There’s understandably a lot of excitement surrounding the first Game of Thrones prequel to make it past the development stage.
House of the Dragon, a series that begins 172 years before Daenerys Targaryen, has all the ingredients of a successful sprawling saga, but it is not without its flaws.
Out of the gate, the narrative is exposition-heavy, charting many vital parts of the Targaryen history, which might be too much information for the average viewer.
Diehard fans of the franchise will welcome the nuanced introductions of characters such as Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock and Emma D’Arcy), Prince Daemon (Matt Smith), King Viserys I (Paddy Considine), and Lady Alicent (Emily Carey and Olivia Cooke).
The acting is stellar. You won’t find a better cast than this on an ensemble drama. Special props for the casting of young Princess Rhaenyra and young Lady Alicent.
Alcock steals the show in the first few episodes, delivering a performance you’d expect from a seasoned acting veteran.
I couldn’t help but worry about the inevitable shift to D’Arcy as Rhaenyra, but they turn in such riveting performances that the transition is seamless.
Matt Smith is another solid option as Daemon. He brings the right amount of levity to a character who has the potential to be one of the darkest in the history of the franchise.
House of the Dragon has a wealth of characters, and the opening episodes certainly plant the seeds for storylines to sprout in the latter half of the season.
There are similarities to the original series in many ways, especially with the storylines being planted for later in the run.
Critics were provided six episodes for review, and the patience with the slower-than-expected opening episodes is rewarded in a big way, with a significant tonal shift beginning with the sixth episode.
That’s not to say the opening episodes are bad. They’re high on the exposition, but telling an intricate story about the history of the Targaryens means there are some things viewers need to know before we begin getting much payoff.
The original series wasn’t exactly fast-paced as it introduced the characters, conflicts, and the world.
Many will believe they’ve seen everything Westeros offers, but House of the Dragon casts a different and more authentic spectacle at locations we’ve met before.
There are beautiful shots that the original series didn’t have in those earlier seasons, possibly because the budget wasn’t as high because as it was an unproven show when it began.
In that respect, House of the Dragon’s visuals are some of the most breathtaking I’ve ever seen.
There’s something nostalgic about seeing these locations we loved in the original series in a very different light.
Another strong point is the fire-breathing dragons.
A big concern I had coming into the series is that it would use dragons to detract from everything else, but they’re used sparingly when the story calls for them.
The CGI in the original series with the dragons was spectacular, elevated here considerably.
There is a lot to like about the series, but it would have been better if the creative forces managed to develop a more compelling way of telling the things we need to know before the series reaches its full potential.
Despite the slow pace of those initial episodes, your patience will be rewarded by the aforementioned shift that turns everything on its head.
House of the Dragon is more about the family dynamics of the Targeryens than anything else, but you should also be prepared for blood-soaked battles, backstabbing, and everything else you’d expect from a show in the world of Game of Thrones.
House of the Dragon premieres on HBO and HBO Max on Sunday, August 21 at 9 p.m.
Paul Dailly is the Associate Editor for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.