House of the Dragon: first impressions

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the first episode of House of the Dragon.

It’s been a little over three years since Game of Thrones went off the air. That show’s disappointing final season and conclusion did a lot of damage to its brand – and may be a contributing factor to the delay in concluding the series of novels upon which it was originally based. As I wrote once, the incredibly negative reception to the way that Game of Thrones ended effectively killed any residual support the show had and removed it from our collective cultural conversation. The show’s legacy is the reshaping of the world of entertainment, with high fantasy enjoying a renaissance, multi-season serialised stories coming to the fore, the “disposable casts” of characters who could be killed off at any moment, and more besides. But Game of Thrones itself isn’t the phenomenon it once was.

The rise of big-budget fantasy and genre shows in the wake of Game of Thrones has led to projects like The Rings of Power, which will premiere next month, as well as The Wheel of Time, The Witcher, and even to an extent shows like Star Trek: Discovery, which has brought into the Star Trek franchise some of the tenets of storytelling in this post-Thrones world. All of these projects, and others like them, mean that there’s intense competition for viewers in this space.

Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen on a promotional poster for House of the Dragon.

This is the environment in which House of the Dragon has premiered. Undermined by the evident failures of Game of Thrones’ final season and no longer a singular phenomenon, the series has to attempt to carve out a new niche and demonstrate that it can bring something at least superficially different to the table. More of the same won’t cut it for fans who were left disappointed by Game of Thrones, and with ever more big-budget shows in the fantasy space, House of the Dragon has a lot of work to do. Based on its premiere episode, I’m not sure it will be up to the task.

House of the Dragon needs to define itself, to stand on its own two feet and demonstrate how it can be something new and different rather than just “more Game of Thrones,” and in its premiere it did nothing of the sort. The story outline feels incredibly familiar, with a focus on quarrelling aristocratic factions as they vie for the throne. The aesthetic and feel of the series have scarcely moved, with the same costumes, sets, music, and even cinematography clearly trying to emulate what has come before. It brought back as much sex, violence, and gore as it could fit into its premiere episode, too – all hallmarks of Game of Thrones, and elements that helped that series to stand out from the pack in its early seasons.

A jousting tourney was the stage for one of several violent clashes in the series premiere.

House of the Dragon introduces us to an ageing, weakened king, a young Targaryen princess, a mad Targaryen prince, and even has the audacity to dump in some foreshadowing of the Night King, the Long Winter, and events we saw unfold in Game of Thrones in a particularly ham-fisted sequence that laid on the exposition with some pretty clunky dialogue. I guess some kind of overt connection to Game of Thrones was inevitable – but it didn’t need to come in the premiere, and it certainly could’ve been toned down or at least worded less clumsily.

In terms of visual effects, I again felt House of the Dragon did not excel – particularly when considering the sky-high budget afforded to the series by HBO. There were too many moments where the blending of CGI with real actors and sets was noticeable, such as during long establishing shots of the jousting tournament. Visual differences between what the camera picked up and what the artists and animators imagined were noticeable enough to pull me out of some sequences altogether. Some fully-animated sequences, such as a flyover of Kings Landing early in the episode, likewise strayed into the “uncanny valley,” and when we’ve seen lesser shows with lower budgets pull off similar sequences much better, House of the Dragon has definitely come up short.

Animation work in House of the Dragon wasn’t fantastic.

This one is purely a personal taste thing, but I don’t like the refurbished throne room set. The iconic Iron Throne is now framed by a small forest of foam-rubber swords that neither improve its look from Game of Thrones nor come close to recreating its appearance as described in the original novel series. The effect looks cheap, and while I’ll credit the creative team for doing something to try to differentiate the series from its predecessor, for me it doesn’t work.

So far, I see no evidence that HBO has truly taken to heart the criticisms fans had of Game of Thrones as that series came to its end. “More of the same” isn’t going to cut it, and House of the Dragon feels like the second coming of Game of Thrones – and that isn’t for the better. If it was 2010 all over again, maybe it would indeed be good enough. But in a television landscape that has completely changed over the past twelve years, House of the Dragon has to do more than that. When compared with other offerings in the same genre on other networks or streaming services, House of the Dragon manages to feel aggressively average.

