This review will be somewhat of a coming out for me (no, not like that). It may come as a shock to many of you, but I possesses nerdy guilty pleasures and one such indulgence is George R.R. Martin's ASOIAF series.
I've even read Fire and Blood, the fake in-universe history novel on which House of the Dragon is based. GRRM is a talented writer and has built a compelling sandbox for his characters to play in, filled with fairly deeply fleshed out historical back stories for characters and events we only hear referenced in the main series.
Ah yes, the main series. The books that captured people's imagination, lead them to debate theories online, launched the biggest TV show in history and which Martin can't seem to be bothered to finish.
It's been more than 11 years since Martin published A Dance with Dragons (the fifth out of the planned seven book series) and the way David Benioff and D.B. Weiss butchered the final three seasons of Game of Thrones left many fans, both book reader and normie alike, with little appetite for more of Westeros.
Yet, House of the Dragon is a massive hit, with over 10 million people watching the premiere and 10.2 million coming back for episode 2. In one respect, it makes me happy that people are watching this show, because there is a good story to tell. In another, it reminds me that Martin's inability to finish the fucking books allowed these two douchebags give the first telling of his ending.
Anyways, let's talk about the We Was Draganz show (not my phrase!)
The series is set a couple of hundred years before the main series takes place and is based around a Targaryen Civil War called "The Dance of Dragons".
The premiere primarily focuses on introducing us to the main players. King Jaehaerys I Targaryen suffers the loss of his two male heirs and convenes a council to allow the realm to choose his heir. Instead of choosing his granddaughter, Rhaenys, the council chooses his grandson, Viserys I, and we then flash forward some years to the reign Viserys and his quest for a male heir.
We meet Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D'Arcy), a dragon rider and Viserys' only child and a very pregnant Queen Aemma Arryn.
We meet the King's brother, Prince Daemon Targaryen, played by Matt Smith, who captains Gold Cloaks, bangs whores and bashes skulls.
We meet the Hand of the King, Otto Hightower, played by Rhys Ifans and his daughter and best friend to Princess Rhaenyra, Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey), both of whom are destined to play significant roles in the drama to come.
We also meet Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), the King's Master of Ships and husband to Rhaenys, the woman passed over for the crown.
By the end of episode one, Queen Aemma and the King's much sought after son are dead after a very graphic sequence that illustrates the savagery of medieval obstetrics, Prince Daemon is exiled for (allegedly) belittling the death of his brother's heir and Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen is named Viserys official heir.
Episode two ups the ante by setting up conflict between nearly all of the primary characters announces he will take another wife and chooses his daughter's (and heir) best friend, Alicent Hightower, over the daughter of Corlys Velaryon.
Got all that? Probably not, but whatever.
I have to be honest, the show is off to a good start. I wanted to hate this show because of how its predecessor butchered everything after season four, but this show is capturing a lot of what made Game of Thrones such a cultural phenomenon. And no, I'm not talking about milkers or dragons (though both are cool).
Part of what made me love the ASOIAF series (and Game of Thrones) is shared with why I enjoyed Vince Gilligan's Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul - there are well considered and severe consequences for the decisions characters make. Rob Stark chose to break his betrothal to Walder Frey's daughter and is killed for his selfishness. Jimmy McGill fucks with his brother's malpractice insurance and Chuck ends up killing himself. And so on.
These first two episodes have returned this universe back to its roots, a gritty, period and character driven drama, where ambition, family and politics lead to tragic outcomes.
Having read Fire and Blood, I know where this story leads. If you don't already know, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised when the story turns in ways you didn't think it would.
That doesn't mean that showrunners Miguel Sapochnik and Ryan Condal won't fuck this up by injecting 2022 political discourse into a show set in a medieval fictional universe.
Yes, there were a few moments in these first two episodes that might cause an eye roll, but nothing that's been said on the show thus far has felt egregiously out of place. Queen Aemma's death scene, clearly attempting to draw a connection to the inherent unfairness of childbirth, was a little MESSAGY (Sapochnik confirmed as much). But this MESSAGE was at least time-period accurate and bears some truth, so. . . fair game? Plus, we did get this banger from Aemma before her early departure:
All in all, there is much to like about House of the Dragon, thus far. The show looks amazing, the actors are all pretty good and I think Matt Smith as Prince Daemon is going to become a fan favorite. If the show stays true to the source material, it should be an entertaining watch for a few years.
Speaking of staying true to the source material, here's what Corlys Velaryon looks like according to HBO's own in-universe Histories & Lore series that was included with Blu-Rays for the show:
Now, I don't particularly care that they changed Corlys Velaryon to a black dude. Steve Touissant has done a good job with the role, he's been fun to watch. In fact, most viewers will never even know what race the character was originally conceived to be.
More than anything, race-swapping this character is funny to me. You see, according to the in universe GRRM canon, House Targaryen has married into House Velaryon several times when brother-sister marriages were not possible. This includes Aenys Targaryen, the first born son of Aegon the Conqueror, who married Alyssa Velaryon, an ancestor to Corlys Velaryon and presumably black.
Aenys and Alyssa were parents to Jaehaerys Targaryen, the king we see at the council in the prelude to episode one:
So if the Velaryons are black and all Targaryen kings descended from Aenys and Alyssa Velyaron . . . then all of the Targaryens we're watching in House of the Dragon are part black.
This means that Westeros was ruled by a black dynasty for about 280 years.
This means that Jon Snow is part black.
This means that Daenerys Targaryen is part black.
This means all of the Libtxrd hand-wringing over the "white savior complex" from this scene in Game of Thrones was completely misguided!
Dany was among her BIPOC people!
So there you go, don't let that the obvious social engineering bother you. Have a little fun with it, question why HBO casted all these white actors to play the roles of POC characters and enjoy an otherwise good show without the angst.
Happy Tuesday and God Bless America.