The crown-wearing head is substantial. Viserys Targaryen takes on a great deal of responsibility when he is named Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms in the opening scenes of HBO’s House of the Dragon. It’s appropriate that much of the first season of the television program, which premieres this Sunday, centers on a monarch who struggles to measure up to his forebear. In fact, House of the Dragon itself bears this weight because it must come after Game of Thrones, one of the most acclaimed television programs ever.
If House of the Dragon can climb that wall, only time and the seasons that follow will be able to tell. However, it is evident from viewing the first six episodes of House of the Dragon that it at least has a chance. It’s fantastic television and a fantasy drama that is enjoyable without being a Game of Thrones fan. What’s more, House of the Dragon allows Game of Thrones fans who were disappointed by the show’s contentious final season an opportunity to fall in love with Westeros once more.
HBO will begin airing House of the Dragon on Sunday, August 21. The first episode of the series takes place 172 years before “The Mad King” Aerys Targaryen passes away and Daenerys is born. House of the Dragon, which follows the Targaryen Dynasty’s rise to power and subsequent demise, is based on George R.R. Martin’s fictitious historical book Fire and Blood. Martin did really write a 900-page book about the Targaryens. Winds of Winter won’t be coming to us, I’m afraid.
The conflicting Westerosi houses competing to rule as the most powerful clan was a major theme in Game of Thrones. In contrast, the focus of House of the Dragon is the internal strife caused by many Targaryens squabbling for the same Iron Throne. With such a competition, it starts. After Jaehaerys dies, the Great Council votes on the succession in the first few scenes of House of the Dragon, pitting Prince Viserys against his cousin Princess Rhaenys.
Because the Westerosi lords won’t recognize a female monarch, Viserys prevails. That doesn’t stop him from designating his daughter Rhaenyra Targaryen as his heir later in the premiere episode. Viserys was undoubtedly a modern man for his day, but when he remarries and his new wife had a kid named Aegon, things get problematic. Viserys claims that his son’s entry changes nothing, but an unsettling issue looms: If Viserys were to pass away, who in Westeros would prefer a woman to a man’s claim to the throne?
A major reason why Viserys and Rhaenyra’s relationship is a highlight is in great part due to the actors that play them. Paddy Considine is excellent as a kind man who becomes an ordinary king who fights to manage the demands of his family and Westeros at the same time. But Milly Alcock’s portrayal of Rhaenyra was undeniably the brightest star of House of the Dragon’s pilot episodes. She has an endearingly expressive face that can convey a spectrum of emotions associated with king’s court politics with only a single squint or lip purse.
If you look at the House of the Dragon entry on Wikipedia, you’ll see that Alcock is one of the two actors who portray “young Rhaenyra Targaryen.” In contrast to Game of Thrones, which focused on several families throughout the continent, House of the Dragon takes a more in-depth approach. There are pauses between episodes that can last anywhere from months to years. That makes sense given that the time period covered by the book it is based on is 300 years, as opposed to the significantly shorter one in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books.