review roundup

Is House of the Dragon Burdened by Its Predecessor? Critics Weigh In.

Photo: HBO Max

The first reactions to the Game of Thrones spinoff are in, and the new series about the Targaryen wars of succession has elicited a range of responses from critics. House of the Dragon, based on George R.R. Martin’s Fire and Blood, takes place three centuries before the Stark and Targaryen families as we know them and makes viewers and critics question: Are we here because the show is a feat of imagination, full of intrigue, lore, and impressive performances? Or are we here because we just really love dragons? “We are meant to care about the fate of the throne because it is the seat of power of Westeros, future home of Daenerys and Cersei and Jon Snow,” Daniel D’Addario writes in Variety, “and less because the challengers present cases that compel as anything other than academic questions about what is fair.” Here are the key takeaways from critics.

“It defines itself in relation to Game of Thrones as a prequel but is indecisive about to what degree it should be a copy versus an evolution. The series assumes its viewers have a certain amount of familiarity with marriage as political capital, how chaos is a ladder, and the meanings of “a Song of Ice and Fire” and “Dracarys” and assures those same viewers that they can still enjoy watching those things because House of the Dragon is more woman-focused and (somewhat) less lurid. But the series seems so stuck on what it doesn’t want to be that no part of it feels fully defined on its own terms.” — Roxana Hadadi, Vulture

House of the Dragon may never be the next Game of Thrones, but, from the six hours I’ve seen, it looks poised to at least step out of the giant shadow its predecessor casts. That’s an achievement any king — or queen — could crow about.” — Daniel Van Boom, CNET

“House of the Dragon often feels like it lacks the wild curiosity necessary to make a prequel like this really sing. That could very well change should HBO Max keep House of the Dragon going and push the show to be more of a thoughtful interpolation of the future we know. But for the time being, House of the Dragon’s yet another hyperviolent tale of swords and sorcery that you’ve undoubtedly heard before.” — Charles Pulliam-Moore, The Verge

“There’s a lot of sitting around tables and talking about the troubles of the kingdom, which would be fine in moderation. But the characters are flat, stamped out on Martin’s production line of medieval fantasy types. And when the show ventures into the field for battle or romance, the filmmaking feels rote as well, but without the overlay of zippy special effects that Game of Thrones offered.” — Mike Hale, the New York Times

“But even if the remainder of House of the Dragon falls into a too-familiar pattern, that cannot take away from these first five episodes being beautifully crafted and compelling television.” — Jamie Lovett, Comic Book

House of the Dragon starts a bit shakily and has moments where it falters, but the series has more on its mind than just gratuitous sex scenes and graphic violence. There’s still plenty of nudity and gore, but it’s often in the service of the story, and that feels refreshing after Game of Thrones, which often bordered on exploitative.” — Danielle Ryan, Slash Film

“For better and for worse, Game of Thrones made it increasingly difficult to shock us with its gore, cruelty, gratuitous sexual displays and twists of fate. The scenes where House of the Dragon strives to outdo its predecessor in those regards seldom succeed; it’s where the prequel feels most like a cheap knockoff. The most thrilling or unsettling surprises of the original show were rooted in character, and so it is with the new series. It’s too bad House of the Dragon takes such a long time to define and shade the Targaryens and those in their orbit. But once it’s done, their viciousness gleams all the more against the darkness.” — Inkoo Kang, the Washington Post

“Nothing about the first several episodes of House of the Dragon, premiering August 21 on HBO, marks it as a potential masterpiece. There are structural flaws, elements that come across as excessively derivative, a yawning void where thematic resonance should be. But it’s solid enough to entertain Thrones viewers who preferred that show’s focused, dialogue-rich early seasons to the bloated, combat-packed spectacle it devolved into later.” — Judy Berman, Time

Game of Thrones veterans like director Miguel Sapochnik and composer Ramin Djawadi can make this new series look and sound like more of the same, but it’s as hollow and brittle as the massive scale model of the kingdom that Viserys takes pride in building. That’s a rotten foundation for an epic fantasy, so maybe the prophecy was correct after all: The only thing that could tear down the House of the Dragon was itself.” — Aaron Riccio, Slant Magazine

“The good news with House of the Dragon is that the beginning is the worst part.” — Darren Franich, Entertainment Weekly

“There’s much to praise in this show’s telling a new story that still chimes familiar themes, a succession drama that’s of Westeros but not reheated. (I’d also note that its inclusivity of casting, unfamiliar from Game of Thrones, is certainly a welcome change.) But the show can, at times, be more easily admired than watched. We are meant to care about the fate of the throne because it is the seat of power of Westeros, future home of Daenerys and Cersei and Jon Snow, and less because the challengers present cases that compel as anything other than academic questions about what is fair. As if to compensate, House of the Dragon can feel jaggedly amped-up: We see exposed intestines and a face caved in as a result of various conflagrations.” — Daniel D’Addario, Variety

What Critics Are Saying About House of Dragon