Considered to be one of HBO’s most popular franchises, as well as holding the number 13 spot on IMDb’s Top 250 rated TV Shows, “Game of Thrones” is a recognizable political fantasy show that captivated its audience from beginning to end. Having a combined 160 Emmy nominations and wins for its eight seasons, there is no doubt that the show was wildly successful.
Naturally, some sort of follow-up was in order. As someone who adores the fantasy politics, compelling characters and dragons of the original series, I was obviously excited for the prequel, and this will be my spoiler-free review of this highly acclaimed show.
Based on the book “Fire and Blood” by George R. R. Martin, “House of the Dragon” is the official prequel to “Game of Thrones”. It is set over 170 years before the original series takes place and follows the noble bloodline of House Targaryen, who rule the kingdom of Westeros atop dragons. The show’s protagonist is Rhaenyra Targaryen, the king’s oldest daughter. After being named heir to the throne, Rhaenyra tries to adjust to her new role in a world that does not want a woman as its ruler.
The show does a good job of following the age-old plot line in which a female character faces gender-based discrimination and rebels against societal standards. I enjoyed the fact that the show did not directly play on the trope of the female character changing herself to appear more masculine to fit the role. Rhaenyra still holds a rather feminine role as a princess, proving that it is not hard to write a strong female character while preserving her femininity, a quality that a lot of modern media fails to achieve.
Besides the beautiful dragons, my absolute favorite part of the prequel is the stellar acting, which is also one of the greatest strengths of the original series. The best actor in the show is easily Emma D’Arcy who plays the older version of Rhaenyra and, truthfully, makes the watching experience worth it. D’Arcy holds a great understanding of the inner workings of the complex character they play which makes for a truly mesmerizing performance. With every scene they were in, I knew I would be on the edge of my seat the entire time.
It is also significant that the lead actor of this show is openly nonbinary. It serves as important representation for the queer community to see D’Arcy in such a major role and being able to openly express themselves outside of the role. There were concerns in the queer community about a nonbinary actor portraying a woman, but D’Arcy has made it clear in interviews that they do not feel uncomfortable with this role. In an interview with “The Independent”, they said, “My worst-case scenario is that suddenly people tell me what I can and can’t play. I have all the tools necessary to play women. I lived as one for a long time; people still think I am one. It’s like, ‘Let me do my job; I’m really good at it.’” Other actors that should be noticed are Paddy Considine, King Viserys I Targaryen, and Olivia Cooke, Queen Alicent Hightower.
While there are many things that the show does very well, there are some major problems that sometimes overshadow the good. The show’s biggest problem is the absurd amount of time jumps between episodes. As I mentioned before, D’Arcy plays the older version of their character because, halfway through the series, there is a massive time skip during which all of the characters age by ten years. When watching this episode, I was very confused and spent a lot of time trying to match new faces to the characters. The confusion surrounding new actors is not the only problem the time skips create. Throughout the entire series there are multiple one-to-two-year skips between episodes causing the show to feel highly rushed. These time jumps skimmed over multiple years of plot development, which pulls the audience out of the story. The audience’s perception of the characters also suffers because of this. I often couldn’t find it in me to care about the characters’ relationships because of the lack of development and connections between the characters.
I enjoyed watching the show, but I think it suffers from trying to be too much like its predecessor by rushing the world-building and politics that the original show took literal years to craft.
The first season of the show is only ten episodes with a second season on the way, so I would recommend looking into it. “House of the Dragon” is a good introduction for people who might be new to the “Game of Thrones” franchise while also catering to existing fans. If you’re looking for a show that crafts a political drama in a captivating fantasy setting with empowering female characters, then “House of the Dragon” certainly fills that requirement. However, if you’re looking for a more well-crafted fantasy, then I would recommend watching the original “Game of Thrones.”