HBO 'House of the Dragon': A political game of family succession before 'Game of Thrones'

It’s been three years since the Game of Thrones series finale, with an intensely conflicting fan response, but in HBO’s House of the Dragon prequel series (premiering on Aug. 21 on Crave in Canada), adapted from George R.R. Martin's book “Fire & Blood,” that intensity is displayed in the form of a misogynist political game of family succession.

House of the Dragon is set 200 years before Game of Thrones and begins with an introduction into the Targaryen Dynasty having hold of Westeros, in the lead up to the Dance of the Dragons civil war. King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) has a daughter, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock and Emma D'Arcy), but for her whole life, the King has been anxiously waiting for his wife to give birth to a male heir.

King Viserys is finally expecting to be a father to a newborn son but complications with his son’s birth result in both the mother and child dying.

Paddy Considine as King Viserys Targaryen in HBO's
Paddy Considine as King Viserys Targaryen in HBO's "House of the Dragon." (Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO)

The King’s tyrannical brother Daemon Targarye (Matt Smith), believes he is the successor to the Iron Throne as the next male in line, but that’s a concerning prospect for the Council, worried about what he will do with that power, which starts off a debate about what would be worse, Daemon on the Iron Throne or a woman for the first time, with Rhaenyra.

Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen in
Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen in "House of the Dragon." (Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO)

Ultimately, Rhaenyra is chosen, but with the expectation that the King would remarry, he eventually does so with Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey and Olivia Cooke), a friend to Rhaenyra. Alicent gives birth to a boy, with the outlook shifting to predict that he will be taking Rhaenyra’s place to be next on the Iron Throne.

“Men would sooner put the realm to the torch than see a woman ascend the Iron Throne, and your father is no fool,” Princess Rhaenys Velaryon (Eve Best), who initially lost succession to King Viserys, tells Rhaenyra.

Milly Alcock as Young Rhaenyra, Emily Carey as Young Alicent in HBO's
Milly Alcock as Young Rhaenyra, Emily Carey as Young Alicent in HBO's "House of the Dragon." (Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO)

That sentiment is consistent throughout the whole series, as we see Rhaenyra continue to battle her own motivations, and capabilities, in a hierarchy set against her, with her father at one point calling her his “political headache.” Sexism and mistreatment of women is rampant in House of thee Dragon and Milly Alcock, in particular, handles it perfectly. Her performance is an affecting combination of power with a naivety, and really shines amid a cast of captivating actors.

Matt Smith is certainly known for taking on a notable portion of Doctor Who as the title character, but Daemon is different from that iconic role. Daemon is this sly, arrogant individual that is alluring to watch (as many would expect).

As the political aspect of the show proceeds, even amid some slightly jarring changes in cast with relatively large jumps in time, there is certainly enough tension amid this hierarchy to keep you motivated through this story, with stunning visuals as well, particularly with the dragons.

Yes, House of the Dragon has those Game of Thrones touch points of violence, gore, sex and incest, but initially, it seems more solemn, lacking some of the vibrancy we saw in the previous series, but that’s not to say this prequel isn’t fiercely fascinating.