The good and the bad of Season 1 of HBO's House of the Dragon, while looking ahead to Season 2.
*LOTS OF SPOILERS BELOW*
Are you going through withdrawals? Missing that 9 PM Sunday night fix? I sure as seven hells am. Patience. I'm not sure about the rest of you, but the tentative release date of 2024 for Season 2 of House of the Dragon will surely test my patience based on what is to come. Withdrawals following Season 1 are common; I missed the must-see aspect of television that has been absent these last few years. The days when you always had to tune in when the show aired, instead of streaming.
Any worry over the controversial and highly debated Season 8 of Game of Thrones keeping fans away was immediately put to rest by, in my opinion, one of the best series pilots ever. It had everything. I was immediately back in Westeros and ready for 10 episodes of my favorite franchise, created by George R.R. Martin. The season was almost all ups. I will discuss my favorites, though we are also taking a look at the few, the very few, downs that the season had.
Early Pacing/Character Issues
House of the Dragon was unique in that it had two pilot episodes, which basically split the season into two mini-seasons of five episodes each. Milly Alcock was a revelation as young Rhaeynra. The most disappointing thing about the early quick pace of the show is that we couldn't see her develop her version of Rhaenyra over a few seasons.
Another victim of the quick pace is the lack of character development for Ser Criston Cole. Nothing against Fabien Frankel, but as the chosen protector of Rhaenyra and a Kingsguard, he is easily seduced by the much younger woman and breaks his Kingsguard vows quite quickly. However, when Rhaenyra rejects his plan to run away and marry, he does a complete 180, even going to the length of almost killing himself.
A lack of screen time hurt Criston Cole's development and young Alicent recruits him without much effort. He doesn't come across as a sympathetic character, and while that characteristic fits in quite nicely with the Greens, Cole's motivations don't seem justified to completely switch sides, while hating Rhaenyra to an extreme degree. More screen time and a slower pace would have helped define the character of Criston Cole more. It will be interesting to see what role he has to play in Season 2.
With the negatives out of the way, let us take a look at my five favorite aspects of the season.
5. Queen Alicent and the green dress
After her father was removed as King's Hand and finds found out Rhaenyra lied to her, Alicent makes one of the biggest statements of the show during Rhaenyra and Laenor's wedding by declaring her allegiance in a very fashionable way. Actress Emily Carey gets overlooked as a performer with so many other great performances, but she truly shined in this moment.
4. Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen
Matt Smith was incredible all season long. Whether he had a lot of dialogue or not, you always felt his presence when on screen. An excellent moment early in the season is his defeat of the Crabfeeder on the Step Stones. After appearing to surrender and then charging the army in one of the few extended battle scenes of the season, Daemon Targaryen leaves quite the impression as he drags the dead and defeated Crabfeeder behind him out of the cave to show his victory.
3. Aemond loses an eye, but gains a dragon
Watching adolescents fight the battles of their parents is always tough to watch. Following the death of Laena and the entire family's gathering at High Tide, Aemond decides that now is the moment to claim his dragon. Unfortunately, his success is perceived as stealing by Laena's children, who have the support of Rhaenyra's two oldest boys. Conflict ensues and while Aemond is bigger and older, Lucerys takes advantage of a momentary distraction and takes his eye out. This moment sets a lot of events in motion. It gives the Greens a huge advantage by adding the biggest living dragon, Vhagar, to their side and sets a collision course between Aemond and Lucerys that will ignite the realm into war.
2. Vhagar's Disobedience
After the death of King Viserys, both the Blacks and the Greens need powerful allies. Fate would have it that Lucerys and his dragon, Arrax, are sent to Storm's End, where Aemond and Vhagar have already made their own deal with the Baratheons. Nearly coming to blows, Lucerys is allowed to leave first, but Viserys's words earlier in the season would come to fruition; controlling dragons is a lie. Vhagar goes rogue after a bit of cat and mouse in the air and kills Lucerys and Arrax.
1. King Viserys's long walk
King Viserys comes to Rhaenyra's aid and climbs the Iron Throne one last time in Episode 8. It was quite clear to everyone but the King that Rhaeynra's children were not the sons of Laenor Velaryon. It comes up several times and causes quite a few rows, none more shocking than when Vaemond Velaryon comes to King's Landing to make a claim for Driftmark. Rhaenyra pleads to her very sick father that she needs his help in defending her children, which leads to the most iconic moment of the season. We also see the love Daemon has for his brother in this scene, and that the ailing King Viserys still has some fire left within him when he declares for his daughter and calls for the tongue of Vaemond. A truly epic moment of television.
With Season 1 of House of the Dragon in the books and its release on 4K/Blu-Ray coming soon, thoughts go to what is to come in Season 2. George R.R. Martin himself said that for the story to be at its best, the show will need four seasons. While S3 and S4 are quite a ways away, here are five things to look forward to in Season 2.
5. Rhaenyra's vengeance
She learned her father died, the Greens/Hightowers stole her throne, had a miscarriage, and lost her son all on the same day. This is going to have a major impact on her and the Blacks. Retribution will be on her mind.
4. War with dragons
Game of Thrones gave us a small taste of what dragons can do in a battle. House of the Dragon features a lot more dragons and dragon riders and this is going to be a prolonged war for it to have earned the name "Dance with Dragons."
3. Return to Winterfell
The Blacks will be searching for allies and Jacaerys is heading north on his dragon. The Starks feature less prominently in this show, but they are still a great house with many men to call upon for war. We might even meet the soon-to-be legendary Cregan Stark.
2. Targaryen Blood
More Targaryens will die, it is just a matter of when. It's a Civil War (how can war be civil?) and there is a lot of bad blood between factions. It is inevitable that we will lose characters we have come to know and love. That will only escalate this devastating war.
1. More of this cast!
The pacing should be much slower and time jumps are going to be limited moving forward. More time spent with these characters that we love or love to hate will be a pleasure, as these actors get to truly sink their teeth into their roles.
5. Olivia Cooke as the elder Queen Alicent
She made Alicent more sympathetic and showed that this war isn't going to be just black and white, good guys vs. bad guys. Plus, she sells foot pics for information.
4. Milly Alcock as young Princess Rhaenyra
Charming and delightful on screen. She showed the struggle of a young woman fighting against duty and her own desires and the failure to follow both completely.
3. Matt Smith as Prince Daemon
A controversial character, eerily reminiscent of Jamie Lannister. You want to like him and at times you do, but there are moments when you realize that this isn't a good person.
2. Emma D'Arcy as the elder Princess Rhaenyra
A more mature character when she comes into the story. Motherhood has seemed to mellow Rhaenyra out a bit. She is loyal to her father and children and does her best to be a true heir to the throne. Nevertheless, she is still ruled by her desires and the will to carve her own path.
1. Paddy Considine as King Viserys
The MVP of the season goes to Paddy Considine. Such a great performance over the eight episodes he was in - he is going to be truly missed.
Season 1 of House of the Dragon was a great season of television that left us both satisfied and yearning for more. Writing this helped ease some of my House of the Dragon/Game of Thrones withdrawals, at least until I can pick it up on 4K to rewatch the season and check out all the extra features. Hopefully, this gives you a small dose of relief as well. If not, I highly recommend checking out the books, or audiobooks if that is more your style. Overall, it was an incredible season with many highlights, and I look forward to the highly anticipated Season 2 in 2024.