House of the Dragon finale review: The War of the Dragons beginsOct 26 | 5 min read
Fans of Game of Thrones who feared that prequel series House of the Dragon could not live up to the gore and shock of the original George R. R. Martin adaptation need not have worried.
By the halfway point of this first season, we’ve had cremation by dragon fire, underage courtship, beach battles, brothels and incest. And with plenty more Seven Kingdom scandals to come before the end of this first run, who knows what future seasons of House of the Dragon have in store.
Of course, there’s plenty of cloak and dagger storylines and character development plus all the small council politics and house grudge matches that you’d expect from a Game of Thrones sister series.
But each episode so far this season has had at least one shocking moment which has put us on the edge of our seat. Here are those moments from the series...
Episode 1 – 'Dracarys'
“Dracarys” is the useful command Targaryens can call upon whenever they want their dragons to breathe fire. Dragon fire tends to be one of the deadliest weapons in battle within Westeros.
In the series' very first episode, King Viserys' son Prince Baelon is born and becomes his rightful heir, securing the future of to Targaryen dynasty. Tragically, his loving wife, Queen Aemma, dies in childbirth, and to further his pain the newborn heir dies a day later.
A sombre ceremony follow in which the dead are cremated by dragon flame - a Targaryen tradition that makes for a shocking moment when Princess Rhaenyra utters the word "Dracarys" for her dragon Syrex to set her mother and infant brother's bodies alight.
Episode 2 – 'If you wish to be restored as heir, you’ll need to kill me'
Episode 2 might be titled The Rogue Prince, but it’s Princess Rhaenyra who steals the show.
Despite being cast out at the end of the season’s opener and fleeing to Dragonstone, Prince Daemon is still scheming and sends his men back to Kings Landing to steal a dragon egg. But not just any dragon's egg - the one which was meant to be for the deceased heir Prince Baelon.
Daemon's deed triggers the king’s outrage and he sends Ser Otto Hightower along with some soldiers to retrieve the egg. Unfortunately Hand of the King Otto is failing miserably in his attempts to persuade Daemon to give back the stolen egg.
Matters are about to turn nasty until Rhaenrya swoops in on her dragon Syrax and diplomatically and firmly defuses the matter, reminding her uncle that she’s the heir and that he’d need to kill her to replace her in the line to the throne. She finally gets to show the men of the show she has what it takes through her persuasion and ferocity.
It's a real statement of intent for the young princess, as Rhaenrya gets to spread her (dragon’s) wings and we get the first glimpse of her beginning to live up to her title as future leader of the Seven Kingdoms.
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Episode 3 - 'Bait for the crabs'
Over in the stepstones the war that Corlys Velaryon and Daemon Targaryen started rages on, and it’s a war they’re losing to the Crab Feeder.
With mutiny brewing and King Viserys reluctant promise of aide on its way. Prince Daemon couldn’t think of anything worse than his brother saving the day, so he steps up to act as bait - an act that becomes his finest hour in the show so far.
Initially waving a white flag of surrender to goad in the Crab Feeder’s soldiers, he then pulls a secret dagger on them, before slaying his way through waves of soldiers and dodging downpours of arrows.
Despite his heroics, Daemon becomes overwhelmed until his dependable dragon Caraxes intervenes along with the rest of the Sea Snake’s army to pick off the enemy. Ultimately Daemon corners the Crab Feeder and hacks him in half to bring this long and exhausting war to an apparent conclusion.
Episode 4 - 'You Targaryens do have queer customs'
Would it really be a George R. R. Martin adaptation without a little incest? Fans of Game of Thrones are accustomed to in-house family romances by now, but that still doesn’t make them any less scandalous.
Episode 4 of House of the Dragon exposes us to the taboo topic one again, with Daemon and Rhaenyra sneaking out of the red keep's walls to mix it with the common folk of King's Landing under disguise. We follow the pair down the cobbles of dark alleys, where they indulge in the local activities such as a classic Game of Thrones puppet show, fire breathers and a visit to a dingy brothel.
The shadowed house of pleasure is the setting for the disturbing and mind-blowing scene between uncle and niece. Viewers are probably misled into thinking that Daemon is attempting to corrupt or even set up his niece to fail. But the scene takes a shocking turn when Daemon attempts to seduce Rhaenrya, only for her to respond enthusiastically before Daemon calls a stop to it, leaving the princess thirsty for more.
