House Of The Dragon Reviews Are In, And Critics Do Not Agree About HBO’s Game Of Thrones Prequel

The Game of Thrones prequel series has been years in the making, and finally, the fanbase’s patience is paying off. House of the Dragon is set to premiere on August 21 for a 10-episode first season based on the George R. R. Martin novel Fire & Blood, which is set in the same universe as the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Critics have had the opportunity to screen the first six episodes of the series ahead of its release, and their opinions are all over the place (much like our staff’s reactions to the Game of Thrones series finale). Let’s take a look at the reviews to see what critics like and don’t like about HBO’s latest epic.

House of the Dragon boasts a stacked cast, including Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen, Emma D’Arcy as Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, Paddy Considine as Viserys I Targaryen, Olivia Cooke as Alicent Hightower, and Rhys Ifans as Otto Hightower. The series is set more than 100 years prior to the events of Game of Thrones and focuses on the history of House Targaryen, chronicling the beginning of the end of House Targaryen’s triumphant reign. You’ve waited long enough, so let’s see what the critics are saying:

Helen O’Hara of IGN rates the series premiere a “Great” 8 out of 10, saying it’s good to have new content from this universe, and House of the Dragon makes us feel like the good ole days of Game of Thrones are back, just now with more dragons. From the review:

House Of The Dragon’s premiere marks a strong, well-cast start to the Game Of Thrones spin-off. This feels very close to its predecessor in tone and content, but immediately establishes a struggle for power around an amiable, weak-willed king, and vivid new characters to fight those battles. We also have dragons, inbreeding, and resentment. It’s good to be back in backstabbing Westeros.

Alison Herman of The Ringer agrees, saying HBO’s bet on another blockbuster saga pays off. It’s not without its faults, but not to worry. This critic watched the first six episodes and feels confident enough to tell fans it’s OK to get excited. The review states:

Fire & Blood is written as a reference text, with minimal dialogue and conflicting points of view. What House of the Dragon does is turn entries in what amounts to an old-school Wikipedia into flawed, flesh-and-blood people. [Co-creator Ryan J. Condal] and his writers introduce changes that enhance the action, like making the teenage Rhaenyra and Alicent friends before tensions get in the way. They’re aided by a strong set of performances. [Paddy] Considine makes Viserys a master class in well-intentioned naivete, while [Matt] Smith gets to play a different, less duty-bound kind of royal. Thrones was largely about the failings and foibles of those in power. House of the Dragon operates in that tradition, steeping us in personal strife before it becomes political combat.

Stephen Kelly of BBC Culture says House of the Dragon has a tough task in overcoming the negative opinions Game of Thrones left its audience with. However, it must do the trick, as the critic rates the first episodes 4 stars out of 5 and calls the prequel “a darker, more solemn, more sophisticated” series than its predecessor. He says:

Much like Game of Thrones' early days, it starts out measured and relatively modest, taking time to build its characters, establish their quirks, their wants, their relationships, their conflicts. It gradually manoeuvres them into positions that suggest nothing but the most unavoidable bloodshed on the horizon. It's a rich, textured work, sharply written and handsomely directed, with a budget that far outstrips season one of Game of Thrones. There are lavish dragon sequences from the start, for instance, while it's notable that the third episode features an enormous celebratory hunt, full of sets and extras.

Charles Pulliam-Moore of The Verge agrees that this feels like it belongs in the Game of Thrones universe, but not in that good “nice to have you back” way of nostalgia. Rather, he says HBO seems desperate to recapture lightning in a bottle, feeding fans a hyper-violent fantasy tale they’ve all seen before. From the review:

House of the Dragon’s pacing means that big, dramatic twists of fate and moments of bombast are often given priority over the smaller, more intricate machinations for power that are some of the most memorable pieces of Martin’s prose. Were House of the Dragon’s characters an especially inspired cadre of fabulists and sociopaths, this wouldn’t be so much of an issue. But within the first episode or two, a surprising number of House of the Dragon’s power players are revealed to be so two-dimensional and narrow-sighted that it’s often difficult to believe them as the legendary figures of the past the show wants them to be.

Kelly Lawler of USA TODAY rates the first episodes 2 out of 4 stars, saying that HBO took a big risk, because while spinoffs tend to already be a tough sell for any series, being able to capture the same magic as the phenomenal OG series is a very tall order, and one that House of the Dragon does not succeed in filling. She says:

Unfortunately, phenomena are singular, and extraordinary difficult to achieve. Trying to recreate one leads to dull, cookie-cutter series like Dragon – something that smells and sounds and looks like Thrones, but lacks the substance of the original. For fans who love the world author George R.R. Martin created with his A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels, it's a deep disappointment.

Darren Franich of EW falls somewhere in the middle with his critique. He grades the first episodes a B and says that the series starts out slow — with a textbook-like explanation of the Targaryen dynasty — but once it starts to find its footing, the story improves greatly. He lauds the performances of Milly Alcock, Matt Smith, and Paddy Considine but worries at the lack of breakout supporting characters. Overall the critic says:

The drama heightens when clear battle lines get drawn. The first introduction of the grown-up characters is flat-out stunning, establishing palpable and sorrowful consequences for earlier decisions. And the sheer number of childbirth scenes would be a running gag if the show didn't render them, with vivid detail, as a genuine medical horror. Dragon doesn't soar immediately, but no House was built in a day.

CinemaBlend's Laura Hurley also had the opportunity to check out House of the Dragon early, and shared her thoughts on the new show's beginning compared to that of Game of Thrones, more than a decade ago. She wrote:

House of the Dragon is a visually impressive and well-cast series that gets off to a start in the premiere with an intriguing premise that would be absolutely incredible by any metric other than comparison to the first episode of Game of Thrones. The budget is bigger and the effects are better than the early days of Thrones, but the first episode lacks the huge hook that we got with Jamie pushing Bran out of a window. It's worth watching and masterfully expands on the limited source material of George R.R. Martin's Fire & Blood as a fictional history book, but perhaps trying to leave the Game of Thrones comparisons out of the experience would be for the best.

The critics are split on how successful House of the Dragon’s first episodes are, but does this sound like a series you’re going to check out? If so, House of the Dragon is set to premiere at 9 p.m. ET, Sunday, August 21 on HBO. The prequel series focusing on House Targaryen will also be streaming for anyone with an HBO Max subscription.

Heidi Venable
Content Producer

Heidi Venable is a Content Producer for CinemaBlend, a mom of two and a hard-core '90s kid. She started freelancing for CinemaBlend in 2020 and officially came on board in 2021. Her job entails writing news stories and TV reactions from some of her favorite prime-time shows like Grey's Anatomy and The Bachelor. She graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a degree in Journalism and worked in the newspaper industry for almost two decades in multiple roles including Sports Editor, Page Designer and Online Editor. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.