House on Fire

‘House of the Dragon’ has ‘Game of Thrones’ fans remembering what they liked about the show in the first place

The arrival of ‘House of the Dragon,’ the ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel that no one requested but we all knew was coming, has GOT fans remembering what they liked about the show in the first place. Before GOT descended into ludicrous mode, it was the closest we could get to modern Shakespeare. It had big emotions, huge stakes, shocking violence, graphic sex, and characters that would enter into pop culture legend. There had never been anything like it on TV before. Now people mock its rushed and unsatisfying conclusion, but at its height, GOT was the closest we get in the modern age to appointment television.

House of the Dragon arrives in a much more splintered media landscape, with a lot more choices, and a lot of jaded GOT fans who don’t want to find themselves burned twice. But it seems to remember what was good about Game of Thrones, and is doubling down.

Set nearly 200 years before the tragic events of GOT, House of the Dragon is the story of the Targaryen dynasty at its height, or just post its height. Our main character is Rhaenyra (pronounced Rhianna in my mind), played by soon-to-be teen thirst trap Milly Alcock, an almost-adult who becomes heir to the iron throne after her mother dies, along with a male heir, in childbirth. Her father, King Viserys, played by character actor Paddy Considine at the very top of his game, reveals to her the family secret: A dream that someday a great evil would rise from the North and the Targaryens would have to lead the fight against it, blah blah. They call this dream “The Song of Ice and Fire” and now we’re officially back in Westeros.

For those who aren’t into Game of Thrones, this all would feel like nonsense fantasy mumbo-jumbo. But fans are mostly loving the return to their favorite fantasy realm. If Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter get to have endlessly expanding universes, then why not Westeros?

Unlike the guys who ran Game of Thrones at the end, the guys who are doing House of the Dragon consulted George RR Martin heavily on this show, and it bears results. The worldbuilding is remarkably consistent, as are the settings. It’s like going back in the past and watching the lives of the previous tenants of a house you rented for a few years. And because of the medieval-ish vibe, there appears to be no change in technology or culture. It’s all the same swords-and-magic and medicine with leeches, only with extra dragons.

And the cast is tremendous. Alcock and Considine are really good, and so is Olivia Cooke as Rhianna’s best friend Alicent,  bound to snog the king. Rhys Ifans as Otto Hightower (a name that sounds like an old-timey NFL quarterback), the ‘Hand of the King,’ and the show dots its cast with other quality actors from British fantasy shows. But Matt Smith, former Doctor Who and Prince Philip, absolutely steals every scene as Daemon Targaryen, who is either House of the Dragon’s villain, anti-hero, or both. You can’t wait to see him and his weird elf-hair back on the screen, shagging prostitutes and cutting off dicks.

Just in case you didn’t think you were in Game of Thrones territory, there’s more tits and ass per square inch of this show than in any other on TV. The birth scene is one of the most gruesome and exploitative things you’ll ever see. And if you want to watch the live castration of an accused rapist, you need to look no further.

Your mileage may vary on House of the Dragon if you don’t already like this sort of thing, or aren’t familiar with the source material. But for a certain kind of Ren Faire nerd, who number in the millions worldwide, this is the roasted turkey leg of their dreams. It’s a solid pilot, full of intrigue and dragon-jumping soapiness, almost totally devoid of humor. But don’t get too excited, because in the end, Bran still wins the Game of Thrones.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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