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SYFY WIRE House of the Dragon

Critics call 'House of the Dragon' a fiery ride, still fighting to escape from 'Game of Thrones' shadow

Will House of the Dragon ever fly beyond the success of Game of Thrones?

By Matthew Jackson
Paddy Considine as King Viserys Targaryen

This weekend, the Game of Thrones universe continues at last with House of the Dragon, the long-awaited first follow-up series to the HBO fantasy megahit, and the opening salvo in what the network hopes is a constantly expanding landscape of more shows, characters, and intrigue for years to come.

Adapted from George R.R. Martin's Fire and Blood, a history of the Targaryen dynasty, the series will transport us back nearly 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones, and focus on the era when the Targaryens were the ruling power in Westeros, having conquered the seven kingdoms with their dragons years earlier. Unlike the original series, which focuses on a succession crisis in which several major families lay claim to the Iron Throne, House of the Dragon will take a tighter approach and show us what happens when the order of succession is questioned within the Targaryen dynasty itself.

The show follows what happens when King Viserys I (Paddy Considine) decides to name his daughter Rhaenyra (Emma D'Arcy) to be the first queen regnant of Westeros, removing his brother Daemon (Matt Smith) from his place as the next in line to the Iron Throne. Daemon doesn't like that, and his reaction to the king's change of heart will help set off a civil war, which isn't helped by the schemes of Lady Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), a beautiful and brilliant woman with plans of her own for the Iron Throne. 

So yes, we're set to watch another power struggle for a throne on the same continent as before, but House of the Dragon is hoping to change things up a bit with both an entirely different cast of characters and, of course, dragons. Lots and lots of dragons. So, does the show succeed in setting itself apart while still proving a worthy follow-up to the juggernaut that was Game of Thrones? Critics are, so far, intriguingly divided on that.

Here's what the reviews are saying about House of the Dragon as we gear up for the series premiere.

"The signs are there, but the spirit is weak. House of the Dragon, HBO’s heavily hyped spinoff series, is saddled with respectability. It wants to be taken seriously, or at least not to give undue offense. Through six of the 10 episodes in its first season, which premieres on Sunday, it is Game of Thrones as Masterpiece Theater," Mike Hale wrote at The New York Times.

"This follow-up series is louder, more direct about what it wants to say and how it wants you to respond. It elicits that response, and it will keep you wondering what will happen next to a family about whom, it turns out, there was still more to say. But it’s a blunt object, not a honed sword," Daniel D'Addario wrote at Variety.

"It’s disconcerting to see House of the Dragon becoming less distinctive and more beholden to Game of Thrones as it goes along, when it ought to be the opposite. There’s a lot that’s impressive in the first six episodes, but it’s as safe as a show with incest, gore and horrifying depictions of childbirth could possibly be. It needs to find its own voice, though if that voice remains this Targaryen-y, winter may be coming for my once burning curiosity," Daniel Fienberg wrote at The Hollywood Reporter.

"The drama heightens when clear battle lines get drawn. The first introduction of the grown-up characters is flat-out stunning, establishing palpable and sorrowful consequences for earlier decisions. And the sheer number of childbirth scenes would be a running gag if the show didn't render them, with vivid detail, as a genuine medical horror. Dragon doesn't soar immediately, but no House was built in a day," Darren Franich wrote at Entertainment Weekly.

"House of the Dragon, unfortunately, is filled with characters and conflicts that would struggle to hold the audience’s interest if they were just one small element among the many of its parent series. As the only subjects, they’re almost uniformly dull, preventing House of the Dragon from justifying its existence as anything other than a calculated piece of brand extension for the newly-merged Warner Bros. Discovery," Alan Sepinwall wrote at Rolling Stone.

But no all critics were so skeptical of the show's ability to captivate audiences. Some reviews hail House of the Dragon as the Thrones successor we've been waiting for. 

"Lightning doesn’t strike twice, and so it’s hard to envision House of the Dragon taking the TV world by storm as much as Game of Thrones once did, but this is a surprisingly entertaining drama, one created by people who clearly know how to play to the strengths of the original show while also carving its own identity. It can sometimes feel less ambitious than those early seasons of ‘GOT,’ but this is robust fantasy storytelling of a pedigree that we haven’t really seen since, well, you know," Brian Tallerico wrote at The Playlist.

"In short, all is as it was in GoT’s heyday. Fun, propulsive, looking great and sounding passable. And that, after the bizarrely poor finale to what had been a roaring success of a show, is a relief," Lucy Mangan wrote at The Guardian.

"House Of The Dragon’s premiere marks a strong, well-cast start to the Game Of Thrones spin-off. This feels very close to its predecessor in tone and content, but immediately establishes a struggle for power around an amiable, weak-willed king, and vivid new characters to fight those battles. We also have dragons, inbreeding, and resentment. It’s good to be back in backstabbing Westeros," Helen O'Hara wrote at IGN.

Find out which side you fall on when House of the Dragon premieres Aug. 21 on HBO. 

Looking for more fantasy adventures? Stream the entire eight-film Harry Potter saga on Peacock.