Rhaenrya makes her way back to her chambers and lures in the dashing Criston Cole to satisfy her lusty cravings. Viserys gets wind of his brother’s despicable behaviour with his daughter and banishes Daemon once more.
Episode 5 - 'A dark day for the realm'
Despite her best efforts to avoid it, the time has come for Rhaenyra to be wed. She has been matched with her childhood friend, and inevitably her relative, Prince Laenor Velaryon. The stage is now set for a royal wedding to remember and one to rival Game of Thrones' infamous Red Wedding.
Beginning with grand entrances, most notably that of Queen Alicent who turns up fashionably late interrupting the King Viserys' speech and notably wearing green - House Hightower’s beacon colour for war. It's a power play from the queen and possibly her strongest act in the show so far.
Early in the episode it’s revealed that Prince Laenor, like his wife-to-be, isn’t happy with the arrangement either as his heart lies with his friend Ser Joffrey instead. During the wedding, Ser Joffrey latches onto Criston Cole’s love for the princess and teases him on his failings to match with her.
This final scene is fast-paced, chaotic and a masterpiece in direction. Daemon makes a last-ditch attempt for his niece’s hand (do they kiss again or don’t they?) followed by a well-shot scuffle that makes you feel like you’re right amongst it.
During the ensuing havoc, we see Criston pinning someone down and obliterating them. It's Ser Joffrey, who has paid the price for his sharp tongue: the heartbroken Criston Cole took his anger out on his face by caving it to pieces - much to Laenor’s despair. A truly shocking moment from House of the Dragon which left viewers speechless.
Episode 6 – 'Dracarys' (again)
The episode opens with the traumatic experience of childbirth as we leap forwards 10 years from the end of episode 5. Some of the younger characters in earlier episodes have grown up, and Rhaenyra, the woman giving birth, is one of them – she is now played by Emma D’Arcy.
The most shocking moment of this episode occurs down the narrow sea, where we join the now married Prince Daemon and Laena Velaryon along with their two daughters Baela and Rhaena. Laena is pregnant with their third child, and the family of four are deliberating on whether to head back home or stay in Pentos to earn some coin.
As the episode nears its close Laena goes into labour, but it doesn't go well. Viewers will be all too familiar with how this pans out – as is Laena. Knowing that her and her baby are not likely to survive, she takes it upon herself to sneak off outside the grounds to her dragon. Dropping to her knees in front of Vhagar, she screams "Dracarys"; the confused dragon hesitates as she realises the implications of the call, but fulfils her command nonetheless and burns her rider to a crisp.
Episode 7 – 'There is a debt to be paid'
We return to Driftmark for the sombre matter of Laena’s burial ceremony. The Westerosi wake is overshadowed by tension, and the distain towards Princess Rhaenyra and her family’s legitimacy sets the tone for the episode
Rhaenyra and Daemon are reunited and waste no time in renewing their lust for one another. As they reconnect in a moment of passion amongst some wreckage on the beach, the young and ambitious Prince Aemond seizes an opportunity of his own by claiming Laena's now rider-less dragon Vhagar.
This act enrages Laena’s daughters who expect to inherit the creature, they welcome Aemond back to the castle with violence. Rhaenyra’s ‘strong’ boys are there for backup and things get ugly, a brutal fight breaks out which ends with Lucerys slicing the left eye of Aemond – a dreadful moment in the episode.
When the matter is brought to the court of King Viserys, Queen Alicent is outraged and demands punishment and retribution. Rhaenyra counters her requests with accusations of the highest of treason for the boys in line for the throne. Viserys tries to defuse an escalating situation and save his family from imploding, but a dissatisfied Alicent takes matters into her own hands by snatching Viserys’ sacred Valryian steel dagger and makes a move towards the boys, only for Rhaenyra to intercept and get her arm sliced.
It's a tense and dramatic scene which sets up the tale of Greens vs Blacks. Although an eye short, young prince Aemond calms the situation down by insisting “I may have lost an eye, but I gained a dragon”.
Episode 8 – 'He can keep his tongue'
After another time jump, we’re back in Kings Landing a few years after the shocking events of Driftmark – and find the feral children in their teens.
