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‘House of the Dragon Review’: Matt Smith Shines

HBO Max debuts the first episode where Matt Smith is a breakout character with some promising good things.

‘House of the Dragon Review’: Matt Smith Shines

The Game of Thrones spinoff, House of the Dragon, debuted tonight on HBO Max where apparently it was so big it crashed the streaming service, at least those watching via Amazon devices.

As I said, that’s potentially good news as it means lots of people are watching the show as reportedly the ten-episode first season cost around $200 million or more to make (Disney Plus and Marvel are nowhere to be found), so if the fans are tuning in, that spells good news for more seasons and the other spinoffs (I’m excited for the Kit Harington Jon Snow sequel), especially considering how Warner Bros. Discovery and David Zaslav are axing everything left and right.

Note: Spoilers follow.

Matt Smith in House of the Dragon

Good to have Game of Thrones back

Regarding the episode, I will say it is good to have Game of Thrones back, especially after the last two disappointing seasons of the main series, but I’m actually still on the fence regarding if it is indeed back.

To be honest, I feel the episode is rather predictable with too much gore where I feel all the gore took away from the story, but I did enjoy the episode overall and found good things, so I am sticking around for more.

Rhys Ifans as Otto Hightower in House of the Dragon
Rhys Ifans as Otto Hightower in House of the Dragon

Cool Easter Eggs and nods to the Game of Thrones

The episode features cool Easter Eggs and nods to the Game of Thrones lore.

Particularly cool is when King Viserys Targaryen tells his daughter, the Young Princess Rhaenyra Targary, about the secret handed down from king to king which is about winter never ending and the Nightwalkers and such where in Viserys’ possession is the dagger made from Valyrian steel used in an assassination attempt to kill Bran Stark and the very same dagger Arya Stark uses to kill the Night King.

Other references include familiar family names such as the Starks, I think the Boltons got a mention, and the Baratheons.

Milly Alcock as Princess Rhaenyra in House of the Dragon
Milly Alcock as Princess Rhaenyra in House of the Dragon

Too much gore in House of the Dragon episode 1

Regarding the gore, I actually had to cover my eyes many times, and particularly gruesome is the horrifying birth scene, which again I found just too much and I feel we didn’t need to see the whole thing and that they could have done a lot off camera. The showrunners go over and defend the scene speaking with THR:

“Aemma says, ‘The child bed is our battlefield,’” says Sapochnik, who is showrunner on the series along with Ryan Condal. “We felt that was an interesting way to explore the fact that for a woman in medieval times, giving birth was violence. It’s as dangerous as it gets. You have a 50/50 chance of making it. Many women didn’t. If given the choice, the father would choose the child over the mother as a cesarean would kill you. It was an extremely violent part of life. We have a number of births in the show and basically decided to give them different themes and explore them from different perspectives the same way I did for a bunch of battles on Thrones, where each time I tried to put a different spine in each so it wasn’t just doing the same thing as I don’t think putting a bunch of violence on screen for the sake of violence does any good in the world.”

I suppose what made it particularly gruesome for me is they showed all that and then, at least I did, I assumed the baby was going to live, but then the next scene shows the funeral where the baby is wrapped up next to his mother (I guess it was said the baby was sick but I missed that; was the volume low for anybody else? I had to really jack it up on my TV). Then, of course, the Dragon lights them on fire. Eeek.

I think my gripe is the entire episode features gore, instead of maybe just this one scene, so it all just comes off as gore for the sake of gore (body parts all over, faces bashed in, appendages cut off, etc.) and too over-the-top. Less is more, maybe?

Paddy Considine as King Viserys Targaryen
Paddy Considine as King Viserys Targaryen

The story is a bit too predictable

Regarding the story, again much too predictable but it is entertaining at the same time (more on that below in regards to Matt Smith).

I will say it could be simply that after watching eight seasons of Game of Thrones I am used to it all, so maybe that’s a good enough explanation (or not), but this is definitely nothing new under the sun, and I was able to telegraph basically everything that was going to happen, especially between the king and his brother.

It’s just another person trying to stab another person in the back to get the throne, which I suppose is the game of thrones and while we are all watching, and it all depends on how it plays out, so…

Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen in House of the Dragon
Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen in House of the Dragon

Matt Smith is the breakout star of House of the Dragon

So what about the cast?

I love Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen, the brother of the king, and what I particularly like about him is that you could argue he’s not a villain, but maybe actually a hero of the show, which is something the main Game of Throne series does so well.

Yeah, the episode heavily plays him as the “villain,” but he’s right when he says his brother king is weak and is being preyed upon by the other members of the court. There is obviously a war brewing for the crown, and who would be best to defend it and take over the mantle? A teen queen girl? Or the knight in shining armor?

