House of the Dragon 1×1 Review: The Heirs of the Dragon
I’m going into House of the Dragon with cautious optimism. ‘The Heirs of the Dragon’ has set a pretty good tone for the show, and I hope it sticks.
While the final season of Game of Thrones disappointed me, this is something entirely different. One of the showrunners is Miguel Sapochnik, who directed some of the best episodes of Game of Thrones (“Hardhome,” “Battle of the Bastards”). The other showrunner, Ryan Condal, had absolutely nothing to do with the previous series and doesn’t carry any of that baggage. He also worked with George RR Martin to create this show, which bodes well for it.
Neither showrunner seems to be trying to run away with the show for themselves, as Benioff and Weiss did. As such, it’s only fair that I give this show a chance. If ‘The Heirs of the Dragon’ is any indication, this show may turn out to be pretty good. Will it redeem the catastrophic eighth season of Game of Thrones? We’ll have to wait and see. I hope it can. I genuinely miss being excited about this fantastical world. This universe is something incredibly special to me.
Rhaenyra Targaryen is an interesting and dynamic character.
Rhaenyra is a very likable protagonist, much like her descendent Daenerys. Unlike Daenerys, however, Rhaenyra’s story is already complete in Fire and Blood. That means a few things. First of all, prospective parents can Google her conclusion to decide if they want their daughters to carry that name or not. Don’t make the same mistake twice, folks. You can make an informed decision this time. Do you want your child growing up with this character’s destiny hanging over their head? Choose wisely.
Secondly, it greatly reduced the chance of writers completely screwing up her arc. The key points are set in stone and all they need to craft are the bits in between. If their method of filling those in between bits remains consistent with this first episode, I’m pretty comfortable saying I adore this character. I look forward to following her journey even knowing where it ends. The way they elaborated on the relationship between Rhaenyra and Alicent is already compelling, so I think I’ll likely enjoy what they do with it.
I’m going to make it gay and you can’t stop me.
While Rhaenyra does express some bitterness towards her father’s eagerness for a male heir, she also seems to have been able to find peace with her position over the years. This is likely largely due to the presence of Alicent Hightower, whom she clearly loves deeply. It’s very possible I’m reading queerness into a story where there is none. Regardless, I really feel like Rhaenyra loves her friend romantically and I’m going to choose to read the story that way.
Rhaenyra can accept the things that are uncomfortable for her due to Alicent’s presence by her side. She is also very physical with her affection for Alicent. She wants to take her up on her dragon, too. That’s as romantic as you can get with a Targaryen. Their dragons are reflections of them, so allowing others to ride them is an incredibly intimate gesture not offered to just anyone. That is, unless you’re trying to save people from a horde of ice zombies, but we’ll worry about that in a couple of centuries.
Alicent, however, seems much less enthusiastic about their friendship. When Rhaenyra reaches for her hand at the tournament, she looks taken aback. She almost seems to acquiesce to the contact just to pacify Rhaenyra. In an earlier scene, Rhaenyra quips that she’s ‘comfortable in her position,’ which has a dual meaning at that moment. She’s comfortable not being her father’s direct heir and enjoying her life with Alicent. She’s also comfortable right there in that moment, with her head pillowed in Alicent’s lap. As soon as Rhaenyra says this, Alicent stands up, quite literally (and even figuratively) taking that comfort away.
Their story is going to be a difficult one to watch unfold.
Their friendship isn’t elaborated on in Fire and Blood, though details of their later political positions are crucial to the overarching story for this section of Targaryen history. Fire and Blood is essentially a history book, so characters A and B are doing X and Y at certain points, but how they got there is largely left to the imagination. This gives the writers a lot of room to absolutely ruin us with heartbreak and sadness if they so choose.
Are these writers going to rip out our hearts over this? Probably. The minds of Martin and Sapochnik can be a bit scary, and I assume Condal is similar. I’m bracing myself accordingly. There will probably be a lot of tears. Sure, I know where this story ends, but the journey to get there can make it so much more heartbreaking than what we got in the book. I can see the writers positioning people for maximum emotional pain, and I love it.
Yes. Bring on the angst! Break my heart!
Not all of the Targaryens are immediately likable. Enter: King Viserys.
King Viserys I Targaryen is a much less lovable Targaryen. He’s passive, which can occasionally be a good thing. When he’s advised that he could take the Baratheon’s tongue for cruel things he said at the tournament, he opts not to do so. However, the pressure he’s put under for a male heir and the suggestion from one of the Maester’s that he could sacrifice his wife to save his son leads him to murder his wife in her birthing bed. That is not good, and is a major failing of his passivity.
Queen Aemma had no say in her sacrifice and eventual death. The men in the room decided that saving a potential male heir was more important than her life. With some gentle prodding from a Maester, King Viserys allows them to kill her to save the child. Despite her saying earlier that this was her duty as a woman, she was clearly not ready to die at that moment. That choice doesn’t belong to her here, though, and it’s absolutely infuriating.
