‘House of the Dragon’ Sure Is a ‘Game of Thrones’ Prequel, Down to the Bad Wigs

HBO has really figured out that people love succession crises.
Matt Smith as Daemon Targeryan in House of the Dragon
Image Source: HBO

Game of Thrones is back, baby! Everything you’ve missed about the show has made an appearance in the trailer for House of the Dragon, the prequel series coming to HBO: bad wigs, sexism, and actors you remember from Doctor Who.

Given how badly burned Game of Thrones fans feel about the final season of the show, it would be easy to dismiss House of the Dragon as an expensive mistake. Set in a time period well before Game of Thrones—and based on excruciatingly boring fake histories written by George R.R. Martin and, puzzlingly, originally packaged with author-approved fan fiction—this series will track the succession crisis of the Targaryens, a family of colonial occupiers committed to keeping power, promulgating doctrines of racial supremacy, and keeping its bloodlines pure and uncorrupted through incest. So much of the art direction and writing in the teaser trailer feels so similar to Thrones—the ominous but quotable narration intones that life is about the pursuit of legacy—that this feels a little more like a surprise ninth season than a new show in its own right. They even make sure to introduce some characters with familiar last names, like Stark and Baratheon, and the score transitions into the classic Game of Thrones theme song briefly.

A slightly closer look reveals a more basic truth about this show: HBO has really figured out that what people liked about Game of Thrones was the dragons and the fight for the Iron Throne. That’s why it commissioned more than one show about succession crises that premiered shortly after Thrones ended. One of them was Righteous Gemstones, about a family of evangelicals fighting for control of their megachurch. The other was literally called Succession, and it became HBO’s biggest show after the end of Thrones.

Given the broad variety of types of King Lear on offer at HBO, the way in which House of the Dragon hews so closely to the previous Thrones show feels like a misstep. Worst of all is a return to the extremely bad wigs from the first season of Thrones, which here will be unavoidable as the Targaryeans canonically have pale, silvery-gold hair. No matter how good of an actor Matt Smith is, he still looks like he’s wearing a bumpit.

Despite my misgivings, I know that I will watch at least one episode of this, because the baseline assumption is right—I do want to get invested in the various factions maneuvering for the throne. I just don’t feel like it’s truly possible to make lightning strike twice, in the same setting, with the same basic plot. You can watch multiple shows about the same kind of scheming and plotting on HBO right now that won’t also remind you of how Thrones was ultimately unable to deliver on its promises.