But that was before "Game of Thrones" surpassed George R.R. Martin's book series and went so far off the rails it couldn't see the tracks anymore. Luckily, "House of the Dragon" is back to using Martin source material, and everything appears back in order.
The show isn't ashamed of its "Thrones" legacy, either, utilizing the same theme song notes throughout the episode, and a variation as its closing credits. There were no epic opening credits for this premiere, but we've been promised they do exist and will be coming.
In place of traditional credits, we got the kind of narrative exposition that die-hard "Lord of the Rings" fans can quote from "The Fellowship of the Ring." It was effective in quickly getting fans new and old up to speed in this world.
Like early "Thrones," this episode starts more like a medieval drama that just happens to have dragons in it. There is very little actual magic going on, aside from talk of prophetic dreams and, of course, the existence of multiple massive flying beasts.
But those moments aside, we're again dealing with the political machinations and ambitions of people vying for the Iron Throne. Fans of the book series have some sense of where this story might be going, but what makes this premiere so effective is that it's just as gripping if you know nothing of what is to come -- or even anything of the predecessor series.
A good spinoff, or prequel in this case, needs to stand on its own, and certainly "House of the Dragon" does that. There is a hint of Daenerys Targaryen to come in that opening narration, and there is a hint of the epic war to come in the original series, but those are just asides to the meat of this story.
That meat sits after Viserys Targaryen ascends to the throne peacefully after his uncle Jaehaerys announced that he would be officially named his heir, in an effort to try and avoid outright war. Who he neglected was the eldest in line, Rhaenys, because she was a woman.
That set the stage for the next generation of deception and ambition as the narrative quickly jumped forward nine years, also letting us know that this is 172 years before Daenerys' birth.
That time was notable even in the visuals of this series. Unlike criticism levied at more recent epic fantasy's, like Amason's "The Wheel of Time," "House continued "Thrones'" tradition of a meticulous attention to details, and making sure that things looked real and lived in.
King's Landing does like brighter, more vibrant and cleaner than it will in 172 years time, but it still has dirt and rocks along the corridors, and clear signs of wear and usage, as to the clothing of even the finest royals. These tiny details go a long way in immersing us believable into this world.
In "Game of Thrones," much of the battle for who would sit upon the Iron Throne happened within the Lannister family, but there were also other Houses of Westeros in that battle, and we all know how that turned out (best to forget, if we're honest).
In this era, the Targaryen's have firmly been in control of the Iron Throne for more than 100 years and there is no other indication that any other family or House is vying for it. That's good, though, because they have enough problems within the family.
First, there is Rhaenys Targaryen, still referred to as "The Queen Who Never Was" by some of the citizens of the realm for how she was overlooked in the line of succession for Viserys. We don't know if she has machinations for the throne, but she still has legitimate claim.
Then there's the fact that Viserys has yet to birth a male heir, despite multiple pregnancies from his wife, Aemma, resigned to her fate in this misogynistic world as little more than a royal womb. She did birth a daughter, Rhaenyra, who's claim is legitimate only if a woman were to be accepted.
The heir apparent, though, is Viserys' brother, Daemon, a deliciously devilish Matt Smith, clearly relishing the dastardly nature of his character. He doesn't quite push it into evil caricature, but there's a darkness in his performance that is masterfully understated.
While lying the foundation for these players, we learn that Aemma is again with child, but struggling through a difficult pregnancy. This time, Viserys is certain that it is a son, saying he'd had a dream of his son born wearing already his crown.
A healthy son would resolve the issue of succession quite tidily -- so, of course, things don't nearly go that smoothly.
One of the criticisms that Martin has endured over the years is just how awful the women in his world have it, in general. He argues back that historically, women had it pretty awful during the medieval times, and as his book is just one dragon away from that time, he's being true to history.
It's true that women have been brutalized, victimized and subjugated for millennia, and that darkness continues here. At the same time, at least we see a decency in Viserys when he is confronted with an agonizing decision. In all truth, Viserys seems a decent man, which is also not a recipe for longevity in this world.
When he's told his baby is breech, it comes down to a no-win decision. He can either try this risky new procedure to save the child only, or he could risk losing both of them if they can't resolve the breech position and Aemma is able to deliver.
He decides on his heir, though you can see that at least part of him is torn apart by this. And yes, we see way too much of this as Aemma is held down screaming while her stomach is sliced into so they can take out the baby. She, of course, bleeds out and dies.
It is brutal and painful and will haunt our nights for quite some time, but we're also confident that this is true to the times. It's also true to her own words that she was little more than a royal womb, and once she'd produced an heir, her usefulness was basically at an end.
For one brief moment, it was a conflicted joy for Viserys, but this is the world of "A Song of Ice and Fire," so there is no prolonged joy. The moment we moved on from this scene, we arrived at a funeral pyre where we saw Aemma's body wrapped in a shroud, as well as the body of Viserys' son and heir. So much for a smooth line of succession.
It is after these events, that the king's small council picks up discussion of the line of succession. Like Jaehaerys before him, they would rather a peaceful succession. With the baby gone, the line appears pretty set with precedent that it has to be a male.
Viserys' brother Daemon is the only likely heir, and yet there is a lot of resistance and concern on the council about his demeanor, ambition, and ruthlessness. What kind of ruler would he be?
