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Is ‘House of the Dragon’ better than ‘Game of Thrones’? Boston.com staff and readers weigh in.

The "Game of Thrones" prequel wrapped up its first season Sunday night.

Rhaenyra and her son Lucerys share a moment early on in the episode before things unravel. "House of the Dragon" / HBO

War is coming. “The Black Queen,” the season finale of “House of the Dragon” brought HBO’s “Game of Thrones” prequel to a trembling crescendo with Westeros on the brink of civil war.

Nearly three-and-a-half years after the controversial “Game of Thrones” series finale, HBO came storming back with the Targaryen-centric “House of the Dragon.” Set roughly 200 years before the events of “Game of Thrones,” “Dragon” attracted the highest viewership for a new HBO show in the network’s history, and is generating buzz — and memes — much like the original.

We pulled together some Boston.com staff members to react to the show, and polled our readers for their reactions as well. Below we’ll hash out our favorite characters, who will sit on the Iron Throne, how “House of the Dragon” compares to “Game of Thrones,” and what we thought of the final episode. It’s important to note that none of the staff members contributing to this review have read the books, we’re strictly fans of the show and will be reacting to the HBO series, not the larger world that author George R.R. Martin has built.

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(Warning: Spoilers for the latest episode of “House of the Dragon” ahead.)

What was the pivotal moment in the season finale?

Kevin Slane: Throughout the series, Rhaenyra Targaryen has, in one way or another, attempted to shy away from her destiny. So when Erryk arrives at Dragonstone (sans his twin brother Arryk) to bring her a crown and swear his loyalty, all eyes are on her. She accepts the crown, and watches, a little uncertain, as (almost) everyone present bends the knee. The moment seems to galvanize her, and moving forward she makes sound strategic choices that will unite the realm, though not through all-out war.

But it’s not just Rhaenyra’s actions during this scene that are important. Keep an eye on Daemon, who all episode has let his lust for war and conquest rear its ugly head, putting him at odds with his wife/niece. Daemon greets the knight, accepts the crown from him, and (momentarily) stands in place as Erryk bends the knee at his feet, before he eventually turns to hand it off to Rhaenyra and bend the knee himself. While the unfortunate death in the show’s final moments (more on that below) may ultimately push Rhaenyra closer to Daemon’s side, his lust for power is evident. Finally, as the camera pans across the crowd bending the knee, one person chooses not to: Rhaenys. Though we later see that Rhaenyra’s leadership impresses Rhaenys, she still has a lot to think about when pledging loyalty, including the opinions of her returning husband, Corlys.

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Kristi Palma: Corlys Velaryon declaring House Velaryon for Rhaenyra. When he tells his wife Rhaenys that Rhaenyra destroys everything she touches, Rhaenys says Rhaenyra is in fact holding the realm together with her restraint because the men around her want war. Corlys realizes that his ambition hasn’t served him well. And even though the couple believes that Rhaenyra was responsible for their son Laenor’s death, they realize they share each other’s values and back her. “Your father’s realm was one of justice and honor. Our houses are bound by common blood and common cause. This Hightower treason cannot stand. You have the full support of our fleet and house, your Grace,” said Corlys. I love how Rhaenys is standing behind Rhaenyra smiling when he says it. These strong women are banding together. Yes!

Hayden Bird: The negotiation with Otto Hightower on the Dragonstone causeway. While everyone — especially Daemon — wanted to dispense with any terms or discussions with people who, as they see it, are traitors, Queen Rhaenyra plots a separate course of restraint. This has cascading effects not only on the scene itself, as Hightower and his men are temporarily spared a fiery bath, but also on the future of the series. While Rhaenyra’s prudent approach wins allies (like Driftmark), it runs the risk of being naive (as was the case with sending Prince Lucerys to Storm’s End).

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Rami Abou-Sabe: The seemingly simple moment of Borros Baratheon stopping Aemond from taking Lucerys’ eye. A prudent decision for the Lord of Storm’s End had cascading consequences on the lives of both boys involved in the fight, with Lucerys now dead and Aemond the target of Queen Rhaenyra’s rage. Once Aemond (and Vhagar) beat Lucerys to Storm’s End, perhaps it was inevitable that Lucerys would not make it out alive, but it’s certainly possible that had Baratheon not stopped Aemond, Lucerys would have only lost an eye. And Rhaenyra would not have lost a son, or a dragon.

What did you think of the ending?

Kevin: All episode, we watched as peacekeeping figures (Rhaenyra, Rhaenys, Lucerys) tried their best to keep the realm from descending into all-out war, even as saber-rattlers (Daemon, Otto, Aemond) did the exact opposite. With the death of Lucerys, the pacifists have lost. When Daemon comforts Rhaenyra, the hard stare she leaves us with is all the evidence we need: This means war. It’s a brilliant bit of writing that in the midst of Lucerys and Aemond’s aerial confrontation, both princes lose control of their dragons, and it is the beasts themselves that lead the Blacks and Greens to war. All episode, Daemon and co. have talked about how many dragons each side controls, and how the dragons will decide the coming conflict if Rhaenyra lets them. As it turns out, the dragons don’t need permission. 

