“House of the Dragon” Episode 1 begins with Viserys Targaryen being chosen as the King of Westeros with an acknowledgment by his predecessor, his grandfather Jahaerys, that only the Targaryens are capable of destroying themselves. While it is an indication of the events of the current show, we can’t help but think about how it references the epic finale of “Game of Thrones,” where Danaerys’s madness caused the downfall of King’s Landing. And Jon Snow, who had been a Targaryen all along, had to kill her to stop her from causing further destruction to the realm. Thus, it is rightfully said that Targaryens would be brought down by their own kind.
One of the most notable references to “Game of Thrones” came towards the end of “House of the Dragon” Episode 1 when Viserys told Rhaenyra about Aegon’s dream that predicted a terrible winter from the North, which would endanger all men and could only be countered if a Targaryen was on the throne. Who can forget the immortalized line “Winter is Coming,” from the best show of the last decade? And as far as the accuracy of the prophecy goes, while Daenerys Targaryen was going to claim the Iron Throne, it was not hers yet when the war was won against the “Night King.” Aegon’s words were probably the corruption of a prophecy to better serve the interests of the House. We also identify some of the Houses of Westeros, like “Baratheon” and “Stark,” the key players in the events 200 years later. Some of the places are also referenced, like Harrenhall, Dragonstone, Dorne, and Vale.
Going through “House of the Dragon” Episode 1, we come to understand that there was not a major difference in the way the Targaryens ran their kingdom compared to how the other kings did 200 years later. There is still a “hand” of the King, a “Grand Maester,” and their functions fall along similar lines as their future counterparts. When you make a show based on the popularity of another, it is only natural to draw some parallels between them. In this case, we detect some similarities in the characters and the events portrayed. Take Alicent Hightower, for example. She is beautiful and comely and does what is expected of her. She is Rhaenyra’s best friend, and though Alicent doesn’t share her spirit of adventure, she still carries some ambition, albeit hidden. We notice this when she is annoyed at Rhaenyra for not taking her lessons seriously and not wanting more from her role as the Princess. There was also a moment in the trailer, when Alicent was questioned by Rhaenys about whether she had ever imagined herself on the Iron Throne. That takes us back to Sansa Stark and Margaery Tyrell. The former started her journey as a girl who wanted a fairytale for herself and grew up to be the formidable Queen of the North. And the latter was an expert at turning her femininity into her strongest weapon. Alicent strikes us as something of a cross between the two. She comes across as the type of woman who is set to follow the path laid out for her by her elders, but she is far from seeing the world in hues of rose. Perhaps there is a ruthlessness there that must be unlocked for us to get a glimpse of the Margaery Tyrell within her.
Viserys Targaryen is rather reminiscent of Stannis Baratheon. Both of them wanted a male heir. But while Viserys was almost fanatical about it, Stannis was a little cooler, with his wife being the one who regretted not being able to give him a son. However, neither of them backed out of sacrificing their loved ones to achieve their goals. Where Stannis let the fire take his daughter, Viserys let his wife be cut up, by way of a crude C-section, so that his son could come into the world. Ultimately, neither got what they wanted. Stannis never sat on the Iron Throne, and Viserys lost his son within a few hours. These are events that change the trajectory of their characters forever. It brings them to a point where they cannot hide their ambition behind a mask of compassion and understanding, bringing a certain decisiveness to their roles. Not to forget that this could also be the start of the madness in the Targaryen house that led to the ‘Mad King’ wanting to burn down all of King’s Landing. The Targaryens have a history of marrying within the family, which was said to be one of the reasons for the madness, as referenced plenty of times in GoT. The underlying flirtatious notes in the interactions between Daemon and Rhaenyra could be a sign of that which is to come.
That brings us to a specific comparison between Rhaenyra Targaryen and Cersei Lannister—both of the women felt bound by their gender. Cersei had always wanted a life where she was not restricted by the failures of the men around her. And while Rhaenyra started with just wanting her father’s attention and approval, being chosen as the heir to the Iron Throne means that there is a journey ahead of her that requires her to fight everything that she knows about being a woman. And is it really customary for Grand Maesters to be without compassion? We knew two of them in “Game of Thrones,” and they were nightmares in their own right. But the absolute coldness of the Maester in “House of The Dragon” when he recommends cutting up the queen’s womb to give birth to the baby gave us literal chills. We heard another name that intrigued us—Visenya. We know that she was Arya Stark’s heroine. Her role ended before “House of the Dragon” even began. But it would have been a treat for GoT fans if her character had had some presence in the show.
What the first episode has done is establish a familiarity with the “Game of Thrones” universe. Aegon’s prophecy is the only direct link between the worlds set almost two centuries apart. Everything else is a drawing of some subtle parallels between the stories to help the fanbase better connect with the show. As said by a member of the cast, “Game of Thrones” was more about the war between the different houses of Westeros, whereas “House of the Dragon” is about the civil war within the Targaryen house. But ultimately, the commonality between both of them is a struggle for power that questions and destroys the order of things as they are. The existence of similarities and differences aside, we expect to see a show that recreates, if not elevates, the quality of television as we know it, just like its predecessor. A huge burden of expectations rides on it, and “House of the Dragon” must fulfill it, or be rendered an exercise in futility.