Yesterday saw the long-awaited premiere of HBO’s House of the Dragon – the Game of Thrones prequel series set 172 years before the birth of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and centered around the “beginning of the end” of House Targaryen – which brought viewers back to Westeros for the first time in nearly three and a half years, following the much-maligned final season of Game of Thrones. Would House of the Dragon‘s quality convince “on-the-fence” fans that the magic of GOT could be recaptured? Well, we’re only one episode in (critics received six in advance), but hopes are high after a spectacular season opener that set the stage for a suspenseful war of succession and introduced us to a brand new cast of compelling characters such as Matt Smith’s devilish Daemon Targaryen and Milly Alcock’s radiant Rhaenyra Targaryen, while simultaneously offering a tease of “a song of ice and fire” to come.
Initial critical reception is quite strong out of the gate as well, as House of the Dragon sports an 85% on Rotten Tomatoes (with an 8/10 average rating) and a 69 on Metacritic, which compares favorably to Game of Thrones‘ 90% RT score (with an 8.3/10 average rating) and 80 Metascore in Season 1, even if it doesn’t match it yet. Still, the first season of House of the Dragon will feature ten episodes, and critics have only seen six so far, so there’s always the possibility that the final four episodes bring House of the Dragon up to GOT-level acclaim (very likely given that Episode 6 is said to be a promising turning point for the series), and it was always going to be difficult for Dragon to grapple with a) the legacy of one of the most popular television shows of all-time and b) the lingering backlash resulting from the final few episodes of said show – so for now, an 85% on RT and a 69 on Metacritic is pretty damn good.
But, if we’re having a conversation comparing the reception for House of the Dragon to the reception for Game of Thrones, it’s impossible to not take Game of Thrones‘ tremendous track record at awards ceremonies into account as well, as the series was, frankly, a juggernaut. In its first season, it was:
- Nominated for four Primetime Emmy Awards (Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for Peter Dinklage, Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for Tim Van Patten for “Winter Is Coming,” and Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series for David Benioff and D. B. Weiss for “Baelor”), winning for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
- Nominated for nine Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards (Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series, Outstanding Costumes for a Series, Outstanding Hairstyling for a Single-Camera Series, Outstanding Main Title Design, Outstanding Makeup for a Single-Camera Series – Non-Prosthetic, Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup for a Series/Miniseries/Movie or Special, Outstanding Sound Editing for a Series, Outstanding Special Visual Effects, and Outstanding Stunt Coordination), winning for Outstanding Main Title Design
- Nominated for two Golden Globe Awards (for Best Television Series – Drama and Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries, or Television Film for Peter Dinklage), winning for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries, or Television Film for Peter Dinklage
- Nominated for two SAG Awards (for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series and Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Television Series), winning for Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Television Series
- Nominated for one PGA Award
- Nominated for one DGA Award (for Tim Van Patten for “Winter Is Coming”)
- Nominated for two WGA Awards (for Television Drama Series and New Series)
Technically, it’s easy to see House of the Dragon follow in Game of Thrones‘ footsteps. The crafts are all once again top-notch – from Fabian Wagner’s consummate cinematography to Tim Porter’s poetic editing to the pristine production design and vibrant visual effects and more – and its unfathomable that any major awards body would overlook them at the end of the year. When it comes to above-the-line races though, that’s where things always get a bit trickier. As mentioned before, we’ll have to see House of the Dragon in its entirety before we’re sure of what its final reception will be (and thus, what its final awards prospects are), but as of now, it should still definitely be taken seriously as a top contender in any “Drama Series” category, even with the considerable competition it faces (and despite airing near the start of next year’s Emmy cycle, which began on June 1st).
At the Emmys, in Outstanding Drama Series, House of the Dragon will go head-to-head with former winners Succession (Season 4) and The Handmaid’s Tale (Season 5); previous nominees like Better Call Saul (Season 6 – Part 2) Yellowjackets (Season 2), and The Boys (Season 3); and other new breakout hits like The Bear (Season 1) and The Last of Us (Season 1), along with the tonally similar fantasy series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, which remains a major question mark critically and commercially. However, the advantage for House of the Dragon – at least the first time out – is that it’s succeeding such an acclaimed show that Emmy voters formerly adored, which could lead them to be more generous with their nominations for its first season, assuming it ends as strong as it begins. It may have to stand on its own a bit more in Season 2 and beyond, but initially, it could get a boost from GOT nostalgia.
How will the show fare in individual categories – say, perhaps for its actors? Well, it will take some time for these fields to fill out and show us who all is really in contention, but right from the start, depending on where they’re campaigned, Paddy Considine, Milly Alcock, and especially Matt Smith give powerhouse performances as Viserys, Rhaenyra, and Daemon, respectively, and should all be taken quite seriously in their acting races, with Smith perhaps being the standout of the show so far. Early word is also quite high on Emmy D’Arcy (taking over for Milly Alcock halfway through the season and playing an older Rhaenyra) and Olivia Cooke (playing an older Alicent Hightower, Rhaenyra’s best friend and an unexpected power player), though we’ll have to see how HBO splits the older actresses and the younger actresses between the lead and supporting categories before properly predicting them for any nominations.
It may feel like it’s too soon to really begin assessing House of the Dragon‘s awards chances, but with a season premiere this strong, it’s already done all it’s needed to to convince naysayers to give Game of Thrones a second chance and give fans a reason to invest in another Westeros-set story – and voters, as well. So much of its awards story still needs to be told – and in the coming months, we’ll be able to better consider more of its competition and actually see the categories where it stands the best shots of breaking through – but this is a fantastic first chapter, and we look forward to watching the rest of the rise of Rhaenyra Targaryen, both on screen and in the industry.