‘House Of The Dragon’ Is Pretty Good, But Has Some Weaknesses


The new HBO series House of the Dragon is a long-awaited prequel to the fabulous Game of Thrones series, which dominated cable TV for eight years. The new show carries on the tradition of excellent writing, good casting and, of course, lots of dragons. Actually more dragons than in the earlier show. But there is one glaring issue that gets in the way of brilliance, at least so far.

In Game of Thrones, right from the start we had heroes, people we could identify with. There was the Stark family, five attractive kids and a handsome illegitimate son (who, of course, was not who the series implied he was at first). And they were all different but attractive. And Daenerys was lovely and seemingly helpless (we did learn otherwise). So we had people to attach to. For cranks like me, there was always Tyrion, the cynical dwarf.

But the new show essentially follows only one family, a really weird one. After a half dozen or so episodes, I am still waiting to find someone, anyone, I can identify with or even like. The story is filled with betrayal, back-stabbing and incest. But while admiring the work, it is hard to love it.

The story begins when King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) watches his wife die trying to give birth to a son, who also dies. That leaves only one direct heir, Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock as a teen, Emma D’Arcy as an adult), and it is felt by many that she should not rule since she’s a woman. She hangs out with her best buddy Lady Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey as a teen, Olivia Cooke as an adult), until Alicent’s father sends her to comfort the king, which turns eventually into a marriage. Rhaenyra is wooed by just about every available lord in the Westeros, but to some degree winds up as a target for her uncle Daemon (Matt Smith), a noted warrior who some feel threatens the rule of far more gentle Viserys.

There is a jump after the first five episodes of 10 years so that the young girls are now women, both of them with children. Rhaenyra has been married off to Lord Laenor Valeryon (John Macmillan), eldest son of the second most powerful family in the kingdom. There is a minor issue, however. He is very gay. But somehow Rhaenyra gives birth to a group of children who look nothing like him. Lord Laenor, however, is quite understanding. Unfortunately, for Rhaenyra as heir to the throne, her former best buddy, wants her oldest son Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) to rule. Aegon, so far, is a bit of a bully. And, of course, we have all sorts of familial quarrels and even murders.

It sounds like things will become clearer eventually, and there will be an all-out war, or perhaps a cold war, between the two branches of the family. The problem right now is that because of the time gap, the two teen girls we might have felt something for are gone, and two bitter, angry adults are battling. And they are nasty. Rhaenyra continues to have children not sired by her husband, and Alicent plots with some of the nastier elements in the court to make certain that her kids come out on top. Add to that Prince Daemon, who kills one wife and then orders a second wife to be the victim of a Caesarean, which in this world is always fatal.

The acting, as expected, is excellent. Considine is one of the few sympathetic characters, but that is because he is playing a weak king. Smith as the lecherous warlord is appropriately strong but sleazy. And the women are fine, although having two actresses for each part does confuse things.

I like the show so far. But I don’t love it the way I did Game of Thrones. That may be because the new show is still in the setup phase; the earlier show got better as the seasons went on. But I don’t really like the characters all that much. In this first season, just about every nice person has either changed, been killed or sent “off-stage.” As a result, there are no heroes, which means the bad guys are in charge.

But watch the show. It’s on HBO Sunday nights and HBO Max any time. It’s literate and smart, something rare these days.