Life & Culture

House of the Dragon TV review: The dragons lack bite, their world’s too clean

It’s going to take a few more episodes to see if the Game of Thrones prequel can recreate its magic


The reign of House Targaryen begins.

House of the Dragon
Sky Atlantic | ★★★✩✩

I could point out that the showrunner has a Jewish background in order to justify this review, but when something has the global cultural heft of Game of Thrones, tribalism is transcended by the necessity for televisual commentary.

Also, regardless of ethnicity, experience, ability or any other myriad characteristics, the task of successfully making this sequel (or even prequel) House of the Dragon was always going to be the trickiest of feats.

With HBO, here on Sky Atlantic, announcing this first episode as its largest-ever debut, perhaps the executives there feel as if they made the right call with Ryan Condal taking charge. But from what I’ve seen, or more accurately not seen, I’m uncertain this will get as far as a disappointing eighth season for vocal fans to get furious about.

Set two centuries before those events, this is on the face of it another tale of succession. Childless king dies choosing eldest male heir over woman heir, who in turn doesn’t have a male heir.

Are the Seven Kingdoms ready for duh duh duh…A WOMAN! Yet whereas GoT eventually developed into a fight for all life, this show is immediately hobbled by no evidence of any grander narrative, and if there were, misogyny in a fictional fantasy world aside, stakes could only pale by comparison.

There is an attempt to forge a connection between this story of House Targaryen, those of the white hair aka Aryan geddit?, and their descendant Daenerys’ eventual battle against the
White Walkers, and I’m sure everyone involved patted themselves on the back when they came up with it, but it’s an obvious cheat, a morsel instead of a nourishing meal, and if it’s what they’re banking on to satiate the audience they’re in real trouble. Ditto if they think dragons are the answer.

The cleverness of the GoT books and TV series is how the fantasy elements are gradually introduced to a sceptical world, mirroring our scepticism, which transforms to wonder. Here it’s as if they’ve opened the magic show with a rabbit on the stage and no hat, and you’re just left going, yup it’s a rabbit.

I don’t just mean to constantly compare the two, but the failure evidenced in seemingly understanding what made GoT a success is frustrating. Where’s the witty dialogue? Where are the enticing characters? Where’s the grit?

Everything’s too clean, even the gore feels somewhat sanitised. Backgrounds feel digital, the nudity baroque. Carrying the entire thing are a bunch of British character actors, left from not getting cast in the original series. Is it worth mentioning who’s who when they might not survive next week’s episode?

This was always going to be a tricky task: getting the balance right between making something the same but different, recognisable but original. A first episode has so much world building to cram in, it’s possible that many of my complaints will be addressed as the series develops. It’s going to take a few more episodes to see if they can recreate the magic.

But I suspect it’s going to be tragic.

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