Sunday night saw the debut of House of the Dragon, the first of several planned Game of Thrones spin-offs, reigniting the excitement that surrounded the original show all the way through until the final season botched what was arguably set to be the biggest TV finale of all time. HBO, of course, has brought in different writers and an all-new cast for this story (the latter being somewhat of a necessity considering the story picks up around 200 years before the start of the original series). The rest of the show, however, feels comfortably familiar in all the right ways.
Although Jim Clay is replacing Gemma Jackson and Deborah Riley for production design, the show looks and sounds like it fits in the world we’ve grown to love in the original series. The costumes, as always, are stunning and avoid the crisp, plastic feel that fantasy shows often fall into. The locations and sets are pretty much all the same as they were but judging by the trailers for the series, we should get enough variation in the coming weeks to keep it interesting. Returning on the crew are Ramin Djawadi for score and Fabian Wagner heading up cinematography.
In my opinion, Djawadi composed some of the best ever written scores for TV with Light of the Seven for the season 6 finale of Thrones and the legendary opening theme. Maybe it’s just that it hasn’t had time to grow or gain emotional association with characters and locations but the music for this episode was a little underwhelming and while not bad, the theme is not anything particularly special. A similar situation can be seen with the return of Fabian Wagner. His work on the original series includes two of the most memorable moments of the entire show: The Battle of the Bastards and the fleeing of Hardhome. He is also responsible for the final battle of Winterfell that, although I’m sure it was well shot, was almost unwatchably dark. This is consistently brought up as a disappointing element of the final season and it seems the lesson might not have been learnt. Full portions of this episode were ridiculously dark.
From the casting and acting perspective, everything is great. Paddy Considine is a little distracting as Viserys but that may simply be because of his memorable roles in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy and the problem will be solved over time. Milly Alcock, on the other hand, carries a great performance as young Rhaenyra and I feel invested in following where her story goes.
Finally, the writing is great. The dialogue feels like it is operating in the same world as the original series – quite a feat considering how unique it is. The story seems to be introducing the same level of complexity that drove the original series forward and kept it endlessly compelling. My only criticism is that the exposition feels a little misplaced. Some points of the episode are wading through so many new names, houses, and relations that it is almost impossible to follow while there are whole scenes where little-to-no explanation as to who is involved is happening. I’d assume that the former explain the latter but, at least in my mind, it could have been executed more effectively.
Overall, I am truly looking forward to the show bringing back the magic of Game of Thrones and despite the minor shortcomings, it feels like it will grow into itself, hopefully defining itself aside from the original in a unique way.