Three years after the final couple of seasons of “Game of Thrones,” which culminated in a finale that left all its hard core fans, including me, extremely disappointed, I’m back with the Outkick weekly reviews of a new “Game of Thrones” show, this one a prequel focused on the Targaryen clan 172 years before the murder of the mad king and the birth of Daenerys set us on course for the “Game of Thrones” eight season arc.
Before we dive into the first episode, let me just say this, I thought episode one was fantastic, a veritable master class in setting up all sorts of themes and plot lines in a new battle for the Iron Throne. But as I’ll discuss below, I’m also a bit nervous about “Game of Thrones” going too woke and leaving behind the violence, sex, and political gamesmanship that spared no one — except for Jon Snow, whose miraculous revival never really paid off narratively in any kind of coherent fashion — and that made the first several seasons of Thrones among the best in television history. (Thrones peaked, in my opinion, with the Red Wedding, which I still believe might be the single most shocking episode of television ever made. Yes, even more shocking than the finale of season one.)
With that in mind, a couple of minor housekeeping details for these columns, my plan will be to do live video reaction shows to every season one episode immediately after they end on the east coast, those will typically air around ten eastern and you’ll be able to find those shows live on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, I believe. I’ll also do my best to write up and publish the reviews on Sunday night, but this new season isn’t doing me any favors by launching in the middle of football season. I don’t know why any new show, especially one that appeals to many men and women who are massive football fans, would choose to launch in head-to-head competition with the most popular show on television — NFL Sunday Night Football.
But presumably these masters of the TV schedule are far smarter than I am so if I’m late on the shows or the columns, it’s probably because of a conflict with football or travel related to football this fall. (I’ll be on the road for Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff show again this fall, beginning with Alabama-Texas from Austin on September 10th.) One thing I am excited about, at least in the short term, is for the return of episodic television, something that we all watch and marinate on together, as opposed to a streaming show when everyone watches it in their own timeframes, making it virtually impossible to be something that we share together.
Episodic television feels like its own nostalgia and, frankly, 2019, when the last Thrones episode aired, feels like a generation ago given all that’s occurred since that finale aired.
Okay, here we go:
1. I loved the prologue to the prequel which focused on Viserys Targaryen receiving the kingship over his cousin, Rhaenys, who was the granddaughter of the aging king, and therefore had the better claim on the throne from a pure ancestral perspective.
The old king ominously conveys a lesson, the only thing that could tear down the House of the Dragon is the House of the Dragon itself.
Only men have — pay attention — ever sat on the Iron Throne and a man is selected over a woman who has a better claim, leading to Rhaenys being called, “The Queen Who Never Was.”
Episode one doesn’t do foreshadowing, it clubs you over the head, drags you by the hair, and puts you right in front of the message.
Nothing is subtle in episode one.
2. From here we flash nine years into the future and get our first surprise, there’s no map in the grand opening.
As episode one progresses this makes sense because everything in episode one is set within King’s Landing, essentially, rendering the necessity of a map null and void. Perhaps that may change as the season progresses in the event we have events occurring beyond King’s Landing.
While we don’t get a map, we do get a great scene early on from the dragon’s point of view as we see King’s Landing, essentially as it was in Game of Thrones for much of the GOT season, prior to Daenerys’s destruction of the kingdom.
The music, which is a version of the original score, makes it clear this is not the same show, but it is awfully familiar, kissing Targaryen’s, as it were.
We soon meet young Princess Rhaenyra whose white blonde locks and affinity for riding dragons immediately reminds us all of Daenerys.
3. Queen Aemma, do we really need the silent A? — is pregnant and King Viserys believes it’s a boy, the male heir he has been craving his entire life.
Among the first lines we hear from Queen Aemma are, PAY ATTENTION EVERYONE, “The childbed is our battlefield.”
Jumping ahead and presuming good news — how has anyone ever presumed good news in the history of any George R.R. Martin novel? — King Viserys schedules a tournament to coincide with the planned delivery of his child, which he is certain will be a boy.
4. Daemon Targaryen — this time we’ve got a silent E — the brother of Viserys arrives in King’s Landing.
We find Daemon trying out a seat on the Iron Throne — ANOTHER VERY SUBTLE CLUE ABOUT HIS TRUE INTENTIONS — where his niece Rhaenyra discovers him. He presents her with a Valeryian steel necklace in a scene that might seem normal in most shows, but reeks of incest on Thrones.
Surely, I wasn’t the only person who expected them to make out after he gave her the necklace, right?
