The Premiere of 'House of the Dragon': A Bad-Heir Day

 The Premiere of 'House of the Dragon': A Bad-Heir Day

The "Game of Thrones" spinoff attempts to rekindle the enchantment with nostalgic detail, family feuds, and gory delivery scenes

The episode contains hints of significant character development. However, "Dragon's" world-building is lacking in several narrative fundamentals that may drastically improve it.

In the year of our fears 2022, a new "Game of Thrones" show has arrived to transport us away from our long winter of "Thrones"-lessness. Do we want to go where it leads us? "House of the Dragon," HBO's lavish prequel series based on George R. R. Martin's "Fire and Blood," tells the story of House Targaryen in an era long before our old friends appeared—a hundred and seventy-two years before the death of the Mad King and the birth of his daughter Daenerys Targaryen, according to the opening titles. Life in the year 172 B.D.T. appears familiar: dusty-colored towns and castles, chandeliers that mimic bonfires, oddly towheaded royal families, and the occasional orgy.(Perhaps too infrequently—the show's violence-to-debauchery ratio might be modified.) There's a succession issue, as there always is, and when an HBO series is driven by a succession crisis, just sit back and watch the infighting: we've got hours of high-powered treachery to enjoy, or endure.

"Dragon" quickly returns to some of the classic "Thrones" joys. The program begins with the declaration of Prince Viserys (Paddy Considine) as the new king, rather than a gloomy ice-monster scenario, like "Thrones" did. After a sweetly familiar title sequence—no maps, just an amulet and the soothing beating of drums in typical Ramin Djawadi style—an airborne symphony of clouds and the flap of leathery wings transport us to King's Landing, nine years into Viserys' rule. Rhaenyra Targaryen, the king's adolescent daughter, has sharp features and is quite Daenerys-like (Milly Alcock),She dismounts with plucky nonchalance after borrowing the family automobile, a dragon called Syrax. "Try not to seem too relieved," she says to a grizzled old knight as she tosses her blond ponytail and takes off her driving gloves.

"Every time that golden beast returns you unharmed, it saves my head from a spike," he says. We've missed you, Westeros, skulls on spikes! Inside the palace, Rhaenyra and her friend Alicent Hightower visit the hugely pregnant queen ("This discomfort is how we serve the realm," she says proudly and grimly), and then Rhaenyra zips off to a meeting of the king and his advisers, where she listens to the proceedings while pouring water for them in true Arya fashion: Reports that begin, "We've all been pouring over the moon charts"; a talk about the Crabfeeder, a pirate-punishing maniac. (Crustaceans are as disgusting and vital to this series as leeches were to Melisandre in "Thrones.")

The episode has hints of fascinating character development: Considine points toward a Ned Stark-like warmth and power, as well as light regal incompetence, while Alcock conveys Rhaenyra's knowledge and her ambivalent position as a capable but misjudged princess. (He enjoys deferring major choices and tending to his gigantic sandcastle-like model of the city, studying it like a model-train nerd.) The ludicrous, sword-crazed Iron Throne, a lyrical young soul named Samwell, and the magnificence of soaring, screaming C.G.I. dragons are all nostalgic details. (Did they always sound like Wookiees?) And it's difficult not to appreciate a presentation in which hundreds of flickering votive lights surround a dragon skull the size of a Humvee rather than rose petals and a proposal. However, the world-building of "Dragon" is lacking in several narrative fundamentals that may substantially improve it: sparks of youthful love, fascinating or hilarious atypical friendships, and well-planted seeds that yield enticing fruit. The dialogue is mainly unintentionally funny: "Laughing with your prostitutes and your lickspittles!" the monarch cries in wrath to a relative. He is not Tyrion Lannister.

Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith), Viserys' ambitious, ne'er-do-well younger brother, is that related. He, like Rhaenyra, is a dragon rider—not just anybody can fly such things—and, like her, a potential candidate for the Iron Throne. The Daemon-Rhaenyra interaction, as well as Daemon's flaxen wig and narrowed eyes in perpetual plotting, harkens back to the Targaryens we know best: Daenerys and her brother, Viserys, whose murder in "Thrones" caused us to rejoice while he was splattered with molten gold. So far, Daemon isn't as immediately unpleasant, but we can see why no one wants him to be king; his bad-vibes orgies are only the top of the bad-vibes iceberg.

Meanwhile, King Viserys desires what all rulers desire: a male heir. We sense a tingle of anxiety when his wife is in labor and he says "I love you" over her expectant belly: it's all about the kid, and it's starting to feel like the Tower of London around here. The show then juxtaposes the delivery scenario with action clips from a jousting tournament, revealing irresponsibility with lives lived in the chase of power, and not in a joyful way. The heir dilemma hasn't been resolved by the end of the episode, and its scope has approaching Shakespearean tragedy.

For all of its failings, "Game of Thrones" was a Sunday-night gem for a reason: its crazy invention and beauty, overflowing intrigue and action, comedy, and people. It was also one of the final embers of American monoculture, a phenomena that brought millions of people together at the same time to analyze a scene or detail: Jaime bidding farewell to Brienne of Tarth, the reappearance of a lost direwolf, the exciting flight of a jerk through the Moon Door. The play began in 2011, followed us through the Trump years, gave wonderful distraction, and concluded in 2019, just before the epidemic.It's difficult not to approach "Dragon" with "Thrones" nostalgia, but also with before-times nostalgia—we want to relive the carefree escapism of those years, when we marveled at Arya's face masks and Hot Pie's bread loaf.

Will we be obsessed with the Crabfeeder after watching "House of the Dragon"? Its prospects would improve with some modification. "Dragon," like the famed last season of "Thrones," does not always make the best of its story's qualities. Women, for example: despite Rhaenyra's dragon flying beauty, the show emphasizes the unhappiness of its female characters more successfully than their uniqueness and personality. The series' concentration on succession leads in birthing scenes with the regularity (stay tuned!) and screaming anguish of "Call the Midwife"; another forgotten princess (Eve Best as Rhaenys Targaryen), whose eyes suggest terrible resignation, is called the Queen Who Never Was. It needs to be seen whether such traits deepen or become more clearly defined. HBO has a valuable heritage to protect in "Dragon," a dedicated fanbase, and a lot of pressure to not screw it up. According to Rhaenyra's voice-over, the ancient king recognized that "the only thing that could pull down the House of the Dragon was itself." Isn't that true, king?

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