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House of the Dragon first look review – this epic Game of Thrones prequel is a roaring success

The Iron Throne has been taken out of storage and returned to the Great Hall of the Red Keep. The wardrobe department has de-mothballed its finest furs and thrown them round the shoulders of a new cast. The creator of High Valyrian, David J Peterson, has likewise been brought out of hibernation to supply new dialogue.

And there be dragons.

Yes! The long-awaited prequel to the epic fantasy series Game of Thrones, which dominated the televisual landscape for eight riotously expensive seasons is here. It is derived from parts of author George RR Martin’s 2018 bestseller Fire and Blood (the release was a bittersweet moment for fans who hoped he had been completing the Song of Ice and Fire book series from which Game of Thrones was adapted, rather than writing a prequel). House of the Dragon, then, is the tale of the Targaryens who began the whole bally thing.

Everyone who wasn’t in Game of Thrones or filming The Crown when principal photography started is here. House of the Dragon begins in the ninth year of King Viserys I Targaryen’s reign (played by Paddy Considine) – and about 200 years before we TV viewers first set foot in Westeros. His wife is pregnant. Their firstborn was a daughter, Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), so everyone in the Seven Kingdoms is hoping for a male heir. Some of us at home are kind of hoping for another girl, otherwise Viserys’s arrogant, bellicose younger brother – and heir presumptive – Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) is going to kick off and there will be more plot than anyone knows what to do with.

Alas and alack. After a spectacularly bloody and pain-meds-free birth, mother and baby (boy) die. The King’s Hand, Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) gives his boss five minutes to grieve before ordering his comely teenage daughter Alicent (Emily Carey) into her late mother’s dress and Viserys’s chamber to make herself useful to the king. This is a post-#MeToo prequel, so they bond over their shared griefs and his stone model of the Seven Kingdoms rather than dish up one of the rapey sex scenes so beloved of GoT. God, feminists ruin everything.

So here’s a pickle! Viserys knows – though he gets very narked when members of his council point it out to him – that Daemon is fundamentally unsuited to governing the realm. But he’s only got a lousy girl-child with any kind of claim to the throne instead. What to do, what to do? Nothing that makes anyone too happy, that’s for sure.

By the end of the first hour, all the main pieces are in play, countless political, domestic and actual storms are brewing, old alliances are being broken, new ones formed and treachery is never more than a spear’s length away. House of the Dragon looks set fair to become the game of political seven-dimensional chess that its predecessor was, designed to reward diehard fantasy fans in full measure without alienating the masses that will propel it to the top of the ratings.

For the avoidance of doubt and anxiety, the first hour also contains:

  • Bloody beatings

  • Bloody deaths

  • Terrible wigs

  • Extensive exchanges in High Valyrian

  • Boobs and bums in brothels (take THAT, feminists!)

  • Incesty vibes (AGAIN!)

  • A king’s council filled with self-interested twunts and one good man

  • Countless brewing political, domestic and actual storms

  • Alliances, counter-alliances, treacheries and broken loyalties

  • All the money up on screen

  • Dragons

By the end of the second hour, you can add more dragons, more extended exchanges in High Valyrian, a dragon’s egg, some decapitations, a hand in maggots, more bums and boobs, some arterial spray, narrative twists and turns that are still comprehensible (though we are still in the early stages and you can feel the barely controlled crowds of more jostling in the wings), a potential forbidden-love interest for Rhaenyra, and sailors fed to crabs – a lot more frightening than it sounds, actually.

In short, all is as it was in GoT’s heyday. Fun, propulsive, looking great and sounding passable. And that, after the bizarrely poor finale to what had been a roaring success of a show, is a relief. There are also signs that in the remaining eight episodes there will be much more of the magnificent Eve Best as Viserys’s cousin Rhaenys, known since her thwarted ascension to the Iron Throne as the Queen Who Never Was and I suspect to the writers as And One Who Might Be After All. Overall, a good time is coming.

  • Episode one of House of the Dragon airs on Sky Atlantic at 9pm on Monday 22 August in the UK. In the US, it’s available on Sunday 21 August at 9pm on HBO and HBO Max.

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