This is my fantasy football.
We are halfway through House of the Dragon and on the eve of the show’s second half to begin. It’s as good a time as any for a huddle. So let’s do a rundown of the good, the bad, how we’re doing so far, and where we go from here.
3 – 1
I’m gonna treat this like a sports cast because in “the Dance of Dragons” – the Targaryen civil war that serves as the crux of Fire & Blood – two teams form up to do battle: the Greens and the Blacks. The Hightowers backing Prince Aegon II for the throne dub themselves the Greens, and the Blacks represent the party loyal to Princess Rhaenyra’s claim. It’s usurpers versus loyalists, towers against dragons, Packers vs. Raiders, what have you.
Now, I’m jumping ahead here because these party lines haven’t officially been formed yet. Certain houses and banners have yet to make the show; Alicent’s children are still in their youth, and Rhaenyra has yet to birth her own – all of whom play pivotal roles in the fabled dance. But there ARE players on the field, and the battle lines have been quietly drawn in these first 5 episodes.
Otto Hightower might’ve been ejected from the game (dude fouled out), but a bold player has arrived at the end of ep 5 and it’s a major loss for House Targaryen. Alicent was sympathetic to the dragon cause for a time, aligning with Rhaenyra’s claim to the throne. And then Rhaenyra made too risky a play by lying on her dead mother’s name. It’s the fatal breach that breaks a teetering friendship once and for all. At Rhaenyra’s wedding feast, Alicent makes her allegiances very clear with a Fuck-You Green dress – a beacon noted by Uncle Hobert: “House Hightower stands with you.”
The Green’s bench is starting to take shape. Larys Strong comes stumbling in as a confidant. I’d say he’s more sympathetic to Alicent than he is a supporter of Aegon, but lines are lines. He brings whispers of the “tea” that undoes Alicent’s remaining allegiance to Rhaenyra. It’s important to note that there is no master of whispers currently on the small council as Lord Varys was in Game of Thrones. (The names, man, they’re not subtle.) Perhaps we’re witnessing the creation of that very position. Larys is the son of Lyonel Strong, current Hand of the King, and brother to Harwin “Breakbones” whom we last saw crowd controlling fools on the dance floor and carting the princess to safety. (LOADED gestures and foreshadowing there 👀) Without spoiling anything, Larys’ allegiance will make things very interesting for House Strong ahead.
Alicent, in the same ep, gains a noble knight. She saves Ser Criston Cole from his seppuku in the Godswood. Based on HotD’s look ahead, it appears aligning himself with Alicent was a pathway to restoring his honor. How the show will explain Criston’s crime at the wedding feast and still keep his spot on the Kingsguard will surely be interesting. (Then again, Knights of the Kingsguard have done some shit and still kept their post, so…) Nonetheless, Alicent’s got a dashing Stormlander at her guard.
Elsewhere in the Green’s ranks, it’s safe to say the Lannisters are on their side, if only by consequence. Jason Lannister, still bitter from the rejection, gets a jab at Rhaenyra at the feast in front of Viserys. Any other king might’ve had Jason beheaded, but since it’s Viserys, he’ll live to fight in the upcoming war.
This, of course, is a numbers game. Targaryen and Velaryon boast the most dragons, so they score an uneasy win here. I say uneasy because although Viserys supports Rhaenyra, they’ve got father-daughter issues. Daemon despises Otto Hightower (and anyone who’s not Targaryen) so he’s on Rhaenyra’s side, but everybody’s got issues with him. There’s strife, division within their own House, still they stand on the same side of the map. They’ve got Velaryons and one Aunt Rhaenys back in the game, currently have House Strong (for the most part), and have the Vale courtesy of the former Queen Aemma—Daemon’s crime against House Royce notwithstanding. Due to a technicality, he’s their landlord now.
The Greens might’ve had the Blacks goin’ in the first half when Otto was running things. They are now, bottom-line, outnumbered – 3 Targaryen bloods backing Rhaenyra to 1 Prince Aegon (half-Hightower). Them 3 lookin’ kinda shaky though as we head into the second half. Will the Greens even the scoreboard? Or will the Blacks blow a big lead?
FAVORITE CHARACTER – DAEMON
There’s a version of Daemon that could’ve been the next notch in the Joffrey-Ramsay belt. So I think it’s an achievement that Daemon is as compelling as he is—as in the most compelling little shit GoT has produced thus far.
