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Monday, June 17, 2024

‘House of the Dragon’ Season Finale Recap: This Means War

King Viserys finally passed away in last week’s episode, but Rhaenyra and Daemon Targaryen didn’t find out about it. Unbeknownst to them, a new king, Aegon the Second, had already been crowned. They learned of these bombshells in Sunday’s fiery House of the Dragon season 1 finale, which saw the first dragon fight of the Targaryen civil war.

Though Rhaenyra finds out about the Hightowers’ treachery early in the episode, she’s reluctant to plunge the realm into war. Like Alicent in the previous episode, she wants to find a peaceful solution. Daemon doesn’t share her pacifist instincts.

House of the Dragon has been renewed for a second season, though we don’t yet know when that’ll hit. Hopefully the wait isn’t long, as the finale will get you aching for the civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons. For the final time this year: House of the Dragon spoilers below.

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Ignorance is bliss

We begin this week in Dragonstone, which hasn’t yet gotten word of King Viserys’ death. Lucerys Targaryen is anxious about his being appointed Lord of Driftmark: Lord Corlys was the world’s greatest sailor, but Lucerys says he gets seasick before the ship even leaves the harbor. “I’d ruin everything!” he exclaims to his mother Rhaenyra.

Rhaenyra, who’s heavily pregnant, calms him down. She talks about how she wasn’t ready to be queen when she was named heir, but that in time she’s earned her inheritance. Rhaenyra, for the last moment, is blissfully unaware that Aegon is sitting on the throne. That bliss is shattered by Princess Rhaenyra’s arrival at Dragonstone.

Standing in Dragonstone’s hall with Daemon and a crew of soldiers, Princess Rhaenys becomes the bearer of bad news.

“Viserys is dead. I grieve this loss with you, Rhaenyra. My cousin, your father, possessed a kind heart,” she says. “There is more. Aegon has been crowned as his successor.”


Lucerys and Rhaenyra Targaryen.


Rhaenyra is shocked, but Daemon looks even more so. He asks how the king died, and Rhaenyra says she doesn’t know. Daemon immediately accuses Alicent of murdering the king.

When Rhaenys reveals she was locked up as a prisoner but managed to escape on her dragon Meleys, Daemon raises the question on many viewers’ minds last week: Why didn’t Rhaenys just burn them all? “That whore of a queen murdered my brother and stole his throne, and you could have burned them all for it,” he says.

“A war is likely to be fought over this treachery for sure, but that war is not mine to begin,” Rhaenys replies.

The Queen Who Never Was adds that “the greens,” King Aemon’s supporters, are coming for Rhaenys and her children. It’s at this inopportune moment that Rhaenys goes into labor. I don’t even remember her being pregnant two episodes ago, but things move fast in House of the Dragon.

A maester says Rhaenyra isn’t near the end of her term, that the birth shouldn’t be happening. As Rhaenyra goes into labor, Daemon commands their troops in Dragonstone’s great hall. Rhaenyra’s cries and bellows can be heard clearly. It’s a full circle moment from episode 1, when Queen Aemma told Rhaenyra that childbirth is a woman’s battlefield.

Rhaenys brings Lucerys and Jacaerys to Rhaenyra. In the middle of labor, she tells the kids that their grandsire is dead, that Aegon has been crowned king. Daemon, she says, is off plotting “his” war. “Whatever claim remains to me, you are now its heir,” Rhaenyra says to Jacaerys. “Naught is to be done but by my command.”

At that moment, Daemon is strategizing with their war council. He says they’ll need the lords of Westeros to back Rhaenyra’s claim if they’re to win the war. Just as Daemon declares he’ll fly to the Riverlands to affirm House Tully’s support, Jacaerys storms in and says no action will be taken while Rhaenyra’s out.


Ser Erryk presents Viserys’ crown to Rhaenyra.


Daemon instructs the maesters to send ravens to various houses demanding their support, and tells Jacaerys to follow him. They go outside Dragonstone castle. Daemon stands atop a hill with two Kingsguard knights below — pretty obvious where this is going. He asks who they’re loyal to, which monarch they recognize, and gives them a choice. Out comes his dragon, roaring into the distance. Either they can pledge their lives to Queen Rhaenyra or they can die honorably right now.

While Daemon gives Kingsguard knights the shakedown, Rhaenyra’s delivery culminates with a stillborn fetus. It’s a traumatic scene, with lots of anguish and lots of gushing blood. We get a montage of Rhaenyra grieving over the child amid a funeral ceremony, while Daemon walks a beach and plunges his sword in the sand.

Just like with Baelor in the first episode, there’s a pyre ceremony to see the child off. It’s interrupted by Ser Erryk, the knight who defected from the Hightowers last episode by helping Rhaenys escape. He swears fealty to Queen Rhaenyra. Best of all, he brought with him Viserys’ crown.

Daemon places it on her head and kneels, leading everyone in attendance to do the same — except for Rhaenys (and the guards on duty). She only looks on proudly.


