Let’s get real — after nearly an entire season full of time skips, some early naysayers may have been right with accusations that HBO’s House of the Dragon has a pacing issue. Entire character arcs and plot points happen off-screen, and characters’ allegiances wax and waned unpredictably between its now-eight episodes — the latest (and longest) of which might put these complaints to an end.
Six years after Rhaenyra and Daemon’s ‘secret’ wedding, Paddy Considine’s King Viserys is now a husk of a man — after suffering for over two decades, the king finally seems ready to depart this world, but not without having another frustrating succession clash to worry about.
The Iron Throne question looms heavy over everyone’s heads, of course, but this episode is titled ‘The Lord of the Tides’, marking the huge power vacuum in House Velaryon’s court. With Rhaenyra’s illegitimate son Lucerys crossing lines with Lord Corlys Velaryon’s brother Vaemond on the succession chart, tensions are certainly quite high.
The general plotline falls somewhat flat since we’ve not really got to see too much of Vaemond with so many time skips, but the star of the show here is easily Viserys. Painful to watch and dulled by years of calm manipulation at the hands of Lord Hand Otto Hightower, the King decides to shoulder his pain one last time, and preside personally over the court — specifically to defend his daughter’s interests.
This results in one of the series’ most emotional scenes, as Viserys painfully inches towards the throne after forgoing the narcotic ‘Milk of the Poppy’ that helped him through his chronic pain. In a rare moment, we get to see Daemon step forward to help his brother, even placing the crown upon his head close to twenty years after scheming for it himself.
Without Viserys, things were going according to plan, with Alicent and Otto keeping Rhaenyra’s claims on the ropes. Viserys’ last-minute entry, however, shuts Vaemond’s case down entirely, and frustrated, the ‘second son’ of Driftmark flies into a rage, (rightfully) labelling Rhaenyra’s children as bastards, and calling the Princess a whore. Daemon quickly makes a decision here — letting his blade do the talking, as his stepson now becomes the heir to one of Westeros’ most powerful houses, despite not sharing a drop of real blood with the land he’s now entitled to.
Succession settled, Viserys now turns to his next big challenge — uniting his family. While this is clearly doomed to fail, we see the King at his most vulnerable (and disturbing) at a dinner he hosts for both Alicent and Rhaenyra’s families — removing his mask to reveal that half his face has simply rotted away.
Despite the sheer shock value, Viserys is making a calculated move here. By displaying what it took for him to continue suffering for so long, he successfully melts the tension between Alicent and Rhaenyra — the two women most-loyal to him. Both stand and raise a glass to each other’s legacies, with Rhaenyra appreciating Alicent’s loyalty to Viserys and Alicent embracing Rhaenyra’s claim to the throne — a gesture that raises Otto Hightower’s eyebrows for a moment. Aegon II continues to be a prick, while Jacerys — who is now older and a bit wiser, decides to soften things by dancing with Alicent’s daughter Helaena, which brings a smile to Viserys’ face, before the king retires for the night.
Unfortunately, fate has already played its hand in the last episode. Despite Alicent and Rhaenyra’s willingness to stick together for Viserys’ sake, their children are now starkly pitted against each other — especially Aemond Targareyn, who seems to be a deadlier, more opportunistic and younger version of his uncle Daemon.
Mocking Rhaenyra’s children, a scuffle breaks out yet again, foreshadowing things to come. Viserys, meanwhile, on his last legs, rambles in bed about the Azor Ahai prophecy — although it’s unclear whether he knows who he’s speaking to. The result is that both Alicent and Rhaenyra feel that they hold the King’s support for the Iron Throne’s succession — which is now about to start, given that Viserys finally dies, seemingly happy… while also inadvertently stoking the fire between Alicent and Rhaenyra.
Despite departing with expectations of peace, Viserys’ death is the true catalyst for the untold amount of violence, bloodshed, and mayhem that the series has been building up to from the very beginning. Despite a peaceful reign of twenty-six years, Viserys’ ‘passive’ style of governance has resulted in plenty of scheming all around him — and his all-important passing finally ushers in the tragic ‘Dance of the Dragons’ storyline.
Reactions were plenty, and extremely excited at what’s to come:
Personally, the highlight of this episode was easily Paddy Considine’s acting as Viserys.
The veteran actor channelled a very complex and powerful range of emotions through the episode, especially during the Iron Throne scene — director Geeta Patel also shared a similar sentiment in a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter:
“When we rehearsed it, and Rhaenyra just happened to have been in the middle of talking when he comes in. All of a sudden, it came together in my head. I called Ryan [Condal, showrunner] and said, “Wait a minute. He’s not walking to the throne. He’s walking to his daughter. He’s doing this for her, he’s finally choosing family.”
So at the last minute, we figured out how to get some footage of Rhaenyra looking at Viserys and Viserys looking at her. I had tears in my eyes because the love a father has for his daughter is so beautiful and so primal. And the fact that it came to fruition amid all the struggle, it was just awesome.”
House of the Dragon will return on 16th October with the penultimate episode of Season 1, on Hotstar.
Lead Image: HBO