House of the Dragon Episode 1: A Traumatic Start to an Explosive Show 

Doing away with the broad strokes of Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon manages to balance out the drama with fantasy.
IMAGE HBO

House of the Dragon Episode 1 captures the gravitas that made Game of Thrones great. Straight out of the gate, House of the Dragon delivers the grandiosity that made fans addicted to its predecessor. But with a touch more dragons and Targaryens, HBO could have another iconic political fantasy show on its hands. 

Based on George R.R. Martin’s historical fiction book Fire & Blood, House of the Dragon tells the tragic story of Daenerys Targaryen’s ancestors and the civil war that sparked the family’s downfall. From the first season of Game of Thrones, we generally know how this show will end, yet all eight seasons of Game of Thrones built up the legacy of the Targaryens to outshine all the other houses. Despite the low bar set by the disappointing series finale, House of the Dragon has managed to live up to the imperial-scale reputation of the Old Valyrian family, which no doubt impressed fans who were House Targaryen all along. 

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Episode 1 begins with—as all fantasy shows do—a crisis. Inspired by the very real history of The Anarchy, a civil war in medieval England, House of the Dragon’s opens the series with sober exposition as the narrator, Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy), explains the succession crisis that planted the seeds for the upcoming civil war. In the show, the Iron Throne was intended for Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best), the Queen Who Never Was, but the lords of Westeros voted to bypass her in favor of Viserys (Paddy Considine), her younger cousin—and a man. A little on the nose, the scene foreshadows the future of House of the Dragon. Because as we know, history likes to rhyme. 

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Fast forward a few years, and viewers are graced with more dragon footage than all of the first four seasons of Game of Thrones. A young Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) glides into the screen atop her dragon Syrax, establishing her presence as the central figure of the show. In the span of three scenes, Episode 1 manages to set the contrasting tones of the show: war and glory. 

While the incoming war will focus on the battle of genders, it’s the female characters of House of the Dragon that eclipse all others. Young Rhaenyra’s relationship with a young Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey) is perhaps the purest aspect of the show, but nothing stays innocent for long in King’s Landing. Their relationship will only go downhill from here, but the two actresses manage to capture their vulnerability in the game of thrones. Since the trailer hinted at their future, we know it’s going to hurt.

 Dragons, royals, and politics—House of the Dragon ticks off every item on the list to become a worthy spin-off of Game of Thrones. 

While the show lacks a scene-stealing character like Tyrion Lannister, Prince Daemon Targaryen might be the closes thing we have to an anti-hero. The volatile younger brother of Viserys, Daemon (Matt Smith) plays his part as the family wildcard whose chaotic machinations promise exciting storylines. He’s giving Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), Hand of the King, a run for his money as the most interesting person on the show. As always, the characters that lack dragons make up for their mundanity with political machinations. Hightower acts as the successor (or predecessor) to Tywin Lannister, only Ifans delivers far more subtlety and quiet malevolence than Charles Dance. 

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Dragons, royals, and politics—House of the Dragon ticks off every item on the list to become a worthy spin-off of Game of Thrones. But one aspect this new show does differently, surprisingly, is the sex and gore. Unlike GOT, House of the Dragon’s sex scenes and nudity are far from sexy and gratuitous. Instead, each flash of nudity feels necessary to the plot and tells a story other than sex. For example, Daemon’s sex scene ends with his inability to finish, which hints at how he feels his manhood is threatened because of his brother’s lack of faith in him. Even the show’s violence and gore are delivered to tell a story than to just entertain viewers with bloodshed. In the first episode’s grand tourney, knights of the realm end up beating, maiming, and killing each other as a show of sport. It’s here we see why the show is Rated-18. Meanwhile, onlookers dressed in pomp and finery simply look on and cheer, hinting that the people of Westeros are all just beasts underneath their clothes.

A Shakespearean tragedy through and through, House of the Dragon’s traumatic first episode is only the beginning of what promises to be an explosive show.

But it’s not a soldier’s quarrel that takes the cake as the worst and goriest scene of Episode 1. It’s the birthing scene of Queen Aemma (Sian Brooke), who dies in childbirth with King Viserys’s Heir for a Day. House of the Dragon takes childbirth, which is usually portrayed as a miraculous event, and turns it into the most horrific scene on television. Worse than any rape or murder scene, Aemma’s still-living body is cut open on the orders of her loving husband to bring forth his heir. The nonconsensual ripping apart of a woman’s body will traumatize viewers as it speaks volumes of the tragic reality that women faced in the past as nothing more than broodmares. In just one scene, Aemma becomes the show’s most tragic figure. But soon enough, she’ll be forgotten. 

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With Aemma and her son’s death, the Targaryen family begins splitting apart at the seams. We can only imagine that future episodes will become even more painful to watch. But like a car crash on the highway, you can’t look away. A Shakespearean tragedy through and through, House of the Dragon’s traumatic first episode is only the beginning of what promises to be an explosive show. The intimate and tragic tones of the Targaryen prequel give the show the insular feelings that Game of Thrones lacked. The politicking feels more intense as the chessboard is smaller, which allows the show more nuance and subtlety with everything zoomed in. Game of Thrones always felt a little too big and unable to grasp the full scale of the books, but House of the Dragon plays better on screen as the scope is smaller but just as bloody. Doing away with the broad strokes of Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon manages to balance out the drama with fantasy. And like a true drama, heroes, villains, saviors and even honor take a backseat to power and the Iron Throne. 

And so begins the Dance of Dragons. 

Stream House of the Dragon on HBO Go in the Philippines. New episodes drop every Monday at 9 a.m. Philippine time.  

Read more about House of the Dragon:

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Anri Ichimura
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