House of the Dragon: TV critics give verdicts on Game of Thrones prequel

Does Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon live up to the original?

That’s the question critics have tried to address in the first reviews of the hotly-anticipated new series – but the answer is somewhat inconclusive.

Some, like The Guardian, declared it “a roaring success” that’s “as great as its predecessor in its heyday”.

Others were were more lukewarm. The Telegraph said it falls “a little way short”, while The Wrap went further and declared that it “pales in comparison”.

House of the Dragon has reportedly cost almost £20m (£16.8m) per episode and will be available to watch in the US on Sunday and the UK on Monday.

It is based on parts of author George RR Martin’s 2018 bestseller Fire and Blood, set almost 200 years before the start of Game of Thrones.

Milly Alcock as young Rhaenyra Targaryen and Emily Carey as young Alicent Hightower in House of DragonIMAGE SOURCE,HBO
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Milly Alcock plays the younger Rhaenyra, with Emily Carey as the young Alicent Hightower

The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan said it was “a relief” that “a good time is coming”.

“In short, all is as it was in GoT’s heyday,” she wrote. “Fun, propulsive, looking great and sounding passable.”

In its five-star review, The Times described the new series as “visually sumptuous, well-acted (for the most part), crisply written and cleverly pitched”.

It will be “accessible to anyone who hasn’t seen a second of Game of Thrones but reassuringly familiar to those who’ve watched the whole thing”, according to Ben Dowell.

The reign of House Targaryen begins in House of DragonIMAGE SOURCE,HBO
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The LA Times warned that “a strong stomach is still required” to watch the violence

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times agreed that House of the Dragon “recaptures the power, grandeur of the original”.

The prequel “immediately thrusts viewers into the familiar sights and sounds of the Game of Thrones universe”, critic Lorraine Ali wrote.

‘A smashing success’

“A strong stomach is still required upon returning to Westeros (beware of wanton beheadings, carts full of dismembered body parts and worse), though previous fandom is not a requisite for becoming invested in House of the Dragon.”

Ali also noted that early scenes showing childbirth and jousting “are powerful enough on their own to render the first episode a smashing success and show that House of the Dragon has a depth of understanding of its female characters that GoT took years to find”.

Emily Carey as young Alicent Hightower and Milly Alcock as young Rhaenyra Targaryen in House of DragonIMAGE SOURCE,HBO
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The central characters are “riveting” or “dour”, depending on which critic you choose to believe

The Washington Post’s Inkoo Kang said the show establishes itself, “but not immediately”. It is “initially rocky” and “the first three instalments are particularly generic in their plotlines and turgid in pacing”, she wrote.

It takes all six episodes that were available to reviewers (there are 10 in the first season) for the creators to “finish putting all the pieces on the chessboard”, she said.

‘Riveting’ relationship

“But once the game is finally set up for play, things become quickly auspicious. The barbed relationship between former friends Rhaenyra and Alicent becomes particularly riveting, the stakes of their simmering but potentially mortal competition compounded by motherhood.”

According to The Hollywood Reporter, House of the Dragon is primarily the story of Rhaenyra, played in adulthood by Emma D’Arcy, and Olivia Cooke’s Alicent “navigating paths to power in a male-dominated world, being raised by fathers who don’t have a clue how to raise them, while Matt Smith rides dragons and chews scenery”.

Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen in House of DragonIMAGE SOURCE,HBO
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Matt Smith brings “a bit too much of his performance as Prince Philip from The Crown”, one critic said

The former Doctor Who star plays the scheming Prince Daemon Targaryen. Critic Daniel Fienberg said he “is hammy, but always in an entertaining way; he gives the best of the secondary performances”.

Another British star on the bill is Paddy Considine as Viserys Targaryen, and the storyline focuses on his dynasty and who will succeed him as ruler of the Seven Kingdoms.

‘Needs to find its own voice’

“Most of our time is spent in King’s Landing, rather than the whip-around-the-kingdom approach of the original series,” Fienberg said. “It’s a lot of Targaryens and it’s a lot of incest.”

There is also “a lot that’s impressive in the first six episodes”, he wrote. But he added: “It needs to find its own voice, though if that voice remains this Targaryen-y, winter may be coming for my once burning curiosity.”

Paddy Considine as King Viserys I TargaryenIMAGE SOURCE,HBO
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The show is packed with British acting talent, including Paddy Considine as King Viserys Targaryen

The show is “reasonably smart and well put together” and is “firmly focused on palace intrigue”, the New York Times reviewer Mike Hale said.

“It’s a bit like HBO’s current big hit, Succession, with dragons instead of helicopters.”

‘The characters are flat’

He added: “That seriousness of purpose doesn’t translate into engaging drama, however. There’s a lot of sitting around tables and talking about the troubles of the kingdom, which would be fine in moderation.

“But the characters are flat, stamped out on Martin’s production line of medieval fantasy types. And when the show ventures into the field for battle or romance, the filmmaking feels rote as well, but without the overlay of zippy special effects that Game of Thrones offered.”

Steve Toussaint as The Sea Snake in House of the DragonIMAGE SOURCE,HBO
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Steve Toussaint plays Lord Corlys Velaryon, aka the Sea Snake, in House of the Dragon

Rolling Stone gave it a thumbs down, saying House of the Dragon contains “all the palace intrigue of its parent series, with none of the wit or energy”.

The characters are “almost uniformly dull”, while filling a show with “a gang of mostly dour Targareyns, gives the whole project the air of the Star Wars prequels”, Alan Sepinwall said.

“While Smith remains a very striking camera subject, a bit too much of his performance as Prince Philip from The Crown creeps in here. He plays Daemon more as a petulant overgrown child than the nearly mythical warrior the show wants to present him as.”

‘Surprisingly bloodless’

Sepinwall concluded: “No matter how many CGI dragons it has to offer, the new series will not rekindle the fire in the hearts of viewers who loved Game of Thrones at one point not for the world, but for the people in it.”

The Wrap’s Thelma Adams was not won over either, writing that, for all the bloodshed, “the Targaryen clan seems surprisingly bloodless (and humorless) in a baggy script that doesn’t end each episode with the shocking cliffhangers of yore”.

She added that the plot “never takes wing”, adding: “Rhaenyra is no Daenerys. The wit that was always there to leaven even the most mordant moments? Gone. The sex? Dry. Mostly, it’s unpleasant people doing unpleasant things to each other with less tension, less at stake and no breakout dragon adventures.”

House of the Dragon launches on HBO and HBO Max in the US on Sunday, and on Sky Atlantic and Now in the UK on Monday.

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