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‘Doom, gloom and a whole load of nothing’: why is House of the Dragon so painfully dull?
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‘Doom, gloom and a whole load of nothing’: why is House of the Dragon so painfully dull?

When House of the Dragon arrived in 2022, it promised the sort of epic television we’d been missing since Game of Thrones, which it is a prequel to. Targaryens! Dragons! Matt Smith in an ice-blond wig! Event TV was about to make its fiery return. Nearly 10 million people tuned in to watch the first episode in the US, making it the most-watched HBO series premiere ever. But it barely managed to cough up a smoke ring, let alone set the small screen ablaze.

We were stuck between a rock (Dragonstone) and a hard place (King’s Landing) for most of the series. Scenes were so dimly lit it left you needing to book an eye test. And the franchise quickly lost its steamy reputation. In short: it was extremely dull, no match for its juggernaut sister.

That said, the gasp-out-loud season finale – in which one-eyed Aemond’s dragon, Vaghar, gobbles up tiny dragon Arrax in the air and causes young Lucerys to fall to his death – suggested that, after a sluggish start of world-setting and alliance-making, a beast of a show was about to be unleashed. After all, GoT only really got going after Ned’s shock death near the end of season one.

Here we are, then, two episodes into season two and still waiting.

It had a promising start: the Westeros equivalent of the Bayeux tapestry in the new opening credits was exciting, as was arriving in Winterfell for the first time (hurrah!) and meeting a Stark (double hurrah!) at the Wall – a taster, perhaps, of more, much-needed world-hopping to come. But the Stark lad quickly ruined the moment with the painfully earnest line: “They will fight hard … like northeners.” Things quickly went downhill.

The first hour was spent spelling out what in the seven hells was happening, and yet some of us still had to rewatch three times to understand because at least seven characters have the same name and they seem to be multiplying. Even when who’s who becomes clearer, the next big problem – a much bigger one – is that it’s hard to care about any of them.

Ser Criston Cole in House of the DragonView image in fullscreen

The marketing team are pushing a game of Greens v Blacks – but neither team is worth cheerleading. Without a clear case of good v evil, we need a more intriguing lot to side with: nobody wanted the Lannisters to win, but they were thrilling to watch. Here, everyone is as dull, petty and morally ambiguous as each other. There’s a lot of talking, but where’s the clever scheming? There isn’t a single exciting character – hero or villain.

Rhaenyra, whose stare in last season’s climax swore to unleash hellish revenge, mopes on a dragon for most of the opening episode. New king of the iron throne Aegon is a brat – nothing more, nothing less. Alicent is having tepid sex in between rolling her eyes at the men around her (the most notable thing about the oral sex scene was that she wears little wedged heels). Even Daemon has lost his dastardly, problematic swagger.

The most pathetic character to walk Westeros, though: Ser Criston Cole, a sulky, insipid hypocrite who can’t handle rejection and is too weak to stop breaking his knight’s oath by romping queens while constantly accusing others of failing their duties to the crown. I just want to flick him away like a fly so someone else can use the screen time. It’s fun to hate characters, but this man is a tumbleweed – give me a bad egg worthy of my anger (Joffrey).

Anyway, things picked up when Blood and Cheese – a Gold Cloak and a rat-catcher – managed to wander into the private royal rooms (one of many questionable moments: this is a paranoid palace protected by dragons) and decapitate Aegon’s heir Jaehaerys (not to be confused with Jaehaera or Jacaerys) in front of his mother, Helaena. It was ghastly. It was breath-stopping. It … led to yet another hour of people grieving over another brutally murdered child who we barely knew.

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What followed was more doom, gloom and a whole load of nothing. After saying she wanted Aemond dead (literally her only line until now), Rhaenyra is inexplicably appalled when she learns that Daemon ordered “a son for a son” killing. And the fatal sword fight between the divided twin brothers Erryk and Arryk when one of them (I really cannot work out which) attempts to murder Rhaenyra? Nobody cares – especially when a single vowel is the only thing of note about them.

Cringe-inducing writing (the scene in which Helaena forewarns rats in the palace was so bad), the lack of a single likable character (GoT was actually funny – who has laughed at a single HotD line?) and a constantly oppressive mood (more plot that doesn’t involve child murder, please) have left me cold. When will the dragon fire bring the heat?

Critics who have seen the first four episodes promise that the real action kicks in soon, with a CGI dragon action payoff – but what a drag to get there. Hopefully, we’ll also see more of Winterfell or anywhere that’s not grey. Perhaps it was never going to match the heights of GoT, but it’s the smaller crucial things that are missing: the humour, the heart and the heroes. They may have turned the lighting up, but – now that we can see them properly – it would be great to feel something for them too.

Source: theguardian.com