A bunch of flying lizards can’t distract from bad writing in ‘House of the Dragon’

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It may be impossible, fair or not, to consider a show as Dragon House not to mention the gargantuan legacy of its predecessor, game of thrones. HBO’s hotly anticipated show is a spin-off of a series that’s nearly smothered in superlatives: many would, with the help of some contained amnesia in its final season, tout it as one of the best in all time and most loved and loved. the most expensive and the most ambitious, and so on. You could say that the new series is almost doomed (although, carried by the massive and intense game of thrones fandom, it will translate to definite success by most measures for HBO), and it is indeed hard to watch without reflexively seeing how it matches or falls short of the original.

All this to say that in its first season, Dragon House is a perfectly decent show, but is hampered by an inherent inability to reflect the power of the original, as well as a crucial gamble that severely limits its ability to be re-immersed in the Westeros universe. Fans will nonetheless find, by and large, a similar DNA here – a story about the intertwined patterns of power and paranoia that shroud the Iron Throne – with a few key changes, for better or worse.

It takes place approximately 200 years before the events of the game of thrones, following the Targaryen family, empowered by dragon blood that allows them to commandeer a fleet of dragons, as they worry about their hold on the crown. The show is launched for the first time after the sonless King Viserys (Paddy Considine) names his daughter, Rhaenyra (Milly Alcott/Emma D’Arcy) his heiress, a controversial decision which, in a patriarchal society, threatens a potential chaos when Rhaenyra finally assumes the throne. Naturally, this unpredictable future has everyone near the throne murmuring, wringing their hands, and plotting.

This basic premise is presented well, setting up a great saga in a strong pilot episode. But at the end of the six episodes made available for review, the series finally and abruptly reads like an uneven setup. Much of this has to do with the bold decision to aggressively advance time through episodes: the first half of the season spans approximately fifteen years. It’s a creative decision that was no doubt considered by showrunners Ryan J. Condal, who co-created the series alongside writer George RR Martin, and director Miguel Sapochnik, who directed some of the best episodes of the original series, as a major risk. socket. But it creates jarring changes in a season in which it seems impossible to gain a foothold or establish narrative momentum.

The jumps also render some of what has come before in previous episodes like fluff suddenly useless: a storyline for Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith), the wayward younger brother of Viserys who is let down for the throne, in which he wage war on a mysterious villain. of the Stepstones, comes and goes like an anticlimactic charge, despite what was initially teased as an engrossing plot. It also suffers from one of the most egregious errors of the much maligned final season of game of thrones: a contrived battle resolved by a deus ex machina (and even more confusingly, a jump fight with the convincing villain).

There is a specific ambition here – a kind of longitudinal, focused study of Targaryen rule – which is intentionally distinct from the ambition of game of thronesbut that’s a difference that only highlights what exactly does Dragon House a rocky walk. The darkness of time, abandoned storylines or certain inconsistencies were eliminated in the original series by its scope – even from the first season the series was bold in introducing a caravan of characters, plots and distant lands. The show was excellent at spreading its narrative tentacles and constantly sprouting new ones, resulting in a rich engine of political intrigue and arguably the most immersive fantasy world-building in television history. At least at first Dragon House is limited to that, the titular family and a few other characters in its immediate orbit. That’s not a problem in itself, but the heightened focus makes the time skip all the more unsettling and, even worse, its flat, uncertain writing and ever-blatant character development.

A strong cast only does what it can. Matt Smith, for example, the most prominent actor to join the Dragon House, is sketched confusingly: it’s not clear if we’re meant to see him as a cruelly smiling nuisance or as someone we really hate to love. This isn’t a misinterpretation of the character who, as is customary with palatial drama, deals with moral grays: this is a character who the show is confused about what she wants to do. Viserys de Considine is presented as a benevolent and well-meaning father and ruler who struggles with self-doubt; what we’re ultimately left with is a character who dominates screen time but fills it with almost nothing genuinely moving (compare that to another top dad, Ned Stark, who was also a good man caught at a serious crossroads political, but lent its world infinitely more dramatic weight).

Presumably the show is built to be pushed forward primarily by the tension between Rhaenyra and Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey/Olivia Cooke), formerly Rhaenyra’s closest friend who is essentially pushed by her father Otto (Rhys Ifans ), the Hand of the King, becoming the new wife of Viserys. Within that focus, there’s a shift somewhat for the better: the show is clearly committed to avoiding sexual violence from game of thrones and orienting at least in part its story around women taking into account the patriarchal realities of the world, although there are questions about how these themes are handled. There are graphic and possibly gratuitous childbirth scenes. And at times, the series’ repeated iterations that female domination will cause the kingdom to evolve into an anarchic revolt strays from a factual confrontation with the patriarchy to a kind of uninspired notion that the series is a bit too much. eager to hammer.

But amid the focus on Rhaenyra and Alicent’s torn relationship, the series flounders in actually expanding the pathos within that conflict – once again, time jumps erase its ability to flesh this out. Even so, the quadruple team behind the characters is among the most notable in Dragon House; Alcott is easily the bright spot for the first half of the season, and the show nonetheless has rich dramatic potential in what Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke will bring together on screen.

Condal and Sapochnik might see all these bumps as necessary. If the engine of game of thrones in the background, there was always the dreaded winter and the rise of the white walkers, then the dance of the dragons, the civil war within House Targaryen, is the central event that this show is heading towards. Perhaps that means a long-term view of the relationships and cracks that lead to the dance is part and parcel of the drama, and a flimsy first season exposing that groundwork is a necessary sacrifice.

Any creator doing a spin-off is practically required to say that the new creation is their own business. And Dragon House should be and definitely is. The problem is that it has lost much of what it should have retained from its predecessor. There are more dragons, and far fewer engaging characters and developed relationships – a realm that feels much smaller, but not more intimate. The result is an expensive but average show that makes you wonder what’s missing from the original that made it the last remnant of date TV. The shadow of the throne is too big.

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