The Dance of the Dragons has truly begun. And the first casualties cut right to the heart of the Black Queen herself in tonight’s season finale of House of the Dragon.
Spoiler Note: This recap and the comments section may contain mild spoilers from George R.R. Martin’s novels and Westeros histories, whether or not that material has appeared on the show yet. If you have not read the books and wish to remain completely Unsullied, we encourage you to check out our non-book-reader recap by Oz of Thrones!
At Dragonstone, Lucerys Velaryon views Driftmark on the Painted Table, and ponders his future as Lord of High Tide, with his grandfather Corlys still injured and recovering. Rhaenyra reassures her son and remembers her uncertainty when she was named heir.
Rhaenys arrives to Dragonstone with news of the king’s death, and Aegon’s coronation. Rhaenyra is shocked at the turn of events, and Daemon is angry (much like the viewing audience) that Rhaenys didn’t burn everyone to the ground when she had the opportunity to do so and end the coup.
The news has other consequences: Rhaenyra goes into early labor, and it doesn’t go well. While she labors in agony, Daemon begins strategizing with their allied lords. Rhaenyra summons her sons Jace and Luke to her and gives them the big news. She has her eldest Jace carry her orders to her husband; hubby is less than pleased to be restrained by his wife. The birthing ends in tragedy, with Rhaenyra producing a disfigured stillborn child.
The child is laid to rest in a traditional fiery Targaryen funeral. Ser Erryk Cargyll arrives from King’s Landing, with Viserys’ crown and vows to serve Rhaenyra. Daemon crowns her and kneels; the crowd (all except Rhaenys) kneel to their queen.
Now the planning begins in earnest, with Team Black assessing their allies and where they stand with everyone. House Baratheon has a new lord who may need “reminding” of his father’s oath. Daemon suggests harnessing the power of a handful of riderless dragons. Meanwhile Otto Hightower shows up at Dragonstone with an offer for Rhaenyra: she can surrender and keep Dragonstone- or else. He presents her with a note from Alicent – a page from their shared Nymeria book- to soften her up. She agrees to consider the offer.
Discussing the offer, Daemon and Rhaenyra argue and he becomes furious with her for actually considering it. He chokes her in his ire. She mentions the prophecy of ice and fire, and she realizes that Viserys never shared Aegon’s dream with Daemon.
At Corlys’ bedside, Rhaenys stews over his return- and his previous absence at war. As he awakes, she catches him up on what he’s missed and informs him of his brother Vaemond’s death. Corlys, now more reflective than six years before, rues his previous ambitions.
Corlys joins Rhaenyra and the lords in their council and brings some much needed straight talking to the affair. Her talk of “hope” is all well and good but it won’t go far. Corlys pledges his ships and his support for her cause. But Rhaenyra is now more cautious. She decides to send her sons as envoys to gather the support of House Baratheon and House Stark.
Rhaenyra sends Jace to Cregan Stark at Winterfell, and Luke to Borros Baratheon at Storm’s End, to remind them of their oaths to her. She makes her sons swear not to fight and act only as messengers, before sending her boys off on their dragons.
In a cave somewhere on Dragonstone, Daemon coos and sings, summoning forth a massive beast- the dragon Vermithor, riderless since Jaehaerys I.
At Storm’s End, Luke lands to find he’s not the only royal messenger. Prince Aemond Targaryen and his dragon Vhagar are there too. Unfortunately the new king Aegon has made a better offer in his message, offering the gruff Lord Baratheon a bride with his alliance. Unable to match the offer, young Luke can only retreat. Aemond seizes the chance for vengeance, demanding an eye for an eye and revealing his missing one has been replaced with a bright sapphire. Baratheon sends both Luke and Aemond out of Storm’s End before the situation escalates.
Luke flies off on his young dragon Arrax, knowing he’s in danger. The skies over Storm’s End are aptly stormy. It’s not long before he realizes Aemond is on his tail with the huge dragon Vhagar, taunting him and laughing. Luke is able to dodge and get away with his faster and slimmer dragon, zipping into canyons and tighter spaces.
