House of the Dragon review: meticulous plot, stunning production values and grotesque twists at every turn

Television: Game of Thrones was never cuddly but this show brings a whole new level of darkness

Tom Glynn-Carney as Aegon II Targaryen in House of the Dragon. Photograph: HBO

A lot has happened since season one of Game of Thrones-spin-off House of the Dragon aired in the summer of 2022. Taylor Swift released two albums, we’ve had several changes of taoiseach and Ireland got knocked out of the Rugby World Cup once again (consistency in a universe gone mad). To put it another way, with life coming at us full speed and after a 24-month interlude, do we have the mental space to recall the granular details of this knotty George RR Martin spin-off, with its hostile Hightowers, threatening Targaryens and avalanche of angry teenagers in blond wigs?

The answer is no, of course we don’t. However, House of the Dragon (Sky Atlantic and Now, Monday 9pm) has decided not to take this into account as it stages its grand return and plunges straight back into the action. You may dimly recall series one concluding with a significant escalation in the simmering fallout between the rival factions within the ruling House Targaryen as Prince Aemond (blond, eye-patch, huge dragon) accidentally killed rival princeling Lucerys (brown hair, tiny dragon). The beacons are lit. War between the “Green” and “Black” factions of the royal family is now inevitable.

Game of Thrones was hardly a cuddly watch. But House of the Dragon hits like a pint of Special Brew compared to its predecessor’s fizzy shandy of gratuitous nudity, stab-happy weddings and performative sadism. It is deeper, denser and darker – a sort of anti-TikTok that demands the viewers’ unwavering concentration.

The reward, if you put the work in, is grippingly immersive television. As the action resumes, the capital of King’s Landing is in chaos, with Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) struggling to prevent her impudent son, new king Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney), from sabotaging the realm in a fit of brattish pique.


There are shades of Prince Joffrey from the original Game of Thrones in wayward Aegon and the conscientious Alicent and her father, the scheming Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), understand immediately that he poses as much a threat to the security of the Seven Kingdoms as do the “Black” splitters over at Dragonstone.

The rebels are led by Queen Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) and Prince Daemon Targaryen, her husband, and also her uncle (welcome to Westeros). Wracked with grief over her son Lucerys, Rhaenyra is in no state to lead her forces. As the fog of war descends, it is Daemon (a rakish Matt Smith) who feels he should be calling the shots. Alas, he’s a blunt-force brute who fancies himself a schemer, and his intervention has disastrous consequences.

Daemon has hired an assassin to infiltrate the Targaryen living quarters at King’s Landing (with a little help from a rat-catcher). The target is Aemond. Awkwardly, the one-eyed prince is busy in a brothel, so the assassin instead murders Aegon II’s baby in his crib – thus fulfilling Daemon’s instructions that he avenge Lucerys by claiming “a son for a son”. It’s a horrific escalation of hostilities – now there truly is no going back.

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A common complaint about House of the Dragon is that it has a far narrower focus than Game of Thrones. That earlier show pinged around Westeros, bringing us Daenerys leading the Dothraki one moment, a cold and miserable Jon Snow the next. But if House of the Dragon lacks the sprawling sweep of Thrones, it compensates with a meticulously complicated plot and stunning production values. It’s not for everyone, but those in the mood for a 100 per cent proof infusion of thinky, talky fantasy will adore this latest season and its many grotesque twists and turns.