Welcome, HBO subscribers and those whose hotel carries it for the night, to a fantasy world that takes place long before Game of Thrones became such a godforsaken mess. It’s the first episode of the prequel spin-off House of the Dragon!
The show opens on some labored voiceover catching us up to what Daenerys Targaryen’s now-famous family of Whitehairs was doing back then. In summary, they were absolutely flush with dragons, and like our beloved Khaleesi, they all had stupid names that are going to be impossible to keep track of. It’s a whole show about the sort of parents dumb enough to name their kid Daenarys.
It seems the King of the Whitehairs has lost his sons, and now a new successor must be appointed. The contenders: Paddy Considine, or Nurse Jackie’s Eve Best. Best has the advantage of being the king’s firstborn, but, you know, she’s also a woman, and these are old fashioney times—so all hail Paddy Considine, our new presumptive King of the Whitehairs!
Some time later (172 years prior to HBO’s Games of Thrones, it seems), Paddy is king and we’re meeting his teenage daughter. She loves riding her dragon and wants to be a warrior, but her mother, the queen, is like, “Vocationally, we were actually sort of thinking ‘baby factory’ more for you?”
King Paddy is getting filled in by his generals on some issues—one of those being the growing Triarchy, an alliance of three cities led by someone called “Crabfeeder,” a guy who surely stole his name from a Baltimore hardcore band.
Princess Whitehair passes through her father’s meeting and heads into the throne room, where her uncle, Doctor Who, sits smugly upon the Iron Throne of his brother. If there’s any doubt that this on-the-nose visual metaphor is hinting at a Hamlet scenario, the pair’s conversation makes clear that Matt Smith definitely wants that throne even more than he wants eyebrows.
And he’s close to it! He’s the heir presumptive! But there’s one thing that could muck it all up for him: if the pregnant queen gives birth to a male heir.
So—and here it seems we’ll have to at least learn Princess Whitehair’s name—Rhaenyra goes for a little study session with her “companion” or whatever. We’ll leave that in quotes until the time-jump to adulthood reveals whether these two ever get their already vaguely-implicit lesbian scenario. It’s here we also get our first delightful cameo of the spin-off: that tree with a face! We love that guy!
But look out, because, hoo boy, here comes some more heavy foreshadowing of the war for the crown to come: King Paddy has a festering bedsore. Er… thronesore? Either way, this guy is clearly looking to join Sean Bean in not getting a second season credit.
Oh, and here’s some more hints for the very-near, very-plotty future: in a pool of quite lukewarm water and dialogue, Queen Whitehair reveals that she has a track record of miscarriages and unwell births. Surely this one will be fine, though! Let’s not worry!
Meanwhile, as Police Chief of the City Watch, Doctor Who is busy setting up the Thin Gold Line in his quick descent into brutality. He tells his coppers to go nuts, and they start lopping off arms and scrotums and heads like there’s no tomorrow. It’s all terribly graphic. Yet nothing is so disturbing as how much this motherfucker looks like Ghostbusters 2’s Vigo the Carpathian as Vigo the Kirkland-brand:
The Whitehair counsel has a meeting about Vigo going a bit mad here, and this gives us the best scene of the entire episode. King Paddy is like, “Alright, yeah, sure, make the city safe, but please don’t murder and maim half the population to do it.” And Vigo is just, “Welllll. We’ll see what happens, right? Who can predict the future, y’know?”
Soon after, Vigo is at the brothel having a hard time keeping hard and giving up on cumming, so now it’s time to not cum but go—to the tournament!
King Paddy opens the tourney with a major announcement: his queen is in labor! And there’s not really a lot he can do really, so may as well enjoy the big game, right? It’s fine that he’s not by her side. On with the show!
So that starts, and it’s fine, but to be honest, it’s no A Knight’s Tale. What is, though? We mostly just get some gossip on the participants and the implication that Nurse Jackie’s Eve Best is still sort of eyeballing that Iron Throne.
