Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) pushes a dagger toward Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D'Arcy) in House of...

Dracarys!

House of the Dragon was better than Rings of Power for one underrated reason

House of the Dragon pulled off an impressive trick in its first season.

The first season of House of the Dragon is essentially a 10-hour prologue. The Game of Thrones prequel’s central conflict, a Targaryen internecine battle known as the Dance of the Dragons, only breaks out in the final minutes of the Season 1 finale. The episode, titled “The Black Queen,” sets the stage for House of the Dragon’s second season to be far more action-packed and bloodier than its first.

But it’s not like House of the Dragon Season 1 was a boring, uneventful slog. The first 10 episodes all manage to be entertaining and impactful in their own ways, and never feel like a long, drawn-out tease of what’s to come.

That’s an impressive trick. It’s so impressive, in fact, that it’s worth asking how exactly House of the Dragon Season 1 managed to pull it off.

Emma D’Arcy as Rhaenyra Targaryen in House of the Dragon Episode 10.Ollie Upton/HBO

A 10-Hour Prologue — In our current era of Peak TV, it’s become common for the showrunners of prestige titles to claim that they don’t make seasons so much as they create “10-hour movies.” Even the showrunners behind The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power have taken to calling the show a “50-hour story,” and that show’s first season, for all its strengths, fell prey to many of the issues that tend to plague most “10-hour movie” seasons of television.

The same cannot be said for House of the Dragon Season 1. While it certainly looks cinematic, it actually embraced TV’s episodic storytelling format in a way that’s key to determining why it works as well as it does.

Despite essentially functioning as a prologue in much the same way as The Rings of Power Season 1, House of the Dragon’s debut season still delivered episodes that could stand on their own.

Rhys Ifans as Otto Hightower, Olivia Cooke as Alicent Hightower, and Fabien Frankel as Ser Criston Cole in House of the Dragon Episode 9.Ollie Upton/HBO

Embracing Episodic Storytelling — From the moment it premiered, House of the Dragon understood that its episodes needed to tell their own contained stories in order for its first season to feel substantial. And, for the most part, the first 10 installments succeeded.

Episode 1, “The Heirs of the Dragon,” introduces the problem of King Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine) lacking an heir in its first act, then delivers a satisfying conclusion to that problem by ending with Viserys naming his daughter, Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), his successor. House of the Dragon Episode 2 follows a similar format by setting up Viserys’ duty to remarry, which is then resolved with his engagement to Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey).

Many of House of the Dragon’s first 10 episodes are structured this way, and it’s not hard to see why. Doing so allows each installment to tell a complete story that also moves the ongoing arc of the show forward. Meanwhile, the episodes of Season 1 that don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end essentially function as bottle episodes that revolve around specific events.

“Driftmark,” for instance, focuses on a reunion between the estranged members of the show’s Targaryen and Velaryon families, and then follows that reunion through to its violent, game-changing conclusions. The season’s penultimate episode, “The Green Council,” focuses solely on King’s Landing and charts the course of Aegon II’s (Tom Glynn-Carney) ascension to the Iron Throne.

Milly Alcock as Rhaenyra Targaryen and Paddy Considine as King Viserys I Targaryen in House of the Dragon Episode 1.Ollie Upton/HBO

The Inverse Analysis — With the exception of its sixth installment, which falters due to its desire to bring several storylines to an end too quickly, House of the Dragon Season 1 is comprised of episodes that simultaneously stand on their own and exist within the confines of the show’s overarching narrative. The HBO series’ first season embraces its television format rather than trying to buck against it.

As a result, House of the Dragon manages to work in a way that so many of TV’s other blockbuster shows frequently don’t.

House of the Dragon Season 1 is streaming on HBO Max.