We are back!!! Game of Thrones hopes to leave the frustrations of the original series in the past. The new series, House of the Dragon, takes place approximately 175 years before the events of Game of Thrones and the “Song of Ice and Fire” saga. It will focus primarily on the lines of succession between the Targaryen family, and the Dance of Dragons that resulted in their near extinction. Below, we break down Season 1: Episode 1 – The Heirs of the Dragon – Directed by Michael Sapochnik and written by Ryan J. Condal.
Jaehaerys Taragaryen, also known as The Old King due to his 60-year reign, must choose a successor for the realm. As his health fails, he calls a council of the high lords to Harrenhal, a stronghold in Westeros. Here, Jaehaerys hears many claims for his succession but limits his choices to two cousins – Princess Rhaenys Velaryon (Eve Best), the eldest descendent, and Prince Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine), the eldest male descendent. The lords push for Prince Viserys to take the throne, and he is granted the claim as heir.
Nine years later, King Viserys plans a jousting tournament to coincide with the birth of his first male heir. His wife, Aemma Arryn (Sian Brooke), has struggled with her most recent pregnancy, only her second to come to term. The Queen has suffered more than a half-dozen miscarriages and stillborn children. Viserys’ dream of a male heir gives him hope to continue his line. His daughter, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock/Emma D’Arcy), rides her dragon Syrax.
During a meeting of the Small Council at the Red Keep, it is revealed that Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) assumed control of the City Watch. His efforts have resulted in an army loyal to the Prince, who has been named heir should Viserys not produce one. Daemon and Rhaenyra meet at the Iron Throne, where Daemon imparts a gift of Valerian Steel to his niece. In the Small Council, Lord Corlys Veraryon (Steve Toussaint) raises fears about an emerging “Triarchy” – with Cragas Drahar emerging as the Free Cities leader. The rest of the council appears unconcerned. Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey/Olivia Cooke), the daughter to Hand of the King Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), reads a story to Princess Rhaenyra.
Prince Daemon leads his Gold Cloaks, the colloquial name for the City Watch, to cleanse the city of its criminals. The resulting night leads to hundreds of dismemberments and executions, striking fear into many. The Small Council meets, causing strife between Daemon and Otto. After the fight, we are introduced to Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno), Daemon’s mistress, as she comforts him.
The King’s Jousting Tournament kicks off with the announcement that Queen Aemma has gone into labor. Prince Daemon dominates the tournament against lesser foes, while Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) emerges as a talented knight. Ser Criston bests Daemon in the final, while King Viserys tends to his wife. Queen Aemma suffers complications in childbirth, resulting in the King forcing a C-section. She passes away, and their son, Prince Baelon, does not survive the night.
A funeral pyre is lit by Princess Rhaenyra, and the council pushes King Viserys to name a new heir. However, they do not trust Daemon, with Otto leading the charge against the King’s brother. While Daemon listens to the debate from the shadows, Otto suggests Rhaenyra will be a more suitable heir. After the Council, Otto tells Alicent to offer the King comfort after losing his wife and son.
Daemon buys out a brothel for his men, and rumors circulate about the tone of the evening. Otto reveals that Prince Daemon referred to Baelon’s passing in a speech, naming him the “Heir for a Day” during the festivities. This angers Viserys, who banishes Daemon from the council and forces him to claim Rhaenyra as his heir. It is revealed to Rhaenyra that Aegon the Conquerer chose to embark on his conquest because of a dream. In this prophetic dream, a Targaryen King or Queen must lead forces against a cold winter that will ravish the land. The King names Rhaenyra as heir, and the Lords of Westeros pledge fealty to her.
Light the Funeral Pyres
- Queen Aemma
- Prince Baelon
- A dozen knights
- At least a dozen criminals of King’s Landing
- It was great to have Thrones back in our lives, and House of the Dragon reminded us why it ran circles around its contemporaries. The spectacle has always been on another level, but the personal tragedy that echoes through the series is nearly impossible to replicate. There’s a vulnerability from its characters on display, in part because of the brutality of the world, that cannot be equaled. Tragedy, moral quandaries, and genuine frustration towards stupid character decisions is what makes the series so much fun. Even when characters make despicable choices, it’s clear that we will see the repercussions for episodes to come.