Daemon bows to the queen.


Aegon’s pesky prophecy

After the heart-wrenching first 20 minutes, in which Rhaenyra birthed and grieved for a stillborn child, everyone proceeds as if nothing happened at all. Donning her new crown, Rhaenyra and her team surround Dragonstone’s Painted Table and start planning for a fight.

They have enough resources to defend Dragonstone, but not enough to conquer King’s Landing. This leads to a discussion of which houses they can get to align with them. The Arryns, the Tullys and Lord Grover are all mentioned.

“What of Storm’s End and Winterfell?” one of the council says. “There has never been a Stark who forgot an oath, and with House Stark the North will follow.”

Lord Corlys, who appears to be making a recovery, is sailing to Dragonstone, Rhaenys reveals.


Daemon and Rhaenyra’s children at the Painted Table.


Everyone agrees the Lannisters will be no help, that they’re firmly on team Hightower. It’s suggested that they don’t even bother amassing men and instead scorch King’s Landing with dragonfire. As they argue over whether they have enough dragons to pull that off, Otto Hightower and a delegation from the capital arrive in Driftmark. They meet him on the same bridge where Rhaenyra confronted Daemon years ago.

“Princess Rhaenyra,” Hightower begins, but Rhaenyra cuts him off.

“I’m Queen Rhaenyra now, and you are all traitors to the realm.”

Hightower lays out his offer. If Rhaenyra and Daemon bend the knee to Aegon, the king will confirm their possession of Dragonstone. Jacaerys will become heir to Dragonstone, and Lucerys will keep his claim to Driftmark. Daemon and Rhaenyra’s children will be given places of honor in the king’s court.

“I would rather feed my sons to the dragons than have them carry shields and cups for your drunken, usurper cunt of a king,” Daemon says.


Daemon reacts to Otto Hightower’s terms.


Hightower says they don’t have enough men to take King’s Landing, and that the Starks, Tullys and Baratheons are being given generous terms to join the green cause as they speak.

“Stale oaths will not put you on the Iron Throne, Princess. The succession changed the day your father sired a son,” Hightower says. He also presents a gift from Queen Alicent: A page from the history book they were reading together all the way back in episode 1. The queen remembers fondly their close friendship, Hightower says, and wishes it to continue.

Daemon suggests war, and unsheathes his sword to kill Hightower right then and there. Rhaenyra stops him, and says that King’s Landing will have her answer tomorrow.

Back inside Dragonstone’s hall, Daemon reprimands the queen. They have more dragons, he says. They can win a war.

“Viserys spoke often of the Valerian histories, I know them well,” Rhaenyra says, defending her decision. “When dragons flew to war, everything burned. I do not wish to rule over a kingdom of ash and bone… as Queen, what is my true duty to the realm? Ensuring peace and unity or that I sit the Iron Throne no matter the cost?””That’s your father talking,” Daemon shoots back. “The enemy have declared war. What are you going to do about it?”

Daemon shouts that last bit, which doesn’t please the queen. She orders everyone to leave the room. Rhaenyra and Daemon argue about war — she says she’s not going to start a war just because the Hightowers have angered her — and says her oath reaches beyond their personal ambitions.

She mentions Aegon’s Song of Ice and Fire, the coming war against the darkness in the north. Daemon is confused. Just as Rhaenyra begins to explain Viserys shared the prophecy with her, Daemon grabs her by the neck.

“My brother was a slave to his omens and portents, anything to make his feckless reign appear to have purpose. Dreams didn’t make us kings, dragons did.”

Lord of the Tides

We cut to Lord Corlys Velaryon waking up from a deep sleep. He’s now in Dragonstone, and on the road to recovery — but he’s not out of trouble.

“You abandoned me,” says Rhaenys, who’s been sitting by his bedside. “When I most needed you. Both our children stolen from us, I needed you. Baela and Rhaena needed you, and you abandoned us for more adventure at sea, as has always been your way.”

More bad news: Rhaenys informs Corlys that his brother Vaemond is dead. Vaemond, she tells him, denounced Laenor’s sons as illegitimate in front of King Viserys, leading Daemon to take Vaemond’s head.

“Heedless ambition has always been a Velaryon weakness, you were right Rhaenys. I reached too far, and for nothing. Our pursuit of the Iron Throne is at an end. We shall declare for no one, we will return to High Tide to be content with our grandchildren.”


Lord Corlys Velaryon and Rhaenys Targaryen.


Rhaenys points out that Jacaerys, Lucerys and Joffrey are claimants to the throne, that they won’t be safe as long as Aegon is king. Corlys doesn’t want to aid Rhaenyra’s claim, however, saying she was complicit in their son’s death.

“That girl destroys everything she touches,” he fumes.

“That girl is holding the realm together at present,” Rhaenys shoots back. “Every man standing around the Painted Table urges her to plunge the realm into war. Rhaenyra is the only one who’s demonstrated restraint.”

As those men bicker around Rhaenyra, a recovered Corlys and Rhaenys enter Dragonstone’s hall.

