This past October has brought us the final episodes of the first season of House of the Dragon, HBO’s dark fantasy political thriller and prequel to Game of Thrones.
This season tells us a broad tale of a powerful royal house growing divided amid a cold war of royal succession and a king who refuses to take crucial action in the face of disaster, fearing the prospects of war.
House of the Dragon is unimpeachably brilliant television. Amid soulless spin-offs and superhero slop, this show is a breath of fresh air. Morally gray and complex characters wage political war against one another in pursuit of sitting atop the Iron Throne.
House of the Dragon follows the royal family of Westeros, House Targaryen. Our primary point of view character is King Viserys’s daughter, Rhaenyra Targaryen, who starts the story as a young and courageous princess. Because the story skips time, we can watch characters grow from naive teenagers to cynical adults.
Rhaenyra is a fine example of this, as she grows jaded by the brutal world surrounding her. We are also able to see the consequences of Viserys’s reign over the many years that are shown to us across this story.
Viserys is a good man; however, he is not a good king. He reigns in an era of peace ushered in by his grandfather. In an attempt to preserve that peace, he rarely takes definitive stands in any conflict. This indecisive rule causes many grievances within his court to go unattended, making them grow into fatal wounds to the realm.
His reign was not one of totalitarian betrayal but of spineless turmoil. As Dante Alighieri once said. “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain neutrality in times of moral crisis.” In House of the Dragon, Viserys does just this. By being so radically neutral, he causes as much damage as any dictator.
Ultimately, this is a story of decadence, of good times turning bad because weak people who are more concerned with their own lives than that of the common reasonable take control. This is a tragedy of how a stable order ultimately dissolves into civil war, where cousin draws sword against cousin and where dragons battle in the sky and reign fiery terror beneath them.
It is a genuine beauty to see George R. R. Martin’s writing brought to the small screen, unvarnished by TV writers that misunderstand the story. With this brilliant season, the good name of Game of Thrones is redeemed.