House of the Dragon episode 1 review: Game of Thrones prequel adopts its worst qualities, kicks off as horny, gory bait
House of the Dragon episode 1 review: HBO's prequel to Game of Thrones left a bad first impression with too much violence and gore.
Watching the first episode of HBO's House of the Dragon made me really question the television taste of my younger self. A decade ago, was I watching all this gore and needless, soft porn content and thinking myself cool? I was flexing all around how I had discovered this great fantasy show called Game of Thrones and it is so full of gross ‘adult’ stuff, of course, it made it superior to others. But right now, fresh off the first viewing of its prequel House of the Dragon, I wonder if it could be among the cheapest (definitely not budget-wise), yuckiest epic fantasy on the offer. (Also Read | Game of Thrones spinoff House Of The Dragon has 'slightly too much sex', says Matt Smith)
Loaded with unimaginable scenes of violence, pain, suffering and torture, Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon appears to have learnt all the wrong lessons from its predecessor. There are the usual voyeuristic scenes from the brothel, women strutting about fully naked for usually too little and their's torture being shown in such vivid detail, that it can make you throw up in your throat a little. Of course, past me would have totally lapped it up as great, first-tier television but the me that is now has seen far better shows now about women's suffering, succession drama, and epic fantasy to give this one an easy pass.
When not soaking itself in grisly horror, House of the Dragon does have the potential to offer some good. Set 200 years before the events of GOT, the scale of the story seems rather small this time with just one house and one part of the entire Westeros in focus: The Targaryens in Kings Landing. The house and the kingdom is ruled by King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine), the nicest (although quite a bit son-obsessed) King that the throne may have seen in a long time and a long time to come. He's father to this series' heroine, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Millie Alcock), a Daenerys Targaryen-adjacent but with a little more life and less tortured childhood than what her great-granddaughter could afford.
Then there is the 'a**hole of the season', the king's brother, Prince Daemon Targaryen, played by the perfect and perfectly hatable Matt Smith. He's constantly at loggerheads with another promising character of the series, Rhys Ifans' Hand of the King, Otto Hightower. He could seem like the cuddly Ned Stark-type at first but truth be told, there are really no fully good men on offer this time. He's a weird but interesting amalgamation of Ned's sound reasoning and Petyr Baelish's unappetising selfishness.
The characters are all full of potential and things also seem saveable when the drama about succession froths up. And we all know how well HBO does those already. The plotting Hands, the unruly Princes, pinning hopes on unborn sons and disgruntled daughters feeling unloved, there's a lot of fodder for the show to chew on for a while. There is really no need to maim women like that. And there are a lot more dragons this time too but the novelty of them is kind of lost by now. No one is looking at a scaly egg with bated breath all season anymore.
The sepia-soaked colouring of the show also helps set it apart from Game of Thrones. The show does look beautiful with the forever-overcast skies and expansive castles, stunning sets. However, I still am not sure how the costumes and fashion seem still the same 200 years before Game of Thrones. Women are wearing the same outfits, same jewellery, and their hair the same way. Kings' robes are the same, their hands too. Can you imagine us never changing fashion since Regency Era? Still walking around in Empire lines gown and waistcoats.
Overall, as off-putting as violence was, I am hoping it was just a bait to get people watching. Past me would have been hooked to the bone. Even the gore can get boring a bit too quickly. Hopefully, series-runner Ryan J Condal and the one who started it all, George RR Martin, can be trusted to take the right calls.