Over three years after the severely suboptimal finale of “Game of Thrones,” the battle for the seven kingdoms has returned to HBO — with a completely different timeline and cast. Some names are familiar — Targaryen, for instance, is the show’s central house — while others have been added to bring new blood into the mix. Set exactly 172 years before the birth of Daenerys Targaryen, one of the main characters of the original, the much-anticipated prequel to “Game of Thrones” follows the Targaryen line, tracing the beginnings of their eventual loss of the Iron Throne.
The key Targaryens of “House of the Dragon” are Viserys (Paddy Considine), Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) and Daemon (Matt Smith). The show opens with Viserys as the ruler of Westeros, a king growing weary of the throne after the tragic loss of his wife and unborn child. And the death of his only son has forced him to name a new heir, lest he leave the kingdom in the hands of his younger brother, Daemon. Daemon’s rashness, arrogance and affinity for bloodshed ultimately lead Viserys to choose his daughter, Rhaenyra, as heir instead.
Longtime “Game of Thrones” viewers will likely see in Rhaenyra echoes of her descendant, fan-favorite Daenerys. They are of similar height, build and have the same silvery hair; both seem most comfortable sitting atop a dragon; and both are hungry for power. But despite the similarities between the two shows’ main characters, they are not carbon copies of each other.
Similarly, “House of the Dragon” is not merely a repeat of its predecessor. While the set, family trees and intro music of the new series are all familiar callbacks to the old, the shows are ultimately distinct. There is no overlap in casting or writers (unless you are counting George R.R. Martin, author of the book series that inspired “Game of Thrones”). Jon Snow is merely a distant future, and the North so far seems irrelevant. In other words, this is not the age of the Starks and the Lannisters.
What viewers can (and should) expect is for “House of the Dragon” to be a satisfying watch. The show’s first episode shocks with visceral scenes of Viserys’ wife Aemma Arryn’s (Sian Brooke) death and Daemon’s failure in one-on-one combat. But it’s the kind of discomfort that makes audiences admire, rather than rebuke, the franchise — which walks the fine boundary between tasteful and overindulgent gore and violence.
In this sense, the show definitely feels like “Game of Thrones.” There are similarities in the show’s sparse script and preference for action over dialogue. Though the unexpected plot twists so characteristic of “Game of Thrones” haven’t appeared yet, viewers can only expect that they soon will. And, after all, the series is a prequel — fans already know the ultimate fate of the seven kingdoms.
Hopefully, this means that there will be guardrails in place to prevent the production team from making a mess of any grand finales. Though “Game of Thrones” had a stellar seven (or, if you were being generous, seven-and-a-half) season run, much of that success was tarnished with a rushed and lackluster series ending. Fans and critics alike were thoroughly disappointed. The actions Daenerys took in those last few episodes made little sense when weighed against her character development throughout the show. While the writers may have been trying to pull off one final twist, things just didn’t line up.
Unfortunately, completely rewriting the end of a finished series is not really an option in television — though some fans had hoped “Game of Thrones” would be the first to try. As a show, the legacy of “Game of Thrones” will forever be marred by a poorly executed ending. As a franchise, however, there is still room for redemption. Fan loyalty is strong, and the general popularity of the original series still hasn’t worn off. By starting fresh with a new show, “House of the Dragon” presents the opportunity for the brand to make amends with its fanbase. If the series is executed well, “Game of Thrones” may be able to earn back some of the respect it lost in that final season. If it is executed stunningly, perhaps it may provide closure for fans still disappointed by the final fate of Westeros.
The stakes are set high, considering the success of the first seven seasons of “Game of Thrones.” It is hard to see “House of the Dragon” ever matching the complexity and volatility of its predecessor — but it’s certainly worth a shot. The worst may have already happened to the “Game of Thrones” franchise, so a solid prequel may be greeted with open arms. A real shot at redemption isn’t out of the question yet.