Kristi: When Rhaenyra made her sons swear they wouldn’t fight when serving as her messengers, I had a sinking feeling one or both of them wouldn’t make it to season 2. Therefore, Lucerys’ death by the terrifying Vhagar wasn’t a total shock. But the dragon chase was scary and thrilling nonetheless. Though it doesn’t seem like Aemond intended for Vhagar to kill Lucerys, he had no qualms demanding his eye and then setting the events in motion that resulted in his death. Next season, it will be interesting to see if Aemond will deny murdering Luke or own the deed.

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Hayden: It did feel like we were always going to get some kind of midair dragon fight this season, so it made sense that one of the climactic moments came down to that. It also was in keeping with the general brutality and bleakness of the plot that it would culminate with someone like Prince Lucerys dying. Exactly how Daemon knows that Lucerys is dead (and is able to inform Queen Rhaenyra about it) is kind of interesting. But the final image of the season — Queen Rhaenyra’s face — is a fitting finale. Not only because the sheer range of emotions she’s feeling in that moment are seemingly conveyed by a great performance from Emma D’Arcy, but also because Rhaenyra has (and will) drive the plot of the show. Her actions will determine the future of the realm. And based on just her facial expression, it seems like war is coming. 

Rami: The ending managed to be simultaneously surprising and yet completely expected, which is a needle that the earlier “Game of Thrones” seasons threaded so well. We knew that this season would lead to war, but the way in which we got there was truly surprising. Yes, Otto Hightower foreshadowed it, but did anyone really expect Aemond and Vhagar to be waiting at Storm’s End for Prince Lucerys? The final shot of Rhaenyra, heartbroken about the loss of her son and fiercely resolved to the coming war, was the show’s best moment. I’m excited to see where they take the series next, and if they’re willing to continue taking the bold risks that made “Game of Thrones” so popular.

Rhaenyra Targaryen and Otto Hightower come face to face. – “House of the Dragon” / HBO

Who is your favorite character on “House of the Dragon”?

Kevin: As was the case in early seasons of “Game of Thrones,” seemingly every character whose actions were governed by decency and a kind heart has kicked the bucket. My favorite minor character, Lord Lyonel Strong, was burned alive on the orders of his traitorous son, Larys. King Viserys Targaryen, meanwhile, lived a long life, but his peaceful nature and congenial demeanor were repeatedly tested by power-hungry bureaucrats. I loved Ned Stark in Season 1 of “Game of Thornes,” so I should’ve known better. But I couldn’t resist the charms of Viserys the Peaceful, who always did what he felt was right, even if it cost him friends and allies.

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Kristi: My favorite character is Rhaenys Targaryen, the Queen Who Never Was, the eldest Targaryen in the line of succession that was passed over for her brother Viserys. The wise princess tells Rhaenyra: “Men would sooner put the realm to the torch than see a woman ascend the Iron Throne.” To the queen, she dares to say, “You toil still in service to men. You desire not to be free but to make a window in the wall of your prison.” And she is absolutely bad ass when she busts into Aegon’s coronation on her dragon Meleys and threatens to barbecue the Greens (who else wanted her to whisper “dracarys”?) before showing mercy and taking flight. Meleys is nicknamed The Red Queen. How appropriate.

Hayden: King Viserys Targaryen, but that feels a little emblematic of the show itself. Viserys, played wonderfully by Paddy Considine, is far from what I’d consider a “favorite” in a normal show’s universe. Yet in Dragon, he’s probably (barely) the winner here because despite committing numerous mistakes which could/will have untold consequences, Viserys genuinely seems to care about his family. He backs Rhaenyra as his heir just when it seems like she will be supplanted, and his epic final appearance at court was a last-ditch effort to, if nothing else, try to heal the divisions. For someone who never really seemed to want the job of king, he achieved the rare feat of maintaining some level of humanity until the end. (Also, shoutout Lord Lyman Beesbury for speaking truth to power, a brave act which cost him his life).

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Rami: Daemon. Daemon Targaryen. Expertly portrayed by the brooding Matt Smith, Prince Daemon steals any scene that he’s in and it’s been a delight to watch Smtih command the screen with nothing more than a stare and body language. Daemon is self-serving and clearly takes the place of Jaime Lannister as the character you love to hate, but if Jamie gets a redemption arc then so should Daemon! While Daemon violently killed his first wife, brought a young Rhaenyra to a brothel, and dragged his older brother King Viserys into a war, he’s also proven to be fiercely loyal, incredibly cunning, and a skilled fighter. He’s a key cog to Rhaenyra’s hopeful ascent to the throne, and the Daemon vs. Aemond showdown that is surely coming next season will be a highlight.

