Are you a fan of incest, senseless brutality, pedophilia, and cruelty toward women? Good news! House of the Dragon has all that intact.
Did you like Game of Thrones for its expansive world building, likeable characters, well thought out plot, riveting dialogue, palpable tension, and heart felt drama? Too bad! None for you!
If you excuse me, most of this review is going to be my rant of reasons why I was not a fan of HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon. The only thing I liked about it were the visuals. They are truly spectacular. And Matt Smith’s acting. But that’s it.
I don’t often do negative reviews or harsh rants, but I felt like there were some very troubling problems in this show that needed to be addressed. If you disagree or agree with my review, please feel free to comment!
There will be spoilers in this review.
To give you a brief summary of the plot of House of the Dragon, it takes place some 200 years before the story of Game of Thrones starts and 172 years before the birth of Daenerys Targaryen. It portrays the beginning of the end of House Targaryen, the events leading up to and covering the Targaryen war of succession, known as the “Dance of the Dragons.”
On the surface it sounds like it could be good, but to me, it seemed to have all the shock of Game of Thrones with little of the substance.
Reasons I Didn’t Like House of the Dragon
#1: Lingering Disappointment From Season 8 of Game of Thrones
I’ll admit that I entered the show with a negative bias. I was already disappointed by the disaster that was season 8 of Game of Thrones. One of the best shows on television suddenly turned into a mess where people were leaving Starbucks cups and water bottles in scenes, the fan favorite Danaerys Targaryen became a violent psychopath out of nowhere, and the whole story was rushed to a close because the main show writers, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, wanted to go do Star Wars instead. It didn’t help that George R.R. Martin never finished the Game of Thrones series.
But that’s all a different show, let’s get to House of the Dragon.
#2: The Heavy Handed Theme
Every show has a theme. In House of the Dragon, they drop theirs into your lap with all the subtlety of a twenty pound bowling ball. You barely get through the first five minutes of episode one, before it is announced that Rhaenys Targaryen was not chosen to be a queen, “because she was a WOMAN.” Yes, the show literally tells us this.
While female empowerment is certainly a worthwhile theme, the show treats their theme like a morning star they need to whack the viewer over the head with constantly, assuming the viewer is too stupid to figure it out on their own. It seems every ten minutes you are reminded that women can’t be queen because they are women, and that their only purpose in life is to be birthing machines for male heirs or sex objects in brothels.
#3: A “Feminist“ Show That Exploits Its Female Characters?
It’s a bit insulting to me that the show is putting itself forward as some brave message of female empowerment, against the backdrop of sexual objectification, pedophilia, and brutal violence against women.
The birthing scene with Queen Aemma Arryn is a particularly gruesome affair where the maester decides that the only way to save the baby is to cut open the queen. And then they LITERALLY show this on the screen with a knife cutting open the woman’s belly and gutting her like a fish as she screams and cries in terror. As I watched this, I wasn’t sure if I was watching a fantasy show anymore or one of the Saw movies.
Perhaps this brutality was supposed to add to the show’s theme that women were cruely treated like birthing objects in the Middle Ages, and that the main character, Rhaenyra Targaryen (not to be confused with Rhaenys Targaryen despite the incredibly similar sounding name), is gonna rise above this.
But then there is the depiction of women as sex objects—literally, there are paintings of naked women having orgies in almost every room of the Targaryen palace. And let’s not forget the constant need for brothel scenes.
This is all along with the constant depiction of grown men talking about marriage or sex with teenage girls who all look very young: Alicent Hightower, Rhaenyra Targaryen, and most gross, the 12 year old, Laena Velaryon who “won’t have to bed the king until she’s 14.” Some people may argue that this is the middle ages and that adult men discussing sex with teenage girls was a norm. Maybe that’s true. But if the theme is supposed to be female empowerment, then how do we explain episode 4?
In Episode 4, Rhaenyra’s uncle Daemon (who is a violent psychopath that likes to have people murdered, mutilated, raped, tortured and calls his wife “The Bronze Bitch”), decides to take Rhaenyra out for a night on the town. He’s an adult male in his late 20s and she’s a teenager. He gets her drunk, takes her to a brothel, and then starts throwing himself at her sexually, telling her that this is the place where people “take what they want.” Rhaenyra gets visibly sexually excited and starts kissing him back. As the camera pulls away, we see that her pants have been pulled down and they were about to engage in a sex act, when her uncle ends up getting disgusted and leaving instead. So even he seems to know they were about to do something wrong, but she seems happy and content enough.
