House of the Dragon, Season One, 2022
I have a sneaking suspicion, heretical as it may be, that House of the Dragon could already be better than Game of Thrones– certainly I really, really enjoyed this first season. Maybe its just the bitter after-taste of the last two seasons of Game of Thrones, which was essentially the biggest self-destruct of a show since the days of Heroes or Lost. I still haven’t brought myself to rewatch those last two seasons of Game of Thrones and every time the silly notion to rewatch my Game of Thrones Blu-rays crosses my mind, I think ah, but… what’s the point, knowing where it leads? So I accusingly look up at those nice Blu-ray sets on the shelf despairing at the hit on my wallet.
This last train of thought brings me to Westworld, recently cancelled by HBO after its fourth season which means we’ll never see the final fifth season which might have brought its story and many mysteries to a satisfying conclusion. While I appreciate HBOs position -its a very expensive show ($200 million?) with diminishing audience numbers – it does feel a little misguided, betraying short-term thinking. Surely to ensure healthy re-runs it would be ideal to have some kind of conclusion to give it a beginning, middle and end, even if it was just a reduced four-episode season or, crikey, a two-hour finale. I haven’t seen any of season four yet (waiting for the 4K disc release in a few weeks, and where’s the fun in that, really, knowing it likely teases an end we’ll never see?) so have no idea how satisfying that will be nor how frustrating any non-end might prove to be.
So here’s the sting with physical media- in the case of Game of Thrones several seasons on Blu-ray that I can’t bring myself to watch again because of how badly it fell off the cliff in later seasons, and in regards Westworld, season boxsets on 4K disc without its multi-season storyline properly completed. So, er, what’s the point of any rewatch and the investment in buying them? At least with my Blu-ray set of the BSG reboot I can watch the entire series again knowing it has a beginning, middle and end, you know, that old-school storytelling stuff.
One of the things that likely hurt Westworld was the two-year gaps between seasons. In all fairness to the show, its hard to convince audiences to pay it attention when its been two years since the last one and likely two more before the next. Hardcore fans may have rewatched episodes on disc to help follow the various arcs but what chance have mainstream audiences got, and how do they maintain interest after two years full of all the other newer shows they’ve gotten into in between? Its already been announced that both House of the Dragon and Rings of Power won’t return for their second seasons until 2024… that’s an awful long time, especially daunting if it’ll be 2026 when their third seasons can be expected. If nothing else, that’s a hell of a commitment for viewers to make.
Is it a question of shows being burned by their ambition to be as big as motion pictures? Surely that’s the real issue here. They have eight or ten episodes as opposed to the twenty-two episode seasons of their network brethren from days of old, but even then the sheer scale and scope of each episode makes them formidable, time-consuming productions. Which in hindsight makes the first six seasons of Game of Thrones, which arrived annually, an achievement in itself… and ironically those proved to be the best seasons, the series undone by its (ill-judged) intention to get bigger each year.
So there’s a lesson there, maybe. Perhaps these shows would be better at a lesser scale, something more realistic as regards annual production schedules, and that would in turn afford a more consistent audience. Maybe throw less money around, maybe? Doesn’t necessarily mean the shows will be any worse for it. Sure, like anyone else I enjoy all the bells and whistles those big budgets afford, but hey, I can do without if I get a great drama.
I suppose I could take the position that I won’t watch any television series until its finished its run and I can be assured it’ll have a proper conclusion and reward for giving it my time. Of course if we all did that, the shows would get cancelled after one season simply because nobody was watching them. And if I decided by the same logic that I wouldn’t invest in the season boxsets, if we all did that I couldn’t guarantee even if the show had a healthy run that the studios would annually release box-sets nobody was buying yet. Sometimes you just cannot win.
But I’d put money on House of the Dragon getting a few seasons and boxsets to go with them… well, as long as there’s still factories pressing 4K discs in 2028 and 2030…