Spoiler alert! The following contains details for “House of the Dragon” Season 1, Episode 1.
Westeros is back, baby.
HBO’s highly anticipated “Game of Thrones” prequel, “The House of the Dragon,” finally arrived on Sunday, and it’s sure to have quite a bit of dragons in it, as well as violence, sex, and palace intrigue. It’s a slice of the “Thrones” world, mostly within the walls of the Red Keep in King’s Landing (it’s the fictional nation’s capital palace, if you’ve forgotten since “Thrones” ended in 2019).
The series premiere, one of many potential spinoffs being developed by HBO to keep the “Thrones” mania going after the finale, has a lot of work to do, setting the stage for players in Westeros – primarily the ruling Targaryen clan and their courtiers. – 172 years before the birth of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke in the original series). Much like the first episode of “Thrones” in 2011, there’s a lot of exposition, lots of very similar names (Rhaenyra and Rhaenys, for starters) and hints of more drama and dragons to come. It may not be as explosive as many fans hope and, worse, does little to establish the characters as likable or even intriguing (a weakness that doesn’t go away, at least not in the six first episodes made available for review).
So what about “Dragon” after the first hour? Well, he doesn’t have the audacity of ‘Thrones’ – remember when Jaime Lannister (Nikolai Coster-Waldau) pushed Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) out the window? It doesn’t quite grip you like its predecessor, but maybe all the dragon flight, nudity, and pilot dismemberment will be enough to bring fans back for Episode 2.
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Meet the Targaryens
Much of the first episode is devoted to introducing the players to the Targaryen court: the schemers, the dreamers, and the wig-wearers (if you haven’t noticed by now, there are so many platinum-blonde wigs).
So, to set the scene for “Dragon,” we begin with a prologue: Good King Targaryen Jaehaerys ruled Westeros for half a century of peace, but he has no son to succeed him on the Iron Throne. . So he convenes a grand council to choose his heir, choosing between his oldest descendant, Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best) and his oldest male descendant, Prince Viserys (Paddy Considine). Spoiler alert: The man wins the vote in patriarchal society, and all is well.
Except that, 10 years into Viserys’ reign (the time the series kicks off in earnest), his only surviving child is his teenage daughter, Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), so he’s stuck with his wayward and cruel brother Daemon (Matt Smith) as his heir. But don’t worry, Viserys’ wife, Aemma (Sian Brooke), is pregnant, and Viserys is so sure it will be a boy. He doesn’t have time to discuss affairs of state with his hand of the king, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) or a potential war in the borderlands known as the Stepstones with Ships Master Corlys Velaryon ( Steve Toussaint).
So all is well at King’s Landing! Rhaenyra can fly on her dragon with her best friend Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey); Daemon can turn the City Watch into a murderous squad and deliver spooky gifts to his niece; and Viserys can hold a jousting tournament in honor of his future unborn son. Nothing bad could happen, could it?
There’s something rotten in Westeros
When Aemma so heavily told young Rhaenyra that “the crib is our battleground,” we should all have been worried about her impending birth. After meeting the cast of mostly very blond characters, the episode really begins. In the middle of the Viserys tournament called on behalf of Aemma’s child, she goes into labor, but things don’t go well. Viserys has two options: lose them both or save the baby.
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He chooses the baby and holds Aemma’s hand while the medical “mestres” slaughter her in a violent and bloody C-section which leaves her bleeding and dead on the bed. Images of Aemma’s near-naked body held down and ripped apart are intercut with the tournament fights in one of many heavy metaphors the show’s writers use. (And speaking of that tournament, Daemon is beaten by the handsome Dornish knight Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), which catches the eyes of Rhaenyra and Alicent). It’s an unnecessarily graphic depiction and a clear indication that “Dragon” won’t shake the love of “Thrones” to depict women’s pain and suffering, but simply trade birth for sexual assault.
Who will inherit the Iron Throne now?
Although the baby is a boy, he only lives a few hours, and at the funeral of the little prince and his mother, Rhaenyra is livid with her father, broken with grief. Otto then chooses a meeting of the King’s Little Council to bring up the topic of succession, expressing his concerns about Daemon’s temper (and his general hatred for the King’s little brother).
Some of the advisers agree and other names are thrown around for the role of heir. There’s Corlys’ wife, Rhaenys, dubbed the “queen that never was” after Viserys beat her to the throne, or young Rhaenyra. The Men’s Hall makes it clear how little they think about a woman, any woman, taking the Iron Throne, but Viserys doesn’t want to hear any of it. Daemon, however, hears all of this while hiding in the room.
Besides pressuring Viserys to reject Daemon, Otto has other machinations. He sends Alicent, his 15-year-old daughter, to the king’s bedroom, just to offer her company, he says. Then he tells her to wear one of her mother’s most revealing dresses. Alicent does as she’s told, and Viserys takes a liking to the child her best friend prostituted her, though they only chat (so far).
“The Heir for a Day”
When reports reach Otto that Daemon, always the impulsive and arrogant fool that he seems, has rented a brothel, apparently to celebrate the death of his nephew and rival for the Iron Throne, he runs to tell Viserys. The king has tolerated much of his brother’s shenanigans, but he cannot tolerate Daemon calling his dead son “the heir for a day”. Viserys strips Daemon of his role as heir and dismisses him.
He then calls Rhaenyra into the bowels of the Red Keep to look at the skull of the greatest dragon in the Targaryens and take her leadership tests so he can feel good about naming her his new heiress. He also tells her of a prophecy that their ancestor Aegon saw a hundred years ago, about the end of mankind beginning with a great and terrible winter. Yes, he talks about the plot of “Thrones,” but his dire warning seems a bit lame considering we all know how that story unfolds.
The episode ends with Viserys naming Rhaenyra his heir, and all the lords of Westeros bend the knee and swear allegiance to him (including a Baratheon and a Stark in transparent Easter eggs).
But it is clear that the succession of Rhaenyra will not be as simple as that.