The new look of the Iron Throne – complete with additional foam-rubber swords – isn’t doing it for me.

The Rings of Power is hot on the heels of House of the Dragon, and despite also taking place in a long-established world, that series feels newer and fresher, somehow, than House of the Dragon does. I can’t escape the feeling that we’re going to get a story that will ultimately feel rather samey, and while that doesn’t mean there won’t be twists, turns, and excitement along the way, I’m not convinced that that will be good enough. House of the Dragon has a legacy to live up to – but it also has a legacy it must surpass. When it comes to the latter, there’s no evidence that it’s even willing to try – at least, nothing of the sort was forthcoming in the series premiere.

Familiar musical stings, recycled sets, and character archetypes who harken back to the “glory days” of Game of Thrones’ early seasons can’t be all that House of the Dragon has to offer. The series needs to have the ambition to go beyond what its predecessor achieved and set a new benchmark. Moreover, trying to pluck those nostalgic strings really won’t take House of the Dragon very far with fans who came away from Game of Thrones feeling let down. Right now, I’m trying to decide whether the series is worth pursuing; whether this time a decent ending has been planned out with a roadmap to get there that keeps the entertainment value going. That’s where Game of Thrones came unstuck, so if House of the Dragon’s sales pitch is just “we’re doing Game of Thrones again!” then I’m out. I won’t make it past the first few episodes – because what’s the point?

King Viserys sits on the Iron Throne.

For now, though, I’ll stick with House of the Dragon to see what comes next after this underwhelming debut. I can forgive a degree of looking backwards in a series premiere that aims to reach out to an audience that it hopes to bring back; casual viewers who may not follow fantasy but who showed up in droves for Game of Thrones. If House of the Dragon can begin the task of differentiating itself and standing on its own two feet in the episodes ahead, that will be a greatly positive thing and something that will certainly hold my attention.

House of the Dragon will continue to face stiff competition for as long as it remains on the air. Rising to meet that competition is the task the series now faces – a task that, arguably, its predecessor didn’t have to deal with. The shadow of Game of Thrones looms large in more ways than one, and time will tell whether House of the Dragon truly has what it takes to convince audiences that the world of Westeros is deserving of a second look.

House of the Dragon is available to stream now on HBO Max in the United States. The series is broadcast on Sky Atlantic in the United Kingdom and on the NOW TV catch-up service. House of the Dragon is available internationally via a patchwork of different channels and/or streaming platforms. House of the Dragon, Game of Thrones, and other properties mentioned above are the copyright of HBO and Warner Bros.-Discovery. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

We’re halfway through 2022!

Spoiler Warning: There may be minor spoilers for some of the entries on the list below.

The end of June marks the halfway point of the year, and I think that makes it a great time to take a step back. There are a lot of entertainment experiences that lie ahead over the next few months, and with the nights already starting to get longer it’ll be autumn and then Christmas before we know it! There’s a lot coming our way before we must bid farewell to 2022, though, so today we’re going to take a look at a few of the projects on my radar.

Since the vaccine rollout peaked last year we’ve seen an easing of pandemic restrictions, including in the entertainment industry. That bodes well for at least some of the projects that have been in development! While there are still regulations and guidelines being enforced on film and TV sets, it’s much easier for many productions to work than it has been for the past couple of years. There may be disruptions to come thanks to lockdowns in China and the war in Ukraine, though… so watch this space!

I’ve broken down my choices into three categories – films, television shows, and video games – and I’ve picked six titles in each category that I’m hoping to pick up and enjoy before the sun sets on New Year’s Eve!

Film #1:
Avatar: The Way of Water

I took a look at Avatar: The Way of Water when we got a brief teaser trailer earlier in the year, but suffice to say I’m curiously interested to see what writer-director James Cameron has to offer this time around. I never felt that the original Avatar was the genre-defining epic that its creators hoped it would be, and over the course of the past decade I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the world of Avatar has largely dropped out of the cultural conversation.

The Way of Water has a lot to do, then, to reintroduce viewers to a fictional universe that many haven’t revisited since 2009 or 2010. It also has the task of expanding the world of Avatar beyond the events of the first film, showing us more about the world of Pandora, the Na’vi, and this future version of Earth and humankind. There have been some clever technical feats that have gone into the production of this sequel – including gruelling underwater motion-capture shoots – so I’ll be interested to see if it all comes together when the film releases in December.