It’s hard not to hate King Viserys for this choice, even if he is clearly horribly devastated by his decision. The situation is made even worse when it’s revealed their son had died as well, so the sacrifice was for nothing. Everybody failed here. The only reason I’m not upset at the showrunners for it is because this is exactly how they wanted us to feel, and have said as much. So technically this was a success as far as their writing goes.
I don’t see myself truly liking King Viserys any time soon. I prefer characters with strong convictions and goals, which he very much lacks. I also prefer characters who aren’t afraid of owning their decisions, which isn’t something Viserys has done. It is, however, very much a trait that Daemon Targaryen has.
Daemon Targaryen is going to be the most controversial character on the show.
I can foresee the struggle some people are going to have with Daemon already. He is brutal in his command of the Gold Cloaks, cleaning up crime at King’s Landing with rampant maiming and murder. This isn’t a clear-cut ‘evil’ character trait, though. The people he maimed and murdered were largely criminals so it’s easy to view this as a heavy-handed way of making things right. At least it can be viewed that way if you place yourself in the fantasy world where this story takes place.
Here in the real and modern world, this is obviously bad. But in this fantasy world, is it really that bad? It’s sort of morally gray here, if anything. The Small Council seems shocked at his behavior, sure, but their outrage doesn’t get up to the level that it would in the real world. We simply don’t have the same frame of reference for violence and law as these characters do. I interpret this as being in line with a boss that yells and throws things. I may be off with this frame of reference, but I’m working with what I have here.
Daemon Targaryen wasn’t wrong when he called the King weak. He is. King Viserys doesn’t have a strong drive to make hard decisions, and seems to want to skip as many of the difficult choices as possible. He bends to pressure easily. If someone had really pushed him to take the Baratheon’s tongue, he probably would have caved in eventually. The dude doesn’t have a backbone. Daemon does.
So I like the guy that murdered criminals and hate the guy that sacrificed his wife to save his son?
I’m well aware that choosing to like Daemon and hate Viserys is… odd. Daemon’s body count is very high, whereas Viserys killed his wife to save his child. Ostensibly you’d think Viserys would be the more sympathetic one here, but no. I’m just not vibing with that. I’m not even going to try to justify it, because liking characters doesn’t need justification. I like Daemon’s charisma, determination, and unflinching belief in his own decision-making. I hate how easy Viserys is to manipulate. And that’s that. I can’t help but read into the nuances and this is where I’ve found myself at the end of it.
Matt Smith has said that Daemon would totally support Daenerys’ claim to the throne, and her method for taking it. “I think he’d have been on the dragon with her, to be honest with you. Let’s have it, this is ours. Get out the way.” I can’t help but agree. In fact, this insight makes me love Daemon just a bit more, actually. The fiercely steady Targaryen determination is my favorite trait of theirs, second only to their ability to ride dragons.
I will defend Daenerys to the death.
While I have major issues with how Game of Thrones pushed Daenerys to that breaking point, I don’t exactly disagree with where she ended up. I just hate how quickly they rushed the story to get there instead of letting it unfold at a more natural pace with more road signs along the way. It felt too abrupt. Other characters I like, such as Wanda from the MCU and Dolores from Westworld, had their descents into cruelty much more thoroughly fleshed out. It was never the violent and angry Daenerys that upset me, but rather the abrupt nature of her turn.
And if Matt Smith is confident that Daemon would have her back, I’ll probably end up adoring his character, too. This is the Targaryen spirit I love and I’m all for it. Matt Smith is really making this violent Targaryen likable, and I’m incredibly excited to see what more he brings to the role. While I wasn’t entirely sold on his casting at first, I’m all for it now. He really is a perfect choice.
This is, once again, a morally dubious situation that I find myself cheering for. I know many are unable to cheer on brutal characters, but I’m hoping that a show that focuses on one of the most incestuous families in the fantasy world would scare these types of people away. That may be wishful thinking on my part though. People who can’t explore nuance in fiction also don’t be able to prevent themselves from engaging with those stories. It’s unfortunate, really.
And oh yes, this show will have incest.
This show will have incest quite prominently. I can’t talk about that yet because, unlike my speculation for the Alicent-breaking-Rhaenyra’s-heart plot point, the incest is very clearly written out in Fire and Blood. If I say who it’ll be, that will be a spoiler. But if you don’t want to deal with major characters engaged in this type of behavior, a show about the Targaryens is very much not meant for you. I’d stop watching now, because incest is coming. This is what you sign up for when you watch a show featuring the Targaryen bloodline. Their family tree rarely branches.
Overall, ‘The Heirs of the Dragon’ has left me feeling very hopeful for the series.
My urge to go out and buy more Targaryen merch is startlingly high already, but I’ll try to contain myself. This series will have ten episodes, which means it’ll be running right up to Halloween. I suspect there will be some absolutely killer merch then, and I’ll have a better reading on if the show is actually good or not at that time. If the quality holds, the fall season is going to be super fun, though. Imagine all the dragon-themed Halloween decorations! I can’t wait.
House of the Dragon will air every Sunday at 9 pm on HBO Max.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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