The only other viable candidate would throw caution and precedent to the wind, and possibly infuriate Rhaenys. Viserys does have a child, the Princess Rhaenyra. Could the realm handle a woman being handed the Iron Throne? Would Rhaenys be able to handle it ten years after she was denied it despite having the stronger claim?
And what of Daemon? If there's one thing he's made clear to the viewers by this point, it's that he craves power and control -- even if his brother doesn't think so. He certainly would not take well Rhaenyra being chosen over him for succession; something he probably never thought even possible.
Making that even more complicated is that it's also quickly established that Daemon and Rhaenyra have a rather sweet relationship, and fondness for one another. He even gives her a necklace of Valyrian steel, matching his own sword.
The two share a bond, and now there's the chance of them standing on either side of a succession divide. Then there's also the question of what Rhaenyra wants.
Emma D'Arcy has had the task of going toe to toe with Smith as the young Rhaenyra, chewing up the scenery with every moment, and she's proven equally adept at commanding the camera. Many of her scenes are silence and stares, and yet she has that same convincing sense of command and power rippling below the surface that made fans fall for Emilia Clarke's Daenerys.
In the quiet of her performance, there are many things unknown and secret, and yet that may be completely intentional. Certainly because one of those suggests she may have more than a friendly interest in her friend and confidante, the Lady Alicent, daughter of Hand of the King Otto Hightower.
More than that, though, we first meet Rhaenyra astride her dragon, Syrax. The only other character we see astride a dragon in this episode is Daemon -- his is named Caraxes -- which is not coincidence. With her introduction, we learn that Rhaenyra takes risks, craves adventure and a life unburdened by palatial responsibilities.
As much as there is a spoken sadness that her father has so craved a son that he has overlooked the daughter he does have, she is also grateful that by being a daughter, she is not in line for the throne. She wants to laugh and play and fly.
So we have one person who doesn't want the throne and another does. One guess what happens?
It all goes wrong for Daemon when he spends the night of the funeral service at a brothel with his officers of the City Watch, soldiers that he's made loyal to him (perhaps more than the Throne). While there, he's heard referring to Viserys' lost son as "The Heir for a Day."
When confronted by it, Daemon does not deny it, instead suggesting that we all mourn in our own way. But after defending Daemon for years to his small council, and doing what he can to keep him part of said council, Viserys reaches his breaking point.
He sends Daemon back to his wife in Runestone -- who Daemon clearly has no interest in based on how he trashed talked her earlier in the episode -- and proceeds to officially and publicly declare Rhaenyra his heir apparent, complete with a ceremony where the lords swear fealty to her.
Daemon takes his dragon and leaves, but it's clear that this "discussion" is far from over, and that he and Rhaenyra will have to come face to face again, under much less friendly circumstances than when he put a necklace around her neck.
The big question is whether or not she will be Queen or heir when he does make his return. Aside from his grief, it was also revealed that Viserys has a wound on his back that is not only not healing, but is growing. With leeching cauterizing and the way they ripped his wife open, it's safe to say medicine isn't all that advanced.
More than likely, this will become a more immediate war of succession for the Iron Throne when Viserys either falls ill or dies altogether. Will it just be between Daemon and Rhaenyra, or will Rhaenys reactivate her own interest in the throne, with the support of her husband Corlys, who is already a part of the council?
The episode also introduced another player in this saga, Ser Criston Cole. He begs Rhaenyra's favor during the king's ill-fated tournament to celebrate his new heir. He also managed to defeat Daemon in jousting and hand-to-hand combat, which makes him a rare find indeed if things get real.
If we're misreading the subtext, perhaps Criston will become a love interest for Rhaenyra, as she would obviously be pressured herself to create an heir for the throne. Even if we're reading the subtext right, he could still serve at least that role. We had to focus so much on him for some reason.
Like early seasons of "Game of Thones," we appreciate how close to the vest "House of the Dragon" is keeping its secrets. We can speculate what's to come this season, and we have some larger idea, but that's about as far as it goes.
We've met a lot of players in this story, but there are a million ways it could go. If "Thrones" is a template, it will expand far beyond the small world we've seen here -- or maybe it will stay tightly focused on the Targaryens and this brewing civil war within the House.
Either way, we (perhaps foolishly) trust that these creators have this story well in hand. It's also encouraging that they say they already know how this particular story ends. It can't be worse, can it?
The "Game of Thrones" ending may have soured a lot of people on Westeros, with very few people raving about the series they loved for so many years anymore at all. HBO is betting a lot that "House of the Dragon" can redeem that botched ending.
They're certainly off to a great start with this first hour. It's also encouraging that there are reports of HBO Max crashing when it premiered. It seems as if perhaps even jaded "Thrones" fans are hoping this new foray into Westeros will fare better than the last one ended.
Even as its story fell apart, the production value of the parent series never faltered. It remained beautifully bleak with an incredible cast, gorgeous cinematography and special effects, with a hauntingly powerful score.
All of that carries on into this new series, now again matched with stellar storytelling, believable character motivations ... and a lot of darkness. Martin's take on humanity remains dismal at best, with the tiniest glimmers of decency.
Who will win this new/old game of thrones? "House of the Dragon" drops new episodes every Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.