There’s characters we love to hate, and then there’s Daemon. He might antagonize people, but he doesn’t think of himself that way, in the sense that Joffrey and Ramsay did evil shit purely to stoke viewers’ contempt. When a character exists for brutality’s sake, there’s no shock factor anymore; just the next thing that makes you roll your eyes or groan. They start to seem less like characters and more like functions.
With Daemon, he feels madly unpredictable. He steals his dead nephew’s dragon egg to challenge big brother, oddly making him seem tragic as the little brother wanting attention. Then he’ll beat up a messenger, or murder his wife without saying anything – acts that are straight up villainous, yet feel ambiguous all the same. There’s SO MUCH room to interpret his motives and reasoning. It’s always complicated with this fuckin’ guy because he’s a Targaryen loyal to himself. There’s ego, there’s swagger, a tyrant brewing inside, and tragedy in a man who keeps knocking down the people closest to him. If chaos is a ladder, then Daemon reigns as its MVP. A great deal of this is in Matt Smith’s captivating performance, but I can’t give him the ultimate award here.
FAVORITE PERFORMANCE – MILLY ALCOCK
That award goes to Milly Alcock. Innocence and naivete are hard to convey in a world as brutal as GoT without seeming bratty or childish. With Milly, Rhaenyra’s innocence is endearing to watch. There’s some early-days Sansa in her naivete, and some Daenerys Stormborn in her seat of entitlement. It helps that she’s got Arya markers everywhere (cup bearer, “he called me boy,” choosing the way of a fighter over a maiden, etc.) with the proper charm to spare. I may have singled out Matt Smith in scenes where he has no dialogue, but there are moments, too, where all Milly does is just stop and stare. IT’S ALL IN HER EYES, MAN. I don’t know who else can do a stare down with Matt Smith and still have the height advantage, or standoff against Paddy Considine and retain all the power and agency in the room.
Milly’s is a gathering storm of a performance – one that’s gonna make things exceptionally hard to let go of as we face a 10-year time jump and handoff with another performer. (Emma D’arcy will do great; I’m just sad to see Milly go.) An incredible foundation has been laid for Rhaenyra Targaryen, all thanks to Milly Alcock eating up the role.
I was cautiously optimistic at the start. Now I’m all in at the half. The Thrones theme is back babyyyyy (cry about it) and the production scale of this show puts Disney’s output in the last year-and-a-half to shame. (Crazy how both Disney and Warner Bros. are employing technology like The Volume, but only one seems to differentiate when such technology should be used than the other.)
I have my complaints about HotD, namely with how dim the lighting has been, which sorely undercuts the work done by the set decorators and designers. Even the costumes at times; the stunning level of detail is hampered by this ongoing choice to wash out colors from all media. The difference in lighting between HotD season 1 and GoT season 1 is literal night and day. It’s part of a larger problem these last few years that’s probably here to stay.
On a stylistic level, I can kinda-sorta get behind it. If this is a look into the past, then there’s something unique about the aesthetic as a page scroll—like a painting done only by candle light. But on a personal level, I hate squinting when I have my glasses on. Too dim can make a viewer sleepy, so I guess it’s a good thing that there’s never a dull moment.
There are some things I’ve forgiven, like the time-jumping. It was jarring before, but now it’s starting to pay off by focusing on key moments in time that tell us everything we need to know about these characters. Otto was always going to get the boot from Viserys, but it’s 1000x more impactful knowing his arrogance in the episode prior. Proposing that the princess marry a freakin’ baby was the too bold maneuver that sowed the seeds of doubt in Viserys, and Otto reaps the consequences an episode later. HotD feels more laser-focused in this regard; it knows what made GoT the separator from other medieval fantasy epics.
Soap Opera with dragons. That’s it. I don’t know what else you’d call a series that deals with back-stabbing plots every other scene, or a show that makes an axis-tilting moment out of one character’s choice of dress. Or a show where an adolescent gets called a cunt to his pimply face. I mean this in the best way: GoT is soap opera trash with a budget—plus dragons and nudity, times incest. (The fact that we’re talking about incest every week is truly one for the books.)
Yes, dragon battles are on the horizon, which wasn’t GoT’s strong suit. It remains to be seen how HotD will handle THE spectacle it’s promising. If these first 5 eps are any indication, I’m hopeful that the showrunners have finally learned what’s so damn addicting about this saga of ice and fire. As long as HotD doesn’t get caught up trying to be more than what it is (or more “Important” or timely than it is), I’d say it’s got a successful first season in the bag. Seven Hells, I don’t even care if HotD lines up with the books or its predecessor at this rate. Just keep bringing me trash.