Finally… Vigo shows up.
His horse’s black fur is like the third time we’ve seen non-platinum hair in the last half-hour, and he’s dressed like a dark Dragoon from Final Fantasy. So, like, is anyone else getting evil vibes from this guy???
Vigo decides to joust the son of Rhys Ifans—the Hand of the King, who earlier called Vigo out on his violent bullshit. It’s some very juicy drama.
Vigo of course wins through some vile methods. Jousting the horse itself? I don’t know the official rules of jousting, so whatever you Whitehairs want to do, but it seems a bit off-base. It seems like doing bumper cars and just shoving the driver themselves with your hands instead of bumping their car, but that’s just me.
The juiciest bit of tabloid gossip for the tournament is still to come, though.
As whispered among the hottest, most powerful influencers of King’s Landing, we’ve heard that the queen’s delivery is not going well at all. And word is, King Paddy must sadly leave his Super Bowl party and check it out.
This takes us to some cross-cutting where everything gets really bloody and out of hand without a whole lot of consent going on.
Firstly, the jousters start invoking this crazy rule where, apparently, they can just sort of continue the fight after they lose at jousting? They’re basically, “Sure, well done, but now I would like to try to murder you for that.”
This primitive desire to cause harm in a dueling sport is why it would take us another millenia to develop Nerf Fencing.
Secondly, King Paddy has been informed that Queen Whitehair’s latest pregnancy has, predictably, gone wonky. He’s told he has two options: let both mother and child almost certainly both die in the birth, or do this wild C-section idea to maybe save the baby.
Framed as such, this is not really a choice at all—even for the doomed mother. So it’s weird when Paddy doesn’t even offer the choice up and just sort of springs cutting her belly open on her as it happens.
It’s like, at this point, we all understand that this is a bygone, foreign time of law enforcement brutality and women not having body autonomy (GET IT?), but at least give her a “3-2-1-go!” or something. Jeez.
Queen Whitehair indeed dies, and she’s sent to the funeral pyre. There, we learn the whole thing was ultimately all for naught: while King Paddy indeed had a son, the boy too died within a few hours. As a poet might say, he busted up the broken airfryer only to find the mozzarella sticks weren’t long to last before being too soggy to save anyway.
As an equally-horrible thought, the council members decide that post-funeral is a great time to have another meet-up—where it is all-too-thoroughly re-established that this is, indeed, a Game of Thrones. It’s all about getting on that throne, folks! The premise is about throneship!
The meeting ends in King Paddy rightly upset that everyone is hassling him when he’s two funerals deep on the day, so Rhys Ifans is, psychotically, like, “Hey, daughter! Maybe you should go fuck him? Maybe wear your mother’s sexy dress when you go in? To make it clear you’re DTF? Am I being explicit enough?”
The daughter heeds her father’s words and heads to the Paddy Pad, and lucky for her, the king is not weirdly horny after the loss of his loved ones. He’s just a dork! He’s building his model of the kingdom! And the series is now definitely going to close with someone saying, “Using this model would make for a great opening to a prestige series about the story that follows this!”
Viggo Whore-tensen, conversely, is himself horny as hell and already back at the ol’ orgy house. He starts going off about how cool it is that this nephew immediately died and he’s back on top. And, unsurprisingly, this comes back to bite him on his earlier-exposed ass.
Thusly, King Paddy has a throne-room meet-up with Doctor Whore to let him know he isn’t pleased with all the talk about being so chuffed about this boy’s death. Paddy let’s him know he can fuck off back to his assigned wife off in whatever bullshit place. Subsequently, Rhaenyra is given the spare keys to the kingdom in the form of being named heir to the Iron Throne.
Vigo has a new enemy in his cartoonishly-villainous plot for the throne!
For a show given a straight-to-series order never needing a pilot, what a helluva Pilot of rushed conflicts and characterizations set up for the episodes to come. We get it, okay? If anything, what we need are more constant, graphic reminders of their stupid names.