House of the Dragon S1, Ep. 1 Review
It’s been three years since the end of Game of Thrones, and I thought that the world had moved on from it. I know I did; the final season left me as disillusioned as everyone was with Daenerys Targaryen. And with how much flak HBO Max’s gotten with their recent Purge of the Batgirl film and shows like Infinity Train, I had even less motivation to support their Game of Thrones prequel. Yet, as last Sunday night came around, I found myself sitting in front of the TV, ready to watch House of the Dragon. I convinced myself I wanted that I wanted to see it simply for the dragons. I didn’t want to deal with the hot mess that was House Targaryen again anytime soon.
It looks like I was lying to myself. I got sucked right back into the world of Westeros, albeit one that’s far different from what we know.
Westeros Under Targaryen Rule
Taking place almost 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon shows us a much different Westeros. One ruled by the Targaryens at the height of their power, with plenty of dragons to go around. It’s a Westeros that’s, for the most part, free of the corruption and rot prevalent in Game of Thrones, and the madness of the Targaryens. At least in the beginning. After all, the whole point of House of the Dragon is to show the events that would lead to House Targaryen’s slow decline over the next two hundred years.
For those who don’t know, House of the Dragon aims to cover the Dance of the Dragons. In a nutshell, it’s a civil war that pits House Targaryen against itself over who gets the right to sit on the Iron Throne. One of the candidates has yet to be born, but the other one gets introduced in the show’s opening scene riding her own dragon: Rhaenyra Targaryen, the eldest child of King Viserys I.
Whether intentional or not, there is a lot of Daenerys in Rhaenyra. They’re both beautiful, smart, and skilled dragon riders. The main defining difference is that Rhaenyra’s a lot happier overall since she got to have a happy childhood with loving parents. Since this is Westeros, though, don’t expect that happiness to last. Count on it not to last.
The Players Emerge
Much of the first half of the episode sees most people in good spirits in the Royal family. Viserys is due to have another child any day, with the whole realm participating in a tournament to celebrate the birth of his soon-to-be heir. However, cracks already start forming with the arrival of his brother, Daemon, played by Matt Smith, aka the 11th Doctor (and one of my favorites!)
I was initially hesitant to see Matt Smith play someone who, according to lore, is the deadliest man in Westeros during this time. However, my doubts burned away after seeing Matt’s performance as Daemon. He plays him as this arrogant, self-assured jerk who’s abrasive to everyone except his niece. Unlike Joffrey, though, he’s got the chops to back up all these claims and the dragon.
As fun as it is to see Westeros at the height of the Targaryens, nothing lasts forever. Pretty soon, trouble comes when the Queen goes into labor. In what has to be one of the bloodiest things HBO’s ever done, we watch as the Queen dies due to a C-Section, and her infant son not long afterward. Everything gets worse from there, and soon, it’s clear that the Iron Throne will be contested.
The Big Twist About House Taragaryen
It’s not until the final minutes of the episode, though, that we get the biggest plot twist, which affects everything about Game of Thrones. In a conversation between father and daughter, Viserys reveals there was another reason why their family conquered Westeros. Aegon the Conquerer had a dream about the future, where death marches from the far north and threatens to destroy all life. In other words, the White Walkers. So, Aegeon knew that the only chance the world had was if Westeros was united, leading to his conquest of the Seven Kingdoms.
So, all that talk about Jon Snow being the “Prince That Was Promised” wasn’t just a red herring. The Targaryens tried to set themselves up so that one of them would be the one to save the world from the White Walkers, and they’ve passed that knowledge down from King to King for generations as a warning.
This Only Means They Screwed Up Even Worse Than We Thought
Of course, this only makes what happens during Game of Thrones all the more important since Aegon’s dream became a reality, though not in the way he thought it would. Of course, it also makes the Targaryen’s fall all the more tragic. They forgot their true purpose, squandered their potential, and almost left Westeros in ruins before the Night King ever marched south. Even though they ultimately succeeded, they lost everything, with their last remaining member exiled to the far north.
I thought this inclusion was a cop-out meant to make up for what happened with Game of Thrones ending. However, the revelation that this reveal was due to info directly from George R.R. Martin, I’m willing to tolerate it. I’ll like it even more if Martin finally finishes the last two books and gives us a better ending.
So, despite my reservations, I find myself hesitantly returning to Westeros. I will try and avoid getting attached to any characters, though, since I expect many of them to die before the series ends.