velaryon, present a claim to the Iron Throne. Rhaenys, the granddaughter of King Jaehaerys, was passed over for her younger cousin Viserys on account of her gender. With Corlys, the greatest mariner in Westerosi history, and the coming together of two ancient houses, the couple are a formidable ally or foe.

Rhaenyra’s mother, Aemma’s (Sian Brooke) words of a woman’s battlefield being the childbed, are prophetic as birth and blood make their presence felt throughout the show. The first sight we have of an older Rhaenyra is as she is giving birth to her third son. Her marriage to Laenor (John Macmillan), son of Corlys and Rhaenys, is one of convenience. They agree to do their duty and then “dine as they please on roast duck or goose”.

When Queen Alicent demands to see if the baby’s hair is the silver of the Targaryens, Rhaenyra goes herself immediately after delivery, bloody and sweating, reinforcing the childbed as a battlefield theme. On hearing of her father’s death and the installation of Alicent’s son and her step-brother, Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) on the throne, a heavily-pregnant Rhaenyra suffers a terrible tragedy.

The show has its fill of forbidden loves, which turn to deadly hate, secrets, spymasters, and inquisitors. Eye-wateringly good production values ensure gorgeous costumes, lush music (Ramin Djawadi reprising his role) and the now-to-be blandly expected invisible CGI. The dragons are magnificent and take one’s breath away when they take to the skies. On land, one gets a sense of their awe-inspiring majesty, covering vast swathes of the ground using a joint of their wings as knuckles.

The gore levels seem low, or it might just be that we have gotten inured to the random maiming and decapitations that Game of Thrones was famous for. In an interview, Martin said that he is interested in the untold stories of history. In Fire & Blood, we have a dry account of the history of the House Targaryen by Septon Eustace and Grand Maester Munkun, and all the spice and scandal brought in by Mushroom, a dwarf and court jester. We can assume Mushroom is providing the untold histories Martin was referring to.

Mushroom unfortunately has not made his entry into House of the Dragon and while there is swearing there is not much humour. Showrunner Ryan Condal has said in an interview that they have left the Rashomon-style narration to the book and presented a linear history of the Targaryens.

Even though there is no Mushroom, with House of the Dragon renewed for a second season, we will hopefully see more sinewy dragons as well as machinations by Prince Aemond (Ewan Mitchell), whose single sapphire (literally) eye sparkles with intelligence and mischief.

House of the Dragon is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar

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