House of the Dragon

House of the Dragon IS the next Game of Thrones

Dept. of Fire and Ice


For almost four years, every single streamer (and their uncle) has been searching for the “next” Game of Thrones. From the moment Benioff and Weiss announced that they would be taking a curtain call with Season 8, there has been an arms race to acquire and adapt any literary property that was even remotely similar to George R. R. Martin’s magnum opus. Netflix tried hard with The Witcher and Shadow and Bone – both of which had a small and rabid fan base that didn’t quite translate into mass appeal. (Cursed was just awful so the less said about that the better.) Prime Video’s The Wheel of Time came and went without much fanfare. The Expanse, or Game of Thrones in space, remains criminally under-watched. And HBO’s own Westworld, arguably one of the best shows on television, has stayed very much in its own lane.

Game of Thrones was unlike anything else on television. A fantasy series that somehow managed to transcend the trappings of its genre and appeal to an audience that didn’t otherwise care about palace intrigue, or dragons, or zombie snowmen. Over the years, there have been thousands of op-eds and think pieces, of whole entire books, dedicated to explaining this phenomenon. Was it because of the world building? Was it because of all the sex and violence? Was it because of how unpredictable the series was? It was all of it. It was also ridiculously smart, full of complex characters who weren’t just good or bad, with women who were Madonnas, and whores, and everything in between.

There was also one more thing. The real secret to its widespread appeal. But I’ll get to that.

After the creative and critical failure of the final season of Game of Thrones, HBO knew that they needed to get this right. It was a premature end to a story that still had legs. There was still money to be made from the franchise, but only if they managed to successfully recapture some of that magic.

House of the Dragon is them nailing it.

Dragon Dynasty

House of the Dragon

There are four reasons why House of the Dragon might be the perfect way back into this world.

The first is that you don’t need to know anything before watching this. Setting the series 180 years before the time of Daenerys Targaryen puts quite the distance between it and Game of Thrones, thereby creating just enough of a disconnect from the original series. For long time fans, it’s enough to make you move past the crushing disappointment that were those last six episodes. For newcomers, it means that you needn’t have seen a single episode of the original, or read any of Martin’s books, before you start watching this. House of the Dragon is as standalone as a franchise installment can be. Which is a genius approach to both bringing in new audiences and trying to win back angry fans.

And then there is the story they’ve decided to tell. The Targaryens have always been these fascinating enigmas. Once a powerful dynasty, they were torn apart by power, greed, jealousy, and familial strife. Their history was hinted at in Game of Thrones the same way Obi-Wan Kenobi spoke about the Jedi in A New Hope. But showrunners, Miguel Sapochnik and Ryan Condal, avoid the pitfalls that plagued the Star Wars prequels. They don’t over explain the legend. They don’t undermine the myth. They lean into character and keep this story rooted in the same self-serving human folly that caused all of the drama and tension in the original series. There is still a contest for the Iron Throne. There are murders, and duels, and epic battles. But also a whole bunch of dragons thrown in for good measure.

The third reason lies in the way they’ve decided to tell this story. The original series (at least the first six seasons) took pride in the time they dedicated towards character arcs and narrative threads. Geographic distances were critical to the plot. There were few indulgences for the sake of fan service. And they avoided cliches and contrivances. House of the Dragon is also a slow burn, but they’ve taken a much longer view to building out its arc. Every episode jumps forward in time, sometimes months, sometimes years, creating the illusion of space, and reinforcing the notion that history takes time.

Finally, there is that one more thing. The real secret to what made Game of Thrones so successful was its soapy nature. This was the telenovela, only elevated. Love triangles. Incest. Cheating. Hatred that often leads to violent and passionate sex. The jealous woman who is trying to destroy everyone’s lives. The emasculated man who is overcompensating. Big family secrets. Shocking cliffhangers. It’s all there. Game of Thrones is the best kind of potboiler. It is very, very clever, but written in a way that is incredibly accessible to a mass audience. It bridges art and pop. It tricks us by appealing to our basest instincts before forcing us to confront all of our niggling foibles.

F*ck the Patriarchy!

House of the Dragon

This is a world that feels lived in. That is beautifully composed and rich in detail. The characters are incredibly well drawn. All of the performances are nothing short of stellar, with the three stalwarts, Paddy Considine, Rhys Ifans, and Matt Smith, standing out as complex and conflicted men who stagger helplessly in the face of power, and are utterly insignificant in contrast to the women around them.

The women at the center of the series, Rhaenyra and her best friend Alicent (played first as teens by Emily Carey and Milly Alcock, and then later by Olivia Cooke and Emma D’Arcy) possess a raw realism that makes them the most appealing Thrones characters to date. They aren’t evil or terrifying like Cersei. They aren’t noble or heroic. They have to navigate a world in which men would rather destroy themselves than hand power over to a woman. And they do so in a way that is purely and remarkably human.

House of the Dragon is everything you loved about Game of Thrones and more. It is what premium television should be when given the time and the budget. It is serious. It is literary. It does what the best fiction has always done, using symbolism as commentary on the main social and political issues of our time. It is storytelling for grown-ups.

House of the Dragon premieres on Monday, August 22, on HBO GO.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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