When talking about era-defining television shows, Game of Thrones has to be on the top of the list.
The high fantasy drama aired for the central eight years of the 2010s and was undoubtedly one of the most influential shows of all time when it was in its prime. It was one of those rare shows where once you watched it, you either loved it and couldn’t get enough, or you hated it and couldn’t look away because literally everyone else you know was watching it. Game of Thrones is one of the few true “cultural phenomena” of the 21st century, and it’s likely that everyone realizes that especially because of how badly it crashed and burned.
Game of Thrones’ fall from grace is a story that’s been told a million times over by a million different people, but what’s spoken about less is the fallout from that end, and the eventual release of the House of the Dragon spinoff. Poor critical reception didn’t stop HBO from throwing a bunch of ideas at their development wall to see what would stick, and three years later the World of Ice and Fire is back on our screens.
In some hypothetical alternate timeline where House of the Dragon actually had the means to truly stretch its wings, we might be able to forgive some of Game of Thrones’ biggest issues and say, “Well, that wasn’t great at the end, but look at this amazing show we got out of it,” but for that to happen, the show would have to exist out of the confines of the Game of Thrones universe. It’s a true paradox; HotD can’t exist without GoT, but it will never escape the sins of its predecessor and is doomed to be compared to it forever.
House of the Dragon has been pushed as a show that centers women when it comes to the ins and outs of Westerosi politics, but there really isn’t that much that’s different from what we already spent 8 seasons watching. Women aren’t brutalized as openly as they were on Game of Thrones, but Alicent and Rhaenyra are still trapped by the male-dominated society they were born into. They’re forced to work their way through the same misogynistic framework that Cersei Lannister and Sansa Stark did in GoT, and that would be interesting if we didn’t already know how that is likely to play out. Producers on HotD have talked about framing the story from a female perspective, but what’s the point of that if the outcome is new characters doomed to face the same struggles we’ve seen before in the exact same way?
Much like how Alicent and Rhaenyra are trapped by the rules of the world around them, House of the Dragon is stifled by the fact that it takes place in the Game of Thrones universe. The story has to end a certain way in order for the rest of GoT to happen, and that means that there’s very little room for change. In the first episode of House of the Dragon, Rhaenyra says that she, “wants to fly with [Alicent] on dragonback, see the great wonders across the Narrow Sea, and eat only cake,” and I can’t help but wonder if that would have ultimately made a better show. If Alicent and Rhaenyra weren’t confined by the story that was already set out for them, there is a far more interesting story in the idea of them defying everyone and everything they know to burn down a system that grants them little to no agency. There’s no good story without conflict, but the conflict that House of the Dragon presents Alicent and Rhaenyra is choked by the fact that women don’t really have any rights in Westeros. That might have been interesting to watch a decade ago, but now? It’s just depressing.
In truth, the only way we get more interesting fantasy television is by diving into a completely new world. There are plenty of amazing fantasy books that are just waiting for a big budget adaptation like Game of Thrones, and we all deserve to see a new franchise take the spotlight. This isn’t to say that it needs to be set in a world without sexsim (don’t get me wrong, that would be nice), but the story would have to tackle these issues in ways that are more compelling than Game of Thrones or House of the Dragon, and it’s not like that’s hard. Recent entries to the genre like The Jasmine Throne and The Poppy War have their leading women in worlds inspired by places outside of medieval Europe, and they are actually allowed to respond to the violence and oppression stacked against them with equal force. There are social orders that these characters have to conform to, but they are also allowed to break these rules when they need to, and that’s something that House of the Dragon will never truly be able to offer its characters.
From a business standpoint, it’s easy to understand why HBO wants to keep going back to Game of Thrones. It was the most popular show in the world, and House of the Dragon is doing well enough for a second season to be on the way. But the world of George R. R. Martin’s still to be completed saga isn’t new and unpredictable anymore—it’s safe. Everyone knows what they’re getting out of it, and we could be getting so much more from something else. There are better stories to tell, better “female perspectives” to dive into, and the only way we’ll ever see those is if we let Game of Thrones go like we should have when it came to its fiery end in 2019.
Kathryn Porter is a freelance writer who will talk endlessly about anything entertainment given the chance. You can find her @kaechops on Twitter.
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