The Heirs of the Dragon
Episode 1 of House of the Dragon begins with House Targaryen at the height of its power. Ten adult dragons lay under their banner and the year is 101AC. King Jaehaerys called a great council to choose an heir. Over a 1000 lords make the journey, with 14 different succession claims heard. Bur only 2 are truly considered.
Princess Rhaenys and Prince Viserys Targaryen. Declared by all the lords, Prince Viserys is made the future King. A woman will not inherit the Iron Throne… for now. The irony here is that the council was called to stop a war breaking out but yet the irony here is that the family themselves are on the brink of declaring war itself.
Fast forward 9 years and King Viserys I is on the throne. We’re 172 years before the death of the mad King, Aerys, and the birth of Daenerys, who obviously goes mental and slaughters everyone at the sound of bells. But I digress.
Dragon and Targaryen live in harmony, with the city thriving and the House at the height of its power. Princess Rhaenyra is the focal point here, and after flying in on a dragon and meeting her friend Alicent Hightower. She has desires to fight in big battles and head out on the battlefield but her mother is quick to quell those doubts. For now, she’s stuck with filling goblets for the council.
In the wake of the Targaryen arrogance, believing themselves to be untouchable, there are problems. The growing Alliance in the Free Cities have convened on Bloodstone, led by the Prince Admiral known colloquially as “Crab Feeder.” Lord Corlys Velaryon’s concerns are met with an indifferent shrug.
King Viserys is expecting the birth of his child soon and he’s convinced that it’s to be a boy. Rhaenyra listens quietly, eyeing up the various men of influence around this table. For now, Rhaenyra visits Prince Daemon Targaryen. She finds him sitting on the Iron Throne, but this is much much accurate to how the books described the chair, surrounded by hundreds of swords, sticking out like thin gravestones. Daemon hands over a necklace for the young princess; Valerian steel.
Daemon is in charge of the armies and he’s quick to rile up his Gold Cloaks, deciding to conquer King’s Landing and make them “fear the colour gold.” And part of that comes from some pretty gnarly punishments. Daemon himself delivers several killing blows, going after criminals and hauling away dismembered remains.
The King has been under heavy stresses lately and unfortunately, that means his health has taken a bit of a battering. The Grand Maester checks out a nasty wound on the man’s back, coming to the conclusion that it needs to be cauterized. As for Viserys, he’s absolutely adamant he’s having a son, telling his wife about his vivid dreams of their son wearing a crown and ruling. After losing 5 babies, the Queen is quick to point out that this is the last time. “I’ve mourned all the dead children than I can.” She says at last. An ominous bit of foreshadowing perhaps?
News of Daemon’s night-time slaughter soon reaches the King. Viserys is not happy, and at the council Daemon’s questioned over the Gold Cloaks being used heavy-handedly. Daemon is convinced he’s doing the right thing, chalking this up to promoting law and order by making the people fear the watch. Funnily enough, Corlys agrees with him. Otto Hightower does not. Viserys speaks his piece all the same, telling him to use the Gold Cloaks but not to step outside his jurisdiction.
At Kings Landing, Viserys holds a big tournament. The jousting is an impressive display, although George R.R. Martin would likely have spent 7 pages here describing all the banners and potential food on offer! The drama really picks up though when Daemon arrives on horseback.
Naturally, Daemon comes out victorious, slashing the legs out from under the horse and winning the duel. However, he does so whilst wanting the favour from Alicent Hightower, the daughter of Otto Hightower of whom Daemon clashed with in the meeting room. The duelling is a bloody affair, with the Tagaryens watching on.
Viserys is pulled away as the queen goes into labour. The Grand Maester is quick to point out that not even milk of the poppy could help her. Viserys is given an impossible choice. During a difficult birth, he can either lose his wife and child or lose his wife but cut her open and take the child out, potentially saving him/her in the process.
Given what we know about Viserys and his desire to have an heir, he lies to his wife, claiming they’re taking the child out. After telling her he loves her, Viserys holds the Queen’s hand as she’s cut open. This scene is edited beautifully against Daemon’s final jousting match, where he takes his eyes off his opponent – who happens to be Dornish – and is forced to yield.
Viserys is forced to watch his wife bleed out while his babe is born. And it turns out his child is a boy. At least, to begin with. Unfortunately, the baby dies so Viserys’ impossible choice ends in misery.
All the royal Targaryens gather for the funeral, watching as the bodies are burned via dragon flames. Off the back of this, Otto Hightower brings up Viserys’ heir and decides the succession should be sorted out immediately. As of right now, Daemon is the one who’s scheduled to take the throne but the other ministers believe this an ill omen given how he’s not patient and could destabilize the realm.
“Well, who else would have a claim?” Silence descends on the court. Princess Rhaenyra Is suggested and immediately shot down. In fact, the entire court ends abruptly as Viserys walks away, the decision still undecided for now.
That doesn’t deter Otto though, who sends his daughter in (in her mother’s dress no less) to “comfort” the King in his chambers. This is, of course, all a ploy to get closer to Viserys’ throne and seize it for himself. This is something made all the easier by Daemon’s antics.
After overhearing the council speaking ill of his claim, news reaches Viserys and Otto that Daemon toasted to Prince Baelon and “the heir for a day” that night in the city. Of course, this does not go down well with the King, who venomously brings Daemon before him and demands the truth.
Daemon admits to what he said, but also throws back that Viserys has turned away from his own family, with Daemon urging Viserys to let him be Hand to the King. Unfortunately, Daemon is banished, forced to return to his estranged wife and no longer in succession for the throne. Daemon does what he’s told, but he’s not particularly happy about it.
In his absence, Viserys turns to Princess Rhaenyra and councils her on the dragons and their history. In fact, in his most crucial moment, he decides Daemon is not meant to hold the throne – Rhaenyra is. He puts her forward as his successor. In doing so, Viserys also brings a warning. He speaks of Aegon’s dream about the end of the world of men. It begins with a terrible winter from the North. “All of Westeros must stand against it.” He tells her, going on to reveal that this secret has been passed from Aegon to each successive heir. She promises and and as such, the first episode ends with Rhaenyra due to take the throne.
The Episode Review
It’s a shame that Game of Thrones ended the way it did because that final speech from Viserys could have been so much more impactful had the final two seasons stuck the landing. Alas, this prequel set 200 years before those events, actually gets off to a pretty good start.
The costuming and world building are both great, and the characters are intriguing and certainly have an element of unpredictability about them. The show has managed to maintain a level of visceral violence and nudity too, which feels impactful and well placed in the story – and in Martin’s world.
The history of the Targayens has always been a fascinating period of Westeros and it’s great to see that explored here. All the pieces are certainly aligned to make for a really interesting season that could well make for a great companion piece to Game of Thrones.
While it certainly won’t make up for that disastrous ending to the fantasy series, this is certainly closer to the first season of GOT than anything else. Whether it can reach the illustrious heights of seasons 3 and 4 however, is another matter.
It’s way too early to be casting judgment on this one but so far House of the Dragon has all the right elements to be a success, armed with decent characters, a thin sliver of action and an ominous sign of things to come in the future.
House of the Dragon certainly looks like a strong fantasy series and one thing’s already clear – this is going to completely put Amazon’s Rings of Power to the sword when that drops in several week’s time.
|Expect A Full Season Write-Up When This Season Concludes!|