The teaser for “House of the Dragon” showcases the prequel to Game of Thrones’ biggest challenge. The “Dance of the Dragons,” a violent struggle between competing factions of the ruling Targaryen family, will be told 200 years before the brutal events of Game of Thrones. With George R. R. Martin’s tale already sketched out in 2018’s Fire & Blood, HBO may anticipate “House of the Dragon” to escape Game of Thrones’ steady collapse when the program outperformed its source material. Following the critical backlash to Game of Thrones’ last seasons, this is a make-or-break moment for the brand, with the prequel series tasked with regaining a skeptic following – or risk losing it permanently.
The teaser for “House of the Dragon” presses the same buttons that helped Game of Thrones attract audiences across the world, with a menacing orchestral tune, electrifying photography, and big-budget set design to match any Hollywood production. The trailer also shows Matt Smith’s Daemon Targaryen, Olivia Cooke’s Alicent Hightower, and Paddy Considine’s Viserys I, among the series’ main characters. They all appear to be straight out of the original HBO blockbuster hit, but this just serves to obscure a fundamental difference between “House of the Dragon” and its predecessor.
Simply said, the ensemble of primary characters in “House of the Dragon” is decidedly unlikeable. This is a huge departure from Game of Thrones, where the flawed and gray characters, including purported villains like Jaime Lannister and Sandor Clegane, were mainly likable. The cast of “House of the Dragon”, on the other hand, portrays the moral and personal bankruptcy that comes with the unfettered lust for power in a less attractive light, as depicted in Fire & Blood. “House of the Dragon”, no matter how well-drawn its characters are or how tightly plotted its storyline is, will struggle to truly capture audiences if it lacks sympathetic personalities to match the likes of Ned Stark and Tyrion Lannister, and this poses a significant challenge for the show in the future.
The primary assumption of “House of the Dragon” is to blame for these difficulties. While Game of Thrones had a diverse variety of characters, it excelled at portraying underdogs and misfits, from exiled and hunted Daenerys Targaryen to the “bastard” Jon Snow. It is far more difficult to create interesting heroes in this mold in a novel that centers on a largely needless battle between two portions of the same ruling dynasty. While characters like Daemon and Alicent may be motivated by love, noble motivation alone does not make for a lovable individual. Cersei Lannister, whose deep love for her children added subtlety to her horrific actions during Game of Thrones, but whose position of power made her difficult to fully root for, is a good example of this.
With the “House of the Dragon” trailer giving fans a first look at the upcoming HBO series, it’ll be interesting to see if the prequel can equal Game of Thrones’ phenomenal success. While Steve Toussaint’s portrayal of indisputable badass Corlys Velaryon may provide viewers with an instantly fascinating protagonist, an otherwise amoral and unlikable primary ensemble may not be enough to compensate. With Game of Thrones losing a lot of viewers’ goodwill near the end of its run, “House of the Dragon” risks falling flat if it doesn’t have a core of sympathetic people to draw them back in. CGI dragons can only take a program so far, as HBO learned from the final season of Game of Thrones.