It has been a long journey to the finale. In a surprising turn of events, this episode was somehow leaked online during the week prior. It was difficult to avoid spoilers, but from the gist of Twitter, it seemed to have some fans rather frustrated. Rhaenyra finally receives the news from Princess Rhaenys that Viserys is dead and the Greens have crowned Aegon king in front of the people of King’s Landing. Is this episode a worthy season one finale?
As Rhaenyra receives the news from Rhaenys, she immediately begins to have a miscarriage. She goes to her room and is crying, screaming in pain, wanting Daemon beside her, but he is in the war room preparing and giving orders. This is the first time we see any sort of riff between them, and it is unclear exactly why. Is he avoiding Rhaenyra because he finally has the opportunity to take out Otto Hightower and the rest of the Greens, which is something he has desperately wanted since episode one, or the kinder reason because he is grieving his brother (and his future child) by throwing himself into his work? Also, he refuses to speak with the Maester this time. Is that because it’s a distraction from the task at hand or because the last time that happened he had to watch Laena die? I think he can be conflicted between all these motivations, but considering how the episode is written and how Matt Smith was directed, I can’t pinpoint what he’s feeling and when.
Rhaenyra tells Jace while she is in labor to make sure nobody does anything without her permission. Though Daemon has already gotten things going, he takes Jace to watch him explain to the Kingsguard on Dragonstone what their options are: loyalty to Rhaenyra, a swift death by fire, or if they lie about their loyalty to Rhaenyra, a long, painful death. This devilishness is exactly what we like about Daemon. Unfortunately, back in the castle, Rhaenyra is pushing out her baby alone and refusing help. The birthing scenes this season have been some of the most brutal scenes I have ever seen. Later, when Rhaenyra is crowned by Daemon at the funeral after Ser Erryk arrives from King’s Landing with Viserys’ crown, all kneel for her except for Rhaenys. This encounter compared to their first in episode two shows how much they respect each other now. Rhaenyra is no longer the mouthy teenager, but a grown woman who knows that she is going to have to fight the fight Rhaenys never could and that her loyalty is not in question simply because she didn’t bow.
Rhaenyra’s first moments as Queen were a little awkward, but she quickly found her footing. While Daemon is an experienced fighter, she is much more politically savvy. She knows people and history, and he knows war. He thinks the number of dragons they possess matters, but she knows that there is a huge experience difference between their dragons and the Greens’, specifically Vhagar. She is irritated by Daemon’s pushy behavior, which is heightened after Otto Hightower comes with the terms of peace.
Having Rhaenyra fly in to stand between Otto and Daemon as a callback to episode two was a wonderful choice. Once again, she is the solution, the one who eases Daemon and challenges Otto. The terms sent by “Aegon” were so overtly nice that it was clear they committed treason. The simple thing of Otto giving Rhaenyra the paper she ripped out from the book that Alicent must have kept after all that time was such a loaded moment. Perhaps Alicent’s actions did not come from hate anymore, but actually, though slightly delusionally, from thinking that Viserys requested Aegon to become his successor. Daemon immediately gives a blunt no, along with some other choice language, but Rhaenyra decides to play it cool and give it the night.
Rhaenyra’s reluctance to go to war is due to her additional knowledge of the A Song of Ice and Fire prophecy. If there were an evil force in the North coming for them soon, then war will diminish whatever forces they have against it, as well as cause her to potentially lose more of those she loves. Daemon yelling at her in front of others may be acceptable as husband and wife, but now it is consort to the Queen, and it is unacceptable, so she commands everyone in the room to leave.
Rhaenyra tries to communicate with Daemon about what is going through her mind. He is understandably upset and confused because he knows no other reason for her inaction. He has no idea about the A Song of Ice and Fire prophecy because Viserys never trusted him with it. While I understand that Daemon feels the need to act out, I found the choking a step too far in that direction. For the entire season, Daemon is shown to love his family and has always wanted acceptance from them. He takes care of Jace, Luke, and Joffrey like they are his own, helped Viserys up to the throne and crowned him, and has explicitly stated the blood of the dragon runs thick. I think his personality would’ve been more correctly displayed if he grabbed Rhaenyra’s arms. Choking implies a threat, but a frustrated grab indicates a momentary lapse that still shows anger, hurt and edge without going overboard. In episode eight he was just smitten with her and holding hands. I don’t deny a violent outburst is not out of his depth, but the choking is a step too far considering how much he has shown to love and care for her. On a positive note, this confirms that she had the support of Viserys in a way that Daemon never did, which gives her confidence.
Despite Daemon’s frustrations regarding her hesitancy, it is the reason that a recovered Corlys Velaryon gives Rhaenyra his house and his fleet’s support. Rhaenys appreciates that she has her own mind and thinks out her actions before doing anything. With their support and Corlys’ successful win in the Stepstones against the Triarchy, Rhaenyra sees a way to win against the Greens. They can surround King’s Landing and cut the Greens off from the rest of the world by restricting travel and trade. Now they only need the support of the other major houses including Baratheon, Arryn, and Stark, which is when Jace has the idea to send himself and Luke.
This isn’t a bad suggestion, but what is bad is the lack of direction that she gives her sons. Besides going as messengers only, not warriors, she gives them very little idea of what to do in case anything unexpected happens. She explains that Borros Baratheon is a proud man, but that pride is something that can be taken advantage of by both sides. It was a bit of oversight to not suspect that the Greens would also be trying to gather allies, too. They even offered a marriage pact. Luke handles things quite well in the hall, but Aemond is so completely out of line, especially with the “Strong” comment. He finally shows his sapphire eye and demands an eye from Luke. Borros demands no bloodshed and Luke is allowed to leave which is where it all goes wrong.
The relationship between dragon and dragonrider is complex. They are not horses that do what the owner wants willingly. They are extremely intelligent creatures and can sense what their riders feel. Earlier when Rhaenyra is suffering through her miscarriage, we get flashes of Syrax feeling her pain, too. The bond is deep. Luke commands Arrax to obey, but seeing the size difference between Arrax and Vhagar was frightening. Though Aemond may be only trying to mess with Luke and scare him, Vhagar has been to war. She can sense that Aemond wants revenge. Arrax is practically a baby dragon and Luke is closer to a child than a man, so he doesn’t have perfect control. Arrax, against Luke’s wishes, breathes fire onto Vhagar, who is old and angry. So now Aemond’s emotions and Arrax’s attack instigate her to end them, and there is nothing Aemond can do to stop her.
This is the worst thing for Aemond and the Greens politically. Being a Kinslayer is an abhorrent action in this world. Luke’s death being an accident makes it extremely interesting for Aemond. While he’s certainly intense, is he psychotic at this point? It seemed like he felt something inside him at that moment. Does he ever tell anyone the truth, specifically his mother? Or does he decide to claim it was on purpose because it is embarrassing that he cannot control his dragon?
Daemon being the person to tell Rhaenyra at the meeting that Luke died was a good choice because he got to be soft with her again. The ending shot of Rhaenyra turning around and looking directly at the camera is thrilling because that means the gloves are finally off. She is not playing nice anymore. The Greens drew first blood in the most brutal of ways.
The majority of House of the Dragon‘s first season was excellent. There were times when spectacle and drama bypassed character and logic, but the filmmaking was superb, aside from the darkness in episode seven. And as always, Ramin Djawadi is a superstar. Though the time jumps may have been a little frustrating, the casting of each of the actors was never a letdown. Unsurprisingly, Matt Smith as Daemon is the standout, but Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke are brilliant actors giving epic performances. I can’t wait to see everyone return in 2024.