The first season of House of the Dragon is a tremendous success. It is, also, hopefully, an oddity. Not in terms of quality but rather its structure and style of storytelling. It’s been a foundational season; the bedrock on which the rest of the series can stand firm. If House of the Dragon is the story of ‘the Dance of the Dragons,’ the Targaryen civil war, then the first season is a history lesson. Vital backstory setting up the conflict, introducing the major players over decades, with huge time jumps between many episodes. It’s a season of homework and so the fact that it was so entertaining and riveting speaks highly of the talent involved.
Yet now that we are at the ‘Dance’ I want the show to change, to a degree. It can finally slow down and breathe. We have all our final aged-up actors, the pieces are in place, and the war can begin. But so can a status quo. The first season feels like history Cliff Notes rather than a flowing television narrative. It kind of has to, especially being an adaptation of a fictional history book rather than a novel series like Game of Thrones. But novelistic structure fits the television format much better and I hope that, without the time jumps and the character reintroductions, the second season has much more of a flowing narrative with set-up in one episode and pay-off in another, rather than cramming everything we need to know about a six-year period into one episode like it’s a movie. George R. R. Martin has said it will take four seasons to tell the tale of the ‘Dance’ (I don’t know if he’s including season 1 in that estimate) but I would happily take many more for a richer, slower exploration.
Moving into the second season and beyond, House of the Dragon can also expand past the Targaryens. They are obviously the focus of the story and should remain as such but they can’t fight their war alone. This conflict will tear the Seven Kingdoms apart and to understand this, truly feel it, we need to step outside the same old meeting chambers of season 1, outside King’s Landing, Dragonstone, and Driftmark. We won’t understand what characters’ actions mean for the realm if we never see the realm or its people. That’s why I love the fourth episode, Rhaenyra’s dalliance in Flea Bottom, because we got to see the common folk and hear what they had to say.
We need to see the other Houses of Westeros, hear who they swear allegiance to, and understand why. For the show to be satisfying they need to be more than a marker on a map, yet not without losing the core Targaryen family drama. Hopefully the Baratheon scene from the finale is a herald of things to come and we’ll get more scenes set across Westeros of the two factions negotiating with other lords. Cregan Stark should make a huge impact. And a way to introduce all these Houses already lies in season 1: Rhaenyra’s marriage tour. The last time Rhaenyra travelled the realm and met all the Great Houses was when she was looking a suitor, and comparisons can be drawn from that tour with this new war-driven tour. This will be her only experience with many lords. Episodes could have flashbacks, bringing back the brilliant Millie Alcock in a way that makes sense, to see what her relationship was like with characters almost 20 years ago before we see how things are in the present. The political marriage tour she was forced to undertake by Viserys may be the foundation for her last hope of being Queen.
Moving into the second season, I think the opening credits need adjusting. Reusing the same theme music as Game of Thrones is disappointing but I’m over it and understand it; it feels more like a business decision than a creative one. I love the idea for the credits: a family tree mapping the Targaryen bloodline rather than an actual map, yet it is flawed in execution. As well as being beautiful to look at, Game of Thrones’ credits were actually useful and it allowed the viewer to easily get a grasp on Westerosi geography. House of the Dragon’s isn’t practically useful in the same way. It’s more interested in making the credits cinematic, flying cameras through blood at speed, twisting and turning constantly. I can’t track the bloodlines nor make out the symbols. I’m sure it’s all meaningful and correct but I could only understand the family tree after watching a slow-motion, frame-by-frame breakdown on YouTube. As it currently is, it’s useless as an actual guide.
These are my major hopes for improvements as House of the Dragon continues. No many, I know, which speaks for the debut season’s quality. Of course, there are more minor improvements that could be made. As much as I love Sonoya Mizuno, a muse of Alex Garland, appearing in many of his projects, I do struggle with Mysaria’s accent – and so does she it seems. I enjoy the character, a necessary commoner outside the Targaryen family drama, but an accent change like Littlefinger had wouldn’t go amiss. Maybe she’s been faking it to be unassuming, or will fake a new one to fit in with high society, or smoke from the fire damaged her larynx – I’ll take any reason! Oh, and a streak of grey in Criston Cole’s hair wouldn’t go amiss. Doesn’t he age!
How do you think House of the Dragon can improve in its second season? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies, and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.