House of the Dragon' has done the unthinkable: it just made Westeros cool again for those who were disillusioned with the debacle that were the last couple of seasons of 'Game of Thrones'. It is not perfect by any means, and still appears to be finding its feet but it does have in spades what turned 'Game of Thrones' into the best show in the world: clever plotting and characterisation, beautiful cinematography, and cinema-level visual effects. The show, set 127 years before the events of 'GoT', explores Dance of the Dragons, a momentous event in the post-Targaryen era of Westeros that caused much bloodshed and had far-reaching ramifications.
Unlike 'GoT, the series' contenders, unlike the War of the Five Kings, are all within the same house: the Targaryens. Ryan Condal and George RR Martin, the originator of this entire universe, share creator credits. Both, along with the rest in the writer's room, had a mountainous task of crafting a story out of basic plot outlines given in 'Fire & Blood', the tome that serves as the source material for the series. 'Fire & Blood', for those who were not aware, had a framing device in the form of a treatise written by Archmaester Gyldayn. So the scribes had to fill in the little details like character motivations and interpersonal relationships, and they have, I daresay, done a bang-up job.
One thing that worked in their favour, perhaps, was that 'HotD' has a much smaller scale. Most of the important events transpire in King's Landing or Dragonstone, an island castle off the eastern coast of Westeros. The story begins with Paddy Considine's tragic King Viserys Targaryen I, the reigning monarch, who is good at heart but has a quality that is otherwise noble but detrimental in a king: wanting to please everybody. If you have power over millions and enforce that position with the help of armed forces, it is inevitable that you will displease several sections of your realm. He declares as his heir his daughter and then the only surviving child Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock as young Rhaenyra, with Emma D'Arcy as adult version), kicking off a chain of events that would eventually lead to the Dance of the Dragons.
Thanks to a cast of great actors, the performances are excellent almost throughout. Considine is easily the best of them all, and much has already been said about him, but Ifans and Matt Smith come very close. As the Hightower patriarch, he sports a straight-faced menace that makes it hard to look away. Smith, in the role of Daemon Targaryen, is also equally impressive, doing top-tier acting while using precious few words. Eve Best, as Princess Rhaenys Targaryen, known as the Queen Who Never Was, is another top performer.
'House of the Dragon' also benefits greatly from the painstaking world-building done by 'Game of Thrones'. There is a brief mention of an impending war between the living and the dead and an existential threat from the extreme north. Characters frequently speak in Old Valyrian, the language of Valyrian Freehold, a kingdom ruled by dragon lords among whom the Targaryens were only one family among dozens. These are not only fun callbacks, but also make the world of 'HotD' feel more lived in. 'House of the Dragon' Season 1 is an absolute winner. (IANS)
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