Film #2:
Jurassic World: Dominion

Technically Jurassic World: Dominion has already been released – but as my health prevents me from doing things like taking trips to the cinema these days, I’m waiting for it to become available to stream! The teaser trailer for the film, which was released back in December, looked great, and the prospect of a reunion of the main cast members from the first film – Sam Neill as Dr Alan Grant, Laura Dern as Dr Ellie Sattler, and of course Jeff Goldblum as Dr Ian Malcolm – is a pretty significant draw.

There is always going to be the question of whether the premise of the original Jurassic Park – which was based on a novel by Michael Crichton – can really sustain a multi-film franchise. The first film was brilliant in both premise and execution, but was it a one-trick pony? I’m curious to see what director Colin Trevorrow can do to make dinosaurs both fun and intimidating once more! I’ve been trying to avoid reading reviews and spoilers for this one, and when it’s available to stream I hope to get a review written here on the website – so stay tuned for that!

Film #3:
Minions: The Rise of Gru

Despicable Me was a fun film that managed to be surprisingly heartwarming, and the franchise it spawned has gone on to become one of the biggest animated properties of all-time. The last Minions film was released back in 2015, and this sequel will reintroduce Gru – the antihero/evil villain from Despicable Me – as he teams up with his Minions for the first time.

There’s potential for a lot of fun, kid-friendly hijinks in The Rise of Gru, and I’m genuinely looking forward to another outing with the Minions. Steve Carell has been on top form in previous entries in the franchise, and the film will also feature Star Trek: Discovery’s Michelle Yeoh as part of a star-studded cast.

Film #4:
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

I had a good time with Rian Johnson’s “whodunnit” Knives Out a couple of years ago, so this follow-up definitely holds appeal. Without wanting to give away any spoilers for the first film, suffice to say that I’m excited for one character in particular to make a return!

From what I can gather, Glass Onion isn’t so much a direct sequel as it is a follow-up; a film set in the same world and that will bring back at least one familiar face, but that will also introduce an ensemble cast of new characters and perhaps a new setting as well. Hopefully what results will be just as fun and dramatic as the original!

Film #5:
Hocus Pocus 2

I missed the original Hocus Pocus when it was released in 1993, and it wasn’t until years later that I finally sat down to watch it at the insistence of a friend. What I eventually found was a fun, even somewhat clever film; a light-hearted take on Halloween that’s just right for someone who isn’t a big fan of horror!

The sequel aims to bring back Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler, and Kathy Najimy as the three witches from the original for a new adventure that sounds like it will be a riff on the original concept. Keep an eye out for Star Trek: Discovery’s Doug Jones, who will also be reprising his role from the original film. Hocus Pocus 2 might be just right for Halloween 2022!

Film #6:
Beast

Could Beast be “Jaws but with a lion?” Because the marketing material released by the studio makes it sound like that! I quite like a good thriller or monster flick, so maybe Beast will be a bit of fun. I don’t have especially high expectations; it’s unlikely to be a cinematic masterpiece. But it might just be entertaining enough to waste a little time.

Idris Elba is always fun to watch regardless of what he’s doing – see last year’s The Suicide Squad as a case in point! So at least on that front there’s a solid star in the leading role, and the film’s South African setting appeals to me as I used to live there. I’m curiously interested to see what Beast will have to offer when it’s released in August.

Television Show #1:
Lego Star Wars: Summer Vacation

Lego Star Wars: Summer Vacation will be the third Lego Star Wars special released on Disney+, and the first two were fantastic! 2020’s Holiday Special was a barrel of laughs, and last year we enjoyed Terrifying Tales in October, a lightly spooky Halloween special featuring Poe Dameron. The trailer for Summer Vacation had me in stitches, so if the special itself lives up to its marketing then we’re in for a wonderful time!

Expect to see some cheeky marketing for Disney’s “Galactic Starcruiser” themed hotel (which hasn’t been doing particularly well) in a special that will star “Weird Al” Yankovic and will bring back Finn, Poe, Rey, Rose, and other Star Wars characters.

