The reviews are in for HBO’s highly anticipated House of the Dragon.
The review embargo was lifted Friday for the notable Game of Thrones prequel and its initial notices are largely positive, with critics calling the fantasy drama “a magical miracle” and a worthy successor to the original series, which became the most Emmy-winning drama of all time. Yet, there are also several mixed reviews, and at least one outright negative take that declared the prequel has “uniformly dull” characters.
Here are key excerpts from some of the most prominent early reviews.
The Guardian called the show a “roaring success” and wrote, “House of the Dragon looks set fair to become the game of political seven-dimensional chess that its predecessor was, designed to reward diehard fantasy fans in full measure without alienating the masses that will propel it to the top of the ratings … 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.”
The Wall Street Journal likewise stated, “…the unnervingly violent, unwaveringly self-important Dragon is a success dramatically, as captivating as any season of Game of Thrones … The characters, on the other hand, are many, distinct and given depth by the people portraying them …Only the first six episodes were made available for review, but those chapters establish a very convincing world and its people. Even the dragons do a good job of portraying real dragons, though they’re used rather sparingly during the early efforts to conquer the empire of Viserys from without and undermine it from within.”
The BBC wrote, “From the outset, this is a darker, more solemn, more sophisticated piece – one that lacks the broad, accessible strokes of early Game of Thrones, or its vibrant, colourful characters. There is not a Joffrey to hate here, or a Tyrion to root for. These people are complex in ways that can often make them opaque and challenging, perhaps even unlikeable. But that doesn’t mean they’re not interesting …It’s pure Games of Thrones – just not in the way you remember.”
The Hollywood Reporter‘s take was mixed, heralding the show’s production elements and performances by Milly Alcock and Matt Smith, yet opined that the show is weighed down by focusing on the Targaryens compared to the more expansive scope of the original series: “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.”
The New York Times was similarly mixed, offering, “it is Game of Thrones as Masterpiece Theater … That seriousness of purpose doesn’t translate into engaging drama, however. 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.”
The Chicago Sun-Times wrote, “With quality direction and cinematography, strong writing that combines political intrigue, family melodramatics and some impressively nasty twists and turns, and powerful performances from a cast that includes a number of familiar and well-decorated and mostly British veterans along with some greatly talented relative newcomers, House of the Dragon has the gravitas and visceral gut-punch effectiveness of a series that could be with us for a very long time. (The score from Ramin Djawadi, who did GOT as well as Westworld, is also nomination-level great.)
The L.A. Times wrote the show “recaptures the power, grandeur of the original” and while adding that “House of the Dragon has a depth of understanding of its female characters that GoT took years to find … It’s a strong setup for all manner of familial treachery — preferably atop a dragon.”
EW praised Smith and Alcock’s performances and says the show gets off to a bumpy start, yet improves greatly along the way: “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.”
IGN concluded, “House of the Dragon’s premiere marks a strong, well-cast start to the Game of Thrones spinoff. 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.”
Rolling Stone had a negative take, calling the characters “uniformly dull” and saying, “Palace intrigue, and questions of succession and legitimacy were, of course, a huge part of Game of Thrones, but far from the only part. And they were only sometimes even close to the most fun part of a given stretch of that series. Building a whole show around this subject, and filling it all with a gang of mostly dour Targareyns, gives the whole project the air of the Star Wars prequels, which vastly expanded the role of the self-serious Jedi knights without also making room for the humanity and humor of a Han Solo type. Game of Thrones had a rueful sense of humor to go along with its violence and mind games, and highly quotable characters like Tyrion and Cersei. None of that wit or energy is present here.”
The Verge likewise wrote, “House of the Dragon’s yet another hyper-violent tale of swords and sorcery that you’ve undoubtedly heard before … within the first episode or two, a surprising number of House of the Dragon’s power players are revealed to be so two-dimensional and narrow-sighted that it’s often difficult to believe them as the legendary figures of the past the show wants them to be.”
Whereas CNET called the show “terrific” and wrote, “The faster pace of House of the Dragon helps it feel different from Game of Thrones, which is helpful … 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.”
And Decider dubbed the show better than the original and a “magical miracle”: “House of the Dragon manages to soar beyond Game of Thrones straight out the gate. The new HBO series captures the grandeur of Game of Thrones‘s later seasons, the elegant interpersonal drama beloved in the earlier ones, and puts its female characters front and center like never before. You needn’t be wary about returning to Westeros. House of the Dragon isn’t good; it’s great … it feels more Game of Thrones than even Game of Thrones. The show is full of details that will delight hardcore fans and also expands on the mythology of Martin’s universe in huge ways.”
Uproxx called the show a “worthy successor” and said “the biggest disappointment, although that’s too harsh of a word, is the lack of a Tyrion Lannister-like breakout character … House of the Dragon is well cast, but there’s no one who immediately pops with as much charismatic gusto as, say, Pedro Pascal’s Oberyn Martell … Otherwise, House of the Dragon doesn’t break the wheel but it gets more right than wrong … It may not match the highs of Game of Thrones, but with the way the show is structured, it’s doubtful that it will sink to the lows, either.”
The New York Post summarized, “Aside from having questionable wigs, House of the Dragon is well done for what it is: a pulpy political fantasy that makes you want to keep watching. And it manages to learn at least one key lesson from GoT: Its sex scenes are more tastefully filmed, depict nudity of both women and men — and the former mostly appear to be having a good time, too. It remains to be seen whether wider audiences can get over their ire with the GoT ending, or if this will be a more niche show for hardcore fans. But, it should set many viewers on fire.”
House of the Dragon premieres Sunday night on HBO and tells the story of a civil war the ripped apart Westeros nearly 200 years before the events in Thrones. The series is from author George R.R. Martin (based on his book Fire & Blood) and co-creators and showrunners Ryan Condal (Colony) and Miguel Sapochnik (Finch).
The series stars Paddy Considine (Peaky Blinders) as King Viserys Targaryen, Olivia Cooke (Ready Player One) as Alicent Hightower, Emma D’Arcy (Wanderlust) as Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen and Matt Smith (Doctor Who) as Prince Daemon Targaryen.
‘House of the Dragon’ Reviews: Here’s What Critics Are Saying