We’ve watched the first few episodes of House of the Dragon on HBO, and I would pronounce it shrug-worthy. They’ve obviously spent a lot of money on costumes and settings and special effects, but the show really isn’t very compelling. Unlike Game of Thrones, this prequel of sorts not isn’t must-see TV. Instead, it’s a big meh.
Why is this so? I think there are a lot of reasons. For one, there really aren’t many likeable characters. In fact, I would argue that there is only one: King Viserys. He seems like a good, decent, peace-loving guy who doesn’t want to fight wars or ride dragons and would rather spend his time building his replica of King’s Landing in his room. But he’s about it. Every other character seems to spend all of their time scheming, misbehaving, working to claw their way to the top, and engaging in every kind of sinful behavior you can imagine. Even their young kids seem like terrible jerks. You’d be hard-pressed to identify any likeable characteristic or endearing quality of any of the Targaryen clan, the other nobility, or the royal hangers-on. It makes you long for the Starks hanging around the great hall at Winterfell.
Second, the story is moving way too fast. We’re hopping directly from one great event to another, without much character-building story-telling going on in between (see point one). Characters are introduced, promptly die in childbirth or are killed in bloody, violent fashion, and the tale races on. There seems to be more interest in showing scenes that are graphic or disturbing than in providing any meaningful background or context, and as a result it’s hard to care much about anyone or anything. In contrast, the first few seasons of Game of Thrones–the best seasons, in my view–moved at a very deliberate pace, and gave the viewer a lot of time to find out interesting things about the world of Westeros, the noble houses, and even the common folks. We’re not getting any of that in House of the Dragon.
Third, the overall story arc pales in comparison to the white walker/winter is coming/end of the civilized world plot of Game of Thrones. And there really aren’t any good bad guys to hate with every fiber of your being and root against, either. The brooding brother of the king doesn’t hold a candle to Joffrey Baratheon, Cersei Lannister, Walder Frey, Ramsay Bolton, or Littlefinger. You couldn’t wait to see those horrible people get their ultimate comeuppance. I don’t feel that way about Daemon Targaryen. He’s mostly there, brooding and frankly being more annoying than horrible.
Finally, there’s very much of a been-there, done-that feel to this show. Swordfights, palace intrigue, sea scenes–it all seems like a rehash of what we’ve seen before. And throwing in the obligatory scene of someone riding a dragon doesn’t move the needle much, either. Good special effects, to be sure, but there’s nothing intrinsically interesting about an unbeatable superweapon. Showing flying dragons and having characters shout “dracarys” so someone can get immolated doesn’t solve the fundamental problems with this show.
We’ll continue to watch, but so far House of the Dragon has been more drag than dragon.