House of the Dragon review: Episode 1 explained – 5 things we learned in The Heirs of the Dragon

We review House of the Dragon, explain the hidden Easter Eggs and discuss who is leading the power battle for the Iron Throne.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 23 August 2022 - 4.37pm
Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen in House of the Dragon

Stream House of the Dragon weekly on Sky Atlantic with NOW from Monday 22 August

House of the Dragon is streaming now on Sky Atlantic with NOW and the dragon-filled prequel to Game of Thrones is a classic dynasty drama, with an extra helping of blood and backstabbing.

*Warning: Spoilers ahead for episode 1 of House of the Dragon, The Heirs of the Dragon*

The premise for the series is neatly summed up by the narrator in the show's introduction. After explaining the House Targaryen’s dominance over the Seven Kingdoms, the voiceover adds: "The only thing that could tear down the house of the dragon… was itself."

The self-inflicted downfall of House Targaryen, which transports it from the dominant force to the ruins we find at the start of Game of Thrones, is the central storyline. It's a classic tale of power struggles, alliances and betrayals within a single family and it's all set within the violent and magical world of Westeros.

If you’re scratching your head with questions after episode one, The Heirs of the Dragon, and don’t know your Rhaenyra from your Rhaenys, here is our quick explainer for all the important moments from the premiere.

1. King Viserys is a good man, but good men don't always make great kings

Paddy Considine as King Viserys

It would have been easy to turn King Viserys into a Ned Stark clone, but the casting of Paddy Considine was a smart bit of business.

He brings real humanity, passion and tragedy to the character.

Considine’s Viserys knows he’s only in power because of the misogyny of Westeros that opted to ignore Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best), The Queen Who Never Was, and he’s a complex and intriguing figurehead at the start of the series.

As he leads his Small Council, it feels like Viserys' and the Targaryen's rule is beginning to fray at the edges and his lack of authority is threatening peace in the Seven Kingdoms.

But sat around the table with a scheming Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), a powerful man of action like the Sea Snake Corlys Velaryon (Steve Touissant) and his twisted, angry brother Prince Daemon (Matt Smith), Viserys still feels like the best option as ruler.

In the central moment of the episode, Viserys opts to save his son over Queen Aemma’s during a brutal and hard-to-watch childbirth sequence. It ultimately proves to be the wrong choice as his son dies shortly afterwards anyway - a heart-ripping moment of loss for the king.

A fight sequence in House of the Dragon

Losing a wife and son could tip other men over the edge, but a heartbroken Viserys refocuses his attention on his daughter Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock).

He makes Rhaenyra his heir, breaking precedent by naming a female successor.

Viserys' big mistake may have come at the end of the episode in a rare moment of rage. Otto Hightower’s revelation that Prince Daemon has been mocking the death of Viserys' son, is a step too far, even for a loyal brother.

The banishment of Prince Daemon could be a decision Viserys will regret – and not just because we’ll miss the sizzling chemistry between Considine and Matt Smith.

Although Daemon’s anger and thirst for violence makes him an unpleasant man to have around, he’s someone you’d rather have by your side than simmering and stewing on the sidelines. And at least Viserys knows where he stands with his brother. Otto Hightower, on the other hand…

2. Prince Daemon is one of the most twisted characters in the Thrones universe

Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen in House of the Dragon

Matt Smith’s Prince Daemon was the most eye-catching character from the first episode. From a visceral, stomach-churning rampage through King’s Landing, dishing out violent justice with the City’s Watch to peacocking and dead-eyed attacks in a jousting tournament, Daemon is the epitome of an angry, angst-ridden younger brother.

But there’s more to Daemon than just pure violence and hatred. He’s also a smart plotter and smirker – see how he pushed the buttons of Otto Hightower so easily - and he’s also a man with a typically complicated Targaryen love life.

