Ricky Church reviews the 4K Ultra HD release of House of the Dragon: The Complete First Season…
As the first spin-0ff in HBO’s massive and successful Game of Thrones franchise, House of the Dragon had a lot to live up to – especially in the wake of the bitter taste Game of Thrones‘ conclusion left for many audiences. Fortunately, House of the Dragon exceeded expectations with a very strong first season that focused on its characters and the changing dynamics between them as the game of thrones is played within the Targaryen dynasty. With the first season now collected on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray and a ton of bonus features included, fans have even more reason to dive back into Westeros as we begin the long wait for season two.
Much like the first season of Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon is engrossing right from the start with its characters, played by an excellent cast, and its story. Whereas GoT was a sprawling epic told all across and beyond Westeros featuring many clashing houses, House of the Dragon instead focuses on the Targaryen family at the height of their power, yet also at a critical time in their rule that will define Westerosi history going forward. There’s also an irony as the show features more of the ‘game of thrones’ than Game of Thrones did as multiple characters plot, lie and manipulate for more power and a chance to sit on the famed Iron Throne.
Everyone is the cast is great, but particular praise has to go to Paddy Considine who plays King Viserys Targaryen. Anyone who watched the original series will be used to some pretty lousy or downright evil kings and queens ruling over Westeros, but Viserys is different in how he is a kind and competent king who feels the weight of the crown every day and tries to balance his duty to the realm with his family.
Considine is terrific in his portrayal of this complicated and tragic figure, having great chemistry with everyone opposite him but specifically Milly Alcock and Emma D’Arcy as his daughter Rhaenrya, Emily Carey and Olivia Cooke as his second wife Alicent Hightower, Matt Smith as his hotheaded brother Daemon and Rhys Ifans as his advisor Otto Hightower. Two others of note are Eve Best and Steve Toussaint as Rhaenys Targaryen and her husband Corlys Velaryon as something of wild cards with Best embodying Rhaenys’ wisdom, intelligence and ability to recognize the world and a person’s character for what they are.
This principal cast brings to life the complexities of both the Targaryen dynasty and their own motivations. Thrones had a pretty clear line between its heroes and villains – infamously so for its villains – but House is in contrast where all the characters are capable of morally grey actions. As the family splits into two factions, each side has their own valid points for what they do, making the line between good and evil murkier and the cast deliver incredibly well on these layered performances.
The production on the show is to a grand scale with its costume design, sets, locations and cinematography. Each element adds to how immersive the series is and give it its own look and feel separate to Game of Thrones. The visual effects also stand out as there are many more dragons in this show, each one given its own distinctive features, and a few battle sequences that showcase the devastation dragons add to the chaos. It’s visually stunning, especially with the 4K presentation that makes everything pop, but the story is captivating even with some of the abrupt time jumps the season introduces and expects you to go along with. It emphasizes the biggest draw isn’t necessarily the schemes for the Iron Throne, but the characters and how their motivations and viewpoints put their family and friendships to the test.
House of the Dragon: The Complete First Season features a wealth of bonus features that aren’t seen much on physical media these days. There’s over an hour of bonuses, most of them being anywhere between 3 – 6 minutes, but the longest one is ‘Return to the Seven Kingdoms’ clocking in at 25 minutes. This follows a fairly comprehensive look at the show’s timeline from an initial pitch to its production with showrunners Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik, series creator George R.R. Martin and many of the cast and crew discussing what attracted them to the idea of this series.
There’s some great depth at what they were looking for in terms of casting, how to differentiate it from Game of Thrones and the filming locations, including the construction of the Red Keep which is just one giant set with multiple levels and rooms, showing Rhaenyra’s ascent to the Queen’s room in episode six wasn’t achieved through some visual trickery, but by actually following Emma D’Arcy from one room in the set to another.
The features also make a point of how the creatives wanted to showcase the visual style of sets like the Red Keep and the power of the Targaryen dynasty with the architecture being more complex than Game of Thrones. Giant Targaryen statues stand in the throne room while the Iron Throne literally stretches out with more melted down swords or dragon skulls are placed with a religious-like reverence, something much different to the original series.
Some features only scratch the surface and can be repetitive with the same soundbites being used, but overall you get a ton of intriguing insight into House of the Dragon‘s development. It’s a shame, though, there are not any audio commentaries on any of the episodes from Condal, Sapochnik, Martin or the cast. It would have been great to hear their further insight into episodes like ‘The Heirs of the Dragon’, ‘We Light The Way’, ‘Driftmark’, ‘The Lords of the Tides’ and ‘The Black Queen’.
House of the Dragon: The Complete First Season is a fantastic first season of television for introducing familiar Game of Thrones audiences to a whole new time period with a captivating cast and conflict that is difficult to tell where it will go due to the grey moralities of most of its characters. From the cast to the production team, every aspect of the show is fantastic and the bonus features give a nice look at how much hard work and passion for Martin’s material went into its creation. Any fan would do well to pick up the first season in either 4K Ultra or Blu-ray.
House of the Dragon: The Complete First Season is now available on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray.
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd talk.