House of the Dragon finale: With that brutal death and spicy politics, show finally emerges from Game of Thrones' shadow

Oct 25, 2022 08:39 PM IST

House of the Dragon is no more just a Game of Thrones spinoff; the season one finale has firmly established the show as something on its own, out of the former’s dragon-sized shadow. Spoilers ahead!

For years, Breaking Bad was considered the gold standard in dramatic television (unless you were a fan of The Wire). When its spinoff Better Came Saul began, not many expected it to match up to the former. By the end, many were arguing if the spinoff was actually better. The thought would have been blasphemous seven years ago. Now, there’s no telling if House of the Dragon can pull off a Better Call Saul, but it has certainly started down the road. The show is starting to emerge from the shadow of being just a Game of Thrones spinoff. If the season one finale, which streamed on Monday, is anything to go by, the student seems all set to challenge the master. Also read: House of the Dragon finale: Twitter is furious at that stupid thing Aemond did

House of the Dragon season finale sets up a delicious second season.
House of the Dragon season finale sets up a delicious second season.

For the unversed, House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones are both based on the works of George RR Martin. GoT is based on Martin’s bestselling series A Song of Ice and Fire. The show aired for eight hugely successful seasons from 2011-2019. It saw critical acclaim and won 59 Emmys before ending with a whimper with a disappointing final season. House of the Dragon is based on Martin’s Fire and Blood, a companion book set two centuries before the events of Thrones.

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House of the Dragon sees the civil war in the Targaryen dynasty known as the Dance of the Dragons as Aegon II and his half-sister Rhaenyra both claim the Iron Throne of Westeros. The season finale laid the grounds for the war that is about to come with Rhaenyra’s coronation and a death out of nowhere (at least for those who haven’t read the books).

Spoilers for House of the Dragon season 1 ahead!

As Aegon usurps the throne, Rhaenyra sends her sons Lucerys and Jahaerys as envoys to the mighty Lords of Westeros in a bid to get their support. As Lucerys arrives at Storm’s End to win Lord Borros Baratheon over, he sees his Aegon’s brother Prince Aemond is already there. A heated argument ensues before Lucerys leaves on his dragon Arrax. Sadly, Aemond--atop the giant dragon Vhagar--pursues him and in a moment of confusion, an out of control Vhagar kills Arrax and Lucerys thousands of feet above the Shipbreaker Bay.

The scene, along with Aemond’s frightened face at the end of the scuffle, is right up there with some of the best sequences from Thrones. Firstly, because the show finally introduces a high-stakes death that drops out of nowhere (quite like poor Luke himself). Yes, Lucerys’ loss isn’t the same for the viewer as Ned Stark or Khal Drogo but for the narrative and for Rhaenyra, it is a huge catalyst.

The moment the one-eyed Prince Aemond knew he just kickstarted a war just for some tomfoolery.
The moment the one-eyed Prince Aemond knew he just kickstarted a war just for some tomfoolery.

The second reason why that sequence is important is that it shows the unpredictability of dragons. Game of Thrones introduced three of these ferocious creatures but Daenerys was able to tame them with relative ease. They became her children, steadfastly loyal. But the dragons of House of the Dragon are different. They are larger, older, and have a mind of their own. Even experienced dragonriders like Aemond can’t get them to do their bidding. At the time of season 1, Vhagar is over 180 years old and has seen at least four riders in its lifetime. The complex personalities of the dragons and their individual differences have the potential to make House of the Dragon an even more fun watch than its predecessor.

But what made GoT truly great was how the politics was married with the magic and gore, and House of the Dragon has followed suit there as well. The last two episodes have shown that the most exciting parts of the show are where men and women dictate the fate of the continent in rooms around large tables, and not on battlefields or on dragon back. And as the season finale sets up a spicy second season full of war, backstabbing, and shifting loyalties, the viewers can rest assured there is a lot more to come.

Despite its lacklustre final season or two, Game of Thrones remains one of the most influential shows of our times. It casts a shadow so large it’s almost dragon-sized (Baelor not Arrax). But House of the Dragon has begun to take the requisite steps to break the shackles and emerge out of that shadow. Just how far it manages to do so remains to be seen. But the season finale has been a promising start indeed. All episodes of the show are now streaming in India on Disney+ Hotstar.

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    Abhimanyu Mathur is an entertainment journalist with Hindustan Times. He writes about cinema, TV, and OTT, churning out interviews, reviews, and good old news stories.

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