After the backlash to Game of Thrones season 8, prequel show House of the Dragon will have to overcome a problem that’s similar to the one seen after Star Wars: The Last Jedi. When Game of Thrones ended in 2019, it did so as the biggest TV show in the world. Many had long expected it to go out in a blaze of glory, but instead it simply sparked fires across the internet; to say it was divisive would perhaps be an understatement, as the final run of episodes were mauled by critics and audiences alike.
HBO, however, is undeterred. Even before Game of Thrones ended, ideas for spinoffs set in Westeros and beyond were being explored, which will first come to fruition with House of the Dragon. The network has major plans for this universe, with multiple projects in various stages of development, but House of the Dragon will be the initial and biggest test not only of its viability as a true franchise, but of how much it has survived the backlash.
This puts House of the Dragon in the same position the Star Wars sequel trilogy found itself in, with The Last Jedi quickly becoming one of the most divisive movies of the 21st Century. While it’s not an exact parallel, given this is a prequel rather than a sequel, there are similar hurdles to overcome, and certainly mistakes to be avoided in terms of how it approaches things.
When Star Wars: The Last Jedi released in 2017, it soon became one of if not the most divisive entry in the entire saga, even accounting for the much-maligned prequel trilogy (which is now looked upon more favorably). There were a range of criticisms, but at the core of them was the idea that this fundamentally misunderstood or ruined what made Star Wars and its characters so great. Luke Skywalker, the greatest hero in the galaxy, was a hermit who not only wouldn’t join the fight, but had even been tempted to kill his nephew. Supreme Leader Snoke, the ostensible big bad of the sequel trilogy, was cut down without anything being revealed about his past. Rey, who many had speculated on the parentage of, turned out to be a nobody. This sparked huge ire, which remains to this day.
It’s easy to see the parallels in this with Game of Thrones season 8. For Luke, see Daenerys Targaryen: the great hero who has a fall many believed to be completely out of character or at least unearned. For Snoke, there’s the Night King – an overarching, mysterious villain who is killed off sooner than anticipated, with little of his backstory revealed. Where there’s Rey’s parentage, there’s Jon Snow’s, as critics argue the confirmation that R+L=J did not amount to anything of significance. The major difference is that The Last Jedi‘s reviews were mostly positive, whereas critics and audiences both disliked Game of Thrones season 8, but that only gives House of the Dragon even more difficult because it has more to build back against.
When looking at how House of the Dragon can overcome the backlash to Game of Thrones season 8, then Disney’s response to Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a lesson in what not to do. With the major controversy then followed up by Solo: A Star Wars Story‘s box office failure, the Mouse House went into full course correct mode with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The returning J.J. Abrams brought back Emperor Palpatine, and decided to try and go against The Last Jedi. He brought back many of the elements The Last Jedi had either ignored or given answers many deemed unsatisfactory – Rey is now a Palpatine, Snoke is a clone, Luke Skywalker is a Force Ghost who does catch the lightsaber. Unfortunately, The Rise of Skywalker also ended up being a mess. It was a film so crammed full of retcons, of bringing back half-baked, long-forgotten ideas, and of fan service, as well as the sheer weight of trying to end a 40-year-old saga, that it ended up in a worst of both worlds scenario. The Last Jedi had already made things hard, but The Rise Of Skywalker ended up struggling to please either its fans or its detractors, only serving to make the backlash worse and more to Disney’s Star Wars sequel trilogy as a whole.
To that sense, House of the Dragon moving beyond Game of Thrones‘ own failings is perhaps an easier task. At the very least, it does not have to continue that specific story, and nor is it being challenged with wrapping-up a narrative that has been years in the making. Indeed, that was where Game of Thrones season 8 itself was charged with falling down, and so House of the Dragon does have something of a cleaner slate than any Star Wars movie coming after The Last Jedi could have had. Still, while it may be easier, that doesn’t make it easy. This is a show centered around House Targaryen, which means there will likely be the looming shadow of Daenerys Targaryen’s descent and death. It is still, after all, a show based on the same world as Game of Thrones, even if it is long before the likes of Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister’s parents had been born, let alone them. House of the Dragon’s success will depend, to some degree at least, on how much people are willing to step back into this universe after Game of Thrones’ ending.
It will have had the benefit of more time, with around three years by the time of House of the Dragon’s 2022 release from Game of Thrones’ series finale; that’s a contrast to the two years between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, which also had Solo sandwiched in between. The distance should help as well. As the House of the Dragon trailer shows, this series is far removed from Game of Thrones, and so people can – perhaps – put their ill-feeling towards the finale aside. That it comes from George R.R. Martin himself is a big bonus as well. No one received more criticism for Game of Thrones season 8 than showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, neither of whom are involved with this. As Martin has already written or at least fleshed out much of the story, then there’s less room for an adaptation to veer of course, and it can instead, hopefully, provide the kind of quality that made Game of Thrones so beloved in the first place. And that last point might be the most important.
Despite problems with Game of Thrones season 8, it did not become a bad show because of a disappointing or divisive ending; for multiple seasons – mileage may vary on how many exactly – it was and still is one of the greatest TV shows produced, with a level of scale and spectacle hardly ever seen, but that is matched step-for-step by its writing, performances, and every other area. That’s the kind of thing people should come to remember, especially as time goes on, wounds heal, and rewatches begin, and which stands House of the Dragon in good stead. This is not a course correction for a hated property that needs to be fixed, but a prequel to an excellent show, that is also very much its own thing and should be judged on its own merits.
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