House of the Dragon reviews are in — what critics love and hate

Dragon on House of the Dragon
(Image credit: HBO)

Just over three years after Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen’s story came to a (slightly unsatisfying) ending with Game of Thrones, HBO is finally bringing Westeros back to our screens in House of the Dragon

The first episode is airing at 9 p.m ET on HBO and HBO Max tonight, but is it worth your time? Critics have been given access to the first six shows of the ten-episode season, and the consensus is mixed with some saying it recaptures the epic glory of Game of Thrones in its prime, and others finding it considerably more bland.

The series has a 88% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes (opens in new tab) which is pretty high — here’s what it’s about and the general consensus straight from the pens of the critics.

What is House of the Dragon about?

Milly Alcock as Young Rhaenyra in House of the Dragon's trailer

(Image credit: HBO Max via YouTube)

The first thing to know about House of the Dragon is that it’s a prequel to Game of Thrones rather than a sequel. It’s set 200 years before the events that Westeros watchers will be familiar with, and concerns itself with the Daeneyrys’ Targaryen ancestors’ brutal civil war.

If you’re concerned that this is HBO going rogue with George RR Martin’s world, don’t be: it’s still based on the writer’s work. Specifically, this concerns itself with the second half of his 2018 book “Fire & Blood” which chronicles House Targaryen’s rule from the beginning. 

Having seen the first nine episodes, the author himself says he’s a fan of the show, which certainly makes it more appealing to GoT diehards.

What do the critics think of House of the Dragon?

Emma D’Arcy as Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen and Matt Smith is Prince Daemon Targaryen in House of the Dragon

(Image credit: HBO)

But what about the critics who’ve seen the first half? Well, it’s a mixed bag.

It’s “a roaring success” according to The Guardian’s (opens in new tab) four-star review. “In short, all is as it was in GoT’s heyday,” it concludes. “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.”

The LA Times (opens in new tab) agrees, saying that it “recaptures the power, grandeur of the original”. As does The Wall Street Journal (opens in new tab), which states that it’s “a success dramatically, as captivating as any season of Game of Thrones.”

The Film Yap goes even further, saying it “captures much of the magic and glory of GoT” with “a compelling mix of dastardly schemes, bloody battles and Shakespearean plots.”

So far, so good, but others are less enthusiastic — especially on the characterization front. The New York Times (opens in new tab), for example, calls the line up “flat” and “stamped out on Martin’s production line of medieval fantasy types.” 

What does that mean in practice? Empire’s (opens in new tab) review gives us a good insight. “The writing so far lacks the sparkle of Thrones’ most profound moments: there is no equivalent to the witty drinking-and-knowing-things of Tyrion, no petty scheming of Littlefinger’s level, no revealing character moments as startling as Robert and Cersei finally having an honest conversation.”

Or, to put it more bluntly, Rolling Stone (opens in new tab) simply calls the characters “uniformly dull.” 

But perhaps it’s unfair to judge a show with quite so many characters to introduce so quickly. Critics, after all, have only seen 60% of the series and presumably, there will be a cliffhanger to enjoy at the end of the ten-episode run. 

“The good news with House of the Dragon is that the beginning is the worst part,” says EW (opens in new tab) describing a show that gets better as it goes along. “Dragon doesn't soar immediately, but no House was built in a day,” it concludes.

Should you watch House of the Dragon tonight?

Milly Alcock as Rhaenyra, Paddy Considine as Viserys in House of the Dragon

(Image credit: HBO)

For fans of Game of Thrones, it’s a cautious thumbs up, especially if you’re patient enough to give it a few episodes to bed in. The general consensus is that while it may not quite match Game of Thrones at its peak, it will at least scratch the itch for fans of political intrigue and ultraviolence.

But for anybody who has yet to take a tour of Westeros with Game of Thrones, this may be one to pass. As Nina Metz of the Chicago Tribune (opens in new tab) writes: “Does the show work if you’re coming in cold? My guess: It may leave newcomers wondering what all the Game of Thrones fuss was about.”

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Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.