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Why Does 'House of the Dragon' Feel So Small?

By Genevieve Burgess | TV | September 23, 2022 |

By Genevieve Burgess | TV | September 23, 2022 |


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House of the Dragon is now halfway through its first season, and it’s clear that there has been a great deal of care invested in the show. The performances are strong, the costumes are great, the dragons are excellent, and the Targaryen wigs are. .. as expected, but looking at the first season of this show compared to the first season of Game of Thrones, you can see a far more complete vision and detailed world. Unfortunately, the story still feels a lot smaller and I think there are a couple of reasons why.

(Warning: Spoilers for the first five episodes of season 1 of House of the Dragon.)

The first reason is that the entire story has to do with one family. It’s one family that rules the entire country and has dragons, but it’s just one family. However, the show has made the decision not to expand to some other characters that might be a natural option to help open up the conversation. The Velaryon family is heavily tied into the events to come on the show, but we barely know them. Laena Velaryon hasn’t appeared much, her most notable moments coming when she took a stroll with the king as a potential bride at the ripe old age of 12, and then later flirted with Daemon at her brother’s pre-wedding feast. The same year that she was being pushed towards marrying King Viserys, she became the rider of Vhagar, one of the dragons that originally conquered Westeros. You get a hint of that in her conversation with Viserys about dragons, but that’s a HUGE amount of characterization that’s been left behind even as she’s about to become a more important part of the story. The same could be said about the Strong family, another group of people we’ve barely gotten to know even as they have a huge part to play in the upcoming civil war.

That gets at another reason this story feels a little small; the time skipping keeps us from digging into the relationships and stories in a way that would make big moments hit harder. As heartbreaking as it was watching Criston Cole lay his heart out to Rhaenyra only to be dismissed, the fact that it came only a single episode after their first romantic encounter means that it felt a little sudden. Except that Cole has been Rhaenyra’s protector for years now, since before Alicent married her father. The relationship between Rhaenyra and Alicent also feels like it wasn’t well-developed before Alicent married Viserys and they were forced apart. Milly Alcock and Emily Carey did a lot of great work with the characters, but there just wasn’t the time to dig into much of their relationship at all.

The first five episodes of House of the Dragon have felt at once like they could have been an entire season of TV on their own, and like they should be treated like a prologue to the show that’s about to start with this Sunday’s episode. We needed to set up enough information so that the conflict we’re coming up on makes sense, but at the same time, it’s felt like we’re hyper-focused on getting to the fireworks factory so we shouldn’t worry too much about what’s going on. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season is paced.