The first blood of the Dance of the Dragons has been drawn. In its time-jumping first season, House of the Dragon set the stage for the legendary Targaryen civil war—which takes place around 150 years before the events of Game of Thrones—while focusing on the friendship-turned-rivalry between King Viserys' declared heir Princess Rhaenyra (Emma D'Arcy) and his second wife Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke).
In episode 9, after Viserys' the Peaceful's (Paddy Considine) death, Alicent and her father Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), leaders of the Greens, place the king's firstborn son on the Iron Throne before Rhaenyra can even hear news of his father's passing. The jam-packed finale shows the aftermath after Rhaenyra and her allies, known as the Blacks, learn of the usurpers' rise. Here's our breakdown of the episode and where the story could go in season 2.
Rhaenyra loses her unborn child.
When the finale begins, Rhaenyra and her family are settled in Dragonstone with their thoughts still on the events on episode 8. Her secondborn Lucerys (Elliot Grihault) is nervous about being the heir to Driftmark, but Rhaenyra comforts him and says she will help prepare him for his future lordship. The sweet moment is brief before Rhaenys (Eve Best) arrives with the news of Viserys' death and Aegon's (Tom Glynn-Carney) Dragonpit coronation. Daemon (Matt Smith) is immediately furious, assuming that Alicent murdered Viserys and asking Rhaenys why she didn't dracarys them all (as we all were asking at the end of episode 9!!). Rhaenys says this war isn't hers to initiate, a stance of neutrality she'll keep for most of the episode.
While Daemon jumps to anger, Rhaenyra is devastated after learning she's lost her father and maybe her throne. She begins bleeding, as the stress of the moment induces an early labor. While Daemon begins planning for war, calling a council around Dragonstone's carved map table, his wife's screams echo from her bedchamber into the Great Hall. Even while she's in pain, Rhaenyra is the one who tells Jaecaerys (Harry Collett) and Luke about their grandfather's death, and she doesn't want Daemon to make any war moves without her. Jace tells Daemon to stand down, but instead of going to his wife/niece's side, he goes to threaten some members of the Kingsguard to swear loyalty to Rhaenyra, under the threat of being executed by his dragon Caraxes.
Like the series' other childbirth sequences so far, Rhaenyra's stillbirth is brutal, visceral, and arguably gratuitous. She refuses help from her nurses, delivering the stillborn baby herself. Once it's over, she silently holds the unliving child, as Daemon finally comes to the chamber. They don't speak before the scene cuts to Rhaenyra performing the burial rights, followed by a beachside funeral where they burn the body in the Targaryen tradition. During the funeral, Ser Erryk Cargyll (the one of the twin knights who was anti-Aegon, played by Elliott Tittensor) arrives and offers Rhaenyra her father's golden crown. Daemon places it on her head, calling back to the emotional scene between himself and his brother Viserys. With that, Rhaenyra becomes queen.
The new queen holds off on attacking the Greens.
The next several scenes demonstrate Rhaenyra's restraint in the face of a ruinous, dragon-filled war. While she was indisposed, her bannermen received confirmations of some of her alliances, but several houses' alliances are up in the air, including the Arryns, the Starks, and the Baratheons. (We saw in episode nine that the Lannisters are with the Greens.) The Blacks do have the most dragons, 13 total versus the Greens' 4, and Daemon wants to lead with that, taking over the war meeting and commanding his own plans. Before any decisions can be made, Ser Erryk alerts them that a ship is arriving, flying a banner of a three-headed green dragon.
The Green party is led by Otto, and Daemon meets him outside on the Dragonstone steps. In a callback from Episode 2, Rhaenyra arrives late on dragonback, with Syrax landing behind the Greens. Otto has a stacked offer if Rhaenyra steps down and supports Aegon: she and Jace get Dragonstone, Luke gets Driftmark, her allies get pardoned, and she and Daemon's young sons receive places in Aegon's court. Daemon's response is classic: "I would rather feed my sons to the dragons than have them carry shields and cups for your drunken, usurper c**t of a king."
