We’re only seven episodes into House Of The Dragon and so far we’ve lost just about every character worth cheering for. Some of them were introduced and almost immediately killed off, some were with us from the beginning but barely got any consideration before being rudely dispatched. And the characters we were supposed to like are the ones doing the dispatching. This duality may be a trademark of George R.R. Martin’s work, but even on Game Of Thrones, there was always someone you wanted to see prevail, whether it was Tyrion, Arya, Jon, Daenerys, Brienne, or someone else. We haven’t really gotten characters like that in the new show, and it’s kind of a bummer.
In “Driftmark” Rhaenyra and Daemon plotted to get rid of Ser Laenor Velaryon—almost immediately after his sister’s death—by way of his lover, Ser Qarl Correy. Leanor may have sailed away unscathed, but it’s likely we’ll never see either of them on the show again. Laenor was a good father to Rhaenyra’s children, he tried to do his duty to the realm. He did nothing wrong except stand in the way of an incestuous marriage that would strengthen Rhaenyra’s claim to the Iron Throne. Now he’s effectively gone.
Will this turn more fans against Daemon? His misdeeds keep adding up, making him harder to like with each new scheme. Yet even after he straight-up murdered his wife Lady Rhea in episode five, he’s still got a certain segment of the audience in his corner. When he confronted the “bronze bitch” in the Vale the scene cut away before we saw him answer her taunt to finish the job. Would it have made a difference if he’d done it on screen? Later in the episode, there’s a mirror of that incident when Ser Criston Cole bludgeons Ser Joffrey Lonmouth to death. This time it’s shown in full, bloody detail. Perhaps that difference has something to do with Daemon’s continued popularity while Criston, another character who seemed appealing at first glance, is pretty universally reviled. Why should Daemon be held to a lesser standard?
After the time jump, we were briefly reacquainted with Ser Harwin “Breakbones” Strong, the father to Rhaenyra’s three sons. He was a welcome upgrade from Criston, though he is later killed off in the same episode, along with his father, Lord Lyonel Strong, the Hand of the King. That’s two more good and honorable characters written off the show. Meanwhile, scoundrels like Criston Cole and Larys Strong live on without consequences. At least, so far.
As for everyone else? Alicent pretends she’s above it all, but she was ready to cut out a little boy’s eye with her own hand. No longer content to shoot daggers at Rhaenyra metaphorically, she’s attacking her with real ones now. Her overambitious father is back on the job as Hand of the King, and back to his manipulative ways. Viserys is old and weak and even as he bellows at his squabbling family, they all know he prefers to ignore conflict rather than confront it head-on. Lord Corlys’ ambition will never let him get over the fact that his wife was passed over in the line of succession, while Rhaenys, the Queen Who Never Was, has resigned herself to living in the world as a second-class citizen. Who does that leave us to root for at this point? The children? Alicent’s boys are violent and entitled, but the rest haven’t done anything too horrible yet. You can’t rest an entire show on the shoulders of a handful of not-terrible adolescents, though.
Or maybe that’s the greater point here. House Of The Dragon forces us to ask the question of whether we need someone to identify with in order to enjoy a story. Will fans continue to tune in to watch two factions of terrible people fighting each other to rule a kingdom without any investment in who wins? We’ll have to wait and see. In reality, history doesn’t always give us true heroes and villains, but it sure gives us good stories.