House of the Dragon is a series that explores the idea of history rhyming with itself across time and space. House of the Dragon tries to enrich the world of A Song of Ice and Fire by copying the narrative melody that shaped Game of Throne, but it ends up in the trap of retreading ground that is beyond familiar and mistakenly assumes that its connections to a larger franchise are enough to make it
The story of how the Targaryen family's squabbles over the Iron Throne ultimately led to the near extinction of their entire family is told in House of the Dragon. House of the Dragon focuses on some of the pivotal moments in The Princess and the Queen, an account of how some of the most powerful families in Game of thrones became mortal.
As House of the Dragon opens a few years into the reign of King Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine), it's the kind of illusion that only the most protected people in the kingdom can really achieve. Despite the King's oldest heir, Princess Rhaenyra, being born a girl, with the pregnant queen consort Aemma Targaryen carrying a child believed to be a boy, there's not much concern about who will inherit. It is easy for those not aware of the larger context to not see the trouble at King's Landing. The opposite is true for both the audience and those closest to the royal family.
The years of bad blood, deception, and politics that put each member of the royal family into their position of power is what distinguishes the lines of succession and the fate of the realm from other areas. House of the Dragon presumes that you understand this about its world, and doesn't bother with fixing its characters' acts of treachery. House of the Dragon feels like it has the potential to keep the series moving at a fast pace, but once the many players have been introduced, it starts to feel like a mistake.
House of the Dragon's pacing, big, dramatic twists of fate and moments of bombast are often given priority over the smaller, more intricate machinations for power that are some of the most memorable parts of Martin's prose. This wouldn't be much of a problem if House of the Dragon's characters were inspired by Fabulists and Psychopaths. It can be hard to believe the House of the Dragon power players are two-dimensional and narrow-sighted as the show wants them to be.
Some of that weird vibe is due to the fact that House of the Dragon's beats often mirror those Martin wrote into The Princess and the Queen, but a lot of it is due to how hard the series tries to make its characters look like Game of Throne's. Despite being a series about the Targaryens before their fall, it's hard not to see traces of Game of Throne's Stark and Baratheons in their characterizations, and not in a way that feels like an intentional nod to how the families are destined to interact
The wigs of House of the Dragon are almost as laughable as the Targaryens and Velaryons were in the past. It is the sort of detail you would expect to be a bit pickier about for a show, especially given how much attention is being paid to detail in other shows.
In comparison to the Targaryen family, whose members House of the Dragon does a better job of fleshing out as people, most of the show's prominent characters of color are background players. Black people who aren't slaves are being made a more significant part of the world. Between House of the Dragon's lack of a quality wig budget and the way the Velaryons factor into this story, it sometimes feels as if the show's creative team did not think through some of its iffy-ers.
Similar to how House of the Dragon doesn't seem to know how to talk about race, the series also struggles with depictions of sex and violence that are reminders of the different ways that people can harm each other. There is a lack of elegance to the way the camera follows the scene of a fight. What ends up being more of an issue is how confident House of the Dragon is that it is novel as it revisits already-established details like how the Targaryens were known for sleeping with their family members.
House of the Dragon feels like it doesn't have the wild curiosity necessary to make a prequel like this really sing. If House of the Dragon is kept going and pushed to be more of a reflection of the future, that could change. House of the Dragon is a tale of swords and sorcery that you have probably heard before.
Emma D'Arcy is one of the stars of House of the Dragon. On August 21st, the series will premiere on the cable channel.