House of the Dragon”: a review of the first season

A slow but still very entertaining prequel to Game of Thrones

The final episode of the first season of House of the Dragon has aired on HBO. The series, which serves as a prequel to the “Game of Thrones” and tells about the conflict between the two branches of the Targaryen dynasty, which has become one of the bloodiest in the history of the Seven Kingdoms. We have already shared our impressions of the first episodes of “House of Dragons”, which were very positive, and now we are ready to express our opinion about the whole season.

The first season of “House of the Dragon” turned out to be an amazing example of adaptation. On the one hand, the authors diligently follow the text of George Martin’s book “Fire and Blood” and are clearly reverent about the original source. On the other hand, for those who are familiar with the book, the season is not quite what you expect. Martin describes in great detail the conflict, which was called the Dance of the Dragons – because both sides had dragons at their disposal and actively used them in battles. The writer created a chronicle of the battles themselves, political machinations, difficult relationships between the key figures of the era, brutal reprisals against enemies and vile betrayals – all that the author’s main cycle is famous for. But the period of the reign of King Viserys I, preceding the Dance of the Dragons, although it was then that the foundation for the future confrontation was laid, Martin devotes far fewer pages of the book. And it’s easy to see why.

During the reign of Viserys I, the state enjoyed a period of peace, and the benevolent king himself lived on the principle of “live and let live”, did not unleash new wars and tried to extinguish the contradictions that now and then flared up between his confidants. Of course, his reign was overshadowed by the adventures of the ambitious and warlike younger brother Damon, and the intrigues of the courtiers. But by the standards of Westeros, it was an unusually peaceful and calm era. Therefore, the story about her takes Martin quite a few pages. And therefore, sharing our impressions of the first episodes of the House of Dragons, we assumed that, having devoted the introductory episodes to an introduction to the political situation and acquaintance with key actors, the creators would quickly move on to the Targaryen civil war. But showrunners Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik decided to take a different path.

The characters and motives of many characters in the series are revealed much deeper than in “Fire and Blood”

Screenwriters often take events to which the writer in the book devoted literally a few paragraphs, or even sentences, and develop them into full-fledged storylines. For example, Martin has literally a couple of phrases that the daughter and heiress of King Viserys, Princess Rhaenyra, and his second wife Alicent were friendly at first, but rivalry soon broke out between them. The series here deviates a little from the book source, showing them generally as the closest girlfriends of youth. And we see that even when politics separates the girls on different sides of the barricades, they do not completely lose the affection that was between them before for a long time. And this, of course, makes the upcoming confrontation more dramatic and adds interesting colors to many scenes.

Or the writer briefly says that the first marriage of Princess Rainira was concluded by calculation, her husband Laenor was suspected of predilection for her own sex, and there was talk about her sons that they were born from her lover Harvin Strong (this was clearly hinted at by the completely non-Valyrian appearance of the boys). In the series, we see, if not simple, but quite human relations between Rainier and her husband, or how Harvin shows touching concern for children whom he can never call his own. Both Laenor and Harvin are deeply secondary characters, and in his “chronicle” Martin says very little about them, and on the screen they appear as living and emotional personalities.

There are many more similar examples, when the creators of the “House of Dragons” take the plot outline invented by Martin and enrich it with details. And almost everything that the writers of the series bring to the story from themselves fits very organically into it. Although there are still a few unsuccessful notions – for example, when Princess Rhaenys, who had a very tough temper, can literally put an end to the brewing civil war with one word. But she shows inappropriate and uncharacteristic mercy for her enemies, which she substantiates a little later very unconvincingly.

Dragons often appear in the frame, but in battle we will only see them in a couple of scenes so far.

Considering that the first season is about a relatively quiet era of Westeros, there is very little action here. We will be shown tournament fights and several fights, one spectacular and driving, but fleeting and not too realistic battle, and at the end of the season we will even see an unequal battle between two dragons. But there are not so many spectacular episodes here – Ryan Kondal, who remains the sole showrunner of the House of the Dragon, has already promised that next season there will be no need to complain about the lack of action. The first focuses on court life and intrigue, which can also be extremely exciting and intense – this was proved by the “Game of Thrones”, and now confirms the “House of Dragons”.

Another quality that the new HBO hit has inherited from its illustrious predecessor is the abundance of expressive characters and strong acting. Speaking about the first episodes, we noted that the king’s violent younger brother, Daemon Targaryen, played by Matt Smith, is the brightest in them. How dashing and charismatic, how unpredictable and cruel the prince is and remains a remarkable personality in the future, which is very interesting to follow. But, perhaps, King Viserys, who at first seems somewhat ridiculous because of his seemingly unroyal kindness, is even more impressive over the distance of the whole season. A truly tragic figure of the king is revealed to the audience, who is deprived of the attributes of greatness familiar to the Targaryens, which he himself is burdened with, but on the other hand provided his subjects with many years of peace. Also, a person who loves his family with all his heart, but he himself doomed his children to bloodshed. Paddy Considine brilliantly played this role, and some scenes with him penetrate to the core.

King Viserys noticeably ages over the course of the season, but some other adult characters seem to be unaffected by the passage of years

Enough in the “House of the Dragon” and other colorful characters. And separately, the directors, and casting specialists, and actors should be praised for the fact that those characters whose performers change during the season turned out to be the same. Its events span over twenty years. And if some characters, whom we already meet as adults in the first episodes, manage to almost not change during this time, then the actors of children or teenagers in later episodes are replaced by older colleagues. For example, the roles of both Alicent and the Rainiers are played by two actresses – and in both cases, both young and adult versions of the heroines are played beautifully.

“House of the Dragon” turned out to be an almost perfect adaptation. He remains faithful to the spirit and atmosphere of the book’s original source, and in those cases when he deviates from his letter, this almost always only benefits the story. The second season will definitely be, but it will have to wait at least a year – according to the latest news, filming is scheduled for early 2023.


by Abdullah Sam
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