What’s the message of female empowerment here? That if a teenage girl’s uncle gets her drunk and starts kissing her that it’s empowering for her to like it??? I watched the directors explanation of the episode and they were trying to sell it as some message of female sexual empowerment (where she’s choosing what she wants!) There’s a female director. GURL POWER…right?
Sorry, but no. You can’t have a teenage girl’s uncle get her shitfaced drunk, and then say it’s empowering for her to like it. What kind of message does that really send?
Slant Magazine hit the nail on the head when they talked about how the show falls short of its feminist theme by not actually dwelling on the emotions of the female victims, or the consequences of the brutal actions against them. But instead spends valuable screen time showing the Crab Feeder crucifying his victims or people at the tourney getting smashed in the face.
#4: No Likeable Characters
I’m four episodes in and I don’t like any of the characters on screen. They could all get eaten by dragons and I wouldn’t care. By the way, where are the dragons in House of the DRAGON?
Rhaenyra Targaryen is the main character the show follows, the first-born child of King Viserys I Targaryen. The best word I can use to describe her is “meh.” She doesn’t have any dynamism on screen. Half the time I can’t tell if she’s happy or uncomfortable in some scenes. Her main motivation is to not be a birthing person, and instead ride into battle on dragons. That sounds cool. But we only get a little of that. Instead, most of the time, she’s throwing tantrums at her dad because she doesn’t wanna do stuff that royal people are supposed to do.
Every now and then she comes up with a clever idea. But the show’s writers accomplish this with the tired trope of making all the adult male characters dumb as doorknobs to make this teenage girl look smart…instead of…you know…just making her smart in a world of competent characters?
At one point King Viserys decides to storm a fort with…just 20 men! This is despite the fact that he has 10 dragons in reserve. Apparently he forgot he had them. Luckily, Rhaenyra Targaryen, our strong empowered 15 year old, rides into the scene with a dragon to save the day, because apparently she is the only person who remembered that the Targaryens have dragons.
The main reason that Rhaenyra Targaryen is unlikeable for me, however, is that she just doesn’t seem to care about other people other than herself. In Game of Thrones we fell in love with Daenerys Targaryen, because while she was ruthless, she also prevented women from being raped, freed slaves and had a soft spot for the people who served her.
We see none of that with Rhaenyra Targaryen. She cares mainly about herself and what she wants. I guess we’re supposed to be impressed by her tenacity to take what she wants? But instead she comes off as entitled and bratty.
She is seen smirking flirtatiously at her uncle Daemon (who once again, is a known psychopath who had a bunch of people mutilated and raped). Her dad seems like he’s actually trying to work with her when he gives her the chance to choose who she wants to marry, but she doesn’t seem to notice or care. The worst is when she hits on her armed bodyguard Ser Criston Cole with a game of keep away the helmet (what a perfect reminder that she’s still a child before her “empowering sex scene”). She starts undressing him and he says, “no.” She keeps going anyways and then he goes along with it. SHE TAKES WHAT SHE WANTS, EVERYONE!
Daemon Targaryen is played by one of the best actors on the show. Matt Smith. The show tries to depict this character as a gray character, and he gets a lot of screen time. But the problem is that the moment he is introduced, he does so many horrible and selfish things that I could care less about what happens to him either way.
As to the rest of the characters, they are either flat or make so many dumb decisions that they are hard to sympathize with.
#5: Lame Antagonists
A show is only as good as its antagonist. Who was the antagonist in this show so far? The Crab Feeder! A guy who was dressed like the Phantom of the Opera and likes to feed people to crabs. That’s right, I’m not even making this up.
In addition to the Crab Feeder, the other antagonist, as we’re constantly reminded every five minutes, is the patriarchy. And our protagonist, Rhaenyra Targaryen, bravely rises above the patriarchy by… getting drunk and trying to have sex with her uncle???
#6: It’s Difficult to Make a Good Spinoff Series
To be fair to HOD, it is very hard to make a good spinoff series. Most spinoff shows don’t succeed. That’s because a good spinoff show must achieve the difficult task of offering a new, fresh take on something familiar. An example of two series that were spinoff successes are Better Call Saul and Legend of Korra.
Unfortunately, there was nothing new or fresh about House of the Dragon that made it stand out from Game of Thrones.
In summary, this is a show that wants to be a female empowerment piece while utilizing the same sexist tropes that populated GOT. Seems like a show that’s trying to have its cake and eat it too in my opinion.
‘House of the Dragon’ Is ‘Game of Thrones’ Minus the Fire (Rollingstone, 8-19-22)
House of the Dragon Review: A Frustrating Jumble of Incident and Spectacle (Slant Magazine, 8-19-22)
Game of groans: Why is House of the Dragon so dull? (The Guardian, 9-15-22)