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Hope & Loathing in King’s Landing: House of the Dragon Episode 1 Review

fantasticworldspod August 29, 2022 124

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Abbie reviews House of the Dragon: Episode One

Welp, I ended up watching House of the Dragon, as I knew I was going to eventually. I’m not physically able to stop myself from watching a show about dragon riders. I just finished episode one and I can already tell this will be a bit of a hate-watch for me.

Disclaimers: This post is NOT SPOILER FREE for episode one, and also includes vague guesses for the future based on having read the book. If you want to watch House of the Dragon without knowing anything and haven’t watched the pilot – turn back now! 

I have read the section of Fire and Blood this show is based on – but it was so long ago I only remember the broadest strokes. Any predictions I make here are based on half-remembered snapshots – so bear that in mind. 

The Good

Before I get started, I want to state for the record that there are absolutely enjoyable elements that may make this thing worth the watch in the long run. It’s fun to see the Dragon Royals at the height of their power and with the maximum number of fire-breathing WOMDs/beloved pets they will ever have. 

The cast is strong too. The performances are generally good from everyone in it but I want to single out Matt Smith. He is so good at sinking into a role, and manages to bring a level of charisma to Daemon Targaryen that makes him bearable to watch, instead of lazily sinking to Ramsey Bolton levels of villainous caricature.  

Rhaenyra is a character I am looking forward to following. An intelligent, funny, bold young woman who begins the show with complex, but ultimately loving relationships with her family and friends that, as this is a tragedy, will ultimately sour. I’m a sucker for stories where people who love each other end up on opposite sides. I especially adore this when it’s part of the relationship between our protagonist and the most likely villain – her uncle Daemon. They seem to have a relatively warm familial relationship to start, and their struggle against each other for the throne will probably end in ruin for them both.

Depending on how bold they want to go, there are possibilities for queer storytelling on this show. Rhaenyra and her girlhood best friend Alicent have a very close bond and I’ll be happy either for a Friends to Lovers to Enemies story for them, or a Best Friends to Enemies story. I also half-remember it being implied in the book that Rhaenyra’s (post-timeskip) husband is gay and she falls in love with his sister while ALSO having an affair with another man on the side – fun!  

Those are the high points for me. Now, on to why this is still going to be a hate-watch, in all likelihood. 

The Bad

I loathe that this show is focused around the potential for a woman to sit on the throne, when we already know she won’t – because they say on Game of Thrones that no woman has ever done so. So we know Rhaenyra fails already. And we know that even her distant relative, Daenerys, will also fail in about a century and a half. No woman (presumably – I doubt we’ll get any trans monarchs referenced on this show) has ever sat on the Iron Throne and none ever will (with the exception of Cercei, but it’s almost worse that the only woman ever to rule Westeros in her own right was a monster), so the discussions of who Viserys’s successor in this show should be already feel pointless. It might not be Daemon, but it will inevitably be a man.  

But first, let’s torture some women! The showrunners have proudly stated that a major theme will be the struggles of women living in a patriarchal, medieval style society that would rather burn the country to the ground than be ruled by a woman. This bums me out for two major reasons. 

The first one is: we again know from seeing women characters in Game of Thrones struggle with a lot of the same issues that NOTHING is going to change. The women of House of the Dragon will suffer and struggle and strive to make a change and…fail. 

The second is: this show is already an example of why stories focused on a particular type of oppression or social struggle aren’t best told by people who aren’t members of the group they’re writing about. There are so many elements of this show that already irritate me knowing that the showrunners, cisgender men Miguel Sapochnik and Ryan Condal, wrote at least the first two episodes (Condal), directed the pilot (Sapochnik), and are in charge of where this story will go in general.

For example: this first episode features a pregnant person being forcibly given a C-section without anesthesia while she cries “no, no, stop” and then just screams in agony until she dies from blood loss. They made a big deal of Aemma saying that childbirth is a woman’s battlefield, and tried to juxtapose it with a jousting tournament to drive that point home, but the part of her labor they used was the part she did not consent to. That wasn’t her battlefield or her tournament or her shot at glory – that was her being murdered by her husband as he lovingly strokes her hair and tells her not to be afraid while his servants cut her open to yank out the baby, who dies a couple minutes after his birth anyway. 

You can just tell that Sapochnik and Condal thought they were real geniuses here, and I hate it. The battlefield metaphor might have worked, if Aemma had been given the opportunity to choose this procedure. But instead no one asks her what she wants to do or even tells her what’s about to happen to her because how would we have a ReaLisTIC stORy about doing a sexism if we gave the women in it any agency!? A classic conundrum. 

I find all of this deeply frustrating, and I wish that HBO had greenlit a different GoT tie-in project, or hired at least (1) one person to run it who isn’t a cis man and has any idea of what living under the yoke of misogyny is like if they were so excited to produce a show where that’s a central theme. I hope I’m wrong about where I think this is going, but franchise prequels usually have to stick to the previously established history of the story we’ve seen before, so I doubt it. 

The Upshot

They may find surprising moments to prove me wrong in smaller ways – and in the meantime there are plenty of dragons to keep me happy. I will continue to walk this tightrope of hope and loathing for another episode. 

Moments I loved: Dragons, dragons everywhere! With promises of more! That opening scene where Rhaenyra soars high above King’s Landing on her dragon Syrax brought a couple tears to my eye – that was literally my fondest adolescent daydream. Loved Daemon introducing his girlfriend to his dragon as well before flying away, that was fun.

Princess Rhaenys, the Queen that Never Was, and her husband Lord Corlys are a hot couple. Looking forward to learning more about them.  

Rhaenyra’s tense, bitter conversation with Daemon at the funeral. I can’t really explain what I liked about it – it was just a moment I enjoyed.  

Moments that made me roll my eyes: Daemon sending in his Goldcloaks to randomly grab people out of a crowd and maim them lmao what the actual fuck is happening? I get it, he’s a violent, chaotic man but they give us no real context for what he or his men even thought they were doing there.  

Alicent being sent by her father to comfort a bereaved Viserys. Why? Are they implying she sleeps with him? Or is she just going to sit there with her book and say “I’m sorry?” It has not been established that King V. has a taste for teen girls, or that he has any affection or regard for Alicent in particular so this was confusing. If she’s supposed to sleep with him why is Hightower sending Viserys his VIRGIN NOBLE DAUGHTER, instead of hiring a sex worker?! He doesn’t appear to have Tywin Lannisterish scruples about brothels, and neither does the king! Makes no sense. 

Viserys telling Rhaenyra about “The Song of Ice and Fire”. Such unnecessary and very silly foreshadowing for a story we’ve already been told on a show that won’t include any of the White Walker stuff, unless they drastically alter the history of this world. 

On to episode two! Might make this a series.

About The Author

Abbie is full to bursting with half-formed opinions and loves the sound of her own voice. Catch any of her podcasts if you love that for her: Fairy Tale FixFantastic WorldsFar Beyond the Stars, and The Greatest Show on Earth.

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