Each week, Tarek @tarek_wm will be recapping the most recent episode(s) of Game of Thrones: House of the Dragon.
House of the Dragon is set 200 years before Game of Thrones, 172 years before the death of the Mad King, and the birth of his daughter, Daenerys. The original Games of Thrones series was widely regarded as one of the best shows of all time until its final season which was panned by critics and fans. It was described as rushed and riddled with inconsistencies. The showrunners responsible David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are out. Coming into the fold to helm the prequel series are Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik. The latter directed iconic episodes of GoT like “Hardhome,” “Battle of the Bastards,” “The Winds of Winter,” “The Long Night” and “The Bells.” With two new showrunners on board, I was ecstatic for the premiere of House of the Dragon and it didn’t disappoint.
I loved this premiere. I’ll get into detailed spoilers in the recap portion, but everything was set up masterfully by writer/showrunner Ryan Condal. It felt like the GoT of old. Political intrigue from the start, bloody violence, and deep character work. The threads of intrigue were dangled and as soon as the episode ended, I needed to see episode two. One of the threads I’m invested in is the dynamic between King Viserys, Prince Daemon, and Rhaenyra, especially after how this episode ended. Another plot point I’m watching closely is Otto and Alicent Hightower’s relationship. Everything seemed copacetic until one brief moment midway through. We thought Otto was as squeaky clean as we could get in Westeros. Even the hand to the king has his underlying ambitions.
Now onto the deep dive. Spoilers ahead!
The opening scene is heavy on exposition, as the aging King Jaehaerys must name an heir to the iron throne: the eldest in line is Rhaenys (Eve Best), but she is skipped over for Viserys (Paddy Considine,) his eldest male descendant. Jaehaerys intended to prevent a civil war; no woman has ever been queen and it wasn’t going to happen on his watch.
Moving to the present-day, Viserys has been king for nine years and his reign has gone off without any issues to this point. He Now finds himself in the same position as Jaehaerys and must name an heir. His wife Aemma (Sian Brooke) is pregnant with what he hopes is a boy so he can be the heir, but his eldest daughter, Rhaenyra, who we meet riding atop a dragon in a beautiful shot, is next in line.
At a Small Council meeting consisting of Otto Hightower, Lord Corlys “The Sea Snake” Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), the husband of the queen who never was Rhaenys, and Viserys’ little brother Daemon (Matt Smith) who was a no-show. The top order of business was discussing a celebratory tournament to honor the heir to the throne. The unborn heir, what could go wrong? Daemon instead is in the throne room sitting atop the iron throne which is a big no-no. The only person who sees him there is Rhaenyra who he gifts with a necklace.
Rhanerya and Alicent are laying in the garden when Alicent asks if all the heir talk is getting to her. Rhanerya responds saying she’d be happy to see someone other than her rule. She’d much rather keep having adventures with her dragon than get throne-stabbed. Her father gets nicked up a couple of times by the throne and has a gnarly, puss-filled lesion on his back, which definitely won’t lead to anything.
After that, we are introduced to Prince Daemon’s brutality firsthand as leader of the City Watch. They handily take care of criminals. A thief gets his hand chopped off, a rapist has his testicles severed, and a murderer gets decapitated. All these severed limbs are loaded up and carted away. The next day Daemon is sitting at the Small Council covered in dry blood. They all are questioning whether or not this violence was justified or if Daemon was overzealous.
Before Aemma’s delivery, Viserys visits her while taking a bath. Their baby is due any minute now. They talk about the birth and Viserys says he’s dreamt of the baby coming out with a crown atop his head and that the delivery went amazing. Aemma looks at him like he’s a lunatic. Even though they share a sideways glance at that moment, you can feel the love they have for each other. Aemma then says this is her last try, after countless stillbirths and miscarriages she doesn’t want to go through another pregnancy.
Aemma’s delivery scene was tough to watch, it was bloody and gruesome. Sian Brooke was remarkable, her screams and wails were painful, and you felt like you were right there. As the delivery is happening so is the tournament in which Daemon takes part. The jousting is gory, heads are smashed in, and blood is everywhere. It was violent. Miguel Sapochnik cuts back and forth between the jousting and the birth, a brilliant choice. He never turns away from the violence. The jousters chose their violent end, Aemma did not. Aemma’s delivery is a breached birth and Viserys must choose between saving the baby or his wife. He chooses without asking her as he consoles her by her bedside.
Aemma dies covered in blood surrounded by grandmasters, having just delivered a baby boy who is named Baelon. Baelon is to be the new heir until we hear two short coughs. Immediately we cut to Aemma’s funeral with the reveal that Baelon died shortly after being born. At the funeral, Daemon tells Rhaenyra that her father needs her but she realizes she’ll never be the son he needs her to be. She steps forward and exclaims “Dracarys” and both bodies go up in dragon flames.
The Small Council convenes to discuss who will be heir after Baelon’s death. Otto is upset that his fellow members want Daemon, knowing he’s unhinged and can go off the handle at a given moment. He presents a solution: Rhaenyra. Viserys now must choose again, this time between his brother and his daughter. After the small council meeting, Otto asks his daughter Alicent to go “visit” Viserys in his quarters. The way Rhys Ifans delivers the word “visit” was all you needed to know in regards to his intent. Alicent visits Viserys with a book and they bond over their losses in life.
Daemon, while at a brothel throwing an orgy for the Gold Cloaks, gives a toast and proclaims that Baelon was “heir for a day”. This gets back to Viserys and he tells Daemon that he’s chosen a new heir.
Rhanerya is called down to the cellar of the Red Keep to meet her father, cloaked by the massive skull of Balerion, the dragon their ancestors used to win Westeros. Viserys begins by saying the control his family has over the dragons is a myth that led to the Doom of Valyria. He then states if we forget our history, we are doomed to repeat it. He then tells her she is to inherit the Seven Kingdoms as his new heir. In the throne room, the lords of Westeros bow to their future queen.
Come back next week after Episode 2!