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‘House of the Dragon’: A worthy heir

There have been few disasters in entertainment history comparable to the final season of “Game of Thrones” back in 2019. In only six episodes, the once worldwide phenomenon that drew in millions of viewers collapsed, ridiculed for outright bad writing, ruining even its previous seasons in the eyes of many fans. When the “Game of Thrones” prequel show, “House of the Dragon” was announced shortly after, many were skeptical that it could succeed, considering how audiences had soured on the series. So, does “House of the Dragon” stumble as Thrones did, or does it soar?

Based on George R.R. Martin’s novel “Fire and Blood,” the series takes place about 180 years before the events of the main show. “House of the Dragon” (HOTD) chronicles the reign of King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine), a time of peace and prosperity for the seven kingdoms. In the first episode, Viserys names his daughter Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock/Emma D’Arcy) his heir, making her the first woman ever to be in line for the throne. This causes immense controversy and conflict, especially after the birth of Viserys’ son Aegon (Ty Tennant/Tom Glynn-Carney), whom many consider to be the rightful heir.

HOTD follows after the early seasons of Thrones by featuring a story rife with family drama and political scheming that takes its time to develop the characters and their relationships. The showrunners do an amazing job of building up the stakes and the tension from one episode to the next while at the same time exploring very interesting themes of gender, power and politics. Although the writing is solid, the show occasionally jumps the shark when it favors spectacle over logic. Most instances of this are gratuitously violent scenes that feel thrown in to keep viewers awake as the characters argue endlessly about inheritance law and succession.

The acting is another highlight of the series. Be it from newcomers like Emily Carey (young Alicent Hightower) and Milly Alcock or industry veterans like Matt Smith (Daemon Targaryen) and Olivia Cooke (Alicent Hightower), “House of the Dragon” features some of the best performances on television right now. Of special note, however, is Paddy Considine with an Emmy-worthy performance as King Viserys. Simultaneously tragic and endearing, one can’t help but sympathize with him, even as he makes the worst possible decisions to stop his family from falling apart. Considine’s performance is so incredible, in fact, that even George R.R Martin admitted, “Your Viserys was better than my Viserys.”

The show’s pacing is simultaneously its greatest strength and weakness. While every episode feels action-packed and thin on filler, the fact that the story takes place over more than 20 years means the writers are frequently forced to put huge time skips between episodes. Characters are born, die and get married, and there is even a war entirely off-screen. The viewer is left to piece together what happened off the air through contextual clues, which may leave many puzzled. This is not helped by the frequent and questionable recasting to age up many of the younger characters, and although the acting remains strong, it is still jarring.

In all honesty, I was one of the countless disillusioned “Game of Thrones” fans who thought “House of the Dragon” was going to be a dumpster fire, but I am glad to say that it has far surpassed any expectations that I had. The showrunners successfully emulate what made Thrones great in the first place in a way that still feels unique to HOTD. Even with severe pacing problems, the show is still consistently great, and season two promises to be even better, with more fire and blood.

Show: “House of the Dragon”

Starring: Matt Smith, Paddy Considine, Olivia Cooke, Emma D’Arcy

Favorite episodes: “The Lord of Tides,” “The Green Council,” “The Black Queen”

If you like: “Game of Thrones,” “The Crown,” “Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power”

Where to watch: HBO Max

Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5

Contact Matheus Herndl at mherndl@nd.edu.