Once upon a time, Game of Thrones was my favorite television show. But in the aftermath of the final season, I—like many other viewers—pushed the world of Westeros as far away as I could. What had been a groundbreaking and breathtaking series left a sour taste, and I was eager to be rid of it once and for all. When news of a prequel made headlines, I had no interest and didn’t even watch any trailers when they were released.
Well, for better or worse, I’ve changed my mind.
After hearing from a handful of friends and reading online reviews, I decided to go against my gut instinct—I gave House of the Dragon a chance, and I’m very glad I did.
While the show’s first season concluded in October 2022, I’m still only halfway through—and must admit that I’m riveted. This GOT prequel, which takes place roughly 200 years before the birth of Daenerys Stormborn and Jon Snow, might be unnecessarily bloody and gruesome and sexual but, just like with the original show, I can’t seem to look away. And if they play their cards right, HOTD might just save the crumbling legacy of GOT. Here are the top three things that have caught my attention thus far in HOTD.
Stepping back in time
Much like Old Valyria, GOT destroyed itself in its last days. It became a shadow of its former self, and fans like me found the finale and all that surrounded it to be a mockery of the character-building and foreshadowing of former seasons. I could go on, but plenty has already been written about the show’s disappointing ending (and problematic themes throughout its run). But HOTD has breathed new life into Westeros by, ironically, showing us the world’s “old life.”
Set during the height of the Targaryen Dynasty in Westeros, the story doesn’t just follow the riveting political intrigue of the “Dance of Dragons” detailed in Fire and Blood—it also gives audiences a fascinating look into the past. Much like a historical drama set in the 1820s of our real world, there is just as much strangeness as there is familiarity. People, their emotions, their needs, and their desires don’t change too drastically from generation to generation—but of course, the context and cultural understanding behind their motivations do. We understand characters on a deeply human level, even as we are learning to comprehend the subtleties of their reality.
Such is the case of HOTD. This is a time period when Westeros is flourishing in prosperity and the might of the dragons is not a thing of the past, but the present. Houses whose names we recognize as present at court. Characters whose stories we know as “historical” are alive and well (at the beginning, anyway). There are more than just three dragons in the world, and the reigning Targaryen, King Viserys, isn’t mad but good and just. It’s a vastly different set of circumstances, with its own subculture, clothing, customs, and expectations. And yet, courtly drama is at an all-time high, and not so different from the conflict we know from GOT; namely, who should be in charge? Who deserves to be king or queen? Who has a better claim to the Iron Throne? It’s a story we know well, and yet, do not know at all. Such is the magic of a prequel set not decades but centuries ago.
Stellar production value
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Even when I was determined not to watch the show, I did think wistfully to myself that the costumes, music, and special effects were sure to be stunning. In that respect, GOT never disappointed me. And thus far, I’m similarly pleased with the parallel production value in HOTD. It’s no secret that the costuming in GOT was symbolic and “historically accurate” on many levels, and seeing how characters from different regions in Westeros dress 200 years earlier is a treat for anyone who enjoys costuming or sewing. There are pretty strong callbacks to how people like Daenerys dressed, but it’s done in such a way that it’s reminiscent without being a direct copy. Likewise, the music (again conducted by powerhouse Ramin Djawadi) evokes familiar themes from the original show while also being specific to our new characters.
And of course, there are really cool dragons. Lots of them. I would imagine that most of the show’s budget goes toward bringing these mythical creatures to startling life.
Matt Smith, Matt Smith, Matt Smith
If you’re on the same side of TikTok as I am, then you already know that the internet has been abuzz with Matt Smith’s performance as Daemon Targaryen, the king’s wayward and cocky younger brother. I’ve long enjoyed Matt’s charismatic turns as the Doctor in Doctor Who, Prince Philip in The Crown, and other memorable roles—but there’s something about him in HOTD that is more intriguing than ever.
I mean, just look at him.
If you couldn’t stomach the idea of incest in GOT (not merely the Lannister twins, but Daenerys and Jon Snow), then you may not find Daemon’s relationship with his niece Rhaenyra appealing. But if you’re able to get past the ick, there’s no denying that Matt has remarkable chemistry with both the actors who portray Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock, followed by Emma D’Arcy). Right now, he’s enough to keep me watching—until the end of season one, at least.
The sting of GOT’s terrible ending may never fade completely; but at least this fascinating foray back into Westeros, into the fire and blood of House Targaryen, exists. While we already know how the story of King Viserys, Princess Rhaenyra, and Prince Daemon ends (it is explicitly stated in GOT…and it isn’t pretty), the journey may turn out to be a redeeming one for the franchise’s marred legacy.
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