'House Of The Dragon' review: Everything you hoped a 'Game of Thrones' show would be


'You heard that wrong. I'm Prince Daemon, not Daemon Prince. This is NOT Warhammer 40,000. But ooh, I'm grimdark too.' Photos: Handout

Being in the viewer segment that pretty much loathed the illogical abruptness of Game Of Thrones' (GOT) final few episodes, I was quickly won over by the deliberate, measured plotting and subtly engineered dramatic tension of House Of The Dragon (HOTD).

This prequel series based on a portion of author George R.R. Martin's 2018 work Fire & Blood is set well over a century before the birth of GOT (anti)heroine Daenerys Targaryen.

And yes, from the series' name, you know it's all about that volatile, mercurial clan that once commanded dragons and held sway over Westeros – the Targaryens.

Judging from the first batch of episodes made available to the media ahead of its Aug 21 premiere, HOTD more than makes up for any ire fans may have over its precursor's wrap-up.

Besties, worsties or frenemies? Only time and GRRM's wicked plot twists will tell.Besties, worsties or frenemies? Only time and GRRM's wicked plot twists will tell.

The new series opens during the reign of King Viserys I Targaryen (a marvellous Paddy Considine), a kind if distant ruler troubled by his possible legacy of peace ("What songs will they sing of me?" he confides to his Hand of the King at one point).

His reptile-eyed brother Daemon (Matt Smith, excelling at creating a moral enigma) covets the throne and shows a keen devotion to his niece, Viserys' daughter Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock in her teen years, Emma D'Arcy later) – who in return seems quite captivated by the regal chap. (And all this is to pay the world back for choosing to forget that Ray Krebbs was Lucy Ewing's uncle in Dallas.)

The political intrigue in HOTD is of a slightly narrower scope than GOT, since the show focuses on one clan (albeit one whose influence has spread far and wide), but is no less intense. After all, it has family politics in the mix too, and it does not take long for blood ties to become... well, quite bloody.

Ser Criston would soon learn that if he planned to go ga-ga over a noble lady, he could really do with a poker face.Ser Criston would soon learn that if he planned to go ga-ga over a noble lady, he could really do with a poker face.

Production-wise, it's everything you would expect a show with GOT DNA to be: gorgeously staged and shot, given to startling outpourings of shock and awe, and whiplash-inducing reversals of fortune, and... erm, yes, that which must not be named.

Though HOTD will reportedly be less preoccupied with carnal pleasures than its predecessor, there are still some moments that make you wonder if the people behind it weren't aiming to make Dragonriders of Pern (only with the "e" replaced by a more rounded vowel) instead.

Thankfully, at least going by the screeners, all that carrying on is not quite as rampant and obtrusive here.

Creators Martin (himself!) and Ryan J Condal (Colony), with a team of showrunners that includes Emmy-winning director Miguel Sapochnik prefer to get on with moving the drama forward, whether it's through understated but far-reaching matrimonial arrangements, fiery (hey, dragons) battle scenes or unexpected bursts of violence with stomach-turning consequences.

So, yes, plenty of GOT DNA there. But wait, you ask, how can we get into this if we already (sort of) know how it will go?

And that's where the magic of HOTD lies, its ability to get Westeros-weary viewers invested in a prequel story despite our familiarity and (skimpy) foreknowledge.

Even as works in progress, the initial episodes show loads of savvy in leveraging on that same familiarity to draw us in: a snatch of familiar music, the dropping of a name or surname, the organising of a wedding (never a good idea in this setting)... but most of all, it's the terrific lead cast that pulls us in.

Considine, Smith and all the attendant Hands/relatives/Kingsguard aside, Alcock is perhaps most worthy of praise as the young Rhaenyra.

With more steel in her spine than there appears to be iron in the Iron Throne, Rhaenyra holds her own as a child and a girl in a man's world, often sympathetic but as fierce and impulsive as the dragon she rides – and more than capable of putting old hands at palace intrigue in their place (a true spiritual antecedent to Bella Ramsey's GOT favourite Lyanna Mormont).

Paddy Considine excels as King Viserys Targaryen.Paddy Considine excels as King Viserys Targaryen.

Through the first five episodes, Alcock not only draws our attention from the far more imposing figures around her; but in many instances, she also reverses the dragon and rider's roles by seeming to bear the weight of this mythical-beast-sized endeavour on her shoulders.

While it's left to future episodes to see if D'Arcy brings a similar scale to her portrayal of the "grown-up" Rhaenyra, the first half of this debut season belongs largely to Smith and Alcock who pull off this whole Targaryen veneer convincingly and winningly.

Blood of the dragon, indeed.


House Of The Dragon premieres Aug 22 at 9am on HBO GO. New episodes air every Monday.

8 10

Summary:

Trading up with the Targaryens

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