After eight episodes of backstory, HBO’s House of the Dragon has finally upped the ante after King Viserys’ death in the previous episode — driving Westeros to the brink of the bloodiest civil war in its long history.
The episode repeatedly refers to the late King Viserys as ‘Viserys the Peaceful’ — fair enough, considering that Paddy Considine’s fan-favorite character was well known for his abhorrence of conflict. In contrast, Rhys Ifan’s Otto Hightower — who after years of scheming, finally has his own blood on the Iron Throne, as a misinterpreted prophecy drives his daughter Queen Alicent to place her son Aegon on the throne, instead of Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy).
Rhaenyra and her immediate family are nowhere to be found in this episode, which remains razor-focused on the events of Viserys’ succession at King’s Landing. Far away from the influence of Rhaenyra and Daemon, Alicent holds a small council meeting to discuss her son’s claim to the throne — only to discover that Otto has most of the council in his pockets already. Master of Coin Lord Lyman Beesbury (Bill Paterson) is the only one who stands by Rhaenyra’s claim — and finds himself bashed to death by Ser Criston Cole, summarily.
(Seriously, how many heads will Cole cave in by the time the war is over?)
The council then puts matters into motion, with those unwilling to stick to Otto’s plans quickly cut down or imprisoned. Aegon himself has been oblivious to his own succession as king, and two search parties set out to find him, led by Aemond and Criston on Queen Alicent’s behalf, and Kingsguards twins Arryk and Erryk Cargyll on Otto’s.
There’s a great deal of irony here. While Aemond quietly shares his lack of faith in Aegon as a good ruler, the twins find themselves in the underbelly of King’s Landing — witnessing blood sport between enslaved children, some of which are Aegon’s discarded bastards. All four men are on a quest to find a man who doesn’t want to be found, doesn’t want to be king, and they all agree is unfit for the role.
Eventually, it’s Mysaria — who has played a backseat role in recent episodes — that knows of Aegon’s whereabouts, and who eventually gives him up, for a price.
All through the episode, Alicent herself undergoes some very complicated emotions. Not only is she convinced that Aegon is the true heir, she also feels conflicted at the idea of violence between her and Rhaenyra, and despite needing Princess Rhaenys’ help, is politically motivated to keep her under house arrest.
Rhaenys, who clearly understands the situation and her allegiances, calls out Alicent for pandering to the whims of her sons, husband, and especially her father — the man who stands at the epicentre of Westeros’ current political predicament. Frustrated, Alicent leaves to scheme (and share a foot fetish) with the unsettling Lord Larys Strong.
Fortunately for Rhaenys, she’s got allies of her own. Whisked away out of town by Ser Arryk, Rhaenys laments that she may not be able to rescue her dragon before escaping King’s Landing, but is soon dragged along by the massive crowd of commoners making their way to the great hall, where Otto has summoned them to witness Aegon’s coronation.
Delighted, Rhaenys slinks away into the dragonpit beneath — smashing into the Great Hall riding Meleys, the ‘Red Queen’. With a terrified populace fleeing for their lives, Rhaenys turns around to let her dragon roar defiantly at the royal family. It’s clear that she’s considering ordering a Hightower barbecue at this point, but she simply turns away and flies northeast — where Rhaenyra and her allies lie at Dragonstone.
In a nutshell, this means war. It’s an epic way to kick off the conflict that we’ll be enjoying for quite a while now — at least three more seasons, if George R.R. Martin’s words can be relied upon. “It is going to take four full seasons of 10 episodes each to do justice to the Dance of the Dragons, from start to finish,” said the author, who penned a blog post addressing the show, its production challenges, and his renewed interest in finally finishing The Winds of Winter.
Meanwhile, fans have pretty much lost their minds in the face of Season 1’s penultimate episode — with plenty of interest directed towards the sole pro-Rhaenyra voice we’ve seen today, Rhaenys.
Interestingly, Rhaenys’ entrance was also foretold by Aegon’s sister-wife Helaena:
Team Green also got in a few iconic moments — event though the episode definitely painted them as clear antagonists:
We also got a quick glimpse of the season finale — which promises to be absolutely epic:
House of the Dragon will return next Monday at 6:30 AM, on Hotstar.
Lead Image: HBO