How ‘House of the Dragon’ fumbled its Season 1 finale

Is it wrong to admit that I didn’t feel much when a certain young king was killed in Sunday night’s Season 1 finale of House of the Dragon? Aside from the political and cultural ramifications of his death — a civil war between the Targaryens, years of civil unrest, and tons of material for future seasons of the Game of Thrones prequel — his passing had little emotion compared to the shock and horror Ned caused Stark’s decapitation in Season 1 of HBO’s previous blockbuster.

Am I a heartless monster? Probably, but that’s another topic. I’d prefer to blame it on House of the Dragon’s decision to seemingly swap cast members every other episode, making it difficult to invest in their destiny. (Even last week’s loss of the man who’d sat on the Iron Throne all season, Paddy Considine’s King Viserys Targaryen, felt more like a means to an end than the loss of someone we’d come to know intimately.) That lack of Character development is why Sunday’s finale, while mostly a thrill for the series, struggled to survive the landing.

“The Black Queen” soared more than it idled, offering a cliffhanger with just enough conflict, dragons, and palace intrigue to keep audiences hooked. And there were many bright spots, such as Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) singing to a wild dragon in old Valryian, or the vision of queen Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) wears her father’s crown. But it could have been positively explosive if viewers had had more time with the show’s poor guys before they got killed, or been able to form deeper connections with the people who will carry the show into the next season .

For example, the time spent on Rhaenyra’s miscarriage might have made more sense if we’d had a full season of the adult version of her. The series opened with the death of her mother during a painful birth. It artfully compared the battles of the royal women of Westeros – who gave their lives to give life – with scenes in which their husbands killed in a jousting tournament for sport. This symbolism was powerful. But now that we’ve spent 10 episodes in the realm, Rhaenyra’s tragedy had to resonate on a deeper level to justify why it was important to include her more closely in Season 1.

It can’t be easy following in the muddy, blood-soaked footsteps of Game of Thrones and being subjected to more scrutiny than the original had to begin with. Ten million viewers watched the premiere of “House of the Dragon” in August, making it the biggest in the cable giant’s history. But it’s clear the prequel is still trying to find its own comfortable stride.

In fact, last week’s episode felt more like the finale than the actual finale. It was concise, powerful and action-packed. The Greens, loyal to Queen Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), staged a coup and rejected Rhaenyra’s succession by crowning Alicent’s eldest son, the drunken louse Aegon Targaryen (Tom Glynn-Carney). It ended with a spectacular crowning dragon fall by one of the series’ more nuanced characters, Princess Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best).

Sunday’s crowning episode wasn’t so tight as the story was moved from King’s Landing to Dragonstone, where Rhaenyra, her family and court are informed that the king is dead and her authority has been usurped by her half-brother. The episode’s pivotal dramatic event, the death of Rhaenyra’s second son Lucerys (Elliot Grihault) at the hands of Alicent’s second Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) in a mid-air dragon hunt gone awry, felt more like a preparation for what was to come next than a powerful conclusion to what has happened so far.

Who will swear allegiance and what kind of ruler will Rhaenrya (or Aegon) be? Warmonger or Peacemaker? Season 2 needs to give us more time with her and other key characters – that way we can really feel betrayed when the writers kill her. How ‘House of the Dragon’ fumbled its Season 1 finale

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