TV review: 'House of the Dragon' is a thrilling new 'Game of Thrones'

Milly Alcock plays Rhaenyra in “House of the Dragon.” Photo courtesy of HBO

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 19 (UPI) — The Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon, premiering Sunday on HBO Max, shows that violent, graphic political intrigue was present in every generation of Westeros. The new story quickly establishes gripping new conflicts.

One hundred and seventy-two years before Game of Thrones‘ Daenerys Targaryen was born, King Viserys I (Paddy Considine) ruled Westeros. Viserys has no male heir, so political maneuverings already are underway to name his successor.

Viserys’ brother, Daemon (Matt Smith), and his daughter, Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), each want the throne when Viserys vacates it. In addition to familial conflict, other members of the court have plans, too.

The politics and geography of House of the Dragon are just as complex as they were in Game of Thrones. However, it is focused on the perspective of the Targaryens, so that funnels the complexity through a certain lens.

Lord Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) brings news to Viserys of upheaval in town and pirates tearing the cities apart. We don’t see this unless Viserys or Daemon go into town, and by then. they’re leading violent sieges, which we often join in progress.

The theme of such authoritarian lawmaking is poignant. Daemon is even referred to as the “law and order” prince, only his form of law and order includes extreme castrations and dismemberments.

The story of a king and his daughter also is poignant in a more heartfelt way. Viserys loves Rhaenyra and is willing to buck tradition, but knows that paving the way for queens also comes with inherent dangers.

Rhaenyra also wants to be a knight, not literally barefoot and pregnant like her mother. Rhaenyra will confront Daemon over his treachery like a boss.

The drama between Daemon and Viserys is more than just political. There are resentments and deep emotional wounds, but in this kingdom, they act out violently.

Viserys’ court still talks a lot about kingdom politics. There are still a lot of lands and players of whom to keep track..

Die-hard fans can pick apart the minutiae of George R.R. Martin’s mythology. More casual viewers can invest in the pressures of political marriages on characters with whom they’ve grown to identify.

Time passes rather quickly between episodes, too. There are months between Episodes 1 and 2, and years to Episode 3.

Nevertheless, the flow of time and the factions of each island or town seem discernible to newer viewers. Also, early ancestors of other families who were important in Game of Thrones are present in this era.

One advantage House of the Dragon has over Game of Thrones is that dragons appear right from the beginning. Dragons take part in some of those violent battles, lending their flames to bloody human violence.

Human action also keeps the episodes exciting. One features a brutal joust between Daemon and Ser Criston (Fabien Frankel).

The sex is still in your face. House of the Dragon may be more subtle than Game of Thrones Season 1, but it’s still racy, even for streaming. You won’t go to bed before seeing a big orgy.

House of the Dragon builds on the story and technical accomplishments of Game of Thrones. The new series can introduce epic scope and themes, even though it is set before any of the original game happened.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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