Less wildfire and more sputtering candle, HBO has returned to the painfully lavish world of Westeros. Over the last year we’ve witnessed one of the weirder, most defensive, lead-ups to a new series in recent memory, and for good reason.
Not since Battlestar Galactica or Lost has a series finale soured so many on what was once can’t-miss prestige TV. And I’ll be honest: after eight seasons of individual episode reviews, I’d had most of the original series committed to memory, both for good (Season 1 Tyrion! Clapping eyes on Pedro Pascal for the first time!) and ill (Daenerys roasting innocents in King’s Landing, everything about Euron Greyjoy.) And yet I don’t know many people who’ve really been looking forward to the new Game of Thrones prequel series. The months of press leading up to the premiere seemed to confirm this reticence, as producers scrambled to assure potential viewers that there won’t be gratuitous sex and rape, that this was more “feminist” because Targaryen women did shitty things and also died in childbirth a lot, while also reminding us sexual assault and extreme violence is also “just how things are” in George R.R. Martin’s quasi-medieval world. This didn’t feel like the usual press junket pleasantries ahead of a major new television show.
And, at least so far, House of the Dragon doesn’t feel like a major show. Much like the Westworld fandom, the audience for HBO’s genre offerings may have moved on.