If you liked Games of Thrones, you’ll probably like House of the Dragon because it’s essentially the same show. After years of developing multiple spinoffs to its fantasy hit, HBO decided to play it extremely safe and just give fans more of what they want, but with steadier hands driving the action.
The acting, production design, costumes and visual effects all reach the spectacular levels we’ve come to expect from this universe. Unfortunately, that makes everything feel like a retread. It’s an entertaining retread, but it’s still a trip through territory we know really well.
Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way. House of the Dragon is set in the Game of Thrones universe, so it’s not the most diverse cast. In other words, it’s an extremely white show. Seriously, since half the people on this show are blond-haired, extremely pale Targaryens, it somehow feels even whiter than the original.
However, one major difference from Game of Thrones can be found in the introduction of Steve Toussaint’s Lord Corlys Velaryon and his adult children, Vaemond and Laena. As the richest lord in Westeros, Corlys is more important than the king. As a famed warrior known as the Sea Snake, he’s certainly more worldly and has a better understanding of the threats facing the Seven Kingdoms.
He and his wife Rhaenys are actually in love, something not always found in high born Westerosi couples. Most are thrown together by politically arranged contracts. Rhaenys and Corlys’ genuine love and respect for each other means they are always on the same page and working toward the same goal.
The show’s somewhat repetitive story would have been better served by spending more time with the Velaryons and a little less with the same few Targaryens. Toussaint makes Corlys the most interesting character in every scene he’s in. Instead of endless conversations about why the war in his shipping lanes is so important, the series could’ve just shown us more of the actual war.
I understand the king’s fecklessness and weak-willed nature is meant to be a plot point, but making me spend so much time with a mediocre white guy when the far more fascinating Black family is right there is frustrating, and yet somehow right on brand for Thrones. I really could’ve used more time with the Velaryons and less with Targaryen in fighting.
And while we’re at it, no one needed the incestuous undertones in this outing. Look, we all know what we’re getting with a Game of Thrones spinoff, but surely the unrestrained violence showed us how awful Prince Daemon is without him constantly trying to bed his teenage niece?
By the way, when I say unrestrained, I’m saying there is a bananapants crazy, unnecessary level of over the top violence. Even by Thrones standards it’s a lot.
More than anything, House of the Dragon suffers from a lack of originality. There’s a power struggle full of back stabbing and manipulations, but something about it feels more predictable this time around. While those early seasons of Game of Thrones provided plenty of yell out loud moments, the new series is less exciting because we’ve been down this road before.
It’s still beautifully made and the dragons are amazing, but the drama could really use a more diverse cast and character development for more than just a few Targaryens.
House of the Dragon isn’t bad, it’s just too familiar. The so-called shocking moments aren’t that shocking because we’ve already lived through this story once. And that time we had a fully-realized Seven Kingdoms with multiple families and worlds to follow. With all the focus on the Targaryens, things start to get a little repetitive and disappointingly stale.
House of the Dragon premieres Sunday, Aug. 21 on HBO and is available to stream on HBO Max.