Otto's argument is based on the optics that the Greens have built: Aegon wears his namesake Aegon the Conqueror's crown, carries his sword, and was crowned before the public. He has the "symbols of legitimacy," while Rhaenyra has twenty-year-old oaths, taken before Viserys had a son. The Hand's final blow is emotional, as he gives Rhaenyra a torn page from a history book. It's the same page Rhaenyra tore out all those years ago, when the girls were studying the story of Nymeria—a warrior princess who ruled over Dorne for two decades, not Arya's direwolf—back in the premiere. It's Alicent's olive branch, to show she remembers their friendship and wants to bloodshed. With that, Rhaenyra tells Otto that she'll give him her response later, to the annoyance of trigger-ready Daemon.
Daemon goes after the second largest dragon.
At the next war council, lit by candles and the awesome glowing table map, Rhaenyra explains her resistance to attack. She reminds her men of Viserys' stories of ancient Valyria, saying, "When dragons flew to war, everything burned. I do not wish to rule over a kingdom of ash and bone." It's a wise stance (that does ring in my ears as a Daenerys apologist), but Daemon refuses to listen, saying that Rhaenyra's father taught her his feckless ways. The queen clears the room, and in private, she reminds her uncle/husband of the duty that surpasses all of their personal ambitions: the Song of Ice and Fire prophecy. At its mention, as Rhaenyra says Viserys shared the dream with her when he named her heir, Daemon clutches her throat. It's a show of power that reveals weakness, as Rhaenyra realizes her father never told his brother about the prophecy. It's another sign that Viserys never wanted Daemon as his heir, and it wounds the prince.
Daemon's missing from the next day's war council, with Rhaenyra assuming he's off somewhere nursing his wounds. He is, but he's also still building power, just as the queen is. His solution to victory is still dragons, so he heads into the active volcano under Dragonstone, called Dragonmont, where the wild and unclaimed dragons live. Singing a High Valyrian song, he walks up to Vermithor, the second largest living dragon who was previously ridden by King Jaehaerys. We don't see what happens between the dragon and potential rider, but Daemon makes it out of the cave alive, so he and Vermithor are at least on decent terms if they didn't claim each other.
Rhaenyra's son Lucerys dies.
That third war meeting includes the return of Lord Corlys (Steve Touissant), whose near-fatal injury was the catalyst for the events of episode 8. He arrived at Dragonstone earlier in the episode, while his wife Rhaenys was staying neutral and waiting for his recovery. Once they're awake in the same room, she shames him for running off to war in the wake of their children Laena (Nanna Blondell) and Laenor's (John Macmillian) deaths. She also tells him of his brother's death, which came courtesy of Daemon in episode 8. (Side note: We haven't spent much time with the Velaryons, but they could have their own spin-off and I would welcome it.)
After hearing all this, Corlys finally lets go of his ambitions for the Iron Throne and tells his wife they should return to a quiet life in Driftmark with their four grandchildren. But Rhaenys has also switched her stance; she reminds her husband that Jace and Luke will not be safe as Aegon is king. She also supports Rhaenyra after seeing her hesitance to go to war, as she's the only one holding the realm together.
Corlys officially gives his loyalty to Rhaenyra, and shares that their side now has his massive fleet and control of the Narrow Sea. They now have a legitimate plan to attack King's Landing (sounding like another Battle of the Blackwater) but Rhaenyra says she will not be the one to make the first attack of the war. Instead, she wants to send ravens to the Arryns, Starks, and Baratheons, but Jace offers that sending the princes on their dragons would be faster, and more impressive. So Jace heads out to the Eyrie, and then Winterfell, while Luke flies to the nearer Baratheon castle Storm's End. Before they leave, she makes her sons swear that they will go as messengers, not warriors, and she has another sweet moment with Luke, saying that she expects him to receive a very warm welcome. (I haven't heard a bigger jinx in recent TV history.)
