House Of The Dragon's Latest Time Skip Is Its First Big Stumble

It may be hard to believe, but there was a time where popular serious dramas had seasons that lasted longer than eight to 10 episodes. In fact, they even had seasons that lasted for more than 13 episodes. Back in the ancient times, ABC aired a show called "Lost," which had over 20 episodes for each of its first three seasons. The show was often criticized for having "filler" episodes; viewers had all these questions about the mysterious island, but the show was dedicating time to storylines where Sawyer loses at ping pong or Hurley struggles to get an old van's engine to work. "Enough with the filler!" fans said. "Let's get to the good stuff."

And then, season 3 of "Lost" ended with a stretch of wonderful plot-accelerating episodes, culminating in a final twist that fundamentally changed everything we thought we knew about the show. I've still got goosebumps. And although the later seasons have their fair share of critics, fans generally seemed to agree that the show's decision to cut down on the number of episodes — making for a faster-paced show with far less filler — was the right choice.

But as we watch modern shows like "House of the Dragon," one can't help but look back at all the "filler" storylines of early "Lost" under a whole new light. Those final moments of the season 3 finale were mind-blowing in part because of how much they changed the show's status quo. Fans may have been frustrated by how long it took to get to that point, but without the 60-plus episodes beforehand, would the big twist have had anywhere near the same impact?

Are things moving too fast?

A lot happened in this week's episode of "House of the Dragon." Prince Daemon is revealed to have wed Laena Valeryion, and then she dies by the end of the episode. It's revealed that Rhaenyra (now played by Emma D'Arcy) has been having an affair with Ser Harwin Strong and has given birth to three children with him, and then Harwin also dies at the end of the episode. Neither of the deaths have much impact, of course, because we don't really know either of these characters. They played an important part of Rhaenyra and Daemon's lives for 10 years, but for us they're just a footnote.

The status quo of the show has changed a lot since the previous episode, and it changes a lot in this one, but we never truly get to feel the impact of these shifts. Say what you will of the more low-key "Lost" episodes where the characters just sort of hang about on the island, but those episodes created a sense of normalcy, even comfort. Later, when the characters are separated in different places and times, you might find yourself looking back fondly to the simpler era of the early seasons, when you and the characters didn't realize just how stable things were compared to what would come. 

When the status quo changed in "Lost," it was a huge deal. But on "House of the Dragon," it barely seems to mean anything. That's not to say that this season should've stretched out to 20-plus episodes or anything — for the most part, I think the time jumps work — it's just that it feels like we've skipped an episode between this one and "We Light the Way."

Did the show skip an episode?

A big question a lot of fans might have after last night's episode is: how exactly is Ser Criston still on the Kingsguard? He ruined a royal wedding by murdering Laenor's paramour in front of everyone. Yes, Alicent may have had his back, but surely Rhaenyra, Laenor, and Viserys would've all wanted him gone at the time. The fact that he's still around 10 years later isn't completely unbelievable, but it is the sort of thing that warrants more of an on-screen explanation. Not only that, but the story of how all this played out is an interesting one, one that could've made for a good episode of TV.

Another question concerns the ever-growing rivalry between Alicent and Rhaenyra. It seems that Alicent resents Rhaenyra so much because her father's convinced her Rhaenyra will kill her children to ensure her claim to the throne. The problem with this motivation is that it seems pretty clear that Rhaenyra doesn't actually have any intention of murdering Alicent's children. These 10 years of hostility seem to largely be the result of a misunderstanding, one that presumably could've been cleared up at any point by a single 20-minute conversation between the two. 

That may be over-simplifying things, of course: as "The Princess and the Queen" makes clear, Alicent is also motivated by spite, greed, and paranoia that a heart-to-heart talk might not be able to fix. Much like with Cole, it's not completely unbelievable that Alicent and Rhaenrya's relationship is where it's at in this episode; it's just that it would've been nice to have one more episode to fill in these gaps, to make the current dynamic feel a little less awkward.

Imagining episode 5.5

It makes sense that the show would want to avoid an episode that took place in the middle of the 10-year time jump; it would've made the switch in actors (already a bold choice) far more jarring. However, one really can't help but wish they'd had another episode covering the immediate aftermath of the wedding. The show could've centered the episode around the conflict within the Targaryan family over what to do with Criston Cole. They could've shown more of the growing rift between Alicent and Rhaenyra through this conflict, as well as reaffirmed Viserys' general ineffectiveness, which would've allowed him to let this feud remain undealt with for 10 years.

This also would've given us the chance to see the beginning of Harwin and Rhaenyra's relationship, as well as Daemon and Laena's engagement. It wouldn't have been a lot, but it'd have been enough to give the developments in last night's episode more weight than they ended up having. In terms of making us care about Laena and Harwin before they died, just one more episode could've done wonders.

Not a dealbreaker though

It's not that this time jump has ruined "House of the Dragon" or anything, or that the show's general approach doesn't have its upsides. There is something refreshing about a TV show that's so comfortable with skipping through time, allowing important events to happen between episodes and letting the audience fill in those gaps on their own. It really helps to create that feeling all shows reach for, that these characters don't just stop existing when the camera's not on them. They live full, complicated lives, and all we see of them are these little snapshots into the most eventful periods of those lives.

And yet, one can't help but wish the show would slow down at least a little bit. The reason the fourth episode was so good was precisely because of its willingness to focus on a (seemingly) low-stakes night in Rhaenyra's life. Showing a disguised Rhaenyra taking the time to watch and react to a nighttime play in King's Landing wasn't strictly necessary for the plot, but it was a fun moment that helped make her feel a little more familiar. 

Little moments likes these were all over the place in "Lost." Sawyer drinking beer with a Dharma skeleton wasn't necessary for the plot either, but it was just one of the many moments that made us care about the character more than you would in a typical TV show. "House of the Dragon" is still a good show, but like many modern shows with only eight to 10 episode seasons, it might be better if it had a little more time to breathe.