CGI magicians can make almost anything happen on screen … a brutal Battle of the Bastards, Destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor, fiery dragons annihilating Kings Landing…
But can they make lightning strike twice?
That’s the challenge facing writer Ryan J. Condal and director Miguel Sapochnik, as the House of the Dragon successors to Game of Thrones legends David Benioff & D. B. Weiss.
On the one hand they must come up with a new series that satisfies Thrones purists, and on the other it will need to stand tall in its own right.
The first episode of House of Dragon certainly gives it a red hot go, if nothing else.
There are dragons, sprawling sets, extras, battles, violence and a top-shelf cast.
Set 172 years before GoT, the new series chronicles the beginning of the end of House Targaryen, based on works by famed author George R.R. Martin.
In this kingdom, King Viserys (Paddy Considine) is ready to welcome an heir to the throne, with wife Aemma Arryn (Sian Brooke) set to give birth within days.
But Prince Daemon (Matt Smith), the king’s ambitious younger brother has his gaze fixed on the throne. The rift between the two has caused Viserys to keep Daemon busy and largely absent, which only fuels the latter’s seething anger.
Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) is also reminded that females do not inherit the throne. At least she has her dragon for company, demonstrating all the serpent-whispering skills that will continue through lineage to Daenerys. All Rhaenyra wants to do is fly on dragonback.
Like all good kings, Viserys finds himself mistrustful of those closest to him. Between his council of high-level advisers grasping for power, and a deceptive brother, the life of a king is always looking over one’s shoulder for fear of a knife in the back.
The lengthy first episode includes jousting knights, threats, sacrifice, power games, sex and a hint 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 outstanding in underplaying her role, making her own decisions and generally bringing life to the stuffy royal house. Smith is over-the-top brash as a villainous brother -a huge contrast to his other famed fantasy role.
House of the Dragon power games hint at politics of British, Asian, and literary royalty and while television has evolved over the lifespan of GoT, it addresses head on issues around equality, if less so around ‘blind’ casting of diverse actors.
As an opening chapter it is strong and satisfying, visually, dramatically, in homage to its predecessors.
Yet it leaves me unsure of how it will make its own mark rather than existing as a faithful second album. Much of that will lay in the writing and in what a fine cast can deliver.
On that front the dragon’s fire is burning brightly, so far and fans will welcome new chapters.
House of the Dragon airs 11am Monday on FOX Showcase / Binge.