House of the Dragon is cruel, messy and fascinating

House of the Dragon is cruel, messy and fascinating

House of the Dragon is cruel, messy and fascinating

House of the Dragon is cruel, messy and fascinating

This story contains spoilers for Episode 2 of House of the Dragon.

‘s opening credits Game of Thrones famous offer a dynamic bird’s-eye view around a pulsating map of George RR Martin’s fantasy world. The series serves in part as a practical guide to a vast universe. But it also has a thematic purpose, reminding viewers of the show’s scope: This is a series that jumps from city to city, encompassing aristocratic dynasties, as well as humble soldiers, exiled assassins, and distant sorcerers. House of the Dragon, HBO’s much-hyped prequel series, debuted this week with its own opening credits with its second episode. The rousing theme music remains the same, but the setting is limited, with rivers of blood flowing through the walls of Old Valyria, the ancestral home of the Targaryen family. The message is clear: this show only cares about one bloodline.

The Targaryens, largely obliterated by the time… Game of Thrones takes place are central to House of the Dragon, and that may have limited appeal for some viewers. My colleague Sophie Gilbert wisely pointed out the brutal challenge of investing in a TV series where the main characters view incestuous marriages as an accepted norm. unlike Game of Throneswith a huge ensemble of quirky figures from which viewers can choose their favourites, most of the House of the Dragon leads are silver-haired, dragon-riding royals vying for a seat on a throne that the public knows their family will eventually (nearly 200 years later) lose to rebellion. So why am I so forced?

Because palace intrigue has always been my favorite aspect of Martin’s world. Yes, Game of Thrones brimming with alien concepts such as warrior dragons, a 700-foot-tall ice wall built to keep out zombies, and witches who can revive the dead. But one of my favorite plots in the history of that show comes in the second season, when the scheming Tyrion Lannister (played by Peter Dinklage) takes on the role of Hand of the King in the capital of King’s Landing and starts a war of espionage against his sister, using rumors of false marriage plots to wipe out her loyalists. Martin’s A song of ice and fire novels, all of which I have read and reread, owe as much inspiration to the high fantasy of Under the spell of the Ring as they do with the real-life machinations of medieval European history, and take stock House of the Dragon tilted far in the latter direction.

[Read: How ‘Game of Thrones’ lost its way as a political drama]

The plot in episode 2, “The Rogue Prince,” relies more on whispered conversations and hypothetical alliance formation than the show’s blood-soaked pilot. Six months later (great leaps in time, it seems, will be common here), it focuses on King Viserys (Paddy Considine) as he ponders his choice of a second wife after Queen Aemma’s death in childbirth. . His ally Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) brings in his 12-year-old daughter Laena (Nova Fouellis-Mosé), who displays a chilling, heartbreaking poise as she takes a walk with her king, promising him, “I would give you many children of pure Valyrian blood.” “Is that what your father told you to say?” Viserys responds with a sigh and adds, “What did your mother tell you?” “That I don’t have to go to bed until I’m 14,” she replies.

The exchange is sickening to watch. Although Viserys is visibly troubled and rejects Laena as a bride, at the end of the episode he announces that he will be married to 15-year-old Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey), the daughter of his Hand Otto (Rhys Ifans), who is charmed of Viserys by serving as a confidante as he grieves for his wife. The new engagement is presented as a strategic blunder more than anything else, but it’s impossible to grace a character who rejected a preteen so he can marry a teenager instead. The filth of such medieval schemes, and the peculiar perversity of the Targaryen dynasty (loving intermarriage), means that the morality of House of the Dragon is as flat as a pancake. This is not Game of Thrones, which has more obviously heroic characters like Ned Stark to advocate for; on the other hand, Ned Stark couldn’t get through one season of that show before being beheaded.

Enjoying House of the Dragon requires a specific support from its viewers – the acceptance that royal dynasties are inherently rotten and that the careful political game of arranging marriages and naming heirs is complex, but inevitably cruel. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to any history geek; the stark details of anarchy, an English succession crisis of the 12th century that is a clear inspiration for House of the Dragon, including King Stephen’s heir, Matilda, who was betrothed to 24-year-old future Holy Roman Emperor Henry V when she was only 8 years old. Matilda’s analogy in the show is Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), who is Viserys’ successor, despite the fact that Westeros was never ruled by a woman. “Here’s the hard truth,” her relative Rhaenys (Eve Best) tells her in the second episode. “Men would rather light the empire on fire than see a woman ascend the Iron Throne.”

As House of the Dragon progressing, I am most fascinated to see how it navigates the balance between fantasy and reality. Martin’s made-up world is not obliged to fully recreate the nasty truths of the medieval past – Stephen of Blois and Matilda at no point jumped on the backs of dragons during their joust for the English throne. But the Game of Thrones universe has always served a lot of brutality along with complicated diplomacy. Viserys, with his impending teenage wedding, is a sad and unsympathetic figure, a king already broken by the loss of his first wife, even though his conspiring brother Daemon (Matt Smith) is the more obvious villain of the show. The biggest question yet is whether Rhaenyra can chart a rosier course for her family as they grapple with their future. But those damn opening credits don’t hold much hope.

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