House of the Dragon review: a return to Westeros fit for a king… or queen? 

Read our review for GoT's prequel House of the Dragon season one episode one 

Three years after the conclusion of Game of Thrones, the world of Westeros is back, this time with a prequel set nearly 200 years before the original and focusing on the incomparable Targaryen dynasty at the height of their power. As the first of six planned spin-offs from HBO, how does House of the Dragon measure up - and will the universe have its absolution after season eight's disappointment

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George RR Martin co-wrote the show alongside Rampage screenwriter Ryan J. Condal, who himself is co-showrunner with Game of Thrones screenwriter alumni Miguel Sapochnik (the genius behind episodes including Hardhome and Battle of the Bastards), as this balance of creatives and entertainers means that the balance of the new series is perfect, perfect, perfect. 

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WATCH: House of the Dragon will be released on Monday in the UK 

Pared back from Game of Thrones' sprawling storylines, the action instead is concentrated in King’s Landing, giving the writers more time to flesh out a nuanced picture of family, politics and court, while instantly endearing the audience to a new host of faces. 

Ready for the return of Westeros?

What happens in House of the Dragon?

The story follows the good King Viserys, who has ruled his kingdom as an average sort of monarch, avoiding wars and political arguments, keeping his haphazard younger brother Prince Deamon as under thumb as can be, while quietly despairing over the lack of a male heir. Of course he loves his only child, Princess Rhaenyra, but his life would be much easier if a boy came along. 

Meanwhile, the small council worry over the line of succession with Daemon as the heir - most notably the Hand of the King Ser Otto Hightower, played by an unrecognisably understated Rhys Ifan. 

Matt Smith plays Daemon Targaryen

The pacing deliciously rivals that of Game of Thrones’ early seasons, where long scenes were dedicated to the likes of Littlefinger and Varys upstaging one another in verbal tennis matches, or King Robert and Cersei’s remarking on how their failed marriage is all that holds the fragile kingdom together. 

In House of the Dragon, we have time to take in the nuances of what is at play, and what could one day be at risk; King Viserys’ reluctance to make difficult decisions, his brother Daemon’s chaotic ruthlessness, and Rhaenyra’s ease as the King’s only child all set the scene for later drama. After a dwindling season seven and a woeful season eight, it finally feels like a true return to form for A Song of Ice and Fire. 

A tourney scene in King's Landing

Is House of the Sex as graphic as Game of Thrones?

The only criticism we would offer is the determination to put Game of Thrones’ famous gratuitous sexual and violent scenes very firmly into view, even when it isn't inkeeping with the story. Of course, the world of Westeros has a very clear identity as a fantasy medieval world, and while we’re not suggesting that the show abandon what made headlines throughout Game of Thrones’ era of television, in episode one the sex and violence felt a little forced, as if a HBO boss demanded that it be added in to give the fans what they want. 

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Alicent and Rhaenyra 

For instance, there is a scene in which two knights in a tourney get into a bloody fight to the death at the King’s Tourney which seemed downright illogical, considering that it is set in King’s Landing, not a Dothraki wedding. Not even the brutal Mountain was permitted to kill the knight who unhorsed him back in GoT season one - so why include this in the prequel where the nuances of the court appear to be more or less the same, 200 years prior? As Lady Olenna would say, it is a question for the philosophers. 

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