How to “fix” the back half of House of the Dragon season 1

House of the Dragon Episode 9
House of the Dragon Episode 9 /
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This article is about how to “fix” HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel show House of the Dragon, but “fix” is in quotes. Why? Because House of the Dragon isn’t broken. In fact, it’s running quite smoothly. The first season honored the legacy of Game of Thrones, was entertaining on its own merits, and was a ratings success for HBO. Kudos all around.

But it wasn’t perfect, which is great news for me because I love to complain and pick things apart. After the fifth episode of House of the Dragon aired, I wrote an article about how to “fix” the first half of season 1, again with the caveat that the show didn’t really need fixing but I was going to whine about it anyway; my recommendations mainly involved fine-tuning the relationship between Rhaenyra and Alicent and rethinking Criston Cole’s character arc, particularly the bit where he popped off at a wedding and murdered a guy (and then somehow got away with it). I stand by all of those complaints and by my proposed fixes.

Now that the whole season has aired, it’s time to take a closer look at the final five episodes. Good as they are, went what wrong and how could it have gone better?

What worked on House of the Dragon

But before we raze House of the Dragon, let’s talk a bit about what worked, just to demonstrate that we’re being critical in good faith. And happily, as with the first half, there was a lot that worked, starting with…

House of the Dragon successfully introduced a new cast

The first season of House of the Dragon featured a number of large time jumps, and we weren’t sure beforehand whether they would work out. Happily, we needn’t of worried. Whether skipping ahead by a few months or 10 years, House of the Dragon kept things compelling even as huge events happened offscreen and new actors came to take the place of old ones.

The biggest time jump happens between Episodes 5 and 6. We pick things up in “The Princess and the Queen” a full decade after “We Light The Way.” Actors Milly Alcock and Emily Carey are out as Rhaenyra Targaryen and Alicent Hightower, replaced by Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke. Fans got attached Alcock and Carey’s takes on these characters, but D’Arcy and Cooke hit the ground running. Their versions of Rhaenyra and Alicent are older, wiser and more dangerous, but no less watchable. It was a remarkably smooth transition.

As Rhaenyra, Alicent and Daemon had children, the show introduced a whole slew of new younger characters. Jacaerys and Lucerys Velaryon, Aegon and Aemond Targaryen, Daemon’s twin girls Baela and Rhaena…all of them made an impact. And all of them were replaced by new actors when the show jumped forward once again between Episodes 7 and 8.

There were some things lost. For instance, we wish we could have gotten to know Harwin Strong and Laena Velaryon better before their deaths in Episode 6, but overall, the time jumps and character replacements worked very well. The production team deserves credit for pulling them off and HBO credit for letting them happen. They were a big risk and they paid off.

The momentum picks up in the back half of House of the Dragon season 1

The first half of House of the Dragon season 1 introduced us to the characters and got us invested in our lives. The second half puts them on a clear path to war. Most of the juiciest events happen during this stretch.

Episode 7, “Driftmark,” is a thrill: not only do we have the headstrong Aemond Targaryen lose an eye after stealing the biggest dragon in the world, we also have Alicent coming at Rhaenyra with a knife as the adults try (and fail) to work out what to do about it. Episode 8, “The Lord of the Tides” is the most emotional in the show’s run so far, as King Viserys I Targaryen tries to make peace within his family in his final days. And Episode 10, “The Black Queen,” turns the intensity up to 11 as Aemond (sort of) kills his nephew Lucerys, sparking off the war that we will see play out over the next few seasons. It’s just good stuff, there’s no other way to put it.

Okay, that’s enough praise. Let the complaining begin!