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House of the Dragon recap: The dance of dragons begins

Milly Alcock as Young Rhaenyra and Emily Carey as Young Alicent in House of the Dragon
Milly Alcock as Young Rhaenyra and Emily Carey as Young Alicent, as seen in Episode 1 of House of the Dragon Season 1. Pic credit: HBO/Ollie Upton

Well, the very first episode of HBO’s House of the Dragon has finally dropped.

For months now, viewers have been eagerly awaiting the new prequel series that delves into the heyday of House Targaryen some 200 years prior to the events that unfolded in the original series, Game of Thrones.

Already, fans knew the Targaryens are a dangerous family with an inclination to be either great – or entirely bonkers.

Along with that, House of the Dragon is expected to contain many more dragons than in the original series – three times as many, in fact.

So, was the hype really worth it?

Well, let’s take a look at what went down in Episode 1.

Welcome to the Targaryen rule

Episode 1 of House of the Dragon is epic and expansive.

Does a lot happen? Yes, and no.

There is a lot of backstory and set up to get out of the way in the first installment. However, George R. R. Martin has always made the backstory in his books just as interesting as the current events so this doesn’t really feel like a chore to unpack in the TV adaptation of his book, Fire and Blood.

Paddy Considine as King Viserys and Sian Brooke as his wife, Aemma, as seen in Episode 1 of House of the Dragon Season 1. Pic credit: HBO/Ollie Upton
Paddy Considine as King Viserys and Sian Brooke as his wife, Aemma, as seen in Episode 1 of House of the Dragon Season 1. Pic credit: HBO/Ollie Upton

We are introduced to King Viserys (Paddy Considine) and his precarious position due to the fact he only has a girl child and no “true” male heir as Westeros expects.

Prince Daemon, the King’s brother and likely heir if none is borne to Viserys and his wife, Aemma (Sian Brooke), has been made Commander of the City’s Watch and he takes his job seriously. He has managed to train his army to be fearsome and now these gold cloaks are set on removing all of the filth from King’s Landing.

Matt Smith stars as Prince Daemon Targaryen in Episode 1 of House of the Dragon Season 1. Pic credit: HBO/Ollie Upton
Matt Smith stars as Prince Daemon Targaryen in Episode 1 of House of the Dragon Season 1. Pic credit: HBO/Ollie Upton

The king and his hand, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), are not impressed with the outright violence (and in a single night, no less) to achieve this but Daemon doesn’t care because he seems to be the sort of Targaryen everyone was warned about in Game of Thrones.

The plot thickens

It’s interesting to note here that Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) is definitely Team Daemon. Considering his wife, Rhaenys (Eve Best), is the Targaryen woman passed over for the Throne given to Viserys, it would appear that Rhaenys and her husband still hold a grudge and want their direct family line to profit from who ascends to the Iron Throne after Viseys.

Steve Toussaint as Corlys Velaryon and Eve Best as Rhaenys Targaryen, as seen in Episode 1 of House of the Dragon Season 1. Pic credit: HBO/Ollie Upton
Steve Toussaint as Corlys Velaryon and Eve Best as Rhaenys Targaryen, as seen in Episode 1 of House of the Dragon Season 1. Pic credit: HBO/Ollie Upton

The very king who, I might add, has a little boo boo on his back from the sheer dangerousness of sitting on a throne made of swords so he just may go out like Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) did in Game of Thrones.

Meanwhile, King Viserys’ daughter, Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) seems happy is her position of royal cup bearer and rider of dragons but there are hints there that she feels some resentment to her uncle, Prince Daemon (Matt Smith), who is as cocky as h**l regarding his position of successor to the Iron Throne. But, also, the pair seems to be good friends so this is likely going to get messy later on.

Rhaenyra’s mother is pregnant, though, so it is possible a male heir will be born to sort out the problem and the king is banking on that.

Aemma is done with having babies, though, as she has lost more children than she has birthed and swears this will be the last child she has regardless of the sex of it.

Because nothing is leading up to something terrible happening here, is it?

Tragedy is imminent

But the king is convinced it’s a boy she is carrying this time and that everything will go well. He’s so sure that he holds a tourney to celebrate the birth of his son and this coincides with his wife going into labor.

Fabien Frankel stars as Ser Criston Cole in Episode 1 of House of the Dragon Season 1. Pic credit: HBO/Ollie Upton
Fabien Frankel stars as Ser Criston Cole in Episode 1 of House of the Dragon Season 1. Pic credit: HBO/Ollie Upton

At the tourney, viewers are introduced to Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), who immediately manages to unseat two Baratheons and draw the attention of Rhaenyra.

As the violence escalates on the tourney field, so does it in the birthing chamber and King Viserys must choose to save his child and lose his wife – or lose them both.

And, as Ser Criston unseats Daemon on the tourney floor, so does Aemma die. At least she has birthed a son, Baelon, but it is a bitter-sweet moment for the king.

It is a short-lived one too as his son only survives a few hours out of the womb.

