‘Game of Thrones’ returns: ‘House of Dragon’ takes Iron Throne

Sage Dunlap, Associate Life&Arts Editor

Highly anticipated “Game of Thrones” prequel “House of the Dragon” premiered on HBO Max Aug. 21. Continuing the legacy of the hit fantasy series, “House of the Dragon” presents a story of political strife, family rivalry and betrayal set in the ninth year of King Viserys I Targaryen’s reign — 72 years before the birth of his descendant, Princess Daenerys. 

The series’ first episode, titled “The Heirs of the Dragon,” kicks off with a narrated opening scene; an unknown female voice explains that at the height of the House Targaryen’s power in the year 101, an ailing, sonless King Jaehaerys set out to determine an heir to the coveted Iron Throne — a title granted to his oldest male descendent, Viserys. Nine years later, after King Viserys’ wife and unborn son die during childbirth, he finds himself forced to assume the same task, only this time appointing his daughter Rhaenyra Targaryen, who soars away on dragonback in a triumphant closing scene after being crowned as heir. 

Despite taking place in a land of dragons, the fantasy series presents itself as a political drama, remaining grounded in the family dynamics established in its first episode. The episode’s two leading characters introduce an intriguing dimension to House Targaryen. King Viserys I (Paddy Considine) is an earnest king who genuinely wishes the best for his kingdom. Though still ruthless — as emphasized by his valuing of his unborn son over the life of his pregnant wife — Considine brings a certain likability to his character, especially in his willingness to appoint his daughter to the throne despite expectations for a male to fulfill that spot. The king is offset by his more ruthless, conceited brother Daemon (Matt Smith), whose irresponsible behavior loses him a chance at the throne. The two opposite brothers, only connected by a shared thirst for power, will surely make an interesting character dynamic as the show progresses.

One of “Game of Thrones’” many directors, Miguel Sapochnik, returns to the spin-off, making for an evident continuation of the franchise’s signature gory, borderline-nauseating action sequences. In the first episode, Sapochnik incorporates fast-moving camerawork, subtle yet effective sound design and detailed fight choreography to make action scenes as realistic and captivating as possible. One particularly bloody battlefield scene best embodies the components of a stellar action sequence, alternating between two armor-clad lords battling for an audience and a gruesome breech birth of Viserys’ son. The dizzying back-and-forth attention between the two scenes raises the stakes of both, resulting in a strong climax for the episode. 

Inserted between gruesome action sequences lies intriguing dialogue, typically revolving around the succession of the Iron Throne. While the audience’s task of learning the Valyrian names of new characters as well as their position to the throne can be difficult, the episode’s dialogue remains easy to follow throughout its duration. Exposition at the beginning of the episode, as well as subtle nods to the original series, flow seamlessly in conversations about the fate of Westeros. One conversation in which Viserys warns his daughter of the impending doom of a long winter requiring the unity of Westeros will especially send a chill down fans’ spines. 

Ultimately, the bloody first episode of “House of the Dragon” revives the beloved fantasy franchise with fresh plotlines and exciting new characters — particularly Emma D’Arcy’s Rhaenyra, who makes a promising new heroine for the show. While the controversial final season of “Game of Thrones” sparked plenty of debate about the villainous spiraling of Princess Daenerys, this spinoff about the character’s ancestors brings new life to House Targaryen. 

5 dragon eggs out of 5