House of the Dragon: haunted by failings of Game of Thrones?

The first episode of House of the Dragon has audiences impressed, but there's one scene where the mistakes of its predecessor are still keenly felt.

The first episode of new HBO series House of the Dragon dropped last night and it's got Game of Thrones fans all excited because it's set in the same universe, but 200 years prior.

Audiences have taken quickly to the new series. It's got the intrigue, gore and lore we all loved in Game of Thrones, so it makes sense.

However, there's one scene towards the end of the episode that had me recalling Game of Thrones in the worst way possible.

It's the scene where King Viserys is informing his daughter Rhaenyra that she will be officially named as his heir. It takes place beneath the hulking skull of Balerion the Black Dread, the dragon that Aegon Targaryen rode in his conquest of Westeros.

Rhaenyra and Viserys Targaryen stand in front of an altar illuminated by candles, above which sits the skull of the dragon Balerion.

Viserys reveals to Rhaenyra the secret that the Targaryens have been passing to each heir for generations: that their progenitor Aegon foretold a "terrible winter" would one day befall Westeros and destroy everyone if the realm was not united behind a Targaryen. He called this "a song of ice and fire".

Besides the lame title-drop, it's a moment whose impact is undercut by the fact that Game of Thrones viewers witnessed this winter -- and it wasn't all that terrible.

Fans of Game of Thrones will recall that the final season offered some unsatisfying conclusions to the many arcs the series had been building up over its eight seasons. Beloved characters were left without meaningful development, important elements of the worldbuilding were glossed over, and entire series-spanning plots were wrapped up in single episodes.

What Viserys is describing is one of those series-spanning plots. Specifically, this "terrible winter" is the long winter that marked the invasion of the White Walkers, the icy, otherworldly antagonists of Game of Thrones.

Introduced in the first minutes of the first episode, the White Walkers were a threat that loomed throughout the entire series, that appeared like they would require a serious and prolonged war to truly deal with.

When mankind first fought the White Walkers in the Long Night of millenia ago, a darkness fell upon the world for an entire generation and they were only defeated after an alliance between humans and the children of the forest.

The Game of Thrones episode where the White Walkers and humanity once more come to a head invoked this same generation-long darkness with its title: 'The Long Night'. Yet, in comparison it's a pretty short night: it ended within a few hours.

Following a sneak attack on the Night King by Arya Stark, in which dexterous knifeplay allows her to plunge an obsidian dagger into his chest, the entire Army of the Dead shattered into ice. Battle over, Long Night over, "terrible winter" over.

The characters were able to move on to other things - namely, squabbling over the Iron Throne - but the rest of the season's conflict felt shallow compared to the existential threat that was fought and defeated in just the third episode. The stakes were gone.

Jon and Daenerys from 'Game of Thrones' stand atop a wall, observing the torches of an army approaching through the snow.

When King Viserys alludes to this eventual near-apocalypse in House of the Dragon, it should be a powerful moment. It should call to our minds the gut-wrenching emotional weight it carried when we watched it actually unfold on our screens.

We should be remembering impactful character deaths, moving speeches, grand strategy, vital moments of solidarity, lighting that allows us to see what is y'know, happening.

Instead, I was left groaning at Viserys' words, remembering how the threat he is foretelling 200 years in advance is one that required a single night of battle, the deaths of a handful of characters who had outlasted their importance, and one well-placed knife that felt designed to make pubs across the world explode in booze-fuelled cheers at the television.

It's a stain on what was otherwise a solid episode.

House of the Dragon will likely not run into the same issues as Game of Thrones did in its later seasons for two big reasons. One, its source material is a completed work of far smaller size and scope. Two, author George R.R. Martin is a showrunner and has had far more creative control over the series this time.

Still, with the sour taste of Game of Thrones' conclusion still lingering on the tongues of fans, it's a legacy that the new series will have to deal with, especially if they remain committed to inserting these on-the-nose references.