TV Review: House of the Dragon, Series 1

While it may not be the Eve Best vehicle I longed for, Series 1 of House of the Dragon is still pretty darn fantastic 

“I wish to know who my allies are before I send them to war”

Well that turned out good didn’t it. I’m not sure the universe was crying out for a televisual return to the world of Game of Thrones, especially after its divisive end, but the pen of George R R Martin flows freely (if not in the case of The Winds of Winter) and so there is much material to work with. House of the Dragon is freely adapted from the novel Fire & Blood, which is set some 200 years before the events of Thrones, telling the story of the fall of House Targaryen as their rule over the Seven Kingdoms devolves into civil war.

Once you realise what the show is doing, in essentially setting the scene for this almighty conflict – which has its own name, the Dance of the Dragons – you can really appreciate the work that is being put in. The storytelling whips through the years, covering 30 or 40 years or so, which does take some getting used to. And to facillitate it, some characters get recast mid-series to cover the multiple multi-year jumps that happen, and though it is needed as key characters move from childhood to adulthood (and parenthood), you could cock an eyebrow at how little some of the male characters are made to age at a concurrent rate (Criston Cole, Daemon…).

So after a controversial accession to the throne, King Viserys has named his daughter Princess Rhaenyra as his heir but upon the death of his wife Aemma and his marriage to Rhaenyra’s bestie Alicent, the arrival of new children throws the question of succession up in the air. Friendships and family ties are tested to the limit as the two factions manoeuvre their pieces into place with Viserys’ health in terminal decline. It is all very well written, tightly plotted and grippingly done, recognising that shows don’t always have to go all-out to have major impact. 

Paddy Considine’s Viserys is a wonderfully tragic figure but it is Milly Alcock’s Rhaenyra and Emily Carey’s Alicent who steal the early episodes, ageing into Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke later on, who maintain a wonderfully fractious energy that bubbles with tension throughout. Matt Smith’s Daemon, brother of Viserys and eventual wife of Rhaenyra is another cracking antagonist full of unpredictabality, with the likes of Rhys Ifans and Matthew Needham impressing as venomous advisers dripping poison and lighting fires in all the right places.

The wonderful Eve Best is great as the “Queen Who Never Was, Princess Rhaenys Targaryen whose more direct claim to succession over Viserys was overlooked due to her gender, and though you want to say she is underused, the truth is, she is a supporting character rather than the lead we might want her to be alongside Steve Toussaint as her husband Lord Corlys Velaryon. No spoilers but she does get a titanic moment late on…

The main weakness for me was only really the fast turnover of actors for the numerous children. It’s as much to do with my concentration but it does take a lot to remember who belongs to who and what importance they have in the larger scheme of things. Even in the final episode, I was struggling to remember who was the actual heir on both sides. But the increased budget means there’s numerous, beautifully realised dragons and if some scenes are a bit dark, I can’t say it really bothered me tbh, I was just thoroughly gripped by how everything was unfolding.

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