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House Of The Dragon Has A Side Character Problem

Harwin Strong and Larys Strong in House of the Dragon
(Image credit: HBO)

Spoiler Alert And Preamble: Before I get into this, I need to make it very clear I have not read Fire & Blood, nor have I looked for any spoilers. There may be reasons for the side character choices the show is making, which I will acknowledge and talk about, but I’m just a random fan reacting based solely on what the show itself has given me. There will, however, be spoilers for what has happened on the show up to this point. So, if you’re not caught up, this is your heads up to bail.

I really like House Of The Dragon. Any lingering reservations I had about traveling back to Westeros after the rushed final two seasons of Game Of Thrones have gone the way of King Jaehaerys. I’m emotionally invested and am ready to do what I can to see Rhaenyra sit the Iron Throne. Need me to fight in the Stepstones? Prepare my dragon. Need me to procure the leeches for King Viserys? Tell me which of his remaining fingers to put them on. I’m all-in.

Just because I’m all-in, however, doesn’t mean I’m without complaints. House Of The Dragon has become appointment television, but it still gets more than its share of Alicent Hightower-like side eyes from me. Sometimes it’s about the time jumps and ridiculously fast pacing. More often than not, it’s about the side characters. More specifically, it’s about how few side characters are getting meaningfully developed.

Who would you say the main characters are on House Of The Dragon? Rhaenyra is obviously the central protagonist. I’d call Alicent, Daemon, Viserys and Otto Hightower main characters too. Let’s settle on those 5. Certainly with the first four, the show has done a good job of developing them and showing a lot of complexity. So, if we eliminate those 5, who are the next most important characters? Criston Cole, The Sea Snake and The Queen Who Never Was for sure belong. After that it gets really fuzzy. The new Hand Of The King Lyonel Strong? His two sons: the tough one and the gossipy one? Laenor? Maybe the Maester? Mysaria? Jason Lannister?

I think the show has done a good job with the Sea Snake and the Queen Who Never Was. They’ve gotten some very effective scenes between just the two of them, and they’ve gotten good scenes playing off various other characters. Rhaenys and Rhaenyra, as an example, had a very meaningful exchange together, as did the Sea Snake and Daemon. I’d love to see more, sure, but there’s enough here that I feel like I’m starting to know them as real people.

I’ll also very begrudgingly throw Criston Cole into the developed pile, as well. I would have liked to get a few more scenes of him and Rhaenyra just hanging out and bonding. That would have made his dumb run-away-with-me speech hit harder, as well as his other nonsense, but he’s had scenes with Alicent, Daemon and obviously Rhaenyra. I wish they weren’t all so plot-driven, but we’ll throw him into the yes pile too. That’s a total of 8 characters. 

8 developing characters after 5 episodes might be a lot for a family sitcom, but compared to the original Game Of Thrones, it’s just a drop in the bucket. Let’s just run down a list of GOT characters who were starting to get some memorable moments by the end of Episode 5 : Ned, Catelyn, Jon, Sansa, Arya, Bran, Robb, Theon, Robert, Cersei, Jaime, Tyrion, Joffrey, Littlefinger, Varys, Daenerys, Viserys, Khal Drogo, Jorah, Sam and Lysa Arryn. That’s 21 characters and doesn’t even include people like Pycelle, Maester Luwin and Commander Mormont.

I’m sure plenty of people will disagree with me as to who belongs or doesn’t belong on the above list, but the point is the show went out of its way to give us scenes featuring a really wide network of characters. In episode 5, as an example, we get a scene between Theon Greyjoy and Ros. It’s moments like those, outside the gaze of the more familiar characters and often outside the A-plot, where we truly start to get to know people. It’s all in service to something larger, of course, but the significance doesn’t need to be immediately obvious. Sometimes the whole point is just to set the groundwork for us to more fully care later on.

You know who seemed like an absolute delight, as an example? Joffrey Lonmouth. I thought he owned every single scene he was in. Unfortunately, there were like 3 of them total before he was killed off in obnoxious fashion by Criston Cole. Had he been a character we knew on a personality driven level, outside of just his place in the plot as Leanor’s not-so-secret boyfriend, that scene would have hit way harder. Would it have been worth spending 5 more minutes with him at Driftmark in an earlier episode? I think so. 

The same could be said for Daemon's wife. It sure would have been cool to meet her more than 5 minutes before she died. Maybe we could have gotten a taste of exactly why their relationship was so contentious. At the very least, it would have given us a reason to feel something when she died, at least apart from 

And that’s the danger I’m worried about long-term if House Of The Dragon doesn’t stop focusing so much on its main characters at the expense of its side characters. Game Of Thrones was consistently able to deliver emotional payoffs because it spent time developing so many total people. It took the time to give us scenes exclusively between secondary characters like Tormund and Ygritte. It wasn’t afraid to give people like Arya plots that had nothing whatsoever to do with the other characters. She did her own thing for years. So did Daenerys. Would you say their story arcs distracted from the main plot? No, the show built up all these blocks so when the characters finally intersected, it was more meaningful. 

There’s a very real chance the show is keeping the network of characters small right now because of the impending time jump. Maybe the show doesn’t want us to get to know a bunch of random supporting people when they’re about to disappear entirely. I think there’s a very real chance that might be happening. Regardless, however, the necessity to start immediately developing side characters remains the same. 

I love House Of The Dragon. Its main characters are terrific, and there are hints that many of its side characters could be too. Moving forward, however, it needs to focus a little less on developing its plot and the central figures and a little more on letting us get to know everyone else. We need more oblivious Jason Lannister jokes. We need more gossiping from Lyonel’s son. We need more from all the randoms. It’ll all pay off later. 

Mack Rawden
Editor In Chief

Enthusiastic about Clue, case-of-the-week mysteries, the NBA and cookies at Disney World. Less enthusiastic about the pricing structure of cable, loud noises and Tuesdays.