‘House of the Dragon’ Review: HBO’s Prequel Pulls Fans Back Into the Game of Thrones

HBO’s House of the Dragon is nearly upon us, and the Game of Thrones prequel will remind fans why they fell in love with the fantasy series in the first place. Following the original series’ divisive final season, viewers may be skeptical about returning to Westeros. However, Showbiz Cheat Sheet was given the first six episodes of House of the Dragon to review. And with the show’s focus on everything that made Game of Thrones great, it may relight the flames of the franchise.

A four-and-a-half star Excellent review rating for 'House of the Dragon'

‘House of the Dragon’ returns viewers to the stunning, brutal world of Westeros

House of the Dragon returns fans to Westeros 172 years before Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) took her first breath. But even if the show takes place nearly two centuries ahead of Game of Thrones, it makes it easy to fall back into the world of Westeros.

From the stunning costumes to the intricate set pieces, House of the Dragon contains all the little details that made HBO’s original show such a high-quality success. Of course, it also leans into one prominent aspect of Game of Thrones’ earlier seasons: all the subtle political maneuvering, often done through tense conversations behind closed doors.

And with the show building toward a civil war between the members of House Targaryen, it’s probably no surprise there’s not a ton of action at the start. Instead, the characters dance around one another, all setting themselves up for when King Viserys (Paddy Considine) passes on.

With no male heir at the start of the show, King Viserys names Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock/Emma D’Arcy) his successor. This doesn’t go over well with his brother, Daemon (Matt Smith), nor is widely accepted by the realm. When the king eventually remarries and has male children, most of his followers are shocked that Princess Rhaenyra will still inherit the Iron Throne.

And some characters within the Red Keep are more than willing to do something about their frustrations. If there’s one thing we can always count on from Westeros, it’s ruthlessness.

House Targaryen is full of memorable characters you’ll love and hate

Paddy Considine and Milly Alcock as King Viserys Targaryen and Princess Rhaenyra in 'The House of the Dragon' for our review. King Viserys is sitting on the Iron Throne, and Princess Rhaenyra is standing in front of it. She's wearing a red and gold dress.
Paddy Considine and Milly Alcock in ‘House of the Dragon’ | Ollie Upton

House of the Dragon features plenty of scheming among the great houses of Westeros, but that wouldn’t work without such a compelling lineup of characters. Even the worst players in this new Game of Thrones will pique viewers’ interest, leaving them unsure of who they should be rooting for.

That was a strength of Game of Thrones as well, which even won sympathy for Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) during its later seasons. And characters like Daemon Targaryen and Alicent Hightower will leave fans feeling the same internal conflict. All of the newcomers have streaks of cruelty and self-interest, but their journeys remain mesmerizing in spite of — or perhaps because of — their flaws.

Much of that can be attributed to the performances, which are on par with those of the original series. There’s no shortage of talent in House of the Dragon, and that extends to the writing as well. The execution of this story feels seamless, with few noticeable hiccups as season 1 unfolds.

Rhaenyra’s journey is one of the most compelling in House of the Dragon, which never downplays the misogyny present in her life. In general, the show’s political commentary feels more relevant than ever. Game of Thrones always highlighted the struggles of women in Westeros, but House of the Dragon digs its heels deeper, especially where marriage and motherhood are concerned.

‘House of the Dragon’ has a lot of ground to cover and big shoes to fill

Based on its first six episodes, House of the Dragon is off to a solid start — though the prequel has big shoes to fill and a lot of ground to cover. The series pulls its material from George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood, which details the Targaryen civil war, The Dance of Dragons. That confrontation alone lasted two years. And season 1 seems more focused on the lead-up to it than the actual fight.

With that in mind, House of the Dragon will likely have a wide scope. In fact, there are already several time skips throughout the first few chapters. And while they don’t completely derail the narrative, too much hopping around could prove jarring.

The show’s slower moments are some of its strongest, and fans will want to see the characters process events. Having major developments occur off-screen doesn’t necessarily allow for that. Hopefully, House of the Dragon finds a way to strike a balance between its individual storylines and the grander retelling of Westeros’ history.

And with any luck, that history will appeal to viewers as much as the original Game of Thrones did. The prequel will no doubt have to work at cementing its own legacy. Its initial episodes look promising on that front.

House of the Dragon premieres on HBO and HBO Max on Sunday, Aug. 21 at 9 p.m. EST.

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