HBO’s Game of Thrones always had an eye for combat. The small-scale battles were often exciting, like the Hound facing off against Brienne of Tarth, but the show’s massive melees were almost always showstoppers. But one thing that was always missing from the show was the in-between. Thankfully, in just three episodes, House of the Dragon has already given us the Game of Thrones franchise’s first great medium-sized battle.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for House of the Dragon.]
House of the Dragon’s third episode concludes with Daemon Targaryen getting to show off why he’s one of the most feared warriors in the Seven Kingdoms. After he and Corlys Velaryon find that their war against the Crabfeeder has come to a stalemate, the two receive word from Daemon’s brother, King Viserys, that the crown is sending help. While this may sound useful on the surface, both men see it as a not-so-subtle indictment of their martial prowess. So they devise an all-or-nothing plan with its intentions hidden from both the enemy and the House of the Dragon audience.
After a sneaky beginning, it turns into something instantly recognizable as a Game of Thrones battle. There are hundreds of extras joining the fray, montages of close-up kills full of blood and mud, and the slow focus on the main characters that most of Thrones’ best battles include. But House of the Dragon’s first big fight includes something those didn’t: a dragon.
The war for the Stepstones may be led by Corlys and Daemon, but its final battle is ultimately won by Laenor Velaryon riding in on his dragon, Seasmoke. It also marks the first sign of just how much bigger House of the Dragon’s scale is than its predecessor.
A dragon soaring onto the battlefield and scorching waves of Targaryen adversaries would have been one of the biggest and most important moments in all of Game of Thrones’ eight-season run. In House of the Dragon, it’s just another part of the fight. It’s expected by everyone — except the poor Crabfeeder, may he rest in peace. Aside from Seasmoke’s appearance, the battle itself is also an indication of just how big House of the Dragon might be.
Most of Game of Thrones’ biggest battles were cordoned off into their own episodes. Things like the Wildling assault on Castle Black, Hardhome, the defense of King’s Landing, and the Battle of the Bastards all got most of an hour devoted exclusively to them. While some fights late in the show’s run, during seasons 7 and 8, featured shorter battles, none of them lived up to the standard of previous conflicts and were easily surpassed by House of the Dragon’s first attempt at open warfare.
While those conflicts often felt half-baked and like they were cut down (possibly due to the cost of the dragon visual effects that were often involved in them), the battle for the Stepstones feels like the perfect length to both prove Daemon’s ill-advised bravery and the dominance of dragons on the battlefield.
This first battle in the show makes it clear that, thanks to the show’s massive budget, huge battles are ready to break out at any time in House of the Dragon. There’s no need for the show to clear the runway for its best fights, giving each episode a bit more spontaneity and unpredictability. And, as you might imagine if you’re familiar with House of the Dragon’s premise, the ability to pull off some surprisingly big battles is certainly something that will come up later on.