House Of The Dragon is already better than Game Of Thrones
Half-way through the first season of the new show, it is time to take stock.
Before anyone starts throwing a hissy fit and tossing all of their toys out of the pram at that headline, let me explain.
We're five episodes into House Of The Dragon, and from this same point - the fifth episode of the first season of Game Of Thrones - the new show is already better.
Game Of Thrones really reached its peak in its third, fourth and fifth seasons, when we had all spent enough time with its vast, VAST amount of characters and locations to get properly invested in them all, and their eventual - usually incredibly violent - outcomes.
As the scope of House Of The Dragon is that much tighter, it has taken far less time for viewers to get emotionally attached to their faves, while those behind the scenes of the show are already well aware of the creative decisions in Game Of Thrones that fans didn't fully vibe with, and have learned from those decisions.
And it is obvious that fans are in agreement.
This week, it was revealed that the viewership for the latest episode of House Of The Dragon was 29 million, with viewer numbers rising exponentially week-on-week.
Between the two shows, there are some obvious similarities:
- A well-respected British actor (Sean Bean then, Paddy Considine now) who continues to impress and will likely not make it beyond the first season
- A blonde female actor (Emilia Clarke then, Milly Alcock now) who is given a tremendous kick-ass role, landing in our combined cultural awareness with an almighty smack to the face
- Violence, dragons, sex, castles, incest, all of the usual Westeros stuff
But it is in the storytelling differences that House Of The Dragon truly exceeds...
First of all, is there a villain? We thought it was going to be something to do with the Crabfeeders, but they were torn in half by episode three. This was almost a meta-nod towards the White Walkers from Game Of Thrones, and let us know: No, we're not doing anything like that. At least, not yet.
Game Of Thrones essentially kicked off with two of its many villains, Cersei and Jaime, pushing a small boy out of a high window. We were also introduced to Joffrey, Littlefinger and Viserys Targaryen all in the first episode. That is five immediate boo-hiss villains that we wanted killed ASAP within one hour of television.
If we jump to House Of The Dragon, do we really want any of the antagonists dead?
Daemon Targaryen is proving to be WAY too entertaining, his hissy drama queen antics are regular highlights, so we definitely want him kept around. Otto Hightower has definitely got some Machiavellian schemes up his sleeve, but we're actually pretty interested to see how they pan out. And then the suspicious one-two punch of Lord Corlys Velaryon and Princess Rhaenys Targaryen are super sketchy, but that is down to the fact that the show's "hero" is so, well, weak.
In a fascinating twist on the norm, King Viserys Targaryen is a good and decent man, which is absolutely not the temperament to have for anyone in a position of power. A certain amount of ruthlessness, a regular flexing of power, a display of might, they are all a must for any ruler within this world. And they're all characteristics that so many of the characters have... pretty much everyone except the King, really.
And this weakness is made all the worse by his constantly frail, apparently-decomposing body. He is somehow being poisoned by his own throne. A title bestowed upon him, one that every cell in his body was clearly screaming for him to escape from, but his sense of duty was far too strong for him to pass it up. And now it is literally killing him.
Thankfully, his daughter (and potential heir) Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen is made of sturdier stuff, forthright in her own power and sense of self.
Unfortunately for her, she's completely surrounded by some of the most untrustworthy - but magnificently interesting - people imaginable. As mentioned, Corlys and Rhaenys and Daemon and Otto are all pretty much out for themselves. Her one-time lover Ser Criston Cole has proven to be dangerously unpredictable, and now her one-time BFF Lady Alicent Hightower knows her most intimate secret.
With that much-tightened scope of essentially one complicated family dealing with the impacts of power, House Of The Dragon feels a little less like Game Of Thrones and a little more like Succession... but with dragons in it.
And things are about to switch up massively yet again, as the actors playing Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen and Lady Alicent Hightower, as well as the actors for several key roles, will be replaced by older performers as the action of the series jumps forward about a decade.
If House Of The Dragon can maintain this consistency in surprising us by constantly shaking up the status quo, we can't even begin to imagine how much better this could get for us viewers.
Episode six, titled The Princess and The Queen, arrives on NOW on Monday, 26 September.