Leading up to the premiere of House of the Dragon, the pressure on the showrunners was palpable. Coming off the back of a disastrous end to Game of Thrones, the onus was on the prequel to salvage the pride of a once revered fantasy-fiction universe. To their credit, the showrunners handled the burdens well, delivering a brilliant and engaging storyline.
A lot of things stood out over the course of this season, especially the performances of the actors. The cast, which includes Paddy Considine, Rhys Ifans, Olivia Cooke, Emma D'Arcy, and Matt Smith, captured the raw power of humane feelings and the complexities of royal political struggles with impeccable detail.
Emily Carey and Milly Alcock, playing young Alicent Hightower and Rhaenyra Targaryen respectively, delivered resoundingly – their flawless portrayal smoothened the transition for their older successors. The fervent performances made sure fans could feel the emotional depth of the characters on the screen, allowing viewers to 'live the scenes' in their hearts.
What makes their performance even more incredible is how they dealt with the frequent time jumps. Any fears over actors being out-of-sync with their characters' timeframe were quashed as the episodes aired. If anything, the performances of the actors, combined with brilliant screenwriting and directing, elevated the show to new heights.
Another thing which stood out was how the showrunners mastered the art of storytelling through musical scores. Composed by the genius Ramin Djawadi, the scores made important events like the Great Council of Harrenhal by King Jaehaerys, the marriage dance of Rhaenyra and Ser Laenor, and the glory of House Velaryon even more memorable. The score of the penultimate episode, which includes "Lament" and "The Fate of the Kingdoms", are two of the finest pieces of music in the GoT universe. The use of piano to capture the air of insecurity, fear, and inevitability gave a cinematic edge to the episode as Queen Alicent rushed to crown her son Aegon as King.
One of the prime criticisms for GoT's later seasons was how robotic the dragons looked. Thankfully for fans, this wasn't the case in HoTD. The diversity of the dragons described in the book was perfectly captured by the CGI team, with the smallest of details given faultless attention. Not only that, the CGI department did an amazing job of capturing King's Landing with iconic places like the Dragonpit, Red Keep, the infamous Flea Bottom, Street of Silk, and the Godswood looking magnificent at the height of Targaryen glory.
After the hasty ending to GoT, where the showrunners ultimately hit self-destruction mode in the most comical of fashions, the suspenseful plot of HoTD was a refreshing change. It was evident lessons were learnt from previous mistakes. The slow pace of the first few episodes, criticised by some, was actually a shrewd move. Not only did it allow fans to fully immerse themselves into the characters and storyline, but also set the perfect stage for the epic story which ensued.
In terms of filling the plot gaps in Fire and Blood, the book HoTD is based on, the screenwriters certainly delivered. Most notably, the transformation of Viserys I from a one-dimensional guinea-pig of Hightowers to a respectable, era-defining King has been a masterstroke. Coupled with the acting of Paddy Considine, fans genuinely bonded with Viserys the Peaceful through the course of his run.
As far as Aemond is concerned, the look of guilt after his encounter with Rhaenyra's son, Lucerys, was a welcome change as well. In the book, Aemond originally revelled at the fate of Lucerys. However, the on-screen guilt might have a huge impact and define the futures of both Aemond and the Realm as the Black Queen becomes more and more ruthless in her quest for the Iron Throne and revenge.
With a wonderful pace-setter in place, season two of House of the Dragon promises to be exciting. The appearance of Lord Cregan Stark is all but assured as Jace is flying to Winterfell. With the Dance of the Dragons about to start, the hope is that the showrunners can deliver on their promise and put the GoT universe back among the elites of fantasy-fiction on TV.
Inqiad is a long-suffering Man United fan and a self-proclaimed Targaryen. Contact him at email@example.com