Never has a series been more scrutinised than HBO’s A Game of Thrones. Not only did it bring dark medieval fantasy into the mainstream, a feat unimaginable before 2011, but it also became the hottest show on television for close to a decade. Now prequel series House of the Dragon is upon us, it’s hard not to reflect on those later seasons that left more than a handful disenchanted, and moreover, wonder whether House of the Dragon can reignite the fanfare.
House of the Dragon – episode one: Heirs of the Dragon
After a quick history lesson, House of the Dragon–or Hot D, as George R R Martin called it on his blog–brings terse small council drama back to the fore. A Game of Thrones was often at its best when character conflict and scheming were on screen, and the writers here seem to have taken note.
This time around, Matt smith’s incredible Daemon Targaryen is the fox in the hen house that has everyone talking, whispering and plotting. He’s at odds with the King’s Hand, Otto Hightower, and the tension between them builds throughout the episode. The seeds of a great rivalry are planted here.
Fire and Blood
A focus on interpersonal drama doesn’t mean the series’ more salacious elements have been left out. Brothels, betrayals, blood and CGI dragons are aplenty. In this regard, fans of the original series will be pleased that Hot D is in keeping with the spirit of its predecessor. It feels like A Game of Thrones in all the correct ways.
Queen consort Aemma Arryn is pregnant. King Viserys wants a male heir, but until now his wife hasn’t succeeded in providing him with one. If you’ve read anything of history, this should sound familiar. However, Viserys is convinced that this time is different. Aemma will give him a healthy boy, he knows it.
The next scene cuts between Aemma giving birth and the bloody jousting tournament King Viserys has thrown in his son’s honour. The celebration is premature. We’re treated with the horrific sight of Aemma’s belly being cut open to save the baby. Alas, both mother and child die.
This secures Daemon’s position as heir to the throne. However, when he is spied celebrating his nephew’s death, King Viserys is moved to break with tradition and name his daughter, Rhaenyra, as his sole heir. Furthermore, Daemon is near-exiled.
Episode one sets the tone masterfully. We know who the principal characters are and how they have come to be rivals. Some are willing enemies, such as Daemon and Otto. Others will be reluctant enemies, such as Daemon and Rhaenyra.
If I had one criticism, it would be that I haven’t warmed to Milly Alcock’s Rhaenyra Targaryen yet. She feels a little contrived, the lovechild of season 1 Arya Stark and Daenerys Targaryen. That said, she is merely a passenger at this stage in the story and could quickly become a favourite when she starts playing “the game of thrones”.(4 / 5)