House of the Dragon is evident from that opening set in the crumbling halls of Harrenhal, but the foremost episode of HBO’s new jewel-in-the-crown prequel-sequel is an intriguingly intimate catch on Westeros’ most dysfunctional clan.
While the Game of Thrones premiere presented us to the Starks, Baratheons, Lannisters, and, yes, Targaryens, House of the Dragon’s debut seizure restricts its focus to a handful of major characters some 200 years earlier to the chances of the actual series. There are those silver-haired Targaryens show and post, along with the father-daughter duo of Otto (Rhys Ifans) and Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey), committee fellow Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), the enigmatic Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), who wins Matt Smith’s mercurial Prince Daemon Targaryen in a difficult match, and Dameon’s lover Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno). The opening episode deftly designates each character’s situations and ambitions, forming the backdrop for the bloody fighting to come. In a globe as complex as that of the Seven Kingdoms, that’s no straightforward feat, and it’s achieved by clinging to that more limited scope. By the moment the recognition roll, the fault stripes are plainly on show, and as ever, it reaches down to that annoying, sharp chair: the Iron Throne.
This is intertwined inseparably with overcoming sexism – Eve Best’s Princess Rhaenys is handed over for the throne in turn of her brother Viserys (Paddy Considine), making herself the name the Queen Who Never Stood, in the exact first set of the series. King Viserys’ focus on having a son makes him give the go-ahead for a brutal, gruesome cesarean that destroys his reluctant wife in the longing of protecting their unborn son, who dies anyhow. Otto, meanwhile, is no lover of Daemon’s, the present heir, and Dameon’s superiority mixed with some skillful manipulation from Otto points that Viserys has to select a new successor: his daughter, Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock), evolves the first female heir to the kingdom.
Otto instantly marks himself as the most treacherous participant on the board by removing Daemon, the king’s brother, out of his path. Ifans’ regular, stern, and quiet image makes the Hand of the King a mysterious sculpture, though it soon evolves clear what he wants when he transmits his timid daughter Alicent, who occurs to be Rhaenyra’s most secret friend, into the compartments of the bereft king in the seat of the night. Such ruthless, clever maneuvering is traditional Thrones.
And make no mistake, this is Game of Thrones through and through: blood, sex, and dragons are all current and accounted for. We already know the Long Night spins out to be a watery squib, so how can we actually get supported in the Targaryens handing down a sign that spins around controlling it? What should be an epic, chills-inducing point as Rhaenyra knows of this closely protected family secret is rather an unpleasant reminder of the surprises this prequel looks.
For now, though, House of the Dragon demonstrates itself a worthy beneficiary of one of the most wonderful TV dramatizations of all time. Still, there’s a feeling that something is skipping. The Game of Thrones premiere grabbed the perfect alchemy of a tempting plot, magnetic personalities, and a mesmerizing setting, and while lightning may still pound twice, it’s indisputable that House of the Dragon’s first spell doesn’t quite reach the same fascinating heights. The firewood is there, then, and all established up for the dracarys to actually set House of the Dragon alight.