Why ‘House of the Dragon’ flash forward could prove fatal

The following contains spoilers from Episode 6 of House of the Dragon, The Princess and the Queen.

Is it me or is House of the Dragon moving way too fast?

On Sunday, Episode 6 of the Game of Thrones prequel jumped 10 years forward, bringing in new actors to play many of its main characters. From one week to the next, the prequel swept through a decade like Tyrion Lannister through wine barrels – with ferocity and abandon.

Suddenly, the show’s main obsession, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, is no longer a snotty teenager, and she’s no longer portrayed by Milly Alcock. Now she is a solemn mother of three, played by Emma D’Arcy. Queen Alicent was swapped out, as was Darrins from Bewitched. She is now played by Olivia Cooke and not Emily Carey.

Introducing such a big mid-season change is risky, even for the seasoned storytellers behind this fantasy franchise. Game of Thrones was known and respected for throwing curveballs and staging surprises that would have derailed other shows. But The Princess and the Queen didn’t convince me that climbing Dragon Riders and Courtiers so early in the game was a smart move. Sunday night’s change in faces and personalities was too abrupt, even with the widespread knowledge that as the characters aged, the drama would eventually bring in new cast members.

Milly Alcock and Emily Carey hold hands in a scene "house of the dragon."

Milly Alcock as young Rhaenyra, left, and Emily Carey as young Alicent.

(Ollie Upton/HBO)

Two women in elaborate dresses are talking

Olivia Cooke (left) and Emma D’Arcy in House of the Dragon.

(Ollie Upton/HBO)

For starters, the adults can substitute something resemble the younger versions of their characters, but they no longer capture what made them compelling. Rhaenyra is recognizable by her flowing white locks and because the castle dwellers call her “Princess”, but gone is the piercing gaze and rebellious spark that gave her such a wonderfully unpredictable personality.

Teen Rhaenyra had presence. She acted like a noblewoman—straight as a bolt, an unnerving poker face—but beneath the finery lay a cunning soul and a warrior’s heart. She vowed never to be bred to a partner of her father’s choice or treated like a broodmare. Her smug side was evident when we first met her, sitting under the tree with her childhood friend Alicent. She poked fun at the history lessons that ladies like her should memorize, adore, and emulate.

The adult Rhaenyra feels like a jaded version of her former self, though it’s too early to tell if the lower wattage is due to actor choice or the princess’s circumstances. When we meet her, she is in labor and giving birth to her third son. We don’t learn much more about her other than that she still has a soft spot for knights in shining armor. Her brunette offspring are more like the king’s dark-haired protector, Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr), than her silver-chested husband, Ser Laenor Velaryon (his teenage version, played by Theo Nate, was also replaced by John MacMillan).

The new Alicent is also very different from her former self, but we know that she is thanks to her green dress and her “service” to the king. The former sweet and forgiving queen is now understandably exhausted and bitter after a decade of watching Rhaenyra sleep with the men of her choice. Poor Alicent is still with the kind but decaying King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine). The old regent loses limbs, fingers and hair every hour. But it is the sovereign’s weakness as ruler that disgusts the queen. Adult Alicent is cold and wooden, a far cry from her warm teenage self. She’s so different, she might as well be another woman.

A princess takes the hand of her date

Milly Alcock with Theo Nate as young Laenor in House of the Dragon.

(Ollie Upton/HBO)

A princess and her husband welcome a new child into the world

Emma D’Arcy with John MacMillan as an adult Laenor in House of the Dragon.

(Ollie Upton/HBO)

Personnel changes in popular series are not new. There’s Becky in Roseanne, for example, and Don Draper’s son in Mad Men has been swapped out more times than anyone bothered to count. But these were one character in an ensemble. Here, just halfway through the first season, we meet an almost entirely new set of main characters in a series where character development is key to the story’s success.

Ahead of Sunday’s episode, The House of the Dragon successfully convinced us to travel back to Westeros 200 years before the time of Cersei and Littlefinger and immerse viewers in a massive new cast of characters. That leap forward isn’t just abrupt, it’s distracting. Fate quickly changed in Episode 6, but it was difficult to keep track while grappling with the awkward changing of the guard. Laena Valeryon was replaced by an adult cast member, Nanna Blondell, but there was little time to revisit the character before she took her own life by dragon fire. Gods are helping the kingdom now that her husband, the boisterous Prince Daemon (Matt Smith), is now a single father.

Like Viserys, Daemon and Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) are played by the same cast, and while much has changed in their lives, connecting their past with the present isn’t a chore. So it’s unclear why the princess and queen had to be replaced so early in the series, and why House of the Dragon is speeding through time so quickly. Talented enough to have played older characters, Alcock and Carey helped viewers adjust to the considerable time warp in the process. Game of Thrones stayed with the same main cast for eight seasons — through childhood, teens, and twenties — and it wasn’t a hard sell.

With four episodes remaining in the season, it’s too early to say for sure if House of the Dragon made a fatal mistake by speeding up so early. But The Princess and the Queen isn’t a promising start if the goal is to keep the show’s momentum and the audience’s investment in key characters.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-09-25/house-of-the-dragon-hbo-episode-6-flash-forward Why ‘House of the Dragon’ flash forward could prove fatal

Sarah Ridley

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