[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through the Season 1 finale of House of the Dragon, “The Black Queen.”]
Probably the most unintentionally hilarious part of House of the Dragon’s first season finale came at the very end, if you were watching with subtitles on: When Queen Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy), having just learned of her son’s death, turned away from the fire to reveal her grief-stricken face, the captions acknowledged a shift in composer Ramin Djawadi’s score like so: [Vengeful music plays].
It was funny because the captions really didn’t need to say anything — D’Arcy’s face said it all. It was all a jaw-dropping capper to a largely gripping season of television, because as we come to the finale, it can be said: If the goal was to create a new series that would please even the most Season-8-bitter Game of Thrones fans — they did it.
And when you consider the challenge the creative team faced in doing so, it is a pretty remarkable achievement. Following up an Emmy-winning juggernaut that held the world in its grasp each week is tricky enough, but then consider following up an Emmy-winning juggernaut with a final season so disliked that (even though you had nothing to do with its making) you know you’re going to get asked about it during the press tour.
Put it another way, there was more than one dragon casting its shadow over co-showrunners Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik, and the stakes were raised even higher by picking a release date that put it… perhaps not intentionally in direct competition with The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, but the effect was the same.
The Rings of Power turned out to be a very different show from Dragon, though the first seasons of both shows were in many ways extended set-ups for the story to come. But Dragon’s set-up was all about setting up an entire generation’s worth of backstory in ways that are pretty unforgettable — not too many scripted series have attempted to maneuver through time like this over the course of one season, and while each time jump required a fair amount of attention for the audience to track, the resulting opportunity to see children grow into adults over the span of 10 episodes was truly unique.