At this exact moment, one of our cats starts choking — King Joffrey style — throws up and I have to pause the show. Yes, we have cats now, two Bengals, and each one of them cost me a thousand dollars and have essentially destroyed our house since we got them.
In the Travis family’s very own Game of Thrones coup d’ecat, my three sons and my wife conspired against my hatred of cats to add them to our household and now they really are the bane of my existence.
Anyway, THE KING HAS A BACK SORE THAT NO ONE KNOWS HOW TO FIX, and this seems like a major plot point THAT WE ALL SHOULD PAY ATTENTION TO.
The one negative thing I will say about episode one was every important plot point seemed like it happened IN ALL CAPS. Thrones, which was often known for its subtlety is going all out here to make sure even the dumbest among us can keep up with the plot points. We’ve got a queen who never was who has a healthy male heir, the scheming and devious uncle chilling on the throne for his introduction, the king without a male heir with a major health issue,
As the king discusses his desire for a male heir, the queen, chilling in a bath that isn’t that hot, says something along the lines of, “Nothing will make the child grow a cock if it doesn’t already have one.”
And I immediately thought, THIS TRANSPHOBIA WILL NOT STAND!
Are we really presuming the gender of a baby? How do we know what gender a baby is at birth? Can’t the baby just decide its own gender later in life? Why do boys and girls matter in a kingdom anyway?
(This might sound ridiculous, and I’m having fun with this line, but I bet if I googled it there is already an entire series of articles written on the unrelenting transphobia of GOT.)
This will be the fifth pregnancy of the queen in ten years and so far only one child has survived. As a result, she says, this will be her last attempt at childbirth. (Although we aren’t told how she could make that true of her own volition.)
5. As if Daemon’s clear interest in the Iron Throne isn’t readily apparent enough, he’s also in charge of the city watch and returns to end the rampant lawlessness of King’s Landing.
What follows is graphic Thrones decapitation gore: arms, legs, dicks, if you have a body part they probably amputated it in this scene, which focuses on one of the constant themes of the show, many who have raw power, use it, often to excess.
And those who use the power they have to the greatest excesses often are the least worthy of power in the first place. So, yes, Daemon is clearly Dr. Fauci.
6. The hand of the king, Otto Hightower, whose name sounds like he also played linebacker at Alabama in the 1970’s, is not particularly fond of Prince Daemon.
The biggest surprise of their feud is that the eldest son of Hightower, who competes against Daemon in the tournament, survives their jousting session even after Daemon intentionally clips his horse’s leg and causes him to fall.
The bloody and brutal spectacle of the tournament is vintage Thrones once more, as the young gentry fight to the death after a jousting session gone awry.
It has been such a long period of peace that the young haven’t had a war to fight, so the tournament becomes its own mini-war. I didn’t come up with this myself, one of the main characters tells us this.
7. The tournament fighting is now juxtaposed with Queen Aemma’s attempted delivery of the baby.
Only the baby is breeched, the delivery can’t occur and Valerys is faced with a difficult question, either let the baby and the queen potentially die or perform a Caesarean section on the queen, killing her, but saving the baby.
(I actually looked up the history of Caesarean section’s because it seemed to me likely that there might have been a chance to save the mother’s life, even back in ancient times. But since we don’t know exactly what technological year Thrones might represent, that’s a bit challenging to argue. Having said that, the reported first woman and baby to survive a C-section was Beatrice of Bourbon who gave birth to Wencelaus I in 1337. Even by 1865, however, the mother’s mortality rate was 85% in Great Britain and Ireland. So Queen Aemma dying, at least based on my limited research on historic C-section pregnancies, seems quite probable.)
Queen Aemma dies, but a son is born, at least if you can trust the King’s Landing medical staff not to misgender.
Yay for the patriarchy!
8. But the son quickly dies — boo for the patriarchy! — and we go from birth to death for both the queen and the prince in short order, finding out for sure in a devastating shot showing the young baby’s funeral pyre alongside his mother’s.
The queen and the prince are set to be burned by the dragon, but King Viserys can’t bring himself to speak and order the immolation.
So Princess Rhaenyra, who is being consoled by her uncle Daemon, steps forward to say dracarys.
And the bodies of the queen and the baby are burned on the spot.
9. With the queen and the son dead and incinerated, the King’s Council must debate the heir to the throne.
Some want Princess Rhaenyra to replace the currently named heir, Daemon, while others, namely Corlys Velaryon, who is married to Rhaenys Targaryen, and if you’re the kind of person who sees color you might notice he’s black.
