Oh yeah, HOTD is back, and I don’t mean hot dudes, I mean it’s time to return to Westeros and the world of hot dragons with House of the Dragon season two. I could not get into season one because this is a show about nothing, but dammit, the teaser for season two includes the dreaded Vhagar, the best of the terrible dragon children in HOTD, and I am going to watch this mess just for the dragons (even though they keep eating each other, which makes me terribly sad). 

 

Game of Thrones has always been a fancy soap opera, and House of the Dragon is even more soapy—and camp—than GOT ever was, but HOTD continues to pretend it isn’t a high fantasy camp soap opera by doubling down on all the talk about war and blood and family. I would say, this family is so obsessed with itself, they should f-ck each other, but it’s the Targaryens, so they already are. Olivia Cooke returns as Dowager Queen Alicent Hightower, Emma D’Arcy is back as Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, and Eve Best remains the best as The Queen Who Never Was, Princess Rhaenys Targaryen. There’s also a glimpse of Matt Smith glowering as demented Prince Daemon, and Rhys Ifans as Ser Otto Hightower. All the bitches are back.

Alicent is promising that “war will be fought, many will die”, Rhaenys is warning that “there is no war so hateful to the gods as a war between kin, and no war so bloody as a war between dragons”. For real, this is the heart of HOTD that I SHOULD care about—Alicent and Rhaenyra, childhood friends torn apart by scheming men and patriarchal primogeniture, locked in a death spiral that is already maiming and killing their children. It’s a tragedy with an ending we already know, but still should be compelling given the strength of the performances by Cooke and D’Arcy.

 

I just never got the sense in season one that the team behind the show, led now by solo showrunner Ryan Condal, sees the same heart in the story I do. Season one blazed through Rhaenyra and Alicent growing up and becoming mothers and rivals so quickly, there was no time to get attached to anyone. When the dreaded Vhagar killed Luke Velaryon, I felt nothing except that Vhagar looks cool. The show knows how to deliver on the visuals—the way the size of Vhagar highlighted against Arrax during their final duel is GREAT—but I had no chance to invest in Luke as a person so I felt nothing when he died. That’s a pivotal moment! But if it weren’t for the dramatic music backing it, you wouldn’t know it by how the characters are, or are not, built up to it.

 

So, yeah, I’m here for that stunning overhead shot showing off how big the dreaded Vhagar is—bigger than any dragon alive at that point, bigger than Drogon ever got—but I am just not invested in the drama of HOTD like I should be. I appreciate the production design, the acting, the dragon action, but I don’t care when these people die. It’s not even a matter of unlikeable characters, there have always been unlikeable characters in GOT and it’s never affected my ability to invest in the overall story. I just don’t care about the Targaryens, or Alicent, or any of the kids, who all seem interchangeable because they constantly switched out ever-older actors as the characters (rapidly) aged through season one. I barely remember what these characters look like, they’re treated so inconsequentially within the narrative. It’s like an entire series made up of Rickon Starks. 

 

I’m still going to watch, though, because maybe HOTD will rediscover that GOT magic, and, well, the dragons. I’m always here for the dragons, even though they keep dying. I just don’t really expect much from HOTD. It’s still the biggest show on HBO—though The Last of Us got within shouting distance of HOTD’s ratings—but of course, it has yet to become the ratings juggernaut GOT was. I doubt it will, frankly, I don’t think anything will in the current television landscape, but I also don’t think HOTD has the same appeal as GOT. The end is already written, it doesn’t have the same mystery as GOT, and dragons can only compensate so much when the characters are underwritten. But hey, we’ll always have Matt Smith glowering at people and there will always be dragons. At least until they all die.