- That reveal at the end of the episode about Aegon’s Conquest is quite the game-changing moment. It does a lot to shake up the established Westrosi histories and paints the actions of the Targaryens that will follow in a bad light. We know this knowledge never makes it to Daeny. When is this knowledge lost? Maybe there was a better way of disseminating this information than passing it from King to King?
- The lines in the sand seem to be drawn rather quickly. Otto puts the Hightower family in the position to rule for centuries, mainly through the sacrifice of his own daughter. The series has never been subtle about seduction, and given how Rhaenyra and Alicent appear to be enemies later in the season, the sequences between them here take on extra weight.
- Princess Rhaenyra should step into a role on the Small Council quickly, even though she did not sit as a member of it in previous iterations. By shadowing the group and serving them during meetings, she has experience understanding how they function.
Things to Look Forward To
- We’re not saying goodbye to Milly Alcock or Emily Carey, but both figures will be portrayed by different performers later in the season. Emma D’Arcy (a non-binary performer) will take over the role of Raenyra as we experience a time jump of about ten years. Olivia Cooke will do the same, but for Alicent Hightower.
- The relationship between Princess Rhaenyra and Princess Rhaenys should come center stage in the coming weeks. The narrative of “The Queen That Never Was” already has supporters in prominent families. This may indicate unhappiness with Viserys, which may lead directly to the Dance of Dragons.
- Lord Viserys did not consult the Lords of the land when it came to naming an heir. To the contrary, he made a spiteful, prideful choice at the drop of a hat. His father, King Jaehaerys, opened up a thousand Lord Council. How will the Lords react to Lord Viserys’ decision when precedent dictated something entirely different? Also of note, that was the method that gave him his claim. To buck that tradition, when it was how he himself came to power, wreaks of a lack of self-awareness.
- Ser Criston takes center stage at a tournament against the heir to the realm. That may have consequences. It should also be noted that Princess Rhaenyra had already talked about Dorne, the land that Criston calls home. Rhaenyra discusses it in the context of the famed Nymeria, a warrior-princess that came to Dorne from Valeryia. She is an ancestor of the Targaryens and House Martell (which played a prominent role in Game of Thrones). There may be some parallels on the horizon.
- The “Triarchy” business, especially with Cragas Drahar, seems rather important. One does not simply drop the hint that a character is named “the Crabfeeder” without that going somewhere. Given the amount of bloodshed and violence in this episode, the fact that Corlys has pegged him as a threat should speak volumes.
Alan’s Favorite Quick Character Power Rankings
- Lord Corlys Velaryon – The guy just oozes charisma and seems mostly unbothered about the lines of succession. He wants to keep order, and frankly, we like that. Eye on the larger picture. Also, Lord of the Tides, Master of Driftmark? What a title.
- Daemon Targaryen – This one is quite unusual for me. Not really a Matt Smith guy, yet he’s doing a lot here. He gets to show off his charisma, seems genuinely wounded by the actions of others, and seems to be right about Otto Hightower. Looks like we might have our Jaime Lannister for the series.
- Rhaenyra Targaryen – Clearly has the goods to be Queen, and seems genuinely sharp. Pretty excited to see her journey, but her higher ambitions mean we’ll likely never get sequences that made me fall in love with Tormund or Ser Davos. Will seemingly always place high on my lists.
- Princess Rhaenys Velaryon – She’s got an eye for the bigger picture as well. While she has a legitimate claim to the Throne, she also knows that she had to let some stuff go in order to survive in this world. Also married Corlys, and that bodes well.
- Ser Harrold Weesterling (Graham McTavish) – I’ve got to admit, some real leftover love from Outlander. The dude was awesome on that show. Any time we get to spend with him here feels ripe for badassery. Also wildly overqualified for the role of a knight on this show. If he only stays a side character, we’ll have plenty of good moments in store.