This article contains spoilers for all released episodes of House of the Dragon.
I was talking to a friend about House of the Dragon earlier this week, and he asked why the show started at the point in Westeros’ history that it did. Given that the series has already jumped forward in time on multiple occasions just five episodes in and that most of the season’s major developments have been resolved fairly quickly, I think that’s a fair question.
It’s an especially conspicuous issue given that House of the Dragon will swap out two of its leads in the next episode. Milly Alcock and Emily Carey, who have played Rhaenyra and Alicent for the first half of the season, will be replaced by Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke in episode six. The older actors will, presumably, continue to play the characters for the rest of House of the Dragon’s run. So, why did the show start when the characters were too young to be played by the actors who would be playing them for the rest of the series? Why introduce audiences to actors only to replace them when viewers are most attached to them?
I don’t feel like we can pass judgment on the swap until we’ve seen D’Arcy and Cooke in the roles for a while. But, I do think that there’s a good reason that the show started when it did. It has become increasingly clear that the series’ first five episodes have been a prologue for the ground the rest of HotD will cover.
The series’ pilot set up the conflict that has been simmering throughout the first half of the season. King Viserys’ wife, Aemma, died in childbirth, and the infant son ripped from her womb in a forced C-section only lived a few hours longer. That left Viserys without a male heir, so he broke with tradition, passing over his rebellious brother, Daemon, in favor of his daughter, Rhaenyra. Choosing a female heir was controversial, and Viserys only seemed to do so because it was unlikely that he would ever have another child. But, with pressure to remarry, Viserys wed Alicent and soon produced a male heir.
This series of events is the engine that will power House of the Dragon’s central conflict as it continues. Game of Thrones had a few central questions — Will Westeros survive the arrival of the White Walkers? Who will sit on the Iron Throne when it’s all over? — but House of the Dragon’s succession crisis is the primary question which has loomed over the series’ so far, and likely will for much of its run.
Until now, these problems have simmered, but those tensions came to a boil in episode five. Most importantly, Viserys’ constant bleeding and collapse at Rhaenyra’s wedding highlights the imminence of his death. If the series follows the book *spoiler alert* Viserys isn’t yet dead. But his eventual death is the Sword of Damocles hanging over the season. The king staying alive is the only thing preventing war from breaking out.
That’s true because of the choice made about who his heir would be in the series’ premiere. If we didn’t start at that moment, everything we saw going forward would matter much less.
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