Readers: Daemon Targaryen received 42.2% of the vote from Boston.com readers. “Daemon Targaryen is strong willed,” reader Rain A. wrote. “He fights for what he believes in, with skill, laying his life on the line if he has to.” Rhaenyra received 18.8% of the vote, and Rhaenys received 14.3%. Aemond came in fourth with 8.1%. You can find a full breakdown of reader reactions and votes here.

Who is your least favorite character on “House of the Dragon”?

Kevin: First impressions mean a lot — except when they don’t. At the end of Episode 1 of “HotD,” I was downright giddy about how much I already hated Daemon Targaryen, and was excited about the potential of the knight who had bested him in a joust, Ser Criston Cole. Fast forward nine episodes, and Ser Criston has lost his goddamn mind. After getting dumped by Rhaeynyra, Criston decided that the best way to show his loyalty to Alicent going forward was by smashing people’s heads to smithereens. Criston is like the guy at the bar who constantly picks fights because someone looked at his girl the wrong way: He’ll claim he was doing it for her, but everyone knows he’s just an asshole, fueled by warped ideas of what constitutes honor and virtue.

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Hayden: Ser Criston Cole. Such a disappointing character who seemed to have the world at his feet in the early episodes. I think my problem with him is less to do with Fabien Frankel’s performance than with the general direction. He seems to be a cardboard, two-dimensional man, motivated only by hatred of Rhaenyra. Even in the episode that jumps ahead in time, there’s Criston Cole, still — despite somehow not being dismissed from the Kingsguard — stalking around motivated by only that one thing, unchanged.

Kristi: My least favorite character is Otto Hightower, the two-faced Hand of the King. He was a smooth-talking, butt-kissing Hand right up until the king passed away. But behind closed doors, he’s been plotting to get his inept grandson on the throne. Sure, putting a grandson on the throne has been his end game since he first encouraged his young daughter to win the favor of the older king. But it’s still disgusting watching him kill those who remained loyal to the King he also served. 

Rami: Larys Strong. He’s one of the most interesting players of the game, but it’s hard to get past burning your own father and brother alive. And the feet thing? I wouldn’t mind if Alicent gets sick of Larys’ scheming, as surely another manipulative character could fill his void in King’s Landing. To his credit, the Clubfoot seems to be just as skilled as my least favorite “Game of Thrones” character, Littlefinger.

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Readers: For their least favorite character, readers picked the conniving Hand of the King, Otto Hightower, with 23.8% of the vote. Ser Criston Cole (21.1%) was not far behind. “Cole is just irritating,” Janice S. wrote. “I wish Westerling had taken him out in the Green Council.” But perhaps the best take was that of reader Anshul, who picked King Viserys (2.7%), comparing the late ruler to Fredo Corleone from “The Godfather.”

“Years and years of horrific, protracted violence were directly caused by the second marriage of Viserys, who has the strength and intelligence of Fredo Corleone,” Anshul wrote. “He inherited power, wealth, and stability — and then blew it all like a trust fund burnout unimpressively oozing his way out of Harvard with a 2.1 GPA.”

You can find a full breakdown of reader reactions and votes here.

Daemon and Rhaenyra Targaryen plot the coming war. – “House of the Dragon” / HBO

How does “House of the Dragon” compare to “Game of Thrones“?

Kevin: Last week, around 39% of Boston.com readers said that they thought “House of the Dragon” was “a little worse” than “Game of Thrones,” and that’s pretty much where I’m at after 10 episodes. Episodes 8, 9, and 10 have left me really excited about where the show is going, but the first half of the season occasionally lost me. Most glaringly, the show was at its weakest when it jumped so far ahead in time that it required changing actors. The narrative trick must have been necessary for showrunners Miguel Sapochnik and Ryan Condal to get the story to where they wanted it by the end of Season 1, but it felt like we never got to know anyone very well. “Game of Thrones” managed to introduce us to not only a whole house of Starks, but also Targaryens, Baratheons, Lannisters, and more in Season 1. “House of the Dragon” barely gave us a dozen main characters, all of whom mostly hung around the Iron Throne.

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Hayden: Obviously it’s still too early to truly compare the two shows because, considering the arc of the original, it’s important to wait until you see how House of the Dragon sticks (or doesn’t stick) its landing.

But in simply comparing each show’s Season 1, I think “House of the Dragon” struggled for a while to really captivate me in the same way as “Thrones.” It’s like they wanted to skip ahead (literally) to the best parts of a “Thrones” plot, only without all of the careful characterization and tension-building. There are a million lowercase moments — dialogue, interaction — in “Thrones” that help build the show. “Dragon” feels like a hollowed-out attempt to recreate that, and so the final product feels flat to me. It tries to hit all the same notes, but they feel a bit performative. The violence, the debauchery, the endless side-eyeing, it all feels a little too much like box-checking than organic show creation. And yet, after the final few episodes…I’ll keep watching.

