Why ‘House of the Dragon’ Is a Must Watch, Even If You Didn’t Watch ‘Game of Thrones’

House of the Dragon review

Warning: This post contains spoilers for House of the Dragon.

House of the Dragon will be premiering on August 22, three years after the Game of Thrones finale. Game of Thrones kept viewers on the edge of their seats for eight years with its signature blend of political manoeuvring, mind games, action, and some of the hottest, and most disturbing sex scenes we’ve seen on the small screen.

With plenty of buzz around the series, Matt Smith — the show’s reluctant lothario — inadvertently promised just as much sex and scandal earlier this month, and Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin has offered his ringing endorsement.

All this buzz has many potential viewers asking: “Do I have to carve out 70 hours and 14 minutes (approximately) to watch eight seasons of television before jumping on this Dragon-fuelled bandwagon?”

The short answer is no, the events of House of the Dragon take place a cool 200 years before those of Game of Thrones, so you don’t need to know who Jon Snow is. 

But, if you need more convincing, we’re going to walk you through the details that make House of the Dragon a beast of its own.

House of the Dragon Showcases British (and Australian) Talent at the Top of Their Game 

House of the Dragon review
Family feuds: Paddy Considine as King Viserys I and Matt Smith as his younger brother Prince Daemon Image credit: Ollie Upton, HBO

While Game of Thrones favoured background character actors — with the exception of Sean Bean as Ned Stark — there are some big hitters attached to House of the Dragon. The biggest, of course, is Matt Smith, best known for his performances in the The Crown and Doctor Who.

Smith plays Daemon Targaryen, the reckless younger brother to the king and heir apparent to the Iron Throne. An ambitious but impulsive political dilettante, he is equally accomplished in fighting and philandering. Tolerated by his older brother King Viserys I, his ascension to the throne is viewed with consternation by the King’s Small Council. 

Smith’s turn is surprising: Daemon Targaryen’s interactions with both his brother the king and his rival and niece Princess Rhaenyra (played by Australian actor Milly Alcock) are as vulnerable and convincingly familial as they are sinister — and in Rhaenyra’s case, mildly lecherous. It makes for riveting viewing.

He is supported by a team of critically acclaimed British character actors, and a scattering of Australian newcomers.

Paddy Constantine plays the soft-hearted but dithering King Viserys I, whose indecision sets the conflict between his heirs in motion. Milly Alcock is at all times fierce, naive, sweet and ever-so-slightly entitled — just as you’d expect from an only child, teen princess and dragon rider. Rhys Ifans is unrecognisable as the scholarly and conservative Otto Hightower, Hand of the King, a Targaryen loyalist with his own agenda. 

House of the Dragon Is Chock Full of… You Guessed It, Dragons

House of the Dragon review
Image credit: HBO

Another notable element? Dragons. While the Targaryens’ use of dragons is central to their power, the dragons on Game of Thrones were largely set pieces to Emilia Clarke’s performance as the conquering Daenerys Targaryen.

In House of the Dragon, they’re back and serving big “Main Character” energy. 

Directors Miguel Sapochnik and Ryan J. Condal worked for over 12 months in pre-production perfecting not only the realism, but the characters of the 17 dragons we will meet in Season One. In an interview with Den of Geek, Condal said that defining the dragons’ individual relationships with their riders is as important as their appearance and behaviour.  

In episode one we meet Caraxes, Daemon Targaryen’s dragon. The belligerent and powerful beast’s black and blood-red scales match the Targaryen House Sigal, and reflect Daemon’s aggressive personality and confidence in his claim. Princess Rhaenerys rides Syrax, a younger, more elegant female dragon whose orange and gold scales glow like low embers, foreshadowing her rider’s growing ambition. If these are the first two, we can’t wait to meet the other 15. 

Related: We Have All the Details for Where You Can Watch ‘House of the Dragon’ in Australia

Related: What Is a Sister-Wife? Your (Unofficial) ‘House of the Dragon’ Dictionary

House of the Dragon Is Canon (and That’s a Good Thing)

House of the dragon review
House of the Dragon deals with the same epic (and epically human theme) it’s print-iteration “Fire and Blood” covers. Image credit: HBO

Far from a spin-off, House of the Dragon is canon to the world George R. R. Martin began creating with his first book Game of Thrones in 1996. House of the Dragon is an adaptation of novel Fire and Blood, which is a prehistory of the Targaryen reign, documenting the rise and fall of Westeros’ most famous and feared dynasty.  

In many ways, House of the Dragon is a more faithful fantasy adaptation than its television predecessor. In this version of Westeros, magic is alive — along with the dragons — and the characters exist in a world where concepts that are mythic in Game of Thrones are immediate and urgent to the lives of the characters.

While genre fans will be delighted, the reason George R. R. Martin’s works have found such universal popularity is that like all great epics, from Homer’s Ulysses to Stephen King’s The Stand, Martin trades in themes that are human and universal. 

One of the central mysteries in Game of Thrones is how the Targaryens — a family once considered “closer to gods than men” — ever lost power in Westeros. It’s a question that looms large over the events of this prequel.

One hint is seen in the Targaryen banner seen everywhere in House of the Dragon. Their sigil? A three-headed dragon turned in on itself, the last dragon head straining, mouth agape to snap at its own tail. 

However, the political machinations of the small council provide levity which bubbles under the violence and confronting drama. The politics at court are instantly recognisable to anyone with a passing interest in the activities of premiers or British political satire.

At Small Council meetings life and death decisions are twisted by individual agendas and petty gossip while personal vanities and pomposities are frequently, and often hilarious, exposed.

As in Game of Thrones, frailties and affections drive the story of House of the Dragon forward as much as blood lust and fantasy beasts. These very human vulnerabilities make for viewing just as compelling as the lead actors’ butt cheeks.

You don’t need to watch eight seasons of Game of Thrones to appreciate that.

Stream House of the Dragon on BINGE with the world from 22 August at 11am AEST. New episodes drop on Mondays.

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