If “Game of Thrones” had started like George RR Martin’s new series, it probably wouldn’t have become a world hit.
The second episode of “House of the Dragon” picks up pretty much where the first left off. Unfortunately. Because the series is still not as thrilling as one would actually expect from a “Game of Thrones” successor. At least the makers are slowly unfolding what could be called a solid plot: The second episode mainly serves to introduce the first real villain of the series. A first confrontation of two central protagonists, probably planned as a dramatic climax, is disappointing though.
Danger: The following review contains a few spoilers for the first two episodes of House of the Dragon.
“House of the Dragon” is a solid fantasy series. The special effects are good, if not stunning, and the actors consistently do a decent job. Unfortunately, neither Milly Alcock (as Princess Rhaenyra) nor Paddy Considine (King Viserys), who get the most screen time in the second episode, really fail to impress. They look like actors in a cheap Netflix knockoff of Game of Thrones, not like the cast of the official HBO prequel. Matt Smith (Prince Daemon), who steals the show in almost every scene – also because he tends to wonderful overacting à la Peter Dinklage – unfortunately hardly appears in the second episode, which is arranged half a year after the first. After all, veteran character actor Graham McTavish (Ser Harrold) and Rhys Ifans (as Hand of the King Otto Hightower) save almost every scene in which they are in front of the camera.
A climax that isn’t one
The climax of the second episode, when Rhaenyra confronts her uncle Daemon on the bridge of Castle Drachenstein, exemplifies the problems of the series. Nobody can be surprised by the sudden appearance of the dragons and their mistress Rhaenyra, the first episode had worked towards that far too clearly at the beginning. The encounter between the two, accompanied by dramatic music, is apparently intended to cast a spell over the audience. But the big moment falls flat: mainly because of dull dialogues and the unconvincing acting of the Australian Alcock. Her character is apparently meant to come across as a kickass dragon rider princess, but instead comes across as a spoiled brat abusing dad’s privileges.
Also, while the computer-generated landscapes in this scene are beautiful, they don’t look real, including the dragons themselves. The whole scene feels more like a cutscene from a Witcher game than something out of HBO’s Game of Thrones. The original series cleverly used dragons very sparingly, but in “House of the Dragon” they lost their appeal in the second episode.
None of this would be so bad if the actors would captivate the audience. But they also seem out of place and lost in the shot, which was obviously filmed in front of a green screen, as if they themselves were not convinced by the scenery, which was apparently completely computer-generated. In “Game of Thrones”, a series that had almost consistently impressed with how real the scenes looked and how rooted the actors seemed in the reality of the characters, there were only rarely such unconvincing shots.
Parts of “House of the Dragon” are reminiscent of George Lucas’ worst missteps before the blue and green screens of the Star Wars prequels. When, apart from a few director’s instructions, the actors had no clue as to the environment in which they were actually playing. Instead of placing and filming the actors in a huge round LED screen stage, as in Disney’s “Mandalorian”, on which computer-generated backgrounds rendered in real time are projected, the “GoT” successor seems to be back to vile green screen. And instead of the grit and believability of a “Mandalorian,” all we get here is the sterility of a green screen backdrop.
Remarkably, the whopping twenty producers (that’s about two producers for each lead actor) chose not to include a sex scene in this episode. To do this, the trick used very often and successfully in “Game of Thrones” is used to introduce the villain with blatant scenes of violence and torture, so that even the last viewer immediately understands: Aha, this shrimp feeder, he’s evil! As if you didn’t immediately recognize that from the silly “Phantom of the Opera” mask.
It worked with “Game of Thrones” mainly because it was new and had never existed in this way before. That attracted unimagined masses of viewers who would otherwise have simply ignored a fantasy series with royal intrigues, sword fights and dragons – nerd stuff. It seems logical that “House of the Dragon” tries to continue the recipe for success. However, the series has so far lacked its own innovations. And just continuing with what “Game of Thrones” made famous makes the series of little interest to an audience beyond the hardcore GoT fan base.
The one point where “House of the Dragon” actually seems to go its own way only adds to the problem. The series is more focused on the political level of George RR Martin’s books than its predecessor. Except for the dragons, we had almost no fantasy elements to marvel at in the first episodes and there were also no major battles in Westeros, which had been pacified for a long time at the time of the series’ action. Viewers who are not particularly interested in the political conflicts between an agnatic and a cognatic succession system will miss any tension (apart from the one excess of violence per episode so far).
Content for content-hungry content consumers
“House of the Dragon” seems a bit as if you just want to produce content with the “Game of Thrones” branding, mainly mediocre actors and a few million for decent, but not intoxicating special effects. The show feels uninspired and, by HBO standards, surprisingly bland and sterile. This may be due to the fact that too many producers have the wooden spoon in the saucepan or simply because the script is of poor quality.
Either way, “House of the Dragon” is nothing special so far. You can watch the series quite well, but you don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything earth-shattering if you don’t. If the first episodes of “Game of Thrones” had been just as ordinary in the context of their time, this series would never have existed. Because then “Game of Thrones” probably wouldn’t have become the hit it is today.
“House of the Dragon” can be seen in Germany exclusively on Sky and on WOW, the successor to Sky Ticket, in a streaming subscription. New episodes of the series are released every Monday, parallel to the US premiere.