Rhaenyra is distraught at the funeral but more for the loss of her mother, telling her uncle Daemon that she hoped her father finally knew true happiness while his son was briefly alive, pointing out that she will never make him happy because she is a girl.

The line of succession is still in question

No haste is to be spared after the funeral as a council is called to discuss Viserys’ heir. Corlys points out that the succession must be Prince Daemon because, not only is he biased but there is a precedent that was set many years ago that saw a true heir overlooked only because she was a girl, in favor of the male heir, Viserys.

Rhys Ifans stars as Otto Hightower in Episode 1 of House of the Dragon Season 1. Pic credit: HBO/Ollie Upton
Rhys Ifans stars as Otto Hightower in Episode 1 of House of the Dragon Season 1. Pic credit: HBO/Ollie Upton

Otto speaks out about Daemon and the king points out that he became Commander at his behest because Otto thought he would not be suited in any other position due to his ambition and brutality but, making him Commander of the City’s Watch has backfired as well because, let’s face it, Daemon loves violence.There is also concern that an heir needed to be named immediately because something might happen to the king and that something might be at Daemon’s hand.

The king is sure his brother would never off him because he has no ambition to be king. Daemon, who is sneakily observing the council meeting he wasn’t invited to, scoffs and we all know he wants to be king more than anything now. The council continues to bad-mouth Daemon, referring to him as “another Maegor” who was also known as Maegor the Cruel and that’s all you need to know that’s a bad thing to be called.

But they don’t seem to want a girl to rule either.

Corlys immediately jumps in to recommend his wife, Rhaenys, or the Queen Who Never Was, to finally take the position he thinks is owing to her. And, honestly, if Viserys makes his daughter successor, it would also prove that Rhaenys did indeed have a better claim originally for the Throne, regardless of the vote back then.

Another impossible choice

This is actually a logistical nightmare. He has a choice between his brother, a likely candidate for the bad side of the Targaryen coin, or an interal war between Targaryens as Rhaenys and her husband vie to have her claimed as Queen over the King’s daughter, Rhaenyra.

Once again, the king has an impossible choice.

It’s too much for Viserys and he leaves the council rather than settle on an heir so soon after losing his wife and child.

Emily Carey stars as Young Alicent in Episode 1 of House of the Dragon Season 1. Pic credit: HBO/Ollie Upton
Emily Carey stars as Young Alicent in Episode 1 of House of the Dragon Season 1. Pic credit: HBO/Ollie Upton

During Episode 1 of House of the Dragon, viewers are also introduced to Alicent Highgarden (Emily Carey) who appears to be the same age as Rhaenyra and a confidante to her. However, book fans will know what is to come with this character.

In the meantime, the pair seem like good friends.

Alicent is also the daughter of Otto, Hand of the King, and after the death of Aemma, it becomes apparent he will do anything to better his family – even sending his daughter to the King’s chamber to “make him feel better.” Alicent is a bit confused at first, not realizing what her father is expecting of her but does comply, taking a book to read to the king during his misery.

Meanwhile, Prince Daemon is busy toasting Prince Baelon In a pleasure house, calling him the “Heir for a Day.”

Predictably, word gets back to Otto, who informs the king and everyone is suitably horrified.

A decision is made

The king confronts him and an argue ensues where the king tries to insist that Daemon is trash and has no supporters at court. This is also trash because we all know Rhaenys and Corlys are firmly Team Daemon.

Matt Smith stars as Prince Daemon in Episode 1 of House of the Dragon Season 1. Pic credit: HBO/Ollie Upton
Matt Smith stars as Prince Daemon in Episode 1 of House of the Dragon Season 1. Pic credit: HBO/Ollie Upton

Daemon is bitter that he has never been made Hand of the King and has some choice words to describe Otto. And he has a point by noting that Viserys is weak and the court preys on it.

From this angle, Daemon would make a good Hand as he will not suck up to the king but call him out on his bulls**t.

Viserys retaliates by sending Daemon home to his wife at the Vale and naming his daughter, Rhaenyra, as the royal heir to the Iron Throne.

And that’s the story of how the lines are drawn and the beginnings of a s**tstorm breaks out in Westeros.

A royal secret is imparted

Milly Alcock stars as Young Rhaenyra is Episode 1 of House of the Dragon Season 1. Pic credit: HBO/Ollie Upton
Milly Alcock stars as Young Rhaenyra in Episode 1 of House of the Dragon Season 1. Pic credit: HBO/Ollie Upton

But first, we must officially name Rhaenyra as the true heir and get everyone to swear allegiance to the king and his heir – even Corlys, who does but obviously begrudgingly.

Episode 1 of House of the Dragon ends with Viserys imparting some important information on his daughter. Namely, that winter is coming and that only a Targaryen can lead Westeros against the dangerous time – and, we all know how that works out after watching Game of Thrones.

House of the Dragon airs every Sunday night at 9/8c on HBO Max.

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