7 ways to fix House Of The Dragon (2024)

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7 ways to fix House Of The Dragon (1)

When HBO’s House Of The Dragon premiered two summers ago, it had direwolf-size shoes to fill. After all, it was the first spinoff of Game Of Thrones, one of the most popular series in television history. Over the course of eight seasons, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ Emmy-winning fantasy saga became the water-cooler show of the 2010s, delighting—and, nearly as often, mightily pissing off—its legions of fans.

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Set two centuries before Ned Stark made his fateful journey from Winterfell to King’s Landing, House Of The Dragon is based on Fire & Blood, George R.R. Martin’s history of the Targaryen dynasty that ruled Westeros for nearly 300 years. The show homes in on the Dance of Dragons, a war of succession that tore the most incestuous house in the Seven Kingdoms in two.

Season one sets up the action. Lacking a male heir, King Viserys I (Paddy Considine) names his daughter, Rhaenyra (Milly Alco*ck/Emma D’Arcy), as his successor. But things get messy after he weds her best friend, Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey/Olivia Cooke), who threatens Rhaenyra’s claim to the throne when she gives birth to a son. By the finale, Viserys is dead, and the two former besties find themselves on opposite sides of a looming civil war.

Ryan J. Condal and Martin’s series came right out of the gate with dragonfire blazing, netting 9.3 million viewers in 2022. But despite being a ratings hit, the season was a mixed bag, quality-wise. It lacked some essentials that made its predecessor such a roaring success—often letting the tension go slack, trotting out a small army of barely defined side characters, and striking a uniformly grim tone. That said, House Of The Dragon has a lot going for it: a uniformly stellar cast, a central plot that highlights the inextricable link between the personal and the political, and a conclusion that sets up an explosive season to come.

Whether you’re rooting for the Greens or the Blacks, here are seven ways the show could improve upon its uneven first season to conjure a second batch, which starts June 16, that’s truly fire (and blood).

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1. Settle on a pace

1. Settle on a pace

7 ways to fix House Of The Dragon (2)

If there’s anything House Of The Dragon should’ve learned from the much-loathed final season of Game Of Thrones, it’s that viewers hate to be rushed. Rhythmically, the first installment of House Of The Dragon was all over the place. The top half devoted entire episodes to King Viserys I (Paddy Considine) ineffectually staring off into the middle distance, then gave mere minutes to Prince Daemon’s (Matt Smith) cold-blooded murder of his first wife, Rhae Royce (Rachel Redford), a character we’ve known for all of 30 seconds.

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The show was firing on all cylinders, though, when it really took time to sit with its characters while also upping the stakes. Take “The Lord Of The Tides,” an all-time-great episode that unfolded in real time over the course of a tense Targaryen-Hightower family dinner. We’re not saying there aren’t times to pick up the beat (the 10-year time jump midway through the season was a breath of fresh air, and frankly should have come a lot sooner). Just because House Of The Dragon is based on what’s essentially a history textbook doesn’t mean it should be as dull as one.

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2. Give us more characters worth rooting for

Though Game Of Thrones had its fair share of no-nonsense players keeping the wheels of power grinding away, it seeded in plenty of folks we could love with our whole hearts: scrappy Arya Stark, loyal Brienne of Tarth, heroic Jon Snow—even Daenerys, in her pre-asshole days.

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House Of The Dragon, on the other hand, feels like: Oops, All Tywin Lannisters. The show has certainly created compelling protagonists in Rhaenyra, Alicent, and Daemon; but they’re a trio of calculating, morally gray politicians whose actions are frequently difficult for viewers to stand behind. And while we’ve definitely got shades of black in characters like Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) and Prince Aemond (Ewan Mitchell), the show is devoid of white hats—at least any who are interesting enough to care about. A series with an ensemble this large needs the full spectrum of heroes, antiheroes, and villains to keep us watching.

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3. Invest in side characters’ backstories

3. Invest in side characters’ backstories

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In “The Princess And The Queen,” the first episode following the time jump, we learn that Rhaenyra is deeply in love with Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr), whom she’s been carrying on an affair with (and birthing the bastards of) for years. But we get all of two scenes with him before his conniving brother, Larys, orchestrates Harwin and their father’s deaths. Why did Rhaenyra fall in love with Harwin? Who can say. Why is Larys so eager to murder his family? Because he’s evil. Why is he evil? Because he’s creepy-looking, I guess.

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It’s clear that House Of The Dragon is trying to establish Larys as its very own Littlefinger. Game Of Thrones’ arch conniver was made for such a delicious baddie because we knew his motivations from the very start—a lesser noble with a chip on his shoulder, tortured by unrequited love. Larys, on the other hand, is a black box.

And he’s not the only one: Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney), who ascends to the Iron Throne in the season’s penultimate episode, is a King Joffrey–level asshole from the moment we meet him. But unlike that little sh*t, Aegon was raised by essentially decent parents; that we don’t know how the kid became so gross makes it hard for viewers to invest in him as a villain.

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4. Enough with the traumatic childbirths, already

4. Enough with the traumatic childbirths, already

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Game Of Thrones was infamous for its unrestrained violence—some of it earned, some of it gratuitous. So it’s only natural that the prequel would continue in that vein. The series premiere, “The Heirs Of The Dragon,” came out swinging with a bloody, satisfying jousting sequence. But this “fun” bloodshed was intercut with a scene of Viserys’ first wife, Aemma Arryn (Sian Brooke), undergoing a medieval—and nonconsensual—C-section in agonizing detail, culminating in the death of both mother and child. The voyeuristic gore was enough to make some viewers jump ship.

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But House Of The Dragon was far from finished. In “The Princess And The Queen,” Daemon’s second wife, Laena Valeryon (Nanna Blondell), endured a traumatic labor that she survived, but her infant didn’t. Immediately after giving birth, she staggered out of her bedchamber and onto a Pentosi beach, where she self-immolated by dragonfire. (This despite the fact that she still had two living children and seemed to be fairly content with her life up until that moment.)

We’re not saying that traumatic childbirth wasn’t the norm before the age of modern medicine—far from it. But onscreen suffering comes down to what the creators do and don’t choose to put on-camera. And the decision to devote so much time to depictions of pregnant women’s suffering feels, at best, like a weird fixation—and, at worst, straight-up sad*stic. (Color us shocked that both episodes were directed by, you guessed it, a man.)

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5. Show us the world beyond the Targaryens and Hightowers

5. Show us the world beyond the Targaryens and Hightowers

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The title House Of The Dragon immediately tells viewers that this show is going to have a tighter focus than its predecessor: Whereas the Starks, Lannisters, and (two) Targaryens shared equal screen time in Game Of Thrones, the prequel is all about Daenerys’ bleached-blond forebears and the family they married into.

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Narrowing the scope is all well and good—but after a while, we kind of want to see what’s happening elsewhere in Westeros. What’s the deal with Ser Tyland Lannister and his twin brother, Jason (both played by Jefferson Hall)? What were the Baratheons and the Starks up to in the years before they wiped the Targaryens off the map? And speaking of…

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6. Give us more Velaryons, please

6. Give us more Velaryons, please

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There’s a very compelling family already close at hand: the Velaryons, as led by Lord Corlys (Steve Toussaint) and his extremely dope wife, Rhaenys (Eve Best). Though the latter is a Targaryen herself, she’s long since thrown her lot in with her husband’s family. And although she’s arguably the show’s most compelling character, we only got a sprinkling of her vengeful-wine-mom energy. Considering Rhaenys got the season’s most badass moment—interrupting Aegon’s coronation with a (literally) earth-shattering escape from King’s Landing—here’s hoping she’ll take on a bigger role this year.

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There’s also Corlys and Rhaenys’ son, Laenor (John Macmillan), Rhaenyra’s presumed-dead ex-husband who escaped to Essos in the company of his knightly lover (Arty Froushan). It’d be a true blast to watch the adventures of the series’ only two surviving gay characters on the other side of the Narrow Sea.

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7. Lighten up a little!

7. Lighten up a little!

One of the original series’ greatest assets was that it knew when it needed to take the edge off; it can’t all be Red Weddings. (There’s a reason why “That’s what I do—I drink and I know things” has become such an iconic meme.) Game Of Thrones gave us all-time legends like the witty, self-deprecating Tyrion; the compulsively horny Red Viper; the Real Housewives–esque Cersei; and Tormund Giantsbane, who may or may not have f*cked a bear.

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So it baffles us that House Of The Dragon serves up an ensemble composed entirely of deadly serious characters. The only ones who ever come close to fun are Rhaenys (who, until things turned deadly, watched the Targaryen-Hightower drama play out like a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race); and Daemon, whose louche, amoral ways made him the most enjoyable part of the season one’s first half. Really, we’d just love someone, anyone, to make a single dang joke—or at least crack a smile.

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7 ways to fix House Of The Dragon (2024)

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