Spoilers are coming!
“House of the Dragon” Sundays have been an integral part of my week for the past two months and has brought me immense joy (as well as pain). The season finale aired a few weeks ago and did not disappoint. Nearly every “Game of Thrones” fan has expressed their pleasant surprise with the prequel, especially after the disappointing end to the original series–in fact, so many people have expressed this that it’s officially a cliché.
This new series’ ability to stand by itself is particularly attractive. Potential viewers do not need to have watched all eight seasons of the original series, it can be enjoyed by itself. It is also not an overly-arduous watch since the frequent jumps in time keep it fast paced, engaging the viewer’s attention as they eagerly attempt to figure out which dynamics have changed over the months or even years.
As a result of the broad timeline, the younger characters are portrayed by multiple actors; and this show certainly does not suffer from a lack of acting talent. Every one of the actors were outstanding, I was especially moved by Olivia Cooke, Emma D’Arcy, Ewan Mitchell, and Paddy Considine. I suspect there will be no shortage of nominations–and wins–come awards season.
Acting prowess, character development elaborate wardrobes, the soundtrack, and so much more ensured that I thoroughly enjoyed every scene of this show (except for the foot one, I am forever traumatized), but some are undoubtedly outstanding, and deserving of recognition:
- “I may have lost an eye but I gained a dragon.”
After Aemond has finally secured himself a dragon, the Targaryen/Hightower/Velaryeon/Strong children engage in a brawl that leaves young Aemond without his left eye (as foretold by his prophetic sister Helaena). The parents demand an explanation for the bloodshed, sensational confrontation ensues.
The conflict between the children gives the parents an opportunity to vent their grievances with each other. Alicent cries out “What have I done but what was expected of me?” The queen is undoubtedly flawed and it can be difficult to sympathize with her (especially if you’re partial towards Rhaenyra), but this line paired with Olivia Cooke’s delivery really conveys Alicent’s resentment at the life she was forced into. She has been a dutiful wife and clearly cares for Viserys, but it is not difficult to see that she would have preferred more say in the matter of her marriage. For years she produced heirs and suppressed her desires, whereas Rhaenyra selected her husband and then indulged in an affair, resulting in three illegitimate children and seemingly no consequences. Alicent has done nothing but play by the rules, and the resentment has built up.
There is also speculation that Alicent felt romantic love towards Rhaenyra and her resentment stems from feeling more complicated than envy. I think this would be very interesting, yet I am not fully convinced this is the case since it seems like Alicent has some sort of romantic/emotional connection to Ser Criston Cole (hence her anger at Rhaenyra for sleeping with him). The “everything you feel for me as your queen” comment in episode 9 was highly suspicious.
Regardless of her motives, Alicent lashes out, drawing a blade and lunging towards the Blacks. This face off in which Rhaenyra exclaims “now they see you as you are” was a standout moment in the trailer, and it was just as good in context! This scene was a brilliant moment of foreshadowing, as it establishes the Greens and the Blacks as opposing sides of the Targaryean family.
- Rhaenyra and Daemon’s Wedding
Initially, I was very wary of a potential relationship between Rhaenyra and Daemon, and for more reasons than their common ancestry, afterall, that’s how the Targaryens do things. Certainly in the first couple episodes, Daemon comes across as a man hungry for power and thirsty for blood. This actually doesn’t change much as the season progresses, but these characteristics are balanced by his heroic actions in the Step Stones and the affection he clearly has for his family (except Rhea, rest in peace).
The traditional Valerian wedding was a satisfying development following six episodes of will-they-won’t-they tension and the deaths of Harwin Strong and Laena Velaryeon. I also loved that it was mixed with scenes of the couple plotting Laenor’s “death,” for a moment I really thought Rhaenyra and Daemon had Laenor killed (especially since Daemon wouldn’t hesitate to do so). However, it was very satisfying to see Laenor escape with his lover across the Narrow Sea to live a less constraining life, a reward for years of faithfully serving his wife and her children.
- King Viserys defends Rhaenyra
Viserys’ agonizingly slow steps toward the iron throne bolstered by Ramin Djwadi’s powerful soundtracking (“Protector of the Realm”) resulted in one of this year’s best moments in television. Rhaenyra’s teary plea to her deteriorating father the night before inspired him to resist medication and support his daughter and grandchildren.
This moving display of fatherly affection is followed by an entertaining proof of husbandly devotion. According to the laws and customs of Westeros, Vaemond had every right to question Lucerys’s claim to the Driftwood Throne; however, he acted rather hastily, as if Corlys was already dead. Additionally, calling Rhaenyra “a whore” was not necessary. Surely he did not expect such slander to be received well. Daemon’s defense of Rhaenyra was probably his best on-screen moment of this season, a grotesque yet sweet moment where both his good and bad sides act together. The cherry on top of this scene has to be Aemond’s reaction to Daemon’s handiwork, perhaps aspiring to be just like him.
- “Vaghar, no!”
There were several emotional deaths in this season–Aema, Laena, Viserys, Visenya (Rhaenyra’s stillborn daughter)–yet what makes this one particularly painful is that it was preventable.
In this show, you select your favorite war criminal and defend them no matter how depraved they may be. Aemond, after Rhaenyra, is my favorite character, yet I cannot pretend I am not upset with him. However, despite his foolish recklessness he did not seek to kill Luke, he just wanted to scare him. Showrunner Ryan Condal has even said “I don’t think ultimately [Aemond] intended to kill [Luke], but now he’s done it.”
Aemond clearly never got over losing his eye and sought to extract some form of payment from Luke. Interestingly enough, the skirmish that took Aemond’s eye also pitted the parents against each other, so it almost feels like his loss and resultant bitterness formally began the rivalry between the Greens and Blacks, and the actual war.
This chase gave viewers craving more dragon content an epic sequence, teasing what sort of battles we will see next season! Also, the behind the scenes footage is just as entertaining as the scene itself.
I do not want to come across as some sort of sycophant. House of the Dragon is very good, and I anticipate its future season(s) will be just as amazing. I just hope its success will not encourage a dramatic spike in Game of Thrones wannabes. Not every show needs to be of such epic proportions, especially since doing so is immensely difficult (not to mention sustaining such a beast, as GoT fans are well aware).
That being said, HBO has greenlit a second season. George R. R. Martin, author of the books, has said there will have to be four seasons to fully cover the Dance of the Dragons, but the creators of HotD seem interested in exploring more than just the civil war between the Targaryens. Henry Cavill has been rumored to be in consideration for a role, this followed by the announcement of his departure from The Witcher (after season three) has intensified speculation. He has been a fan favorite to portray Aegon the Conqueror, so maybe this new season will not only continue the current Dance of the Dragons story, but also intertwine it with the origin of Targaryen rule in Westeros…
Rumors aside, I absolutely adore House of the Dragon! It’s entertaining, easy to get emotionally invested in, and perfectly balances romance and action. I will likely rewatch this first season multiple times in the next couple years, since that is at least how long fans will have to wait for the second season.