As I watched House Of The Dragon last night, I reflected a lot on the cultural impact of Game Of Thrones and its personal impact on me.

The genre of fantasy is wildly popular. Books, movies, table top games, video games, LARPers, cosplay… it is endless and it is big business. Yet, for some completely unknown reason, it entirely passed me by. Wonderfully crafted worlds, deep and rich mythology to immerse in, but it just doesn’t figure on my personal radar.

Fantasy
Nope… not a damn clue.

I was always a space kid. Star Wars and Star Trek were my world. I read The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings at school at the age of 11 years old because the teacher made us do it. I have seen Conan The Barbarian several times. I have laughed out loud at Hawk The Slayer, but I have never played Dungeon’s and Dragons.

I never painted a lead figure with acrylic. I have never played World Of Warcraft. I never read a book where the author insists on reversing vowels, or inserting extras, and referring to the winged beasts as “Draegons”. The mere thought of a quest to uncover The Mighty Axe Of Grumblethaer makes me roll my eyes.

So when a lot of my friends who were into this type of thing raved about certain books by a man called George RR Martin, and got terribly excited at the news of an upcoming HBO show, it still barely registered. On 17th April 2011 I sat down with a relatively closed mind to watch the first episode of Game Of Thrones and was blown away.

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I remember pausing it several times to jump online and learn more about the backstory of certain characters, instantly adding a layer of knowledge about the houses and bannermen and dynamics of Westeros. Why is that guy fucking his sister then throwing a kid out of a window? This is not Harry Potter!

Like millions of other normos and, to be fair, anti-fantasy snobs, I had my eyes opened and then had years of excellent television memories, watercooler conversations, online debates and rampant speculation. Even those last few episodes can’t really ruin my enjoyment of the series, and the experience, overall.

However, I had a fair degree of trepidation going into the long-awaited and much anticipated prequel series, House Of The Dragon. The first episode aired yesterday in the early hours and then again in the evening.

The world has changed significantly for the worst in the past 11 years. The world of entertainment doubly so. The message infects everything like a cancer. The creative product is seemingly a deliberate culture war battleground. Would modern sensibilities ruin Westeros too? Could lightning strike twice? Or is revisiting Martin’s world a fools errand?

Well based on the first episode alone, I would say it’s all OK. There was violence, gore, sex, plotting, politics, sumptuous sets, ambiguous characters… all the ingredients are there. Yes, as Boba Phil said, it is simply Game Of Thrones 2.0 but is that a bad thing? Like Killian in The Running Man, give the people what they want!

As a rather funky monologue tells us at the very start, House of the Dragon takes place nearly 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones. 172 years before the birth of Daenerys Targaryen.

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During old king Jaehaerys Targaryen’s reign, fatal tragedies took his two eldest sons, Princes Aemon and Baelon, leaving the succession undecided. A Great Council is convened to choose Westeros’s future ruler. King Jaehaerys’ grandchildren, Princess Rhaenys Targaryen, and Prince Viserys Targaryen, Rhaenys’ younger cousin, are the candidates. By Westeros law, a male heir has precedence over a female, despite their birth order and Viserys is chosen.

Nine years later, King Viserys I’s reign is troubled by the Triarchy, an alliance of the free cities of Essos. Meanwhile Viserys worries about his own succession as he awaits his heavily pregnant wife to bear him a son and heir.

To celebrate the impending birth, Kings Landing hosts a Royal tournament and this brings Viserys’ younger brother Daemon, his heir until his son is born, back to city. Daemon seems power hungry and commands the City Watch with brutality. The Hand Of The King, Lord Hightower, is troubled by his Daemon’s ambition.

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As this is Westeros, things do not go according to plan.

In the words of another titan of the genre, the board is set, the pieces are moving. Already things are in play. Plans are being made. Characters and motivations seem murky, as if all is not as it appears. Classic Game Of Thrones, basically.

Matt Smith has had some terrible luck. A turn as one of the greatest Doctors for Doctor Who and a stellar performance in The Crown as The Duke Of Edinburgh did not translate to the big screen. Terminator: Genysis never got the sequel that would have expanded his character. He was written out of Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker when Colin Trevorrow walked away, and the least said about Morbius the better.

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It looks like maybe he has finally got another role he can really throw himself into. His Daemon Targaryen is almost 100% moustache twirling, classic bad guy until you see some glimpses of something that may show otherwise. Others are the reverse. All in all it looks as if there will be plenty to speculate about here.

Paddy Considine is a fine actor who famously eschews big budget Hollywood for things he finds interesting and challenging so it was a surprise to see him cast in this. One can’t help escape the creeping sense of dread around him and his character that a Sean Bean type of incident may be in his future.

Of course, may Outposters will have read Fire And Blood, the novel this is party based on, so they will know how this all turns out. I haven’t, so I will just be enjoying the ride.

House Of The Dragon is executed almost flawlessly. There are a couple of dodgy CGI shots, particularly the tournament wide shots where the perspective seems slightly off and it instantly kicks your brain into yelling at you that this is fake.

There are some stock Game Of Thrones-style shock moments including a childbirth and the rampage of the City Watch which will make you wince like the best parts of the original show always could.

Other than that, the characters already seem compelling enough to keep me tuning in.

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Now for the scoring. Scoring for this is difficult so I am going to keep it in the context of Game Of Thrones. The original show, when it was at its best, was 5 stars all day long. Against the very best of Thrones, this episode heading in the right direction, but not quite at full Thrones power. House Of The Dragon has the potential written all over it.

A welcome weekly fixture as we head into the Fall.

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