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Why House of the Dragon succeeds

Around a week or so before they began streaming House of The Dragon, Disney (which streams HBO shows in India) sent me a link to a high-security site where I could watch the first six episodes of the series.

I should have been thrilled.

 
 
Imagine getting to binge-watch one of the most awaited shows of the year before everybody else got to see a single episode on Disney-Hotstar? And then to be six weeks ahead of other viewers!

 

   As it turned out, I did not watch the episodes. Oh yes, I considered watching them. But it was all so complicated, because of their site’s security (you had to download an app, ask for an OTP etc.) that I decided it really wasn’t worth the trouble. Besides, I was slightly sceptical about the very basis of the show’s existence.

 

   I had been an early adopter when it came to the original Games of Throne. I watched it on DVD’s (some of them perhaps, bootlegged and made available before the official release of the season’s DVD package) and was sucked in by the sheer inventiveness of the story, the scale of the show and by the excellence of the acting. By the time, Game of Thrones turned up on streaming services in India, I was already hooked. It was annoying to wait for a new episode every week after binge-watching the early seasons. But the wait was worth it. (Yes, even for the last season which was a bit of a disappointment, to be honest).

 

   Game of Thrones ended with everything tied into a neat little package (comprising some wrong plot-enders, I thought) so that seemed to be that. But such was the impact of the show that the audience cried out for more.

 

   House of The Dragon is a consequence of that need. It is a prequel set 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones. So the familiar characters are absent. But the universe in which it is set is recognisably the same and the series has many family names (and wigs, bizarrely enough) in common with Game of Thrones.

 

   I thought, cynically, to myself that this was just another attempt to mine the Game of Thrones saga for greater profit and decided that I wasn’t going to see it. So the link to the first six episodes lay unopened in my mail.

 

   Then they streamed the first episode and my curiosity got the better of me. I watched it on Disney (the old Hotstar) and to my surprise, found it surprisingly enjoyable. It was a different story and they had eliminated some of the gratuitous sex and violence that characterised the early seasons of Game of Thrones. But the show was no worse for it. And though the Western reviews — which I later read — were grudging, I was hooked.

 

   So I went through the tiresome process of submitting myself to all the security protocols and binge-watched the six episodes. They were not all — it turned out — finished episodes. They were described as a “work in progress” and by the time you got to the fourth episode it was clear that progress was slow. Entire scenes were missing because the special effects were not ready; you did not always see the dragons, only drawings indicating what they would do. The colours were wrong, the picture was dark and the music seemed to be put in there as a place filler till the actual score was added. Episode six was so disjointed (and not yet fully edited) that I really had no idea what the hell was going on.

 

   But there was enough there — even in this unfinished form — to keep me enthralled. When Episode two hit Disney in its finished form, (vivid colour, great effects etc.) I watched it. And now I am watching all the episodes as they drop, often muttering to myself “Oh, so that was what was going on” about plot twists I had missed in my preview episodes.

 

House of the Dragon is populated by people we have never heard of and the tone is solemn.

   I am not a great fan of shows that try to cash in on popular stories by exploring other newly imagined facets or the childhoods of the minor characters. I am a dedicated DC fan but I found both Smallville (about the young Clark Kent) and Gotham (about the young Bruce Wayne) extremely tiresome. I have no interest in the early life of Alfred, Batman’s loyal butler or in the story of how Commissioner Gordon got ahead. Such is my disdain for this stuff that I haven’t even watched The Joker movie with Joaquin Phoenix though everyone tells me how good it is. I have no interest in Batwoman, Batgirl, Supergirl or Krypto the Superdog who now even has his own spot in a new movie.

 

   I guess the difference between the Game of Thrones franchise (and yes, it clearly is a franchise now) and Batman, Supermen etc. is that it isn’t about an individual. The Batman franchise is basically about Batman. Take him away and I have no interest in the minor characters. (I cheered when they killed off Jason Todd, one of the Robins, in the comics.)

 

   Game of Thrones, on the other hand, was determinedly anti-individual. I still remember how everyone sat up when Ned Stark who had been sort-of-the-hero of the show was suddenly killed off. Likewise with the Red Wedding where pretty much all of the good guys were polished off in a single evening. You could argue that the creators funked it with the resurrection of Jon Snow (after assuring us that they would never do it), but even so, the show was about a universe rather than about heroes or heroines.

 

   Marvel claims to have created an universe but it is inhabited by superhero characters we already know and like. And the tone is jokey and knowing. House of the Dragon is populated by people we have never heard of and the tone is solemn.

 

   If you can successfully recreate the Game of Thrones universe as House of the Dragon does (the story is still based on George RR Martin’s work though the original Game of Thrones show-runners are not involved in this series) then you can still tempt us to return to the reality that the characters inhabit without having a familiar character there for us to recognise and hold on to.

 

   And that I think is why House of the Dragon succeeds. Yes, we won’t see Jon Snow or Daenerys Targaryen in this one but after a while it doesn’t really matter because as we watch it, we realise that it was never the people we liked. It was the universe.

 

   House of the Dragon still has some weeks to go. And there are some episodes that I have not seen in any form (even unfinished). So I don’t know what direction the story will take. Or whether the later episodes will keep to the high standards of the first few.

 

   But I do know that I will be watching.

 


 

Posted On: 18 Sep 2022 12:12 AM
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