There’s a fresh stir in the political cauldron with Lord Corlys Velaryon lost at sea, and he’s announced his desire for his throne to be passed down to Lucerys Velaryon (Rhaenyra’s son). Meanwhile, Lord Vaemond Valaryon aims to put forward his claim for the Driftmark throne to the King’s small council.
As the hearings for the succession of Driftmark begin to take place, a dramatic scene unfolds in the great hall of the Red Keep. King Viserys makes quite the entrance: barely being able to walk, there’s a touching moment as he drops his crown on the way up to the throne and Daemond kindly places it back on his head.
Vaemond makes a powerful and compelling power play that starts righteously but quickly turns sour, and he seals his own fate by calling Rhaenyra’s children “bastards” when questioning their legitimacy. Before the King can react, Prince Daemon cuts the Velaryan in two. A truly graphic ending for this somewhat loathsome character that renders the great hall - not to mention viewers at home - speechless.
Less violent but perhaps just as shocking in the context of the series is when the royal family have dinner, there’s joy and laughter around the dinner table. Alicent and Rhaenyra actually seem to be getting along again…
Episode 9 – 'The King is dead'
The penultimate episode begins in tragedy, with King Viserys confirmed dead. His death holds major implications for the realm and the remainder of the series.
Queen Alicent is adamant that the king’s dying wishes were for their son Prince Aegon II to lead the Seven Kingdoms. As the Green council begin their plotting, arrangements are in place except that no-one can located the final piece in the puzzle - Prince Aegon. Two search parties are set upon Kings landing, down every nook and cranny. He’s eventually discovered in the depths of Flea Bottom.
A toe-curling scene between Ser Larys Strong and Queen Alicent nearly lands the most shocking scene from the episode, but it’s the Queen Who Never Was Rhaenys Targaryen who delivers the episode's coup de grace. During the coronation and above the dragon pits where everyone is gathered to watch Prince Aegon crowned King of the Seven Kingdoms, Meleys the red dragon bursts through the floor and brings the epic event to a halt.
A true Game of Thrones burst-bubble moment but all the same a moment of triumph for Rhaenys. She has the leaders of the realm in her sights and in the palm of her hand, knowing she could finish them off along with their treasonous plans with one blast of dragon fire.
Deciding it’s not her battle to fight, she lets them live - a jaw-dropping move from the strong female character. She escapes on dragon back leaving the royal family trembling behind her.
Episode 10 – 'The Greens are coming for you'
The epic first season of House of the Dragon has borne witness to some classic George R.R. Martin moments, and as you'd expect, episode 10 stays true to this running theme of treachery and gore.
When a pregnant Princess Rhaenyra is told of her father’s death by Rhaenys, the news shocks her. But not as much as the news that her claim to the throne has been roundly ignored and a crown placed upon Aegon’s spoilt head. The theft of her inheritance brings on an early childbirth, and as difficulty in labour seems to be a common thread throughout this series, viewers are likely fearing the worst.
In the traumatic scene that follows, we see the princess in agony but she retains the courage to deliver her child herself. Alas, the child is still-born, meaning yet another heart-breaking funeral to attend in Westeros.
In further political reaction to the King Aegon’s coronation, battle plans are being drawn up (upon a beautifully crafted and well-lit table, I might add) and all talk is of which families of the Seven Kingdoms will come to their aid and honour the vows they made when they swore Rhaenrya in as the heir to the Iron Throne.
Rhaenyra sends both her sons as messengers - not warriors - on dragon back to get further support for her claim to the Iron Throne, “No fighting” she warns in a mother's tone. Jacaerys sets off to speak with the Arryns and Lucerys has the task of convincing Boros Baratheon in Storms End to pick a side.
Upon arriving in the stormiest of Storms End, the dragon Vhagar casts a looming shadow in the courtyard – this signals Prince Aemond's presence. Boros scoffs at Lucerys' empty offer of loyalty but manages to keep Aemond from taking an eye for an eye.
However this doesn’t stop an epic battle unfolding in the grey skies: Lucerys and his dragon Arrax seem to have the upper hand in the narrow coves, but Aemond and the giant Vhagar come out on top as the colossal dragon tears the young Arrax in half – a truly shocking ending for the young prince.
Upon hearing of Lucerys' fate, Rhaenyra’s face has vengeance written all over it in the series' eerie closing moments.
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