Widescreen: HBO's 'House of the Dragon' is more of the same, and that's what it should be

  • Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey), left, and Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock) share a smile in the Godswood in the premiere episode of HBO's "House of the Dragon."

    Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey), left, and Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock) share a smile in the Godswood in the premiere episode of HBO's "House of the Dragon." Courtesy of HBO

 
 
Posted8/31/2022 1:18 PM

Three years ago, you may remember this writer promising you were reading the last "Game of Thrones" column.

Don't count your dragon eggs before they hatch, or you may end up eating (three-eyed) crow.

 

The third of what will surely be many episodes of HBO's "Game of Thrones" prequel series, "House of the Dragon," airs at 8 p.m. Sunday and is likely to draw the kinds of broadcast viewership numbers usually reserved for CBS blockbusters like "NCIS" and "FBI."

It perhaps wasn't surprising that the Aug. 21 premiere drew almost 10 million viewers -- even the hordes disappointed by the original show's final season in 2019 had to be curious about a spinoff featuring the platinum-haired, dragon-riding ancestors of "Thrones" heroine-turned-tyrant Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke).

What is surprising is that last weekend's second hour drew even more Sunday viewers: 10.2 million on HBO and HBO Max, according to TVLine.

How did they do it? They didn't reinvent the wheel -- or to put it in Daenerys' terms, they didn't break the wheel.

Two episodes in, "House of the Dragon" has featured everything a "Thrones" superfan could want: Dragons, for starters. Royal intrigue. Gory action. Unnecessary nudity (of course). Familiar settings like King's Landing and Dragonstone, restored to the glory of old. And haunting music from Ramin Djawadi -- they even kept the original theme over the opening credits.

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Showrunners Ryan J. Condal and Miguel Sapochnik, working under the watchful eye of "Thrones" author George R.R. Martin, clearly understood that their assignment was to recapture the glory of the previous show's finest seasons, not to put their own unique spin on the material for the sake of something new.

Was that assignment more of a business decision than an artistic one? Definitely.

Was it the right decision anyway? Definitely.

The show's first test

"House of the Dragon" viewers who haven't watched every trailer or promotional video do have what could be an unwelcome surprise coming in a few weeks when the show's two young protagonists, Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock) and Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey), will be played by different actresses after the story jumps forward in time.

Emma D'Arcy and Olivia Cooke will take over the roles before season's end; D'Arcy, 30, is eight years older than Alcock, and Cooke, 28, is nine years older than Carey.

Why unwelcome? Because Alcock is the early highlight of the show's considerable acting ensemble. As the princess who may lose her claim to the throne shortly after gaining it in tragic fashion, Alcock has taken the reins of this television behemoth like her character taking the reins of a hulking dragon. She is the center of the marketing, the center of the show's main conflict, and the center of our attention. And she's going to be gone very soon.

Emma D'Arcy, the fate of the realm rests on your shoulders.

• Sean Stangland is an assistant news editor who just knows Graham MacTavish's kingsguard is going to end up being his favorite character.

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