During the first productions of game of thrones, showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss hit a roadblock. The first season of HBO’s fantasy epic had already exhausted most of its budget, but was set to arrive in about 100 minutes too short. To round out each episode, Benioff and Weiss added the most profitable type of scene: conversations between a handful of characters in a single room.
The origins of these scenes may be pragmatic, but the results are anything but fulfilling. The only time we see King Robert Baratheon alone in a room with Cersei Lannister, his wife and plotter of his eventual murder, was born out of this need for new material; their dynamic helps the audience understand a marriage whose failure comes at the cost of a fragile peace. The same goes for the drinking game Cersei’s brother Tyrion plays with mercenary Bronn and sex worker Shae. This is where we learn of Tyrion’s traumatic first marriage, which lends weight to his contentious and abusive relationship with the Lannister patriarch Tywin. The big battles of the past few seasons have been built on small, intimate moments.
Dragon House, the prequel to game of thrones which concluded its first season on Sunday, had the polar opposite problem. Over 10 episodes, the show’s plot spanned several decades, beginning with the Grand Council naming Viserys Targaryen heir to the Iron Throne and ending in the days following his death. At the High Council, Viserys’ wife, Aemma, is visibly pregnant with their daughter Rhaenyra; in the end, this unborn baby is a middle-aged mother of five. Far from needing to stretch, Dragon House chose to compress years of brewing conflict into 10 hours of television.
Where early thrones added scenes that helped illuminate his characters, Dragon House had to leave it out. Both sides of the civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons are led by two former childhood friends: Rhaenyra Targaryen, Viserys’ heiress designate, and Alicent Hightower, his second wife. Next Dragon HouseIn the film’s third episode, director Greg Yaitanes revealed that two scenes that would have provided crucial context for the future rivalry ended up on the cutting room floor: the first, an argument between the two after Viserys abruptly announced that he would marry his daughter’s daughter. companion; the second, a quiet moment that Rhaenyra and Alicent share before the latter’s wedding. With its layers of jealousy, resentment, and perhaps a hint of pent-up lust, Rhaenyra and Alicent’s relationship should be at the heart of House of the Dragon. But ignoring the details leaves us with only a vague glimpse of either antagonist.
By adapting George RR Martin’s Fire & Blood, a 700-page tome examining several conflicting accounts of Westerosi history, Dragon House largely stuck to the script. When the writers, led by co-creator Ryan Condal, deviated from the script, it was largely to clarify intentional ambiguities: exactly what happened between Rhaenyra and her uncle Daemon when she was a teenager, or the sequence of events that led Aemond Targaryen—Rhaenyra’s half-brother and son of Alicent—to begin war in earnest by killing his nephew Lucerys. Overall, however, almost all major events in Fire & Blood until the beginning of the war are depicted in Dragon House, in the same order and over the same period of time.
The paradox of a project like Dragon House it is that all this ground to be covered rubs shoulders with a vast space to be filled. Where thrones, adapted from a series of novels, drawn on pages upon pages of internal character monologues, the Targaryens of Fire & Blood are abstract sketches that call for color. A part of Dragon HouseThe best scenes from Laenor add just that: exposing the mutual understanding between Rhaenyra and her first husband, Laenor Velaryon, a gay man who still loves and respects his wife; explore the insecurity and aggression that drives Aegon Targaryen, Rhaenyra’s rival for the throne, to drink (and do much worse). The show’s acting, in particular, helped these fictional historical characters feel like real, flesh-and-blood human beings. Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke are so charismatic that even their off-the-clock banter sparked a meme, while Matt Smith makes a power-hungry sadist like Daemon convincing enough to confuse the show’s own producers with the his character’s fanbase.
But in the absence of connective tissue, these performances often seemed to strive to weave disparate parts into a cohesive whole. In one episode, Alicent tells Aegon that it is widely understood that he will be crowned king; in another, set nearly a decade later, she is stunned to learn that other members of the Little Council have conspired to put him on the throne. Rhaenyra’s years-long affair with Harwin Strong is so significant that it alters the course of a continent, but fast-forwarding to her violent end, we find little understanding of her hold on her. Facing a blank slate, Dragon House jam-packed with detail – we now know more about the Stepstones than anyone would ever care – but squeezed out the emotional texture.
Earlier in the season, my colleague Zach Kram had reservations about Dragon HouseThe frequent use of time jumps, which threatened to break history and skip vital exposition. Even my own largely positive review noted how the series’ fast pace could disrupt an otherwise immersive feel. We both recognized that the plot should eventually slow down, once the dancing begins. And it is true that the last three episodes take place over just a few days, compared to the previous 30 or so years. But this long-awaited downshift did not counter the effects of accelerated accumulation; instead, it began to show its true impact.
Take the final scene when Daemon smothers Rhaenyra, a shocking violation that Smith and D’Arcy give appropriate weight, except he’s estranged from any sense of what their partnership usually looks like, now several years and two kids in a marriage. . The actors play the old versions of their characters as more melancholic and resigned than the excited schemers they once were: strategic allies, not passionate lovers. Everything is implicit, however, creating on set what is not communicated on the page. The rest of the set is full of even more undercooked relationships, despite their role in the conflict to come. We barely saw Daemon interact with Baela and Rhaena, his twin daughters from a previous marriage. (Both ride dragons and are betrothed to two of Rhaenyra’s sons, though one is now deceased.) Erryk and Arryk Cargyll, two knights of the Royal Guard, take opposing sides in the battle of succession. But their dispute doesn’t feel rooted in an established disagreement, nor does it bear the emotional impact of a prior depiction of their bond.
With hindsight, it is easy to point out this Dragon House could have done otherwise. That may have slowed down, planning for more seasons than the currently scheduled three or four. Milly Alcock and Emily Carey could have had full seasons as young Rhaenyra and Alicent; the writers could have had more time to plant seeds that would pay off down the line. Or Dragon House may have been modeled on The crown, another show about the inner conflicts of a royal family. The crown is not exhaustive in its study of British history, focusing instead on strategic vignettes. It does not trace all the ups and downs of Margaret Thatcher’s time at 10 Downing Street; it shows a weekend in Scotland that creates a stark contrast between the prime minister and the monarchy. The problem with Dragon House isn’t necessarily his period, although 30 years in 10 episodes even puts The crowndecade-by-season plan to shame. That’s how the show moves through this time: more like a big-budget History Channel re-enactment than a high-stakes drama.
But Dragon House can’t look back. Heading into Season 2, the show has a lot going for it: Vhagar-sized ratings, a stellar cast, and talent for showmanship. (If that final hunt scene is any indication of the violence to come between dragons, we’re in for a treat.) There’s room for improvement, too. The Dance of the Dragons is the story of a family turned against itself. Parts of this breakup are compellingly tragic, like the self-delusion that led Viserys to support his daughter and turn a blind eye to her indiscretions, until his last breath. Going forward, more characters need to feel just as cohesive. Before his namesake creatures can fly away, Dragon House should focus on the people driving them.
#cost #time #jumping #House #Dragon