House of the Dragon went from strength to strength and ended the first half of the first season with a brilliant foreshadowing.
This ranking is based solely on my personal preferences and not necessarily any technical merits of the episodes. All five episodes of House of the Dragon that have aired so far has been stellar TV, that ranking them is, for me, an exercise of fun. So, without further ado, here's my list.
(5) The Rogue Prince
I feel a bit odd ranking this last because this is the episode that pushed me to return to blogging and cover House of the Dragon, but the series has been consistently strong so far, that The Rogue Prince being last does not at all mean it is not a stellar episode. This is the episode that showed Princess Rhaenyra consistently dismissed by her father and his Hand Ser Otto, though she was the named heir. Repeatedly, we were shown how, though she was named Princess of Dragonstone at the end of the first episode, to the eyes of the ruling men of the realm, she was still a child and a woman. What space Rhaenyra had, however, she claimed. She spoke up in the Small Council. She was given the task of choosing a new Kingsguard, and chose according to her will, ignoring Otto's input that she ought to consider those who came from important Houses. And, when her uncle Daemon Targaryen took over her castle at Dragonstone and stole the dragon egg she chose for her brother Baelon, it was Rhaenyra, with Syrax, who dealt with the situation like a boss. 'And be done with all this bother' is destined to join some of the most iconic lines in the Game of Thrones universe (it is a universe now, right?).
What a brilliant way to set up a series weighed by the very successful (though controversial) run of Game of Thrones, and fan expectations. Right out the gate, there was so much confidence in the handling of this series. Matt Smith was the biggest name for me (I knew him from Doctor Who and The Crown) but as it was with Game of Thrones, the House of the Dragon casting department found the most incredible actors for the perfect roles, including Milly Alcock as Young Rhaenