House of the Dragon: ‘finally the show it was always meant to be’

The first episode of “House of the Dragon” season two may not be the kind of “all-guns-blazing” opener to entice new fans, said Rebecca Nicholson in The Guardian. But the series “worms its way into your mind” with its “deceptive gentleness”, and gradually draws you in “almost by stealth”. 

It is “more mannered, more sombre” than its predecessor “Game of Thrones”, and, “astonishingly for a cod-medieval series about icy blonds arguing over whose dragon is more fiery”, it’s “more subtle”. But it nevertheless amounts to “unmissable and thrilling television”.

The new season – of which four episodes have been released to critics – follows a rumbling family feud between two branches of the Targaryen clan. The beef? Princess Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) had been promised the Iron Throne after her father’s death, but her stepmother Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke) conspired for her son Aegon to usurp his half-sister’s place. Now, the entire realm must choose whether to stay loyal to Rhaenyra or Aegon.

Based on parts of George R. R. Martin’s 2018 book “Fire & Blood”, “House of the Dragon” unfurls into a “tragedy of epic proportions”, said Alison Herman in Variety. It feels somehow more desolate than even the famously brutal “Game of Thrones”. “Once the bodies start to fall, sympathy ceases to matter in the face of a self-perpetuating cycle of destruction.” 

While this “oppressive” atmosphere can make “House of the Dragon” difficult to watch, its dark nature is also “testament to its power”. After a rushed first season, it “feels like it’s finally the show it was always meant to be”, making up for what its predecessors lacked with its thoughtful development of key relationships and scorching dragon battles.

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The stellar cast are gifted the sort of “meaty speeches that Emmy reels are made of”, said Angie Han in The Hollywood Reporter. Cooke is “riveting” as a woman who is far more uncertain about her cause behind closed doors, while D’Arcy’s Rhaenyra seems to shock herself at times with “the depths of her own rage”. 

Showrunner Ryan Condal’s “talky, character-driven approach” has its drawbacks, said Judy Berman in Time magazine: viewers eager to “watch dragons brûlée people” may get frustrated with the slower pace and numerous subplots. But the season’s “enriching” central characters and questioning of the “very premise of a just war” nod to the early episodes of “Game of Thrones”, before the “plot was reduced to filler” between lengthy battle scenes. Ultimately, a “solid political thriller is worth a thousand big, dumb, fiery special-effects spectacles”.

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