So, the first season of House of the Dragon has come to a fiery conclusion. The burning question everyone had about this prequel was whether or not it could gain back the fans of Game of Thrones - following its disappointing ending - and undo the damage. Well, it’s safe to say that they are well on their way. The GOT franchise boasts something which sets them apart from all the other series in its genre: expertly-written characters. And that secret ingredient is what got HOTD off to a strong start.
It’s easy to get lost when dealing with a massive ensemble cast; it's a slippery slope for the main plot to get lost in side stories and minor characters with fewer complexities. However, the writers cater to the overarching theme throughout the series while giving us a new batch of intriguing and complex characters, ones we can relate to because they bear similarities to figures from the original series but without being too comparable. That one aspect alone speaks to the amount of time George R.R. Martin has dedicated to his universe and its inhabitants. Keeping GRRM close as a consultant certainly helped Ryan Condal to be somewhat consistent with the original series and stray from errors David Benioff and D. B. Weiss made.
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The characters are also unique and appreciably different from the cast we had in GOT. Little Finger and Larys Strong are similar in roles, yet their personalities are starkly different, with Larys not possessing that charm. Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen and Daenerys have similarities as well, being in the same position; however, the unwavering support from her father makes a difference in Rhaenyra's character, and her devotion to Daemon gives fans a union to rally behind. There is a limit to what you can draw comparisons to, enough to hook you but different enough to keep you guessing.
Knowing that things could go left at any moment (achieved through things like King Viserys’ ailing health) makes the entire season a masterclass in tension. Consider the constant fights between Viserys and Daemon and the latter's true intentions always being mysterious. Then there's the tension between Alicent and Rhaenyra, who start off as friends only to become enemies in the end. The series makes you wait for the next shoe to drop, knowing that, at some point, all chaos could break loose, yet it provides so much context that helps establish the stakes of the civil war.
The catspaw dagger's inclusion as the McGuffin of the series is one of the noticeable deviations from the source material. Its presence provides a definitive link to GOT, expertly done at that as all the scenes surrounding Aegon's Song of Ice and Fire are done with no more than two characters, as this was a Targaryen secret only passed down from king to heir. This subtlety explains its exclusion from the original material.
This is the beauty of this show; it’s a big-budget series, and it’s known for spectacle and a world that favors no character since anyone can be killed in a heartbeat. However, the spectacle is never the cornerstone of the story, just a tool to explain the stakes. In this case, that would be the dragons which are also characters in their own right. They come with distinct features and sounds and smells – something we hadn't gotten to this extent to get us emotionally invested in them because surely there will be a lot of death next season.
The series is a solid opener and a great set-up season for the Dance of the Dragons to begin. Now there is nothing to do but endure the Long Night before we can feast on season two.
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