HOUSE OF THE DRAGON SEASON 1
(***)-VITO CARLI
"...it could become a classic sci-fi program. It is just not there yet."

Promising, But it Never Totally Takes Off

(060823) House of the Dragon is an opulent and more than competent looking prequel to the acclaimed groundbreaking HBO series Game of Thrones (2011-2019). Like its predecessor the new show currently airs on HBO Max. It was released simultaneously on Blue Ray and DVD on December 20, 2022, and it contains over 60 minutes of extra features. These features, particularly the parts that interview the writers and actors, are almost as interesting as the show itself.

Game of Thrones may have been the finest historical fantasy/action/adventure series that ever appeared on TV (sorry Xena: Warrior Princess fans). Unfortunately the series ended terribly. The last season was a poorly conceived disaster that did a disservice to most of the characters and as far as I know it was universally panned. Although House of the Dragon never quite reaches the heights of the first few seasons of Game of Thrones, it also never reaches the demoralizing lows of GOTís disgraceful, rushed last season.

House of the Dragon has been a tremendous success after the first episode was released or free on YouTube. Over ten million viewers watched the first episode, the biggest viewer ship on HBO/Max ever, and viewer ship was so great it caused the streamer to crash, so no one was surprised when the show quickly was renewed for a second season. The series was also critically acclaimed and appeared on many Top 10 TV series of the year lists on newspapers like the Chicago Tribune and Francisco Chronicle as well as cable channels like CNN.  I donít think it always hits the bulls eye, but it has some episodes are undeniably spell binding. This is especially true the ones dealing with the storyline of the ascension of the princess to queen and her sexual initiation.

The show takes place 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones, and it depicts the beginning of the decline of the House of Targaryen, the dominant family of the first series. The main problem is that an ailing king must choose a successor. His two best choices: Prince Viserys and Princess Rhaenyra, both have supporters and no matter who he picks, a civil war is likely to take place within the family. One of the kingís relations even says, ďto elude the storm you can either sail into it or go around it, but you should never await itís coming.Ē To complicate things both sides have dragons and they were more commonplace in this era than during the later Game of Thrones era.

Paddy Considine (from Hot Fuzz) makes a fine King Viserys of Targaryen. Although he tries to do the right thing, he canít please everyone and because of his personality and situation (reigning during the split of the family) he is reminiscent of King Lear. Ironically, Considine who plays the ailing and declining king has Parkinsonís disease in real life, so his acting years may be limited.

Matt Smith (of Dr. Who and The Crown) is also a standout as the Kingís flawed and unstable brother Prince Daemon, who is a savage warrior and expert dragon rider. He is rash, bold and sometimes goes against his brotherís wishes. He is also hedonistic and unpredictable. This wild card of the family has contempt for social norms and he could either make his family proud or embarrass them at any time.

Although young Princess Rhaentya is in many ways the smartest and most competent potential successor of the King, Viserys puts off giving her the crown because he knows it will cause problems among the sexist population. At one point one of the characters even explains that many would rather see the realm fall then have a woman run it. As one of the writers stated on the commentary many of the female characters are proto feminists struggling against the societal limitations placed upon them for their gender. Although they were frequently shrewd and talented, they were reduced to being supportive or mere baby makers.

The most interesting character is Princess Rhaentya (played by Milly Atcock in her youth) who later becomes Oueen Rhaentya (played by the non-binary, Emma Dí Arcy who is as pale as the DíArcy from Smashing Pumpkins). Although she is brave and seems born to rule, she is also reckless, bratty and like many teenagers she rebels and often goes against her fatherís wishes. At one point the king says, ďThere are times when I would rather face the black dragon than my daughter of 15.Ē She angers her father when she refuses to pick a suitor to marry. Some are far too old or young and almost all of them seem unworthy of her. She gets into big trouble when she joins her uncle in the tour of the sexual underworld and rumors spread among the population. No one gets too bent out of shape over her uncleís actions, but she is persecuted because there is a sexual double standard and women are judged more harshly for promiscuity.

Olivia Cook plays queen Alice Hightower who is the princessís best friend and confidante. Although in many ways they seem to be opposites, it later turns out they have more in common than was initially apparent.
When the Princess gets pregnant Alice supports her even though she has competing interests with her father, which causes considerable friction.

Graham McTavish is Lord Laryls Strong who is the chosen protector of the princes and despite their class and age differences he falls in love with her. Their relationship (between nobility and a lower class) echoes that of Lancelot and Guinevere or even Dane Whitman and Sersie in Marvel Comics.

One source of controversy is the racial changes made in the series in the name of diversity. The show has a family of color in it, the House Velaryon, even though in the novels they are described as having silver hair, and purple eyes and pale skin. Some critics (including the host of Nerdrotic) have blasted this decision as an attempt to be "woke", but I didnít think this harmed the show in any way. Writer Ryan Condal said: ďhe didnít want to another bunch of white people on screen.Ē Historians have proven that there were black people in Europe in the time period in which the fictional work takes place. The Moors who were dark skinned Africans and ruled much of the Iberian Peninsula during the Late Middle Ages, holding control over parts of Spain and Portugal for many decades.

The film is not recommended for very young kids and the show sometimes has shocking gore and some nudity, although it seems to have has fewer nude scenes than its predecessor. Aside from the expected battle carnage, there is a scene in which a dying woman is given a cesarean without anesthesia to preserve a royal child. It also shows how dangerous childbirth was for women, and someone even says, ďA childís birth is our battlefield.Ē The scene shows how little regard there was for woman and she was expected to die if necessary to preserve her child.

In addition, viewers will be treated to a rapist having his testicels cut off and a thief having his hand cut off, with the offensive body parts all thrown in a pile. Justice in the kingdom is brutal. Social reformers or puritans might ask is all this violence necessary. In this case I would say yes. Violence is as essential here is as gunplay is in a western, although First Cow and some anti-westerns avoid this. Itís part of the genre mix and the recipe wouldnít taste right without it.

To be sure not every episode is stellar but the series as a whole is entertaining, engaging, and quite promising. Although I donít have HBO Max, I will be I will be on the look out for Season Two as soon as it becomes available. Sword and sorcery and/or fantasy fans wonít be disappointed, and this is a worthy although perhaps not classic spin off/prequel.
 

Series Directed by:    Season One directed by: Miquel Sapochnik, Greg Yaitanes, Clare Kilner, Geeta Vasant Patel
Series Written by:    Series Created by: David Benioff and J. B. Weiss

Season One written by: Ryan Condal, Gabe Fonecsa, Ira Parker, Charmaine DeGrate, Sara Hess, Kevin Lau, and Eileen Shim

Based on Based on George Martinís Fire & Blood
Starring:    Paddy Considine, Matt Smith, Emma DíArcy
Released:    Episode One Released 8/21/2022 on HBO Max, DVD and Blue Ray release 12/20/2022
Length:    Ten episodes each approximately one hour in length
Rating:    TMA for graphic violence strong sexual content (including simulated sex acts and nudity), cursing and drinking

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

Come to the next session of the Monthly Poetry Show on the first Saturday in June /June 3 at Tangible Books in Bridgeport from 8-10 at 3324 South Halsted hosted by Vittorio Carli

HOUSE OF DRAGONS  © 2023 HBO/MAX
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2023 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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