House of the Dragon is a thrilling return to the brutal land of Westeros

Return to the Westeros you know and love, only this time with more dragons (and Targaryens) in House of the Dragon. Set 172 years before the arrival of Daenerys, witness the birth of conflict within the Targaryen family as the rightful heir to the iron throne is put into question, and the prospect of war looms large.

When it comes to storytelling in House of the Dragon, it does something unlike anything I can think of off the top of my head, including Game of Thrones. That is following the same characters across around about a 20-year timespan. Despite that, it’s a much more focused narrative than GoT, focusing exclusively on the characters and relationships within one house – the Targaryens. This brings with it a tonne of positives and elements that I loved, while the overall structure of the series was tough to adjust to, in fact, I don’t think I ever adjusted to it. Overall, I loved this entire season, however if I was to break it up – I’d say the first half of the season was great, while the latter half was exceptional. The only problem I had stemmed from the use of quite large time jumps between most episodes, especially in the season’s first half.

I understand the approach, it allows them to show large amounts of character growth in a single season. However I found it quite jarring to start a new episode and have to re-figure out what’s been going on with our characters in the last six months, or three years. Some details are very well explained, though I found myself regularly playing catchup with events that could have been quite interesting to see. The central time jump didn’t bother me since it’s almost designed to be a second pilot for the series. But everything before that jump is slightly marred by the constant skipping of time. Thankfully, the story becomes a lot more streamlined following the central time jump, leading to what I’d say is a near-flawless latter half of the season. There’s one time jump in this section, but again it was significant enough to not get caught up in the little details.

The reason this latter half of the season works so much better is because you feel the tension and emotion of certain events once the next episode begins. In the first half of the season, if the episode ends on a big moment, you never get to see how that directly impacts our characters. Sure, you get to see the outcome of that impact a few years later, but the immediate aftermath would have been so much more interesting. Like in the second half, big moments that close out an episode are much more fulfilling since you get to see how they impact our characters, creating a more emotional connection to the story. Again, it’s still a very engaging season both before and after the big time jump, I just think that latter is so much cleaner and much more enjoyable.

There’s no questioning the fact that I loved Game of Thrones, but the way this series handles tension and suspense tops most GoT seasons. This all runs at a slower, more calculated pace, but at almost any point you could cut the tension with a knife. The intense character drama is at an all time high, and it’s incredible that every character is mesmerising in their own right. Some you absolutely love and some you absolutely loathe, but at the end of the day everyone in here has an engaging arc that doesn’t go where you expect. For instance, by the time the finale comes around, this is a completely different show to what it looked like we were getting at the end of the pilot. All in all, it’s a narrative that sets the stage for even bigger seasons to come.

The writing is great, but it’s the performances that make this series what it is. Firstly, I want to highlight both Milly Alcock and Emily Carey, who play the young Rhaenyra and Alicent. The two of them are brilliant in their respective roles, really exhibiting all of the emotions and conflicts their characters going through as they come of age in this cut-throat world. They’re so great, it made it hard to know they’d be passing the baton at some point. But had I known who they’d be passing it to, I wouldn’t have been too concerned. Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke take over as Rhaenyra and Alicent respectively, and I have to say I almost prefer their performances. They both hammer home such layered performances that it’s hard to look away whenever they’re on screen. They both contribute to some remarkable moments, with Emma D’Arcy really standing out as the MVP in the season’s latter half.

It doesn’t stop there, we also have what is 100% an Emmy-worthy performance from Paddy Considine, who plays King Viserys I. When it comes to the more emotional moments of the season, no one tugs on those heart strings like Paddy. He’s phenomenal every time he’s on screen and delivers the best solo scenes of the entire season, leaving a lasting impact long after the season ends. Then there’s Matt Smith. By God this man plays the role of Daemon flawlessly. The journey his character goes on through the series has so many ups and downs it’s amazing what he’s able to do with the role. This one I’ll remain a little more vague with, but just know you’re in for something special. Basically what I’m saying is that there’s not a single subpar performance in here. Everyone brings their A-game and switches on exactly when they need to.

In the end, House of the Dragon thrives in its slow-building narrative and spectacular performances, some that may see Emmy nominations. On top of that, it’s beautiful to look at. The cinematography is grand when it needs to be and subdued when the story calls for it. The tension is gripping and the second half of the season is especially phenomenal, delivering some of the best and most character-focused storytelling that Westeros has ever seen. All of this sets up what is guaranteed to be a fantastic series going forward, one promises big moments and huge payoffs.

9.2/10

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