It’s hard to deny the cultural impact of Game of Thrones. The HBO series based on the A Song of Ice and Fire novels by author George R.R. Martin premiered in 2011 and only became more popular as it went on. Its series finale aired more than three years ago, on May 19th, 2019, and the way it ended continues to be a topic of conversation from divided fans. Any prequel, sequel, or spin-off announcement brings with it doubts about how a new series will hold up to the original. The first episode of House of the Dragon suggests that this show knows just what to deliver for those who enjoyed the first series.
Devotees who have paid attention may know the history of the major dynasties of the Seven Kingdoms and which figures have already been spoken about as ancestors of the characters introduced on Game of Thrones. Less obsessive viewers will likely recognize surnames like Targaryen and Baratheon, and certainly those legendary dragons. This prequel makes sure to separate itself only in time, introduced via a narrator and a title card that sets it 172 years before the birth of Daenerys Targaryen but distinctly within the same universe.
Just as was true with the original series, it will take time to acclimate to the dense multitude of characters with long, complicated names and constantly-challenging allegiances to their relatives, friends, and enemies. The Targaryen clan are just as starkly white-haired as Daenerys and her brother were when they first debuted, and this series’ central premise is the line of succession to the throne following the reign of King Viserys (Paddy Considine), with his brother Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) believing himself to be worthy, while many in the kingdom question the possibility of Viserys, who has no sons, passing his rule to his eldest daughter, Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock).
While the pilot is missing the original show’s signature opening titles scene, which famously and impressively changed every episode, it does feature the same strong musical score. The world looks slightly different and it feels as if this is a different time – which it is – but the violence and depravity remain the same. One scene finds an enlightened pair discussing whether the impending birth of a new heir to the throne should be celebrated with bloodlust and death or whether a new tradition should be established to guide the next generation on another path. To spoil the outcome of that conversation: few people want to put away their swords and there are many brutal deaths in just the first episode alone.
Having this new series take place so much before the first means that fans won’t get to see their favorite characters again since a life that long is not one of the qualities that the original characters possess, no matter how many times they may have been reincarnated. Yet it makes sense that HBO would want to keep serving an audience hungry for an effects-heavy, immersive world, one populated by different specific characters but the same overarching story of a constant conflict among those who believe they should have dominion over the rest and seek to overthrow whoever it is who may be in power.
This cast is extremely large, so there will surely be standouts who didn’t have speaking parts in the pilot or may not even have appeared yet as this show continues airing its weekly episodes. Considine is a competent leader, and beside him, Smith chews scenery as his scheming brother and Alcock impresses as his daughter with ideas of her own about the life she wants to live. Other highlights from the ensemble include Rhys Ifans as Otto Hightower, the Hand of the King, and Emily Carey as his daughter Alicent. They serve as the primary figureheads for this show’s new mythology, one that delivers enough familiar content mixed with a new narrative that seems solidly engaging.
New episodes of House of the Dragon premiere Sundays at 9pm on HBO.