When Luke arrives at Storm's End on his dragon Arrax, Vhaghar is parked outside. Instead of turning and running, the brave prince still goes inside, where Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) is waiting after arriving with a head start and a marriage pact. Ser Borros Baratheon (Roger Evans) is rude and refuses to read, asking Luke which of his daughters he will marry. (Luke's already betrothed to his cousin Rhaena.) Baratheon derisively sends Luke away for arriving empty-handed, but Aemond quickly jumps to antagonize his nephew, demanding he cut out his own eye if he won't fight. Before Aemond can charge Luke, Baratheon orders his guards to escort Luke out to his dragon, wanting no bloodshed in his hall.
The chase that ensues, with Aemond and Vhaghar pursuing Luke and Arrax through a literal thunderstorm, is a harbinger of doom for the upcoming war. Remember when Viserys said in the beginning of the season that the relationship between dragons and riders is challenging, as a dragon will never entirely be tamed? That foreshadowing is fulfilled as the large and tiny dragons go rogue, with their riders fruitlessly ordering them to listen to commands. Arrax gets a sneak attack on Vhaghar, the equivalent of a house kitten scratching a lion, and Vhaghar gets pissed. For a second, it actually looks like Luke will get away, as he and Arrax emerge through the storm into sunshine. It's very short-lived, as Vhagar flies up and bites into the pair, tearing both the dragon and the boy in half.
Aemond's expression after Luke's death is a mix of "What have I done" and "What will I tell Mother." He knows that he just set off the war; sure Vhaghar went rogue, but Aemond started the chase. Though it would've been great to see the conversation when he returns to the Red Keep, this episode is Rhaenyra's, so the final scene sees Daemon coming up to the queen and telling her of her son's death. Their backs are to us as he gives the news, so we can only see the devastated sag of the mother's shoulders. But then she turns around, with one tear trailing down her face and a look of fury rivaling all others. Next season, the war is on.
What could happen in season 2?
The HotD team's goal was to leave with an ending that would have is pleading for a second season, and they delivered. Luckily, we already know that new episodes are on the way, but all we'll have for the next year at least is our own meticulous fan theories.
The two sides of the Dance of the Dragons are pretty evenly matched at the end of the premiere. The Greens have King's Landing, the Kingsguard, the Lannister fleet, and four dragons, but mostly Vhaghar. They're also absolutely the less honor-bound side, at least during the finale. Meanwhile, the Arryns' support for the Blacks is nearly guaranteed (Rhaenyra's late mother Aemma was an Arryn before marriage), and after that Jaecerys is headed for the Starks in Winterfell. No book spoilers (I'll be reading the tome over the next few months, as I'm sure other show fans will), but if they get the support of the North, that plus the Velaryons plus the dragons would put Rhaenyra ahead if Alicent didn't have home court advantage. Also, that look on Rhaenyra's face hints that those pesky problems of honor and integrity will likely fade away next season.
Basically, the Dance of the Dragons will be the war of Fire & Blood as promised by George R.R. Martin's novel. (A bloodbath? Firebath? Dracarys-fest?) The first battle between Aemond and Lucerys shows that the bulk of the fighting in the Targaryen civil war will happen between the children. The opening scene foreshadows their place in the conflict, as Lucerys tells his mother that he doesn't even want Driftmark. It was never really these kids' choice whether or not they will have to fight and bleed and die over the Iron Throne, just as Rhaenyra's and Alicent's places were never entirely their choice (Viserys at least tried to give Rhaenyra agency over being heir, unlike Otto leading Alicent towards marrying the king, but still.)
There's also very little chance that two of the show's major relationships will ever be the same. However Daemon stans want to frame the event on Twitter, the finale showed Daemon and Rhaenyra's absolute differences of opinion, and they may not be able to make it all the way through the war as commander and sovereign as well as loving husband and wife. Also, Rhaenyra and Alicent's friendship became much harder to salvage after Luke's death. Even if Aemond admits it was an accident, this goes deeper than an eye for an eye. It'll be interesting to see who comes out alive the next time the two queens face each other (which probably won't happen until Season 5). As for now, Season 1 is over, and there's a dozen places the narrative could go.
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