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Photo: ‘House of the Dragon’
Imagine being someone who regularly has a snack or two ready at your side whenever watching a film or tv show. As soon as it starts, you immediately draw your attention to your snacks instead, only looking at the screen when chewing your food or taking a sip of a drink. Now imagine watching a movie or series that grabs hold of your attention from the opening shot, something which gives you the urge to skip back a few times to make sure you catch every detail of whatever transpires. For once, you notice that consuming your snacks requires far more effort than watching what is on screen. As soon as the credits roll, you take a few minutes to process everything you’ve just seen.
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‘House of the Dragon’ is a series that provides that kind of viewing experience. Based on George R.R. Martin’s 2018 novel ‘Fire and Blood’, HBO’s newest fantasy prequel takes place roughly two hundred years before the events of ‘Game of Thrones’. With the show’s controversial last season still looming in the back of the minds of many fans, this new series had a tall mountain to climb, yet it did just that and then some. ‘House of the Dragon’ dusts off all the tools that made its predecessor the groundbreaking show that it was, those being an engaging political sphere, morally gray and complex characters, vivid gore, vibrant visual spectacles, and a lofty soundtrack. With co-creators Ryan J. Condal and George R.R. Martin at the helm, the series is a massive win for the world of Westeros, for HBO, and for the entire fantasy genre.
A Welcome Return To ‘Game of Thrones’ and Westeros
Without going into spoilers, the entire pilot episode, with the exception of the prologue, takes place in the city of King’s Landing, the home of the Red Keep and by extension, the Iron Throne itself. Despite spending a whole episode in only one city out of the entire world of Ice and Fire, it was a pleasant experience to revisit the center of many memorable moments throughout ‘Game of Thrones’. In fact, it would’ve probably felt a bit overwhelming to jump back and forth between different locations in a short period of time, so remaining in King’s Landing was perhaps the right decision. Additionally, given that the audience has been to Westeros, the show did not need to spend much time worldbuilding, nor did it.
From the opening shot, we are thrust back into this world of feuding political factions, but more importantly, we are introduced to a world of dragons. During the time period in which ‘Game of Thrones’ takes place, dragons were thought to be extinct. Two hundred years prior, however, seeing a dragon pass through the skies above King’s Landing was nothing out of the ordinary. When put together with returning composer Ramin Djawadi’s score, seeing dragons fly across King’s Landing is a sight to behold. It is not just the sounds and sights of Westeros we return to, but the aggressive and unrelenting nature of its people. The gruesomeness and brutality in ‘Game of Thrones’ return with full force in this show. However, it is not gratuitous or violent just for the sake of being violent. Similar to its predecessor, ‘House of the Dragon’ incorporates graphic moments not only to demonstrate the culture and societal norms in King’s Landing and Westeros, but also to serve the story by introducing us to these characters who frequently make questionable decisions.
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‘House of the Dragon’ – One Of The Best TV Pilots In Years
‘House of the Dragon’ made a strong debut with what is arguably one of the finest pilots for an episodic series in years. It accomplished every task a pilot needs to do and so much more. For one thing, it clearly established some of the key conflicts looking to come to fruition throughout this first season (assuming there will be multiple seasons). The political aspects of the show, centered around topics such as succession, alliances, and power dynamics, all come into play without muddling up the flow of the story. The episode also introduces the audience to this new set of characters in such an efficient way to where we get a sense of their personalities and various characteristics as well as their primary goals and the motives behind them.
But perhaps the best thing this show has to offer is its acting. Some of the main characters we are introduced to include a young Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen played by Milly Alcock, her washed-up father King Viserys Targaryen played by Paddy Considine, the King’s Hand Otto Hightower played by Rhys Ifans, and Lord Corlys Velaryon played by Steve Toussaint, all of whom appear to understand their respective characters inside and out. However, if there was one standout, it would have to be Matt Smith as the volatile Prince Daemon Targaryen, the King’s younger brother and head of the City Watch in King’s Landing. Smith brings out the rattlesnake-like nature in Daemon Targaryen. He knows when to compose himself, yet a dragon has his needs and though he may not bite back immediately, he bides his time waiting for the right time and place to strike. Smith perfectly encapsulates this mindset in his portrayal of Daemon.
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The Rare Adaptation That Is Better Than The Book
Whenever a popular novel gets adapted into a film or TV series, there are always those who live and die by the original telling and never miss an opportunity to repeat “The book was better!” countless times. While this might usually be the case, the opposite is true with ‘House of the Dragon’. Martin is a fantastic writer and ‘Fire and Blood’ is a solid telling of the Targaryen dynasty and the Dance of the Dragons, the conflict at the center of the show’s focus. However, the book does at times get too carried away with ancillary details that have little significance to the characters or events being described, such as who is whose uncle and how many times they remarried, and how many children they have with each wife. To be fair to Martin, however, ‘Fire and Blood’ isn’t really a novel and is more along the lines of historical documentation of events during the Targaryen reign written by certain academics and scholars in Westeros, so it may not be apt to call it a novel.
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Regardless, ‘House of the Dragon’ uses the characters and events in the book as a template to build off of and does a stellar job of its own in turning these historical figureheads into complex, multidimensional, morally ambiguous characters whose decisions keep the viewer on the edge of their seat from start to finish. Whoever ends up surviving or getting the Red Wedding treatment will eventually become a question lingering in the minds of fans, but for now, ‘House of the Dragon’ is a welcome and sorely needed return to Westeros. ‘House of the Dragon’ is currently streaming on HBO and HBO Max with new episodes dropping every Sunday night at 6 P.M PST.
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: Ryan J. Condal, George R.R. Martin (based on the book by)
Created by: Ryan J. Condal, George R.R. Martin
Cast: Milly Alcock, Paddy Considine, Rhys Ifans, Matt Smith, Steve Toussaint, Emma D’Arcy
By Nader Chamas
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Nader Chamas is an aspiring television writer who seeks to fuse thought provoking progressive ideals into the films, shows, and stories that he loves. Having graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Screenwriting, Nader seeks to use his writing to advance causes that do not get enough attention or input across mainstream media. Like most, Nader has his own share of his favorite franchises and stories across pop culture. However, he seeks to contribute timely and relevant topics into these stories as well as in his own original material. This is why Nader’s analysis of popular films and tv shows matches The Hollywood Insider’s practice of discussing entertainment from a socially cognizant and critical perspective.