‘GoT’ team has another hit with ‘House of the Dragon’

‘Game of Thrones’ prequel has all the elements that made original a smash.

House of the Dragon
Where: Crave
What: Series, 10 episodes, 60 mins.
When: Sun., Aug 21; new episodes weekly after
Genre: Fantasy
Why you should watch: The Game of Thrones team has another dragon-propelled hit with a series that has best elements of original with less of the excess.

Good news for Game of Thrones fans — and fans of fantasy fiction in general — the GoT spinoff series, House of the Dragon (which uses the same author as source material and many of the same people behind the new show) doesn’t suck.

In fact, it’s pretty good — really good, actually. Much better than any of the other shows’ attempts to catch some GoT magic, like Prime’s forgettable The Wheel of Time, which shows you need more than the promise of dragons to create compelling fantasy. But, don’t worry, House of the Dragon still has plenty of dragons — maybe an even higher dragon-to-people ratio than GoT.

Set 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon has a fresh George R. R. Martin story to draw from: his two-volume Fire & Blood. So, House of the Dragon writers will not be running out of steam for a while, an accusation levelled at the latter years of GoT, when the show proceeded faster than Martin could write the books GoT was based on and was accused of jumping the shark — moat? — with increasingly bizarre plots.

House of the Dragon feels a little calmer than Game of Thrones, with more room for the story to unfurl. It’s the tale of the House Targaryen, a small part of GoT, mentioned as a somewhat fallen family and mostly represented by Daenerys and her three dragons. In House of the Dragons, House Targaryen is at the pinnacle of their power, GoT’s Westeros is subservient to them and the biggest threat to their rule comes internally as family members battle over succession to the throne.

There’s a cool feminist storyline as the king’s first born, his daughter, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, is his controversial choice to succeed him, and much of the conflict revolves around this. Played first as a young girl by Milly Alcock and then as a woman by Emma D’Arcy, both actors do a great job in creating arguably the most important character on the show. Princess Rhaenyra kicks ass, flies dragons and makes complicated, sometimes questionable, choices in sexual partners.

The show’s settings are magnificent, production values are superb and there are no loose threads or flaws in the fantastical tableaux on view. Whether sailing thrashing seas in spectacular vessels, showcasing major sporting feats of jousting or delivering shimmering castles fit for, well, a king, House of the Dragon does all the magic at least as well as GoT.

The show seems less rape-obsessed than GoT and, five episodes in, it doesn’t appear that every female lead must appear naked at some point. There’s plenty of sex and the show is sexy, but it feels less gratuitous than it had become on GoT. And while severed body parts do occasionally pile up on the show, the violence isn’t quite as sadistic and constant.

The story is key here, and while complex, it’s not impenetrable. You don’t have to be a devotee of Game of Thrones to get it. There are plenty of twists and turns, but the viewer is unlikely to get lost in the mayhem. It’s just the action-packed, story-propelling details one expects in the Martin universe.

Only time will tell if the world will embrace the new characters and storyline of this particular tale. If there’s still an appetite for fantastic, swashbuckling, sabre-clanging, bodice-busting, empire-threatening, reptile-riding, magic-propelled tales, then the GoT folks do, indeed, have themselves another hit because they do it better than anybody else.