The famous Game of Thrones sex scenes are back – as Daemon and his mysterious ally/lover, Sonoya Mizuno, make use of the city’s “pleasure houses”. But Daemon also shares an uncomfortable, lingering moment with his niece Rhaenyra as he places a necklace on her. It wouldn’t be a George R.R Martin story if there wasn’t a hint of incest…

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3. The Sea Snake has a warning

Steve Toussaint as Lord Corlys Velaryon, the Sea Snake

Steve Toussaint’s Lord Corlys Velaryon, aka The Sea Snake, cuts an imposing figure in the opening episode and doesn’t try to mask the resentment he feels at his wife’s snub as the rightful heir to the Iron Throne.

Powerful, dominant and outspoken, the Sea Snake should be one of the show’s truly great characters.

Lord Corlys warnings about a new threat at sea from a force called the ‘Triachy’ were largely ignored by Viserys and his advisors.

But the violence being committed against the king’s fleet and a sinister-sounding bloke going by the name ‘The Crabfeeder’ will almost certainly feature heavily later this season and we suspect it won’t be good news for the Targaryens.

4. Princess Rhaenyra and Alicent Hightower bring the joy… for now

Milly Alcock portrays young Rhaenyra Targaryen & Emily Carey portrays young Alicent Hightower

In a subtle nod to the devastation we saw Daenarys unleash across King's Landing in Game of Thrones season 8 episode The Bells, Princess Rhaenyra’s (Milly Alcock) dragon-flying intro into the show mirrored the memorable sequence featuring Daenarys.

But unlike the Daenarys we saw at the end of Game of Thrones, Rhaenyra is currently a character imbued with hope and the optimism of youth.

Her gossipy friendship with Alicent Hightower brings some rare joy to Westeros and her desire for nothing more than cake and adventure is endearing.

Contrasting with this natural brightness is the dark cloud placed upon her by Viserys’ decision to name her the heir to the throne.

And when Otto Hightower orders his daughter to put on her mother's dress to "comfort" King Viserys, we can already see how this beautiful friendship may turn ugly.

5. Ser Criston Cole has fabulous hair

Fabien Frankel as Ser Criston Cole

In a show filled with funny wigs, it seems unfair that Fabien Frankel should be allowed to have such incredible dashing locks as the swordsman Ser Criston Cole.

The Dornish fighter made a stunning entrance into the show as a competitor in King Viserys’ jousting tournament and by setting pulses racing with his shampoo commercial good looks.

Taking advantage of Prince Daemon’s cockiness, Ser Criston was able to prove victorious and showcased why he would be a handy fighter to have by your side – if, for instance, you were about to have a civil war.

Extra Notes and Hidden Easter Dragon Eggs

Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen in House of the Dragon holding a dragon egg
  • At the start of the episode, we are told that we’re in the ninth year of King Viserys I's reign. That is 172 years before the death of the ‘Mad’ King Aerys and the birth of Princess Daenerys. With 172 years of history to play with, House of the Dragon could potentially run for as long as Game of Thrones!
  • “After this miserable pregnancy, I wouldn’t be surprised if I hatch an actual dragon!” Queen Aemma’s remark to Viserys about her tough pregnancy was a neat bit of foreshadowing for her ancestor Princess Daenerys.
  • In terms of brutal, eye-watering sequences, the City’s Guard and Prince Daemon chopping off a man’s genitalia is going to be hard to top this season. Ouch!
  • There were a couple of mentions in the episode to ‘Dark Sister’ – a special sword in the possession of Prince Daemon. Made of Valryian steel, it’s a significant bit of weaponry in Targaryen history, which was even mentioned once in Game of Thrones by Arya Stark. With Daemon’s fondness for brutality, I’m sure we can expect to see lots of Dark Sister in action.
  • Rhaenyra and Alicent learning and telling stories about Princess Nymeria was interesting for two reasons. Firstly, Nymeria was the name of Arya’s Direwolf in Game of Thrones. And secondly, a TV series about Princess Nymeria is one of the many Game of Thrones spin-offs that HBO is currently planning.
  • Did you spot the Catspaw Dagger? The famous weapon used by Arya to kill the Night King is currently being guarded by King Viserys.
  • King Viserys cutting his finger on the Iron Throne felt like an admission about the show's most famous prop - it really isn't very practical!

Stream House of the Dragon weekly on Sky Atlantic with NOW from Monday 22 August

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