Television Show #2:
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3

At time of writing we don’t have a confirmed premiere date for Season 3 of Lower Decks, but if it follows the same pattern as it did in 2020 and 2021 we might see it in late summer, perhaps mid-to-late August. Season 2 actually ended on a cliffhanger – which I won’t spoil – and I still have a few theories and ideas kicking around that I’ll try to get written up before the new season arrives!

Lower Decks took a couple of episodes to fully get going, but it’s been an absolute blast across its first couple of seasons. Consistently high quality has left the series with only a couple of boring or unenjoyable episodes, and there’s a surprising amount of emotion at the heart of the Lower Decks crew. It’s a Star Trek show through-and-through, and one I find myself getting surprisingly invested in. I’m hopeful for more of the same when Lower Decks returns.

Television Show #3:
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

Although The Rings of Power is already (and prematurely, in my view) proving to be controversial in some quarters, I have high hopes for what will be the most expensive television show ever produced! A return to Tolkien’s world is, of course, hugely enticing, but The Rings of Power is aiming to be a spiritual successor to Game of Thrones, telling a multi-season serialised story set in the realm of high fantasy. With a massive budget to back it up, I couldn’t be more excited about that concept!

However, with a high budget and high expectations come dangers. The Rings of Power has a long way to fall if it fails to live up to expectations, and no matter what the producers and creative team try to do, the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings trilogy will be the yardstick by which this new series is measured. I hope it can compare favourably!

Television Show #4:
House of the Dragon

Take everything I said in the entry above, copy-and-paste it, and that’s how I feel about House of the Dragon as well! This Game of Thrones prequel is one of several projects currently in production, but as far as I can see the biggest hurdle it has to surmount is not its predecessor’s reputation as one of the best television shows of all time, but the deep disappointment practically all Game of Thrones fans felt at its finale.

Just convincing people to show up for House of the Dragon in light of Game of Thrones Season 8 feels like a big ask… but if the show learns from those mistakes and makes changes, we could be in for something genuinely exciting. The first five-plus seasons of Game of Thrones were some of the most tense, atmospheric, and exciting ever brought to the small screen, so a return to Westeros – and to the writings of George R R Martin – could be fantastic. Could be.

Television Show #5:
Star Wars: Andor

A prequel to a prequel (or should that be a spin-off from a spin-off?), Andor will follow Rogue One’s Cassian Andor in the years before the events of the film. We might get to see more detail about the early days of the Rebel Alliance prior to the Battle of Scarif, which would be interesting in itself, but more than that I’m curious to see what Star Wars can do with a genuinely different premise. In this case, we’re talking about a spy thriller.

Is there room in the Star Wars galaxy for stories that aren’t just about Jedi Knights, the Force, and lightsaber duels? The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett could’ve begun to show us what the Star Wars galaxy looks like away from those familiar elements, but chose not to do so. So it falls to Andor to potentially become the first Star Wars series to really broaden the franchise’s horizons and show us what’s possible. Is that too much to hope for? Maybe… I guess we’ll have to see!

Television Show #6:
Five Days At Memorial

When done well, a miniseries can be a great format for storytelling. Five Days At Memorial aims to adapt the true story of doctors and nurses working at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Based on a book from 2013, the miniseries will take a look at some of the events that transpired – including how patients were triaged when the hospital’s systems failed and supplies ran low.

Most controversially, some patients were euthanised by doctors at the hospital – leading to a legal case against them in the months and years afterwards. Hopefully the miniseries will be faithful in its adaptation and won’t try to over-sensationalise these difficult events. I’m really curious to see how it turns out.

Video Game #1:
Star Trek: Prodigy – Supernova

You wait years for a Star Trek video game and then two come along at once! This year should see the release of Star Trek: Resurgence – a narrative adventure game – as well as Star Trek: Prodigy – Supernova, a kid-friendly adventure title based on the new animated series. With new episodes of Prodigy’s first season set to air later this year, the time is right for a tie-in.

I was disappointed (and a little concerned) that Prodigy kicked off its first season with no toys or tie-in products, but that is slowly being addressed. Supernova looks a little last-gen in terms of its graphics, and I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t, but I’m still hopeful for a fun game that ties in with the show, and one that can appeal to the younger audience that the show has been targetting.

