‘House of the Dragon’ Divides Critics: A ‘Worthy Heir’ to ‘Game of Thrones’ or an ‘Unpleasant’ Prequel That ‘Doesn’t Translate’

Critics’ takes range from the overtly negative to ambivalence and congratulatory praise

House of the Dragon Iron Throne Tower of London
HBO's "House of the Dragon" features an even more imposing Iron Throne. (Ollie Upton/HBO)

“House of the Dragon” has the gargantuan — and unenviable — task of living up to the original series it’s based off of: the wildly popular, Emmy-winning phenomenon “Game of Thrones.”

Reviews of the series, the embargo for which broke Friday, offer both overtly mixed and highly congratulatory takes. Some prominent outlets praise the show’s scope, modernized dynamics and skilled performers while others critique its world-building efforts.

Read on for excerpts from some of the published reviews thus far:

The New York Times had a mixed take, writing that “the signs” of the original series are there while the “spirit is weak.” Ultimately, the spinoff “doesn’t translate into engaging drama, however. There’s a lot of sitting around tables and talking about the troubles of the kingdom, which would be fine in moderation. But the characters are flat, stamped out on Martin’s production line of medieval fantasy types. And when the show ventures into the field for battle or romance, the filmmaking feels rote as well, but without the overlay of zippy special effects that ‘Game of Thrones’ offered.”

Entertainment Weekly’s review offered a grade of B, praising the show’s ambitions, calling its battle scenes “epic” and “gorgeous.” The review continues, “That scope is impressive, even when the details are shaky … ‘Dragon’ doesn’t soar immediately, but no ‘House’ was built in a day.”

The Los Angeles Times dubbed the series a “worthy heir” to the popular original, adding that it has the deft to show a “depth of understanding of its female characters that ‘GoT’ took years to find.” Calling the fantasy epic immediately “engrossing,” the review reads: “… with the arrival of the first episode, ‘The Heirs of the Dragon,’ the hope that a new series might recapture some of the power and grandeur of its predecessor no longer seems so fanciful.”

The Guardian, with a four-star rating of the show, stated that “Dragon” is a “roaring success” and that the series “looks set fair to become the game of political seven-dimensional chess that its predecessor was, designed to reward diehard fantasy fans in full measure without alienating the masses that will propel it to the top of the ratings.”

Vanity Fair’s review offered that the prequel is not “Game of Thrones” but that “it’ll do.” The magazine called the show “bloody” and “brutal,” but “not quite brilliant,” comparing some of its plot elements to those explored in other heavy dramas like “The Crown” and “Dragon’s” very own network companion “Succession.” The review continues, “What results is a show that is entertaining in a familiar, nostalgic way, but also one that strains too hard for a sense of weight and grandeur … It’s just hard to shake the air of cosplay that haunts this series. It wants to be compared to the original show—that synergistic connection is invited at every turn—but it pales and shrinks in the shadow of its superior.”

By contrast, the Wall Street Journal said the show establishes a “very convincing world,” adding that “the unnervingly violent, unwaveringly self-important ‘Dragon’ is a success dramatically, as captivating as any season of ‘Game of Thrones.’”

In its comparisons, The Verge wrote that the series revisits already familiar material to the detriment of its viewers: “… in its attempt to enrich the world of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ by echoing the narrative melodies that shaped ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘House of the Dragon’ falls into the trap of retreading ground that’s beyond familiar and mistakenly assuming that its connections to a larger franchise are enough to make it interesting.” The review added that its characters seem “two-dimensional and narrow-sighted,” also stating that while the show tries to right its predecessor’s wrongs in terms of diversity, it “doesn’t quite seem to know how to talk about race” nor sex and violence.

IGN also echoed those sentiments, writing that the series is emblematic “of a pervasive timidity in Hollywood to take even the most minor of risks” in its similarity to the original. However, the outlet noted that “its premiere boasts everything that ‘Thrones’ did well: an overqualified cast of character actors; backstabbing; sexposition; and lots of dragons.” IGN’s verdict is as follows: “‘House Of The Dragon’s’ premiere marks a strong, well-cast start to the ‘Game Of Thrones’ spin-off. This feels very close to its predecessor in tone and content, but immediately establishes a struggle for power around an amiable, weak-willed king, and vivid new characters to fight those battles. We also have dragons, inbreeding, and resentment. It’s good to be back in backstabbing Westeros.”

CNN called the series “less addictive” than its peak TV original that captured the zeitgeist: “It’s not bad, and there are dragons aplenty, but it doesn’t produce the sort of characters that defined and elevated its predecessor to prestige-TV royalty.”

TheWrap’s own review was decidedly negative, stating that the prequel “fails to catch fire” and is a rather “pale imitation than compelling expansion.” In its scathing takedown, the review reads, “While it would seem that there’s plenty of meat on these old dragon bones, the plot never takes wing. Rhaenyra is no Daenerys. The wit that was always there to leaven even the most mordant moments? Gone. The sex? Dry. Mostly, it’s unpleasant people doing unpleasant things to each other with less tension, less at stake and no breakout dragon adventures. In the end, with all the throne room soap opera, and elongated broody moments that resemble the video buffering, the prequel is more “Dark Shadows” with dragons, than a house ablaze.”

Set two centuries prior to the events of “Game of Thrones,” the series — based on George R.R. Martin’s “Fire & Blood” — tells the story of House Targaryen. Matt Smith, Paddy Considine, Olivia Cooke, Emma D’Arcy, Steve Toussaint, Eve Best, Fabien Frankel, Sonoya Mizuno and Rhys Ifans star in the 10-episode drama, which is set to debut Aug. 21.