House of the Dragon quickly approaches its first-season finale, but the results have so far been a mixed bag. One of the biggest criticisms lobbed against the show is the constant flip-flopping between narrative quality, episode-over-episode. ‘Lord of the Tides’ continues the trend – as predicted – but it’s not all bad.
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The show initiates yet another time jump in an effort to fast-forward the source material and establish the characters that will eventually square off in George R.R. Martin’s infamous “green vs. black” confrontation. How it plays out on screen is another matter, however.
The story picks up several years after the previous episode, ‘Driftmark,’ and the chaotic events that nearly led to the murder of Princess Rhaenyra by a vengeful Queen Alicent. It seems that Corlys Velaryon teeters on death’s door, following a battle in the much-contested Stepstones. Corlys’ brother Ser Vaemond capitalizes on his lineage to try and secure Driftmark for himself.
Rhaenyra and her now-husband Daemon return to King’s Landing to contest the claim, citing her son Lucerys as the true heir. What starts out as a civil debate soon erupts into anarchy when Vaemond loses his temper and openly accuses Rhaenyra’s children of being illegitimate bastards, prompting Daemon to chop his head off slightly above the tongue.
Meanwhile, a disfigured and deteriorating King Viserys sues for peace between the members of his family when he invites them all to a feast. However, as quickly as they begin mending fences, the resentment soon boils over when Aemond insults Rhaenyra’s children, once again insinuating that they are bastards fathered by the late Harwin Strong.
For their part, Rhaenyra and Alicent try their best to broker peace between one another after so many years of animosity, but it’s clear that confrontation is inevitable. The point is accented tenfold when a bed-ridden King Viserys rambles incoherently about Aegon the Conqueror while in the presence of his wife, which is sure to exacerbate the problem.
The latter part of season one has fared better than the former, and that has a lot to do with the admittedly jarring time jumps in the chronology of events. Most of the table has been set for everything that will now follow, and ‘The Lord of the Tides’ manages to capitalize on this far more stable foundation.
Actor performances are always a highlight of the show, even if they can’t measure up to the brilliance of the Game of Thrones cast. The talent is there, and it’s limited only by the sparse source material from which it had to draw on.
One of the most incredible moments of the episode – and perhaps the entire season – is the feast shared by the family in the second half. King Viserys’ pleading for peace between his loved ones is a heartfelt, touching and very emotional moment, and what comes next is something remarkable.
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For the first time, the family members behave like actual family, enjoying the evening as King Viserys had always wished they would. To see Viserys in such a fragile state of decay makes him very sympathetic, especially since he has always tried to be a noble and just King. Seeing him finally get his wish, even for a brief moment, is rather touching.
It’s touching for the audience, as well, to see the family members laughing, talking and enjoying one another’s presence – even the stoic and unreadable Otto Hightower, who beams brightly with happiness. That single scene signifies everything that a royal family in Martin’s fantasy universe would never be – but secretly wished they could.
Once again, the episode is short on action and big on talking, but several prominent plot developments do unfold here, and anything that manages to push the story towards its meaty core is a welcome one.
While necessary in theory, the relentless time jumps make it impossible for the audience to really focus on the story. That particular wound grows whenever the showrunners and script writers promise big payouts, only to hit the reset button for the very next episode. At this point, it’s become rather cliché.
House of the Dragon keeps falling into the same terrible trap of building up excitement and expectations, only to pull the rug out from under the audience for no reason at all. A big part of this is the aforementioned lack of definitive source material from this particular era, which is but a fraction of Martin’s Ice and Fire novels.
Nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to secondary characters. Aside from the immediate core cast, nobody else gets their due time in front of the camera. That’s a bit odd, considering that several characters such as Ser Criston Cole and Larys Strong are basically forgotten at this point.
Strong, for his part, was supposed to play the Littlefinger-like character who manipulates events to shore up his own power, but once again, the show’s time jumps and inconsistent focus on characters have left him kicking stones somewhere in Westeros.
Last week’s episode earned high praise for exercising the kind of criteria that made Game of Thrones so addictive to watch, but ‘The Lord of the Tides’ seems bound to rely on dialogue in order to fill in the gaps. The extended periods of inactivity in the show’s timeline work against it; perhaps an indication that House of the Dragon should never have been green-lit as a series.
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Those familiar with the source material know that very little actually happens in the grand scheme of events, and that’s going to become a problem as we move closer to the end of season one. That is made all the more difficult when audiences don’t know exactly who, if anyone, to root for.
Indeed, the only noble character in the show appears to be King Viserys, trying his best to heal gaping wounds as the last act of his reign. Daemon also makes some touching overtures to his estranged brother in the episode, but they are undercut by his repeated ambivalence and cruel nature, which by now is firmly established.
All the other characters are either morally bankrupt, or at the very least rudderless. There are no Jon Snows, Catelyn Starks or Tyrion Lannisters to cheer for in House of the Dragon. Everyone, including Princess Rhaenyra and Queen Alicent, are entitled, self-serving elites interested in preserving their dynasties, rather than furthering the good of the realm.
House of the Dragon’s peak and valley approach to storytelling is getting tiresome, and if the show can’t pull a major rabbit out of its hat by the time the first season ends, there will be a backlash. ‘The Lord of the Tides’ does little more than demonstrate just how banal the overall story really is. If this weren’t a Game of Thrones property, it may have been able to get away with courting more modest success.
As a spinoff tied to such an iconic property, however, it’s not living up to expectations. This latest episode is about as run-of-the-mill as it gets, punctuated briefly by a shocking beheading, a brilliant dinner scene, and the closing out of one character’s story.
Inconsistency rules the day, and it’s enough to make any longtime fan wonder who’s bright idea it was to greenlight a show based on a fraction of Fire & Blood, which quite frankly didn’t go down so well with critics, and for understandable reasons.
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- Consistently solid actor performances.
- The shocking death of Ser Vaemond.
- A tragically beautiful and bittersweet dinner scene.
- Yet another time jump.
- Certain characters are totally forgotten.
- Another letdown after a previous episode buildup.