House of Dragons: Gore, Sex, and Family Drama

| Contributing Writer

Illustration by Tuesday Hadden

In May of 2021, I graduated high school. After I graduated, I had nothing to do; the job I had lined up for the summer –– working as a sleepaway camp counselor –– didn’t start for another five weeks. As a way to pass the time, my dad recommended that I try watching Game of Thrones (GoT). 

The genesis of my love for science fiction/fantasy started when I was eight years old: my dad read me the entire “Lord of the Rings trilogy. Since then, we have always talked about the latest fantasy movies, books, and TV shows. At family dinners, the two of us forgo the usual “How was your day?” and instead talk about the latest news surrounding the new Star Wars trilogy. So when he, my science fiction confidant, recommended GoT to me, I gave it a try. 

By the end of the pilot episode, I was hooked. By the end of episode four, I was addicted and started to read about side characters online. After the first season ended, I sought out podcasts related to GoT and dove right into Season 2. After four weeks, I had finished all eight seasons of GoT. Like most fans, I found the ending (Seasons 7 and 8 in particular) to be a massive letdown. 

So when HBO announced a GoT Prequel House of the Dragon (HotD), which premiered on August 21, I was skeptical. The prequel takes place 300 years before the first season — but how would it avoid the problems that occurred at the end of GoT? What would make HotD a success, when the ending of GoT failed?

Most fans blame the ending of GoT on showrunners David Benioff and D.B Weiss. As GoT became increasingly popular, Weiss and Benioff took control over more aspects of the show. They significantly diminished the role of George R.R. Martin, the author of “A Song of Ice and Fire (The books that inspired GoT). This time around, HBO included Martin in all major decisions related to the show. A recent New York Times article on the prequel quoted Martin, who said he was optimistic about the new season. HotD tells the story of House Targaryan, an ancient house of dragonlords, and their downfall. 

The show opens with House Targaryan at the height of its power, yet the current king is on the verge of death and has no apparent heir. After putting the matter of royal succession to a vote, the narrator speaks an omen that establishes the plot for the rest of the season. “[The King] knew the cold truth. The only thing that could tear down the House of the Dragon…was itself.” As a superfan, I felt immediately brought back into the Thrones universe. 

Political drama is the bread and butter of HotD: in every episode, the matter of succession becomes less and less clear, and the viewer has no idea who will ultimately sit on the Iron Throne. The newly chosen King Viserys is an example of how compelling the characters in HotD are. As the king, he is the most powerful person in the world, but it is unclear if he ever wanted to be king. He isn’t power-hungry or motivated by glory; Viserys just wants to maintain the peace in the realm. 

Taking a classic fantasy character archetype and giving them non-traditional motivations and desires helps to draw the viewer into the show. Every time Viserys is on screen, I have no idea what will happen next. It feels like standing at the top of a very tall diving board. When it comes time to jump off the board, I have no idea if the show will belly flop or land perfectly with barely a splash. The twists make HotD a volatile TV show to watch — the unpredictability is captivating when the show is firing on all cylinders, but the plot can feel awkward when it isn’t.

The first three episodes of HotD are superb. The Targaryan family drama takes center stage. In the show’s premiere, we witness brothers betraying brothers, husbands sacrificing their wives (R.I.P. Aemma), and daughters trying to be the son their fathers always wanted. Three episodes in, I am totally invested. If one nerdy superfan’s opinion isn’t convincing, I think the numbers also speak for themselves. According to Forbes, roughly 20 million people watched episodes one and two. By that metric, showrunners Miguel Sapochnik and Ryan Condal successfully re-created the magic that attracted tens of millions to GoT. 

If you have never watched GoT or any fantasy TV show, then HotD has something for you too. Nestled in all of the blood, gore, and sex that HotD (and GoT) became infamous for is a script rife with lines that can read as life lessons or funky Instagram captions. In one episode, King Viserys concedes: “I am forever doomed to anger one person in the pleasing of another.” A broader audience can connect to the feeling of not being able to make everyone happy. Martin, Condal, and Sapochnik want HotD to appeal to the largest audience possible. 

I have enjoyed the show even more because its broader messages about life mean I can watch it with friends who are not obsessive superfans like myself. Strip away all the dragons, castles, and medieval decor, and HotD would be a TV show about a dysfunctional family. By doing this, the show becomes something new audiences who may not be as familiar with (or interested in) fantasy can enjoy.  

Right now, I do not have five weeks until the start of my next job. Sometimes, it feels like I barely have five minutes to do anything. Yet, I still need that escape. I want to experience something that has nothing to do with being a college student. So, every Sunday at 8 p.m., I sit down in front of my TV, surrounded by friends. Together, we are all transported out of St. Louis and into the land of Westeros. Once the episode ends, I pick up the phone and talk to my dad. We both love the new show. 

 

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