House of the Dragon is serious. It is an HBO drama, holding the coveted Sunday night 9pm eastern slot. The cast includes some of Britain’s best thespians who didn’t appear on Game of Thrones. The show also includes battles and dragons, dragons more intricately designed and meticulously detailed than the three dragons we saw on Game of Thrones. Because of the dragons and a lot of other things, House of the Dragon costs a serious amount of money.
So far, the first season of the series has boomeranged between serious fantasy family drama and absolute chaos. In the fifth episode, “We Light the Way,” which adds to the canon of Westeros Weddings Gone Wrong, it embraces the melodrama and the chaos and fully transforms into a very expensive soap opera.
House of the Dragon gleefully accepts its melodramatic core during a feast to kick off Princess Rhaenyra’s wedding to Laenor Velaryon. The scene starts off normally – normal for a wedding feast in Westeros, at least. The royal family, minus the missing queen, sit at a table while lords of Westeros who wish they were the ones marrying Rhaenyra suck up to her and congratulate her.
In the midst of this, Daemon Targaryen, who is not exactly on good terms with anyone in the room as a result of his kinky night on the town with his niece in episode four, arrives at the feast late and uninvited. King Viserys’ speech is interrupted by the late arrival of his wife, Queen Alicent Hightower. Daemon is accused of murdering his wife. Rhaenyra and Daemon have a tense conversation on the dance floor but also maybe make out. Rhaenyra’s paramour Criston Cole gets into a fight with her future husband’s paramour, killing him. And all along, King Viserys is secretly suffering from his ongoing health problems and just trying to eat in peace.
Rather than one shocking wedding event like the massacre of the Starks at the Red Wedding or the poisoning of King Joffrey at the Purple Wedding, this wedding is drama after drama with no breathing room for the characters or the audience. The episode combines the awkward family drama and love triangles reminiscent of a teen soap like Gossip Girl (the original) with the uncomfortable, nonstop anxious energy of Uncut Gems. Or, really, any Safdie Brothers film.
Comparing House of the Dragon to a campy soap might sound like an insult, but this is the best possible outcome for the Game of Thrones spin-off. Rather than making things complicated, the series is absorbing itself in melodramatic chaos and as a result, makes Westeros fun. Essentially, House of the Dragon is a Game of Thrones show for people who want to understand what they’re watching but don’t have the energy to inadvertently peruse the A Song of Ice and Fire Wikipedia until 2 am trying to figure out who everyone is, where everyone is, and who is related to whom.
The series could have gone the self-serious route – it has already and it likely will again – but having the audacity so early in the series to have some fun and be a little dumb already makes it more subversive than its subversion-obsessed predecessor.