Regardless, Daemon eavesdrops on their debate — does no one ever check the closets in these palaces? — and the king eventually storms out of the meeting, outraged over the presumptive nature of the discussion occurring in such close proximity to the death of his wife and son.
One slight bit of discussion here, why does everyone just assume the king won’t have any more heirs? In almost any historical kingdom, the king would immediately move on to a new wife and start siring anew. A king was basically just a horse studder, find him a mare and let’s have another go around. Don’t believe me? Ask Anne Boleyn.
This is finally made VERY CLEAR SO PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT’S GOING ON HERE when the King’s Hand, Otto Hightower, sends his own daughter to the king’s chambers to make him feel better.
And by “make him feel better,” he means, do whatever you have to do to get him to screw you.
This could make Princess Rhaenyra’s biggest rival for the throne, the offspring of her own best friend, Lady Alicent Hightower.
Stay tuned for the inevitable, “I can’t believe you boned my dad and now want your kid, my half brother, to be my king,” aka the Real Housewives of King’s Landing.
10. Prince Daemon celebrates the death of his baby nephew by throwing an orgy.
As one does.
Amidst this orgy Daemon toasts to the heir for the day, his nephew, enraging King Viserys, when he’s told of the incident.
When Viserys summons Daemon and confronts him with the allegation, Daemon responds by saying, “We all mourn in our own way.”
Which is a line my wife is saving for when I die and she immediately marries a “Thunder From Down Under” dancer.
Daemon then says Viserys is weak, even worse than that, the council knows it. He makes a play for the hand of the king job, but is rebuffed. In the process he does manage to use the word cunt, which I appreciate because it feels like Larry David and George R.R. Martin are in secret cahoots to make sure this word doesn’t get banned.
Banished from the kingdom, Daemon hops on his dragon, which somehow manages to look way meaner than Rhaenyra’s dragon, but not before saying goodbye to his favorite orgy chum, Sonoya, who we have previously been introduced to as she has doggy style sex with Viserys. When Viserys finishes with the doggy style, he’s unhappy and Sonoya rushes to his side, hair artfully covering her boobs, yes, I freeze framed to make sure there was no nipple there, to inquire what’s wrong with her sweet prince.
This relationship feels quite promising to me because Daemon definitely feels like the kind of guy who cares deeply about the emotions of his mistresses.
And what great TV relationship hasn’t been introduced via doggy style. (I should probably also mention that Daemon doesn’t like his wife, but, come on, did anyone think he would?)
11. Furious at his brother, King Viserys names Princess Rhaenyra as his heir and the heads of the seven kingdoms all kneel to acknowledge her claim to the throne.
It’s #girlboss time! (100% chance Kamala Harris would have Tweeted this if they let her have a phone. Or access to her Twitter account.)
Before this public pronouncement, however, Viserys informs Rhaenyra that “The iron throne is the most dangerous seat in the world,” and tells her of the song of ice and fire, the battle with the white walkers that has been foretold to King Aegon, and will eventually spell the end of Game of Thrones, aka when every writer’s brain turned to mush and they just gave up and blew things up.
It’s a fantastic ending to the prequel which flashes us forward 172 years to the story we’ve just seen completed, when another blonde Targaryen would be ruler of the kingdom, burns down King’s Landing in her quest for power and glory.
It also feels a bit like George R.R. Martin flexing on the GOT showrunners, you want layer, precision, depth and character, I’ll show you, losers!
But that’s all in the future, literally.
As for this show, I’m cautiously optimistic, but also a bit apprehensive. The first episode did a great job of setting the GOT tone while enabling us to embrace something new. It felt like the earlier seasons of the show, but without entirely forgiving narrative for nostalgia.
But there are some story landmines here, namely I’m afraid this pursuit of the Iron Throne could become an identity politics riddled subtextual commentary on our own modern day era.
You have the girl who would be queen — Hillary, the mixed race male potential heir — Obama, the golden haired would be king with a mean streak — Trump, and the doddering weak old man with an illness — Biden, all making their own claims on the iron throne.
King’s Landing is just Washington, D.C. with less crime and violence.
Will this turn into the battle for the woke throne? Or will House of Dragons be a far more entertaining and far less politically correct version than our modern day cavalcade of identity politics and perpetual offense? The dick joke about the baby in episode one gives me hope, but our current woke culture which destroys almost everything it touches gives me fear. Can House of Dragons choose story over identity? Or will, like our modern political era, identity politics ultimately triumph over everything, even sex, violence and dragons?
See you next week as we begin to find out.