7 Moments That Reigned in ‘House of the Dragon’

The civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons is almost here after an explosive Season 1 of “House of the Dragon.” Now, nearly two years later, HBO’s other popular show about succession returns this weekend as the (mostly) white-blond Targaryens from across the family tree harness alliances, resources and dragons toward an ever-escalating cycle of vengeance and cruelty.

Based on the George R.R. Martin book “Fire & Blood,” “House of the Dragon” is a “Game of Thrones” prequel occurring roughly 200 years before the events in the original series. The new season will cover some of the many plotlines of the Dance within only eight episodes, compared to the first season’s 10. (Martin, who serves as the show’s co-creator and co-writer, stated on his blog in 2022 that it would “take four full seasons of 10 episodes each to do justice to the Dance of the Dragons.” Are the writers getting enough runway to do it right? Time will tell.)

With Season 2, the Blacks and the Greens — opposing factions led by their matriarchs, Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) and Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) — have reached a point of no return. Rhaenyra is the firstborn child and chosen heir of the newly dead King Viserys (Paddy Considine); Alicent was Viserys’s second wife and is the mother of the freshly anointed King Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney). Both factions have legitimate claims. Neither wants to share.

“War is coming, and neither of us may win,” Rhaenyra says in a trailer. Here’s a look back at Season 1’s pivotal moments that turned childhood best friends into mortal enemies hurtling toward mutual destruction.

This article discusses the plot details of “House of the Dragon,” Season 1.

Battle scenes, dragons and beheadings are par for the course in the “Thrones” universe. But “House of the Dragon” is also a story about women and mothers, and how they contort themselves to survive in a patriarchal society. Primogeniture, in which inheritance goes to the eldest son, urges women of the highest station to secure an heir, and depictions of childbirth prove to be among the season’s most harrowing scenes. Queen Aemma (Sian Brooke) is the first casualty during a breech birth, with her husband secretly making the call to cut the infant from her womb. Their one and only son becomes the “heir for a day.”

In perhaps the first season’s biggest retcon of the books, Viserys reveals a secret to Rhaenyra — apparently one shared only between king and heir since the time of Aegon the Conqueror. The first Lord of the Seven Kingdoms (except for Dorne, the southernmost region of Westeros, ruled technically by House Martell), Aegon foresaw a terrible winter and the end of men. He believed that only a Targaryen could unite the kingdom in order to defeat the coming darkness from north of the Wall.

Conveniently, Aegon called this dream “A Song of Ice and Fire” (the name of Martin’s book series covered in the “Game of Thrones” show) and had this prophecy etched into the blade of a Valyrian dagger that appears only when subjected to extreme heat: “From my blood will come the Prince That Was Promised, and his will be the Song of Ice and Fire.” Aegon’s Dream was never mentioned in the books, and it ties together Aegon’s Conquest with the “Prince That Was Promised” prophecy from “Game of Thrones.”

As the daughter of Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), the scheming Hand of the King, young Alicent becomes a “calculated distraction” for Viserys, who mourns the loss of his wife and son. As the new queen, Alicent is a dutiful wife and mother. But when she learns of Rhaenyra’s affair with Criston Cole of the Kingsguard (Fabien Frankel), she takes a defiant stance against her former friend and the king. It is an Alicent transformed who arrives late at Rhaenyra’s wedding feast wearing a bold green gown — the color of the Hightower beacon in Oldtown, her house’s seat, when it is ready for war.

Even as a child, Aemond Targaryen (Ewan Mitchell), second-born son to Alicent and Viserys, is fearless and deadly serious. One night, Aemond makes a daring move to claim the riderless Vhagar, the largest living dragon, as his own. Afterward, he taunts his younger relatives, and a fight breaks out, ending with Lucerys (Elliot Grihault), Rhaenyra’s second-born son, slashing Aemond’s left eye.

“It was a fair exchange,” he tells his mother. “I may have lost an eye, but I gained a dragon” — an asset that will no doubt figure prominently in the coming war.

While he is literally falling apart, Viserys rallies his strength and wits to make one last-ditch effort to unite his family and avoid the crisis of succession that he has largely caused. His impassioned speech in the throne room is his most full-throated support for Rhaenyra as heir; and the family supper afterward has moments of levity and warmth that might fool anyone but a “Thrones” fan.

Rhaenys (Eve Best) — aided by Erryk Cargyll (Luke and Elliott Tittensor), one of the twin knights taking opposite sides in the war — reunites with her dragon and makes a groundbreaking appearance at Aegon II’s coronation. Although Rhaenys has the chance to burn them all, she escapes to Dragonstone to inform Rhaenyra of events.

In a race to forge alliances, Rhaenyra reluctantly sends her sons Jacaerys (Harry Collett) and Lucerys to deliver messages across the realm. Although the younger Lucerys is given the “easier” assignment at Storm’s End, the visit quickly turns ominous, with the hulking outline of Vhagar appearing amid lightning flashes in heavy rainfall.

Aemond demands an eye for an eye from his cousin-nephew, and when the fight continues outside, the dragons demonstrate what Viserys mentioned in Episode 1: “The idea that we control the dragons is an illusion.”

Despite the riders’ pleas and commands, Vhagar and the much smaller dragon Arrax spar in the sky, with Arrax breathing fire in Vhagar’s face. The last we see of Lucerys and his dragon are the remnants of wings and body parts falling through the clouds below.

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