It is quite possible that House of the Dragon delivered both its best and worst episode at the same time on Sunday. There are essentially two sides to this show, and they are both represented right in the title. The “House” side represents the politics; the scheming and manipulations of the characters in order to gain power and favor in the court. The “Dragon” side is the fantasy aspect of the show. Game of Thrones, at least for the first half of its run, was largely absent of dragons. And even once they became prominent, they were depicted largely as underdogs that had to triumph over their enemies. In this prequel, the dragons have a very different relationship. They are the ones in power and have been integrated into the show’s politics. There’s a symbiosis between the two, and the show is at its best when it is on display.
Likewise, the show is practically at its worst when it’s not. That is to say, the drama of the show doesn’t have the same gravity when the human players are interacting amongst each other without that fantastical nature. This episode consisted of a ten year time jump that saw Alicent (Olivia Cooke) and Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) in a full-on feud as their children are coming of age. They both feel the pressure of the moment since Rhaenyra is fathering children with a knight rather than her husband. Also, Alicent continues to fear for her children’s safety as Rhaenyra remains heir.
Although on paper the drama is fairly high, it falls flat when it plays out on the screen — mainly because the characters motivations are so illogical and unnecessary. The drama seems completely unnecessary and artificially inflated when things could be much simpler. However, whenever a dragon is on the screen, the show seems so much more entertaining and engaging. Fans got to see how dragons are utilized and raised in this world. That’s the highlight of the episode and there should be much more of its inclusion if it is to elevate into something great that surpasses its predecessor.
House of the Dragon airs Sundays on HBO.