I felt a weird vibe as I watched House of the Dragon episode 1. No I wasn't being warged by a nearby raven out to tint my vision of the series (I like The Rings of Power trailer more on its own merits). I kept having the sensation that something was off.
And a short time after watching the premiere, I finally understand why. No, it's not because of how Matt Smith's performance was slightly wooden. Instead, it feels like House of the Dragon was a bit of a ...drag.
After a bit of research — including consulting with our guide of the 7 things you need to know before watching House of the Dragon — I've come to understand why that is, and how it might have been all a part of this whole game of thrones. You see, we're still in the prologue of House of the Dragon. And we're not going to leave that quickly.
House of the Dragon is a slow burner
Forgive me, showrunners Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik, for I am not the kind who takes to slow-starting shows easily. It took me multiple attempts to get into For All Mankind and Better Call Saul, two shows I now love.
House of the Dragon, if you weren't aware, is primarily an adaptation of the George R.R. Martin's history tome Fire and Blood. That title tracked the lineage of the Targaryen family, beginning with the Doom of Valyria and Aegon I Targaryen's conquest of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. That House of the Dragon is an adaptation of a Game of Thrones history book should have been my first sign of something being off. Also, the first episode kind of reads like a history book.
I spent that hour-and-20 checking for all the famous last names of the Thrones series, and I was doing that because I didn't particularly find the performances all that great. I'm hoping this is more due to the scripting, as the show may just be in that stage where all of the chess-pieces are being set up for the proper drama. Right now, Targaryen royalty — Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) and Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) — are in the early stages of a rivalry that I hope produces proper animus. Right now, it feels too stage-theatery.
In the rest of that episode, we get a tragic death, a lot of smart-alecky zingers and some joyless sex — a proverbial checklist of Thrones' hits. Oh, and the king (Paddy Considine) is sprouting gross lesions (though we only see one), while the King's Hand (Rhys Ifans as Otto Hightower) is sending his daughter Alicent (Emily Carey) to bed the king. And throughout all of this, I just felt like it was more of a Game of Thrones homage than something of its own. Admittedly, that might just be what people want it to be — more of their favorite, without the flaws of the eighth season.
House of the Dragon will change — hopefully for the better
At this point, my concern primarily lies in the question of how long House of the Dragon spends setting itself up. And it feels like there's an easy (but arguably frustrating) answer: midway into this 10-episode season.
That's when Condal's said Milly Alcock's time as Rhaenyra will end — because Emma D'Arcy's run as an older Rhaenyra begins. It's happening because of a 10-year time jump that will also change who plays Alicent, with Olivia Cooke inheriting the role — à la The Crown.
And, this is when I feel like we get the real House of the Dragon. Maybe this sentiment will be cured by the rest of the first half of the season, but it just feels like we're watching a prologue of a prequel. Much like how it seemed Daemon was just going through the motions with his mistress Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno), the fact that a huge time jump is coming makes me feel like everything we're watching is just setup.
Further, young Rhaenyra feels too much like a stand-in for Emilia Clarke's Daenerys Targaryen. Yes, it's not shocking for the characters to be similar. Rhaenyra is Daenerys's ancestor, so the former's youth, long blonde hair and pride in going against the grain of society may be the standard. But something about it all still seems too obvious. Also, I should note that any similarities are not intended: Alcock told the New York Post that she didn't draw inspiration from Clarke's performance.
Outlook: Maybe take a wait and see if House of the Dragon episode 2 doesn't land right
While Rhaenyra managed to get her dragon Syrax to gracefully land, I'm not exactly confident that House of the Dragon will be as fluid. And there's reason for me to be concerned about how the first half of the show will be.
Ron Hilliard at DiscussingFilm writes that "While the first half of the season is indeed good, House of the Dragon only really comes into its own once the stakes have been properly established and the plot jumps forward 10 years." If folks can make it to the end of episode six, he writes, that's when "it can be said with certainty that we’ll all be eagerly awaiting the subsequent episodes each Sunday as the blood begins to spill in earnest."
This all reminds me of every conversation about how you just need to watch a certain number of episodes for a show to "get great," a process nobody should have to wait on. Especially when The Rings of Power will debut its first episode between episodes two and three of House of the Dragon. I'm sure some folks will find time for both shows, but I'm not sure if I would if I weren't covering TV for a living.