With the promise of political intrigue and perpetual power struggles, House of the Dragon ushers in another era of landmark television, when it premieres on Sky Atlantic from 22 August.
Three years after Game of Thrones finally finished on a contentious note with season eight, this world expanding entry looks back two hundred years to a time of Targaryens. The world is one besieged with internal conflicts, territorial wars and familial subterfuge, making this the ripest televisual prospect to come from Sky in some time.
However, the shoes it looks to fill are gargantuan and defined by industry adulation, audience acclaim and innumerable awards across the board. Games of Thrones not only changed the landscape in terms of long form entertainment, but reset expectations by going larger than any other series had done before. There may have been a backlash to that final season and some particularly passionate petitioners, but nonetheless House of the Dragon has its work cut out in more ways than one.
Based on the novel Fire and Blood by legacy mastermind George R R Martin, audiences are there to bear witness as the House Targaryen begins imploding. From his iron throne at King’s Landing, Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) must contend with his brother Daemon (Matt Smith) and those within the secret council, who advise with veiled intent. Amongst them being Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), right hand to the King and second only to Viserys in terms of influence.
His daughter Alicent (Emily Carey/Olivia Cooke) is close to Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock/Emily D'Arcy), while Alicent herself also propagates a close relationship with Viserys as well. Elsewhere within this spider web of intimacies is Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steven Toussaint), who brings strategic advantage through his fleet of ships, not to mention wealth and connections which are invaluable.
However, beyond those characters and their seamless introductions, it is tragedy which gives this ostentatious piece of political fantasy definition, as early on, Viserys is forced to choose between his wife Aemma Arryn (Sian Brooke) and a male heir to his kingdom. An event which will forever cause ripples, undermining the House Targaryen for over two hundred years, before Daenerys brings everything full circle.
With show runners Ryan J. Condal (Colony) and Miguel Sapochnik (Game of Thrones) on board alongside George R R Martin, this world immediately feels like familiar territory. Sumptuous stretches of coastline and opulent architectural constructions dominate skylines. In conjunction with sun dappled cliff tops and blood-soaked beaches, which prove to be engaging backdrops for the story of war and attrition which unfolds.
As Daemon is passed over in favour of his sister Rhaenyra to rule, those acrimonious seeds of unrest are sown early, bearing dramatic fruit which keeps things ticking over nicely. Viserys is also caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the matter of re-marriage for political advantage. A choice which ultimately rankles Lord Corlys Velaryon and undermines Viserys even more in the eyes of his subjects.
The question of whether House of the Dragon measures up to its predecessor is academic. On face value, this flawless adaptation should be able to stand alone on its own merits without comparison. However, there will be those who do it nonetheless, making such things unavoidable. That being said, it is unfair after only one season to call it one way or the other, whatever benchmarks people wish to use when proving their point.
To begin with, performances across the board from all concerned are solid. However, stand outs from this vast ensemble include Matt Smith in supremely malevolent form, while Paddy Considine conveys regal omnipotence and regret in equal measure without grandstanding. Similarly, Rhys Ifans disappears into Otto Hightower, while Milly Alcock and Emily Carey should be lauded for their portrayals of Rhaenyra and Alicent respectively.
However, beyond the pitch perfect performances which flesh out this vast adaptation, it is the world building expertise of production designer Jim Clay (Children of Men) which also deserves recognition. There is a breadth to this series which reflects the rumoured price tag of $17 million an episode. Visual effects are seamless with cityscapes and palace grounds flawlessly rendered, giving House of the Dragon an undeniable sheen of quality.
It may not have too many moments for fans to endlessly ponder, but neither could this opening season be described as average on any level. As the hour-long episodes explore this all too human drama, audiences will be reminded what it was that made Game of Thrones so special.
House Of The Dragon launches on 22 August on Sky Atlantic and streaming service NOW