Kristi: “House of the Dragon” is not as good as “Game of Thrones” because the stage isn’t as big and the characters aren’t as plentiful. I enjoyed getting lost in the many worlds of “Game of Thrones.” There were so many characters and storylines that becoming attached to a character was inevitable. Not so in “House of the Dragon.” A friend once told me, “Don’t get attached to anyone on ‘Game of Thrones,’ No one is safe,” and he was right. Events like the Red Wedding, while difficult to watch, proved it. Additionally, there is no real comic relief in “House of the Dragon.” Oh how I miss sharp-tongued Tyrion. But I will keep watching because of my love for “Game of Thrones.”

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Rami: Through five seasons, “Game of Thrones” was arguably the greatest television show of all time and it will be hard to ever top it. That said, “House of the Dragon” is an impressive second showing and I’m hopeful this is a sign that we will be treated to more stories from Westeros in the years to come. The moment King Joffrey called for Ned Stark’s head, “Game of Thrones” became a cultural icon. While Vhagar eating Lucerys out of the sky was gut-wrenching, it’s not even close to the same level of shock that we all felt back then. Is “House of the Dragon” better than “Game of Thrones”? Up to this point, no. But is it better than the worst seasons of its predecessor? Absolutely.

Readers: Nearly 40% of readers said “House of the Dragon” was “about the same” as “Game of Thrones,” and 33% of readers said it’s “a little worse.” 10% said “Dragon” is “much worse,” and almost 5% think it’s “much better.” You can find a full breakdown of reader reactions and votes here.

At the end of next season, who will sit on the Iron Throne?

Kevin: In the long run, I have no faith that Aegon Targaryen will hold the throne. He’s petulant, lecherous, ill-tempered, and has never once shown an aptitude for ruling. But in the short-term, that poisonous cocktail of personality traits sets him up as the perfect “House of the Dragon” equivalent to Joffrey Baratheon from “Game of Thrones.” A dead father who lacked a killer instinct? A mother whose love for her children obscures their obvious defects? Absolutely no love for his long-suffering wife? Check, check, and check. My money is on Aegon shooting up the Most Hated Character rankings in Season 2, before getting a well-deserved death near the end of Season 3.

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Kristi: I would love to say Rhaenyra will be sitting on the Iron Throne by the end of season 2, but there are too many forces working against her and apparently very few in the Red Keep are interested in honoring the wishes of the late king, who intended her to succeed him.

I could see one-eyed Prince Aemond Targaryen, the second son of King Viserys, finding a way onto the coveted throne. He’s not Aegon’s heir, but he’s cunning, made clear his interest, and is open in his disgust of his brother Aegon as ruler. Oh, and the kinslayer is not above attempting to bash in his nephew’s head with a rock or killing him during a dragon road rage incident gone awry in the sky. Also, he’s picked up mad fighting skills while training with Criston Cole and rides the mighty Vhagar.

Hayden: In classic George R. R. Martin fashion, it’s anyone’s game after one season. We know, based on the history we hear in Game of Thrones, that the Targaryen dynasty continues in at least some form, but how that happens is — no dragon pun intended — entirely up in the air.

If I had to choose, I’d say Aegon. It’s boring, but the likelihood is that he will stay protected in the Red Keep as the war swirls around King’s Landing. At least, I think that will be the case for a little while. It might change in Season 3.

Rami: I think Daemon’s lust for war will place Rhaenyra on the throne, but I don’t expect her reign to be long or peaceful. The Hightower-led Greens are a force — and Aemond will certainly lead the charge atop Vhagar — but Daemon is a more experienced fighter and as he said, the Blacks have more dragons. I expect Daemon, Rhaenyra, and co. to dispatch of Aegon quickly, but Aemond is the long-term threat.

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It’s truly a tragedy what has befallen this family. The former King may have been dubbed Viserys the Peaceful, but he failed to secure his line of succession and the Targaryen dynasty will suffer because of it — as we learn about in “Game of Thrones.”

Readers: About 55% of Boston.com readers think Rhaenyra Targaryen will sit on the Iron Throne, while only 12% of readers think Aegon Targaryen will still hold the throne at the end of “House of the Dragon” Season 2. “She’s the rightful heir, and a badass,” wrote Bethany of Lynn about Rhaenyra. Aemond Targaryen, Aegon’s “rogue” younger brother, was the runner-up behind Rhaenyra with 13% of the vote. You can find a full breakdown of reader reactions and votes here.

Most Boston.com readers believe Rhaenyra will sit on the Iron Throne next season. – “House of the Dragon” / HBO

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