This article contains spoilers for “House of the Dragon” season 4 and discusses adult themes like incest, sexual assault, and abuse.
Westeros is a brutal place, and the stories from it are often filled with content many might find unsavory. Both “Game of Thrones” and “House of the Dragon” are based on books by George R. R. Martin, and both contain their fair share of raw sexuality, graphic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and other mature themes. For some, the sheer onslaught of salacious scenes might be too much, but “House of the Dragon” is thankfully avoiding some of the big mistakes of “Game of Thrones,” and that includes being overly exploitative.
“House of the Dragon” is just as willing to get dark and horny and full of incest as its predecessor, but it does it with a campy wink and a nod and a little more respect for itself, its characters, and its viewers. Instead of using shocking moments as a way to get people buzzing and then relying on upping the ante every time, “House of the Dragon” embraces the soap opera-silliness of it all, which in turn makes the serious and slightly objectionable stuff much more palatable.
Jaime And Cersei Could Never
Jaime and Cersei Lannister might have been the couple that launched a thousand “stuck in the washing machine” videos, but their tawdry tale of twincest was marred by Jaime’s uncharacteristic assault on Cersei in the Sept of Baelor. Their relationship was icky for reasons beyond the fact that they were siblings, because Jaime worshiped his sister while she manipulated him, and their coupling was only ever played for shock value. Compare that to Daemon (Matt Smith) and Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), who appear to have their own power imbalance but turn out to be an even match. While I do not condone or endorse incest, seeing their scene play out as an exploration of her awakening desires instead of trying to make a moment go viral for pure shock’s sake was a delight.
There’s humor peppered throughout “House of the Dragon,” too, helping to balance the series’ tone and keep things from getting too grim. For example, the prospect of Rhaenyra being sold off to whichever royal man has the biggest castle is pretty depressing because she’s a human being treated like livestock, but her sequence of meeting suitors is surprisingly comical. The first person to attempt to woo her is an old man, and the next is a young boy. She rolls her eyes and is not impressed, because she’s a teenage girl and the whole thing is a waste of her time. By the time her youngest potential suitor gets into a sword fight with another young man, she has had enough and sails back to King’s Landing instead of meeting any more of the men her father has arranged for her to screen. Why should she, when she has the smoking hot Ser Cole waiting for her, and an equally attractive uncle who wants to embrace Targaryen traditions?
Less Like Lord Of The Rings, More Like Succession
While “House of the Dragon” has some big ideas on its mind and is more willing to explore them than “Game of Thrones” ever was, it also seems to respect that in some ways it’s a fantasy soap opera. It’s “Dynasty” with dragons, following one seriously screwed-up family as they bicker and backstab one another. “House of the Dragon” is concerned with political positioning, meetings of the small council, and the gossip of the Red Keep, making it more like “Succession” than “Lord of the Rings.” It’s a story about humans in all of their gritty and gory glory, and the series is as comfortable depicting a sensuous, slightly spooky orgy in an opium den as it is making a mummer’s farce of the royal family through fart jokes. “House of the Dragons” is a show for adults, but that doesn’t mean it always has to be mature.
There’s a lot of entertainment to be found in slightly campy, trashy fare. Some of the most compelling characters to follow in “Game of Thrones” were the ones keeping secrets and gossiping with intent, like Littlefinger or Lord Varys, and “House of the Dragon” leans into the idea that information is power. Gossip is a currency, appearances are everything, and “House of the Dragon” is an absolute blast when it embraces its trashier side.
New episodes of “House of the Dragon” premiere Sundays on HBO and HBO Max.
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