CGI wizards can make almost anything happen on screen… a brutal Battle of the Bastards, the destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor, fiery dragons annihilating King’s Landing…
But can lightning strike twice?
That’s the challenge facing writer Ryan J. Condal and director Miguel Sapochnik, as the House of the Dragon successors of game of Thrones legends David Benioff and DB Weiss.
On the one hand they have to invent a new series that satisfies Thrones purists, and on the other it will have to stand out in its own right.
The first episode of House of the Dragon it certainly gives it a red-hot edge, if nothing else.
There are dragons, sprawling sets, extras, battles, violence, and a top-notch cast.
Set 172 years earlier Hadthe new series tells the beginning of the end of House Targaryen, based on the works of the famous author George RR Martin.
In this kingdom, King Viserys (Paddy Considine) is ready to welcome an heir to the throne, with his wife Aemma Arryn (Sian Brooke) due to give birth within days.
But Prince Daemon (Matt Smith), the king’s ambitious younger brother, has his eye fixed on the throne. The rift between the two has resulted in Viserys keeping Daemon busy and largely absent, which only fuels the latter’s simmering anger.
Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) is also reminded that women do not inherit the throne. At least she has her own dragon for her company, demonstrating all the snake whispering abilities that will continue through Daenerys’ lineage. All Rhaenyra wants to do is fly on dragonback.
Like all good kings, Viserys finds himself distrusting those closest to him. Between his power-hungry council of high-level advisers and a deceitful brother, the life of a king is always looking over his shoulder for fear of a knife in the back.
The lengthy first episode includes jousting knights, threats, sacrifices, power games, sex and a dash of romance. There’s an opening episode orgy with (mostly female) nudity and even a “Sophie’s Choice” moment…
Matt Smith and Milly Alcock emerge as two memorable stars from this first chapter. Alcock is great at underplaying her role, making his own decisions, and generally bringing the stuffy royal house to life. Smith is over the top cheeky as an evil brother, a huge contrast to his other famous fantasy role.
House of the Dragon power plays hint at the politics of British, Asian and literary royalty and as television has evolved over the lifetime of Haddirectly addresses issues of equality, though less so with the “blind” casting of different actors.
As an opening chapter it is strong and satisfying, visually, dramatically, paying homage to its predecessors.
Yet it leaves me uncertain how it will make its mark rather than exist as a faithful second album. Much of that will lie in the writing and what a good cast can deliver.
On that front the dragon fire is burning brightly so far and fans will welcome new chapters.
House of the Dragon airs Mondays at 11am on FOX Showcase/Binge.