“Your father’s realm was one of justice and honor,” he says to Rhaenyra. Our houses are bound by common blood and common cause. This Hightower treason cannot stand. You have the full support of our fleet and house, your grace.”

Rhaenyra thanks Lord Corlys, but says she made a promise to Viserys to hold the realm strong and united. Corlys is incredulous at Rhaenyra’s caution, but doesn’t protest. Instead, he has a surprise gift for Rhaenyra’s cause.

“The consequence of my near demise in the Stepstones is that we now control them. I took care to fully garrison the territory this time… the Triarchy have been routed, the narrow sea is ours. If we further seal the gullet, we can cut off all seaborne travel and trade to King’s Landing.”

Rhaenys says she’ll take Meleys and patrol the gullet herself. That will allow them to surround King’s Landing and procure a surrender. Now all they need is support from Winterfell, the Eyrie and Storm’s End.

Jacaerys suggests he and Lucerys ride their dragons to those locales so they can petition Westeros’ lords. It’s agreed upon: Jacaerys will fly north to the Eyrie and then to Winterfell. Lucerys will fly south to Storm’s End.

“We must remind these Lord’s of the oaths they swore. And the cost of breaking them.”

As she bids her sons adieu, Rhaenyra assures Lucerys that Borros Baratheon is a proud man who would be honored to host a prince and his dragon. That statement turned out to be unfortunately true.


Daemon on a dragon taming mission.


The first dance

Daemon was conspicuous by his absence in the preceding scenes. We see him next traipsing through a cave, singing a song in Valyrian. It’s pitch black, until dragonfire erupts. Daemon had mentioned earlier that there were some free dragons that hadn’t yet been bonded to any rider. Looks like Daemon is on a recruitment mission.

Meanwhile, Lucerys flies into Storm’s End on his dragon Arrax. When he gets there, however, he sees a much, much larger dragon is already parked outside the castle. The guards escort him inside, where he’s greeted by Borros Baratheon — and Aemond Targaryen. Lucerys isn’t the only one courting Westerosi lords.

“Lord Borros, I brought you a message from my mother, the queen,” Lucerys says.


Borros Baratheon.


“Yet earlier this day I received an envoy from the king. Which is it? King or queen? The house of the dragon does not seem to know who rules it. What’s your mother’s message?”

Baratheon yells for a maester to come read Rhaenyra’s message. All the while, Aemond is staring down Lucerys with an unnerving smirk.

Baratheon doesn’t take Rhaenyra’s reminder of House Baratheon’s oath. Aemond at least came with an offer that involved wedding the two houses — would Lucerys match it? Lucerys says he can’t, as he isn’t free to marry.

“So you come with empty hands… Go home, pup, and tell your mother that the lord of Storm’s End is not some dog that she can whistle up at need to set against her foes.”

Lucerys says he’ll take that answer to the queen and retreats, but he’s stopped by Aemond.


Aemond Targaryen.


“Wait, my Lord Strong. Did you really think you could just fly about the realm trying to steal my brother’s throne at no cost?”

Aemond says it’s time Lucerys takes out an eye as payment for the one Lucerys took from him those years ago. Aemond advances on Lucerys, but Lord Baratheon stops him and says no blood will be spilled under his roof.

Lucerys runs off to his dragon. An intense thunderstorm has kicked off. A panicked Lucerys tells Arrax to stay calm, and to fly into the storm.

Of course, they’re chased by Aemond and his gigantic dragon, Vhagar. It’s a thrilling scene. It’s the first time in the show that dragons have been pitted against one another. Lucerys tries to escape, and briefly manages to elude Aemond. But Arrax has a mind of his own, and against Lucerys’ wish, spits dragonfire at Vhagar. That incenses Vhagar. Aemond loses control as his beast whips into action. Lucerys briefly flies above the storm, above the clouds. It’s serene. Vhagar appears from below and crunches Arrax in half. Lucerys is dead. Aemond usually has a calm expression, but he’s got dread in his eyes as he realizes what he’s done.

In the final moments of the episode, Daemon walks into Dragonstone’s hall and tells Rhaenyra what happened. We don’t hear what he says, but we see the expression on her face. War is here.

Major takeaways

House of the Dragon’s first season didn’t end with a big revelation or even a significant shock — Lucerys Targaryen may be the son of Rhaenyra, but he’s hardly a major character. But his death being the precursor to battle, the final blow to Rhaenyra’s reluctance for war, was a tantalizing moment. Now we have to do the hardest thing: Wait.

One of the biggest questions going into House of the Dragon was how much ground it would cover: Would it be a one-season affair, or kick off a show that runs as long as Game of Thrones? Despite time jumps that closed 20 years between the show starting and ending, it certainly appears House of the Dragon will have a long run. House of the Dragon is all about the fall of the Targaryens but, one season in, we haven’t even seen an official declaration of war.

It’ll be a long journey ahead. House of the Dragon’s first season was a good start.

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