Daemon is also right when he takes the guard and rounds up all the criminals. They’re murders, thieves, and rapists. I felt the court didn’t like it because they didn’t do it themselves and weren’t able to get the credit while Daemon looked like the hero to the people, and they convinced the king otherwise.

Daemon also shows remorse when the queen dies, which I feel humanizes him, and he obviously has some kind of compassion or feelings for Rhaenyra (yeah, it could be weird but I guess in those days they did that kind of stuff) and he really hasn’t betrayed his brother ever in their ten years of being together. Where’s the loyalty?

Regarding the party where he says his dead nephew only lived a day, it could be argued he is honoring him (a toast?) and it isn’t like he is actually celebrating as much as the others. Daemon is supposed to be the successor to the king, and I think he is just a different person than his brother and as he said mourns differently, but at the same time, he compensates his loyal followers upon the news of him becoming the next king (loyalty is a big thing).

Of course, it sounds like I am defending Daemon, which I am (lol), and I don’t know if he is going to be truly a “villain” in subsequent episodes, but I think that is a testament to the writing – is he a good guy? is he a villain? an anti-hero? – and how well Matt Smith plays the character (is blood thicker than water?)

Milly Alcock as Young Rhaenyra, Paddy Considine as King Viserys Targaryen
Milly Alcock as Young Rhaenyra, Paddy Considine as King Viserys Targaryen

House of the Dragons standouts

Other standouts for me include Paddy Considine as King Viserys Targaryen and Rhys Ifans as the hand of the king (I didn’t even recognize him), Otto Hightower (I did miss Peter Dinklage), as you are not supposed to like these characters. Again, Viserys comes off weak and wimpy, and Otto is the scum of the earth, especially when he sends his daughter to comfort the king after the king’s son and wife’s death. Yuck. Otto is obviously all about himself at any cost. The actors play it to a tee.

I also found Steve Toussaint’s Lord Corlys Velaryon interesting as he plays his part well in trying to work all sides in regards to his loyalty. I could see him teaming with Daemon when the civil war breaks out.

Milly Alcock also does a good job as Princess Rhaenyra, where she comes off as a strong female character, and did anybody else think when they first show her from behind next to the dragon that she looks just like Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen? Tell me they didn’t do that on purpose.

Steve Toussaint as Lord Corlys Velaryon in House of the Dragon
Steve Toussaint as Lord Corlys Velaryon in House of the Dragon

Is House of the Dragon woke?

The question if House of the Dragon is woke came up on Twitter. My answer: Well, not yet it doesn’t seem to be, but there are red flags as none of the female characters come off as bad guys.

Game of Thrones has many complex and strong female characters who aren’t exactly goodie-goodies including Cersei Lannister, you could even argue Daenerys Targaryen, and then there is Melisandre, Olenna Tyrell, Osha, Yara Greyjoy, the Sand sisters, Selyse Baratheon, Septa Unella, Lysa Arryn, etc.

However, House of the Dragon, so far, doesn’t have ONE female bad guy nor is it even implied in the first episode that any of the female characters are bad guys or even contriving, cunning, manipulative, or even remotely somewhat complex. The woke media is actually celebrating and promoting that angle, so I hope in subsequent episodes, we are introduced to similar female characters such as the above and it’s not another “all men are bad” series à la Gaiman’s The Sandman.

There is also the question of the casting of Steve Toussaint as Lord Corlys Velaryon, and I do feel the episode goes out of its way to show off his children, and fans that defend the casting say the book never says he’s white, but obviously, he has blond hair, so there is that. They do keep the blond hair in the show, and I feel they didn’t sh-t on anything with remarks about the color of anyone’s skin or anything like that, so I’m just hoping they don’t make a big thing about it as I feel the actor does play a good part and I am eager to see how things with his character play out.

Fabien Frankel as Ser Criston Cole in House of the Dragon
Fabien Frankel as Ser Criston Cole in House of the Dragon

House of the Dragon special effects and music

The special effects and music are pretty good, I thought. I saw some online complaints about the CGI, and to be honest, I can’t really think of any time in the episode where I felt that it is an issue. Really cool ending with the take on the main Game of Thrones theme music, too.

The set pieces, clothing, and such all look really good, too, and again, particularly shining is Matt Smith in his dragon armor. Looked wicked and the battle scenes are done well.

I think if you are a big Game of Thrones fan you are going to like the episode, and even if you are not familiar with the franchise and haven’t watched the preceding series, you’re not going to be lost. Let’s just hope it keeps up.