By Liv Barry
After a three-year hiatus, the fictional world of Westeros has returned to the screen with HBO’s new Game of Thrones prequel “House of the Dragon.”
Based on George R. R. Martin’s prequel book “Fire & Blood,” “House of the Dragon” follows the Targaryen dynasty 172 years before the birth of Daenerys Targaryen, one of the key players in the original “Game of Thrones” television series.
“House of the Dragon” switched directions from the sprawling ensemble drama of its predecessor. The series instead hones in on House Targaryen’s internal struggle for power, following the dynasty’s tensions as political intrigue culminates in civil war.
Another difference from the original series lies in the framing. The show’s source material, “Fire & Blood,” is told as an in-world history book written by a Westerosi historian.
While it is uncertain if this framing device will be revealed later on in the series, it is confirmed that the show’s prologue is narrated by Princess Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy). This could mean that the story is being told through the eyes of Rhaenyra, who is relaying the story to a historian.
Many of the changes to the “Game of Thrones” formula are due in part to the turnover in writers. The original series was written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who wrote “Game of Thrones” in accordance with the plot of Martin’s ongoing book series until season five. At the end of season five, however, Benioff and Weiss ran out of material provided by Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Martin completed the final two books while Benioff and Weiss were granted the agency to write their own ending to “Game of Thrones” with little outside input.
Some suggested that Martin’s absence from the writers room was responsible for the finale, which was condemned by critics and audiences alike.
“As it entered its homestretch, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss’s juggernaut of a fantasy became a gigantic entertainment revenant, shambling on despite having lost much of its original life force, along with Martin’s source text, somewhere around season five,” said Vulture critic Matt Zoller Seitz.
It is unclear whether the negative response to the “Game of Thrones” finale resulted in a change in writers, but according to Den of Geek, Martin hand-picked Ryan Condal, a “A Song of Ice and Fire” superfan, to helm the show alongside him.
Even with the change in writers, “House of the Dragon” still has many “Game of Thrones” hallmarks — violence, misogyny, and a copious amount of dragons.
Many viewers were quick to criticize the graphic, deadly cesarean section depicted in the show’s premiere. Audiences took issue with the excessive violence of the scene, as well as the uncomfortably misogynistic undertones.
In the scene, King Viserys (Paddy Considine) approves a C-section to save his male heir at the expense of his wife, Queen Aemma (Sian Brooke).
Viewers took to Twitter to share their displeasure, with many noting that the showrunner’s defense of historically accurate misogyny did not make sense for a fictional story.
“I think it’s very funny that the [‘House of the Dragon’] guys are like, ‘We want to reflect the misogyny of the time period.’ The time period is the twelfth of make believe. It’s the 149th year of sir gooby the dragonfoot,” said Twitter user @Merman_Melville. Despite the criticisms, Condal came to the defense of the show.
“We handle one instance off-screen, and instead show the aftermath and impact on the victim and the mother of the perpetrator,” said Hess.
“It is very much a story about a patriarchy told through the point-of-view of two women,” said Condal for Den of Geek.
According to Vanity Fair, “House of the Dragon” writer and executive producer Sara Hess also defended “House of the Dragon,” stating that the show will not depict sexual violence.
With only three episodes out, it is too soon to determine what direction “House of the Dragon” is headed, but audiences can decide for themselves as the season progresses. “House of the Dragon” airs on HBO and HBOMax on Sundays at 9 p.m.