I loved House of the Dragon episode 1 — but this one moment threatens to ruin it

Milly Alcock as Rhaenyra, Paddy Considine as Viserys in House of the Dragon
(Image credit: HBO Max)

I can't pretend I was feeling much hype ahead of the premier of House of the Dragon last week. My bitterness over the calamitous ending of Game of Thrones still bubbled underneath the surface, and I felt HBO’s spin-off/prequel show would only bring those lingering feelings of resentment back up. 

I ultimately skipped out watching the show’s first broadcast (granted, in large part because it aired at 2 a.m. U.K. time), but I awoke to practically my entire social media feed declaring it a return to the good old days of Thrones. My curiosity piqued, I quickly clicked play to see for myself if House of the Dragon could rekindle my love for all things Westeros.

In the famous words of Al Pacino: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” House of the Dragon is a revelation. Mere minutes into the first hour-long episode, and I was already hooked. Everything that made those first five seasons of Thrones truly unmissable television was there — the unflinching brutally, the morally grey plotlines, the political machinations — the list goes on. 

I’ve always been a staunch Stark supporter, but I was ready to start swearing fealty to House Targaryen after just a single episode of House of the Dragon. That was until the last five minutes of the show’s debut episode sent a wave of refreshed irritation through me by doing the one thing I desperately hoped the show would avoid at all costs: Calling back to Game of Thrones. 

A pointless prophecy 

House of the dragon's redesigned Iron Throne

(Image credit: HBO Max)

House of the Dragon opens with onscreen text explaining the show takes place 172 years before the events of its predecessor. In fact, the words “172 years before Daenerys Targaryen” even linger on the screen, something I took as a clear message from the showrunners to say that this show isn’t going to be closely tied to the divisive fantasy series that came before it. I was thrilled. 

And yet, the culmination of episode one of House of the Dragon sees King Viserys I (Paddy Considine) impart a prophecy on his daughter and chosen heir, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D'Arcy). Aside from the prophecy’s groan worthy name, the winking “A Song of Ice and Fire” reference is so on the nose you can hear the bones crack. Its revelations about the end of the world and the Long Winter to come certainly didn’t have me intrigued; in fact, I was left extremely cold by the whole thing.  

That’s because we’ve already seen how the events foretold in this prophecy play out courtesy of the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones. And you can forget about a long winter or the end of the world, as it turned out the fabled Night King posed about as much threat to the world of Westeros as Ultron did to the Avengers. The last thing I want from House of the Dragon is callbacks to the disastrous ending of what was once one of my favorite television series of all time. 

Worried about the weeks ahead 

Of course, you could easily retort that this was just a single scene within a show packed with powerful performances and engaging character moments. And while you’d not be wrong, I'm nevertheless a little worried about what’s to come as we get deeper in House of the Dragon. 

For starters, the closing scenes of a show’s first episodes often set up the stakes or critical plot points for the remainder of the season to come. The decision to have Visery relay this prophecy to his daughter in the very last moments of episode one appears to hint that these revelations will have a major impact in future episodes. A subsequently released “weeks ahead” trailer also teases conversations about the “Prince That Was Promised,” another initially intriguing plot thread butchered by the end of the original Thrones series. 

Of course, there’s only so many references and call backs to Thrones possible in this prequel series. After all, we’ve already seen how the Long Night plays out, and House of the Dragon is set almost two centuries before the Night King attacks Winterfell. However, I’m eager to see House of the Dragon move beyond the show that came before it, and teased conversations about knowledge “larger than the throne” has me fearful that HBO’s new venture into Westeros is going to be stuck in the looming shadow that Thrones still casts. 

But I’m still cautiously optimistic 

At this point, it’s important to clarify that overall my anticipation for the remainder of the season is extremely high. I loved practically the entirety of the premiere episode of House of the Dragon, as already noted. If my biggest complaint is that a single scene referenced events that play out in Game of Thrones too much, you know this new series is doing something right. 

Even with my concerns that House of the Dragon could end up being closer to a prequel series than the very detached spin-off show I was hoping for, I can’t pretend I'm not still eagerly awaiting the next episode. And it feels very good to be hyped about visiting Westeros again for the first time in years. Perhaps for House of the Dragon episode two, I just might have to brew some coffee and stay up extra late to watch it live. 

Next: In other streaming news, Netflix has just canceled Resident Evil after just one season and these are the 7 things you should know before you watch the The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. And take a look at our House of the Dragon episode 3 recap: 2 winners, 2 losers in Westeros this week

Rory Mellon
Entertainment Editor (UK)

Rory is an Entertainment Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on gaming and streaming. When he’s not reviewing the latest games, searching for hidden gems on Netflix, or writing hot takes on new gaming hardware, TV shows and movies, he can be found attending music festivals and getting far too emotionally invested in his favorite football team.