Arrax is feisty and spits fire at the cranky old Vhagar and that may be their undoing. Because Vhagar is really pissed now. Just as Luke and Arrax seem to be flying free of the storm and safely away, Luke looks up to see the mouth of Vhagar coming down on him and Arrax. Ignoring Aemond’s orders telling him “NO!” the older dragon chomps down. Aemond can only watch as Luke and Arrax are destroyed and fall from the sky.
At Dragonstone, Daemon delivers the news to his wife that her son has fallen. Rhaenyra turns to the flames for a moment, and then turns back to face the world, with tears in her eyes.
Season Finale Thoughts
The Opening Credits: Okay it’s been an entire season and I can safely say, I still don’t care for them. The blood is gross and too literal to be interesting, and the symbols shouldn’t be impossible to decipher for a casual viewer. While they are an absolute treat for the hardcore Fire & Blood reader or Targaryen stan, they’re meaningless to everyone else.
Cregan Stark, here we come! The fancasting and fake announcements rumor mill will be lit.
Dragonseeds, here we come! With Daemon seeking out Vermithor, we can start speculating on how much (and which) of them we’ll see in season two.
The Return of Devilish Daemon: Daemon’s nasty reputation seemed to ease up mid-season and it looked like we were getting a more playful version of the man. (Sure he killed Vaemond but they’re enemies in a conflict.) The finale obliterated that idea with him choking Rhaenyra in a shocking act that will piss off a lot of his fans for sure. He did kill his first wife after years of loathing her, so it’s not that much of a shock though, is it? He was right though when he told Rhaenys she should’ve dracarys’d all the Greens. He’s not nice but he’s right sometimes. That’s a dark gray character for ya.
Reach the stars and fly a fantasy: That sequence with Aemond, Luke and their dragons was some dark NeverEnding Story shit, wasn’t it? It was so tightly directed, I couldn’t tear my eyes away for a second. If I didn’t already know that Luke was doomed from the book, I would’ve believed he was getting away thanks to Arrax’s swiftness against Vhagar’s unwieldy bulk. That’s what I want to see in a dance with dragons.
Stormy grays over Storm’s End: Don’t tell us it was too dark if you watched it on a 360p pirated leak version. Not that there was a leak. What leak? Never mind.
A dragon is not a slave: To quote Dany. And they aren’t your family dog either. Dragons may have a strong bond with their human, but they don’t obey them all the time. I think that’s especially true when they’re facing somthing that goes against their own nature or self-preservation. Vhagar resisted the urge to dracarys Laena when first ordered (for obvious reasons), requiring a few commands, and she ignored Aemond in the heat of battle after being flame-attacked by Arrax. I think it makes dragons more interesting when they’re unpredictable and subject to whims, rather than dragons being mindless beasts with nukes at their disposal. Accepting that he didn’t want Vhagar to commit that one act doesn’t let Aemond off the hook for his behavior; he was determined to take Luke’s eye at Storm’s End and then he chased him all over the sky, with sociopathic laughter. HOTD is adding complexity to all the characters, and that includes the dragons.
The No-Hats Policy: Remember how no one on GoT wore face-obscuring hats or helmets ever, even when they should and we kinda made fun of it? (Well, I did.) Well now they’re wearing helmets properly all the time and I think it’s probably making it difficult for some viewers to realize who is who. When the twins were glaring at each other on the bridge at Dragonstone it occurred to me that if I didn’t anticipate this was going to happen, I might be puzzled as to why the camera was focusing in on two Kingsguard squinting a bit. Because the helms completely covered their faces. And of course teen-Laenor was covered by his helm when he rode his dragon, and there are some other examples….Anyway, the No-Hat Policy might need softening.
Emmy for Emma: There’s been a lot of talk about Paddy, but spare a thought for Emma D’Arcy come awards season. Because they carried this heavy episode (and a few other episodes too). They are the Black Queen, and a wonderful discovery for House of the Dragon.
Lucerys Velaryon (Elliot Grihault): A final tribute… Handsome, wise, strong. Let us drain our cups to this strong boy!
Arrax (dragon): Poor baby. He never had a chance against Meemaw Vhagar.