By Jake Tickle, Third Year, English
The long-awaited return to Westeros finally graced our screens on Monday morning (I was up, like many others, waiting for its release at 2AM), with House of The Dragon. Although it’s been over three years since the finale of Game of Thrones (2011-2018) aired, fans are still processing the rushed and lacklustre final season, myself included. Still, the first episode of House of Dragon (2022-) has restored my faith in HBO and their endeavours with the fantasy series.
House of The Dragon is a prequel series based on George R.R. Martin’s book, Fire & Blood, that details the history of House Targaryen, spanning their almost 300-year reign over Westeros, followed by the civil war that broke out amongst the house, resulting in its collapse.
The series, then, follows the Targaryen house 172 years before Daenerys Targaryen is born- roughly 190 years (give or take) before the first series takes place. As a result, it is not completely removed from the first series – everything feels quite familiar – and yet we’re surrounded by a completely different group of characters.
On the throne is Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine), with his wife, Aemma (Sian Brooke), and their only child, Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock). The episode opens with a brief but very useful summary of the current situation in Westeros, followed by the narrator stating: ‘the only thing that could tear down the House of The Dragon was itself.’ Goosebumps.
This is followed by a gorgeous scene in which we see Rhaenyra on her dragon Syrax flying through King’s Landing. Goosebumps on my goosebumps. This scene serves as a visual introduction to King’s Landing before the events of Game of Thrones, it’s fascinating to see the same King’s Landing, which fell at the hands of a Targaryen is thriving under Targaryen rule around 180 years before.
From here on out, House of The Dragon throws its viewers headfirst into the action, sex and, of course, gore we saw so much in Game of Thrones. It pushes the boundaries of the small screen and, at least in the first episode, establishes itself as one of the greats alongside the big HBO shows like its predecessor.
Around a third of the way into the episode, the stakes are truly raised. We see Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) making his mark of King’s Landing by publicly dismembering various criminals living in the city without the king’s permission.
Not soon after, we watch the tourney held in honour of Aemma’s newborn son, who isn’t even born yet, and there is no way of determining whether the child is, in fact, a son or daughter.
As the action rises and Daemon and the other contestants give into their brutal tendencies by fighting amongst themselves, Aemma struggles in labour. Over the next few excruciating minutes, the scenes cut between brutality in the (notably yonic) arena and Aemma’s bloody and fatal caesarean.
It is unbearable to watch as Aemma’s life force slips away from her whilst the men engage in their testosterone-fuelled assaults on each other, unaware of the tragedy that has just taken place. Here, HBO sets the tone of the series, showcasing brutality and barbarism, refusing to hesitate when killing off their characters. We know all too well that no one is ever safe in Westeros.
The episode comes to a close with the King’s brother, Daemon, brandishing his son as ‘heir for a day’ after we find out that the baby died alongside his mother. Viserys, enraged by this, tells Daemon to leave immediately and names Rhaenyra his heir.
The first episode of House of Dragon was excruciating to watch, and yet I could not take my eyes off the screen. HBO seems to have found the sweet spot between its humble beginnings and its high-budget mess of a finale; all the best components of the Game of Thrones series seem to have been slotted together to make the episode run in a calculated and extremely well-written manner resulting in an hour of fantastical perfection.
Featured Image: IMDB
House of The Dragon is available to watch on Sky Atlantic & NOW Tv every Monday at 9pm.