Video Game #2:
Stray

Stray has been on my radar for a while, and it’s finally due for release in July! Getting to play as a cat is already a huge part of the appeal, but it sounds as if Stray will have a genuinely interesting mystery at its core: what happened to all of the humans in its world? Players will assume the role of a stray cat in a cyberpunk-inspired city, and solving that mystery will be top priority.

I’m really looking forward to what I hope will be a different experience with Stray. Many games do mystery, third-person exploration, and create atmospheric worlds, but Stray feels like it could offer something that I haven’t experienced before.

Video Game #3:
Grounded

If a game has been in early access for more than two years, should its “release” even count on a list like this? Regardless, I haven’t played Grounded yet – because I largely avoid early access titles – so I’m looking forward to seeing what the full release will have to offer. I loved Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, and even visited the attraction at Disney World… could Grounded let me live out a long-held childhood fantasy?

There are survival aspects to Grounded that could either work exceptionally well… or feel annoying, depending on how good the rest of the game is and how much fun I’m having! But I’ve heard good things from players who’ve enjoyed the early access version, so I’m going to give Grounded a shot when it officially releases in September.

Video Game #4:
Return to Monkey Island

Despite loving the first three games in the series, I seem to have fallen behind on my Monkey Island adventures! The fourth and fifth games in the series ended up on my “pile” of unplayed games, and despite meaning to get around to them I still haven’t! Perhaps I should rectify that before Return to Monkey Island – the sixth game in the series – arrives.

Updated versions of the first three Monkey Island games proved that point-and-click adventure titles could still find an audience when they were released a few years ago, and there’s still an appetite for this kind of comedy-adventure. I’m hopeful that Return to Monkey Island will deliver more of the same humour and excitement as the series did in its early days.

Video Game #5:
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum

After being on my radar for a while, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum has finally set a release window. All being well we’ll see the weird-sounding game in September. I honestly don’t know what to expect from this one, as Gollum would never be the kind of character I’d have expected to build a game and a story around. However, there’s clearly more to his story than we saw in the films – or even the books – so this could be an interesting adventure!

With a renewed focus on the world of Tolkien and high fantasy thanks to the Amazon show and other fantasy films and TV shows, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum could be a surprise hit. I don’t want to go overboard with the hype, but I’m definitely interested to see what the developers have come up with.

Video Game #6:
Saints Row

It does the Saints Row series a grave disservice to call it simply a “Grand Theft Auto clone,” even if that’s where it might’ve begun. This soft reboot of the series aims to take it back to its roots, setting aside at least some of the over-the-top hijinks of the third and fourth games in favour of a return to the gangland roots of the original Saints Row from 2006.

With no Grand Theft Auto VI on the horizon any time soon, Saints Row might just scratch that open-world crime itch for players who are getting tired of Grand Theft Auto V – but hopefully Saints Row can continue to carve its own niche and stand on its own two feet.

So that’s it!

Those are just some of the projects that we can look forward to in the weeks and months ahead. There are plenty more, of course, and I’m sure there’ll be some surprises along the way, too! Although 2022 has been much better than the past couple of years, there’s still the potential for disruption and delays, so keep in mind that any of the shows, films, and games listed above may not make their currently-scheduled launches. Such things happen, unfortuately!

I hope that this was a bit of fun and a glimpse at what lies ahead. It’s always interesting (to me, at least) to research different upcoming projects to see what piques my curiosity, and as someone who takes an interest in the world of entertainment I’m always keeping my ear to the ground to see what might be coming up! I hope you’ll stay tuned here on the website for reviews, impressions, and write-ups of at least some of the projects we’ve talked about today.

Until next time!

All films, television shows, and video games listed above are the copyright of their respective owner, company, distributor, broadcaster, publisher, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Will House of the Dragon bring back disappointed Game of Thrones fans?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones Seasons 1-8 and the teaser trailer for House of the Dragon.

Practically everyone I’ve spoken to, from hardcore fans to casual viewers, felt that Game of Thrones ended in a way that was rushed and disappointing. Individual reasons for disappointment may vary, but the broad consensus is that Game of Thrones Season 8 – and to a degree parts of Seasons 6 and 7 too – didn’t provide fans with a satisfying ending to a well-established, decade-long story. Now that we’ve seen the first teaser for House of the Dragon, and gotten a release window of 2022, the question I want to ask is simple: can the new series successfully bring back fans who were disappointed with the way that Game of Thrones ended?

I haven’t gone back to re-watch Game of Thrones since it went off the air in mid-2019, and I’m not alone. As I wrote last year, at the height of the pandemic when folks were stuck at home looking for films and shows to binge-watch, Game of Thrones didn’t even enter the conversation. The way the ending landed for fans was so bad that it made going back and starting over an unappealing prospect. Despite the first few seasons being some of the best serialised television ever brought to screen, even those fantastic scenes and episodes are now tainted for many fans with the knowledge that the story they set up went off the rails.

The way Game of Thrones Season 8 ended has left many fans with a bitter aftertaste.

This article isn’t a re-hash of my Game of Thrones Season 8 arguments. If you want to get my full thoughts on what happened with Game of Thrones, I have a two-part essay which you can find by clicking or tapping here. Instead I want to use Game of Thrones Season 8 as a starting point for the conversation about House of the Dragon, because whatever HBO and George R R Martin might want people to focus on as the new show’s marketing campaign kicks off, there can be no denying that it exists in its predecessor’s shadow – for better or for worse.

One thing that struck me about the House of the Dragon teaser was how heavily the new series is borrowing from Game of Thrones in terms of aesthetic. It’s a prequel set in the same universe, so similarities are to be expected, but if I didn’t know any better or I’d been out of the loop for a couple of years, you could’ve shown me the teaser and told me it was Game of Thrones Season 9 and I’d have believed it. We aren’t just talking about obvious things either, like the Hand of the King badge or the throne room set. The way the teaser used camera shots, the lighting for scenes and characters, and even the music all leaned very heavily on Game of Thrones.

Everything about this shot, from the lighting to the position of the camera, feels like it has been lifted directly from Game of Thrones.

It’s hard to see House of the Dragon as its own thing right now, and that could become an issue for HBO. Any prequel or spin-off naturally relies on what came before, but when you compare House of the Dragon to similar projects, there are key differences. Star Trek: Enterprise created an entirely new look for its 22nd Century setting, one which aimed to blend the modern world with Star Trek’s futuristic technology in a way that felt like a half-step between the world of 2001 and Captain Kirk’s 23rd Century. It didn’t always succeed at that, but it made the effort to distinguish itself from other parts of the Star Trek franchise.

Even the Star Wars prequels changed up significant visual elements. Some of the starships and armour designs shown off in the prequel trilogy managed to feel like a natural ancestor of the familiar Star Destroyers and Stormtrooper helmets we knew and loved from the original films. Other prequels and spin-offs likewise make an effort to appear new, different, or to have at least some distinctive elements that make the project unique. I didn’t see any of that in the House of the Dragon teaser.

The familiar emblem of the Hand of the King.

When HBO greenlit House of the Dragon and considered scripts and story treatments for at least four other Game of Thrones spin-offs, the original show was riding high. Maybe Seasons 6 and 7 had started the process of tarnishing its halo a little, but there was hope and optimism that Season 8 would see the series end on an explosive high note – setting the stage for prequels and spin-offs and getting fans incredibly hyped for what was to come. The ending of Season 8 killed much of that hype stone-dead, and in the intervening couple of years it really does feel like Game of Thrones has completely dropped out of our collective cultural conversation.

In that environment, House of the Dragon needed to do more in this first look to reassure wayward fans that lessons have been learned and that there won’t be a repeat of Game of Thrones Season 8. The teaser needed to demonstrate that House of the Dragon will be worth fans’ time and investment because it’s something different, a series with a planned story that won’t go off the rails. By showing us something that felt very familiar and very samey, this first teaser hasn’t achieved any of those objectives. Instead it seemed explicitly designed to offer fans more of the same – more Game of Thrones. It’s as if the overwhelmingly negative reaction to Season 8 fell entirely on deaf ears at HBO.

The lighting in this shot feels just like the lighting in the Game of Thrones episode The Long Night… and that isn’t a compliment.

Imagine being a huge Star Wars fan, then absolutely hating Return of the Jedi. It’s hard to remember now, but that film was once considered the weakest part of the Star Wars trilogy, with fans deriding things like the Ewoks and the Death Star redux storyline. But imagine being a Star Wars fan who’d absolutely detested the way Return of the Jedi ended – and then a few years later being offered the Star Wars prequels and The Phantom Menace. Would you want to go back and get invested in that world all over again? Or would you be cautious, unwilling to make a commitment to a new story when the last one just plain sucked? That’s the position many Game of Thrones fans – or ex-fans – are in at the moment. HBO is offering more Game of Thrones to a fanbase embittered by the way Season 8 was handled.

None of this addresses the merits of House of the Dragon. The series may very well be good – as the first five-plus seasons of Game of Thrones were. But the task that lies before it is a difficult one, and I don’t think that the way it’s being marketed – at least based on this first teaser – has helped.

Promo poster for House of the Dragon.

House of the Dragon has to demonstrate that there’s more to Westeros than Daenerys, Jon Snow, and the Night King. It has to take a familiar setting and make us care about new characters and new factions all over again, to reset the lands of A Song of Ice and Fire and potentially tee up even more shows and films down the line. It has the task that Star Trek: The Next Generation had in 1987 – to demonstrate that a successful series can become a successful franchise.

For all of the lore and detailed history of Westeros that George R R Martin has written over the years, only one part of that has thus far made it to the screen. Many fans, even those deeply invested in the television show during its run, were only aware of events like Robert’s Rebellion, Aegon’s Conquest, or the Dance of Dragons from throwaway lines spoken by characters in dialogue. The lore of Game of Thrones was backstory for the events happening in that show – and whether any of it will translate to standalone projects and stories is now up for debate.

A return to the throne room in King’s Landing seems to be on the agenda.

Where Game of Thrones excelled in its earlier seasons was its sense of scale. The world-building beyond the characters we got to know was exquisitely handled, and it was only in the latter part of Season 7 and through Season 8, as the number of characters and locales shrunk, that that sense of scale diminished. In short, the world of Westeros does feel lived-in, as though there are more stories out there to be told. That’s a huge point in favour of House of the Dragon – and other potential spin-offs that may be coming in future.

House of the Dragon also has the task of trying to appeal to new fans. Perhaps those who tried Game of Thrones but found its large number of characters confusing in those first few episodes, or fans of the books who didn’t give Game of Thrones a chance, as well as a broader television audience. The show can’t just rely on fans of the original series to flock back – it has to have more to offer beyond the existing fanbase.

King Viserys I in the teaser for House of the Dragon.

With The Witcher Season 2 coming soon, Amazon’s Lord of the Rings prequel, The Wheel of Time, and now House of the Dragon, there’s a lot for fans of fantasy to look forward to. That’s also a potential pitfall for House of the Dragon, though, as Game of Thrones blazed a trail in the big-budget fantasy television genre that others are now scrambling to follow. House of the Dragon won’t have the genre all to itself, and Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series in particular will be a major competitor.

Although I have gripes with the way Game of Thrones ended, I’m interested to see more of Westeros. But “interested” is as much as I can muster right now. I’m not hyped, I’m not excited. I’m interested… cautiously so. HBO has work to do to rebuild trust between its creative team and the fanbase, and the number one objective has to be convincing lapsed fans to get back aboard the hype train. I don’t believe that the right way to go about that is simply to say “here’s more of the same,” because that’s what fans got burned by last time. House of the Dragon has to balance its place in the expanded franchise with offering something at least slightly different, and from this first teaser I saw nothing even superficially so.

I’d love to see House of the Dragon be successful. Heck, I’d like to see it surpass Game of Thrones and reinvigorate interest in Westeros and A Song of Ice and Fire after the disastrous ending to Game of Thrones tainted the brand. Maybe then George R R Martin might actually finish the novels! A fan can dream, eh?

House of the Dragon will stream on HBO Max in 2022. All properties mentioned above – including Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon – are the copyright of HBO and/or Warner Bros. Television. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.