‘House of the Dragon’ review: HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel plays a less addictive game

Based on author George RR Martin’s ‘Fire & Blood’ prequel, the new series has the downside of being set almost two centuries before the key events of ‘Game of Thrones’, which take place 172 years before the birth. by Daenerys Targaryen. This increases the pressure to sink or swim – or rather, hover or spit – strictly on one’s own terms.
The current occupant of the Iron Throne, King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine), is somewhat reckless as monarchs, so much so that he is called weak by his brother Daemon (Matt Smith, playing a very different prince from his role in “The Crown”), a ruthless libertine who openly aspires to power.

Above all, Viserys yearns for a male heir. With his wife pregnant again, his teenage daughter Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), an accomplished dragon rider, realizes that her fate hinges on the birth of a son, just like her uncle’s as a child. than any other potential successor. (By the way, all those blonde and white Targaryen locks should lock in an Emmy hairstyle, if nothing else.)

Virtually everyone seems to be playing angles that suggest they’re one step ahead of Viserys, including the Hand of the King, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), who wields quiet authority without raising his voice above a muffled whisper.

Martin shares the show’s created credit with Ryan Condal, a newcomer to the “Thrones” world, with Miguel Sapochnik (who directed some of the most memorable episodes, including “Battle of the Bastards”) also directing the show. .

Still, while HBO has clearly opened the piggy bank to ensure the look is as lavish as intended — and composer Ramin Djawadi’s slightly tweaked score goes a long way to rekindling the mood — such series are built on characters. Simply put, the occupants of this realm initially pale next to Tyrion, Arya, or even one of the Lannister or Stark children.

Crafting a decade-long jump midway through the season, the story becomes progressively more compelling over the six preview episodes, delivering moments as brutal and gory as anything “Thrones” has produced. There is also the vague threat of war on the outer edges of the realm and the periodic use of dragons as the ultimate weapon in medieval-style aerial warfare.

The vigorous debate surrounding the final season of “Game of Thrones” has somewhat clouded the exalted place the series has held up to that point, maintaining a virtually unparalleled level of excellence. Notably, he signed on in 2019 ahead of the launch of several streaming services that dramatically increased television’s level of ambition and investment in fantasy.

Back when the original began, Cersei’s character said that when you play Game of Thrones, “You win or you die.” In a way, this mantra reflected the massive gamble and huge rewards made and reaped by the show itself.

“House of the Dragon” tries to play a similar game, but 11 years after the first series launched, the television world has changed. And at best, this series and HBO will likely have to settle for a smaller, more qualified, and less decisive victory.

“House of the Dragon” premieres August 21 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, which, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.