WARNING! This article contains SPOILERS for House of the Dragon season 1With its beautiful visuals and compelling plot, House of the Dragon offers another fantastic look at the world of Game of Thrones, but while a lot of season 1 worked, some things didn’t work at all. Set hundreds of years before the events of Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon is based on George R. R. Martin’s book Fire & Blood, which details House Targaryen’s rule over Westeros. As such, the series depicts the beginning of the end for the Targaryen family — as viewers have started to witness.
With House of the Dragon season 1 now concluded, this is the time to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the show so far. With many positive reviews praising various aspects, including the score and the writing, and ratings about as high as HBO has ever seen, there is no denying the Game of Thrones prequel is a great success. However, while House of the Dragon has been appreciated both critically and commercially, there has also been a lot of criticism of the show and what it has done that didn’t work.
House of the Dragon’s cast and characters are what make the HBO show the strong product that it is. As with Game of Thrones, a strong cast was clearly needed in order to support the complex plot that a show like House of the Dragon entails. Although it is a show known for its violent images, like its predecessor, House of the Dragon relies on long dialogue scenes in which key information is shared between characters. As such, most of these tense and dramatic moments are successful thanks the stellar performances delivered by such a well-rounded and brilliant cast — with Paddy Considine, as King Viserys Targaryen, being a standout. Furthermore, given the various time jumps in House of the Dragon, the casting team did an excellent job of picking the younger and adult versions of each character, all of them looking convincingly similar to their counterpart, thus avoiding the confusion that the recasts might have caused.
King Aegon II Targaryen, formerly Prince Aegon, was not fully introduced until the 10-year time jump halfway through House of the Dragon, but he is one of the key players of Fire & Blood due to his status as King Viserys’s first-born son. Although he was not yet established as a fully-fledged villain in season 1 of House of the Dragon, and his role was reduced to that of a pawn in his mother and grandfather’s scheming, Aegon was set up as a character easy to hate. Compared to many other morally gray characters present in House of the Dragon, Aegon Targaryen is horrible to those around him purely because he can be. Therefore, he came off as flat and remained one-dimensional among an array of more complex characters, which could present an issue for the later seasons, as his role as a villain will likely be fully cemented.
The dragons were the most anticipated and exciting aspect of House of the Dragon. Not only were they stunning to look at, thanks to a masterful use of the CGI that enabled the viewers to distinguish each dragon as soon as they were shown on screen — unlike the dragons in Game of Thrones which all resembled each other — but they were also a key part of the story. As established many times, the dragons in House of the Dragon are the most important symbols of the power and legitimacy of House Targaryen, so much so that they are present in the name of the show and played a significant role in all the major storylines of season 1.
The Crabfeeder plotline took up the better part of episodes 1, 2, and 3 of House of the Dragon. Although it helped to establish the character of both Viserys and Daemon Targaryen, this storyline was soon resolved and soon forgotten, too. Compared to the other episodes of the series filled with court politics and constant scheming, the specific focus on the Crabfeeder felt unsubstantial and even unnecessary. This was particularly evident because the Crabfeeder was featured in the first three episodes of the show, thus establishing a tone and pace that did not define the rest of the season, nor was he interesting enough to draw the audience in.
Comparing House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones is natural, given they are part of the same franchise. However, one of the reasons behind the success of House of the Dragon was not its connection to the original series, but the fact that it could be removed from it. House of the Dragon is set 200 years prior to the events of Game of Thrones, so there is little to no connection between the characters and plots of the two series, save for the occasional Easter egg. This separation from its predecessor helped House of the Dragon immensely, considering the backlash and disappointment the last season of Game of Thrones was met with.
The Game of Thrones prequel does resemble its predecessor in some aspects, such as in the many deaths in House of the Dragon season 1. Some of them, however, may not have had the desired effect. In various instances, a character died shortly after they had been introduced, sometimes in the same episode, as happened for Aemma Arryn, Rhea Royce, and Harwin Strong. This did not give viewers enough time to get attached to the characters or even get to know them before they died. As such, some deaths appeared rushed and were not as heartbreaking or shocking as they could have been.
One death that actually worked in House of the Dragon was Prince Lucerys Velaryon’s. Throughout season 1, House of the Dragon masterfully teased the Dance of the Dragons civil war that will be shown in season 2 and beyond. In particular, the young prince’s death, and his mother’s reaction, which closed out the finale, perfectly set in motion the events that will be depicted when the show returns in the future.
Game of Thrones season 8 was heavily criticized, and one of the aspects that received an overwhelmingly negative response was the lighting of the scenes set at night. Similarly, House of the Dragon seems to have the same issue with night scenes, especially in season 1, episode 7. Although the dim lights were a conscious choice, the dark cinematography was met with backlash from critics and viewers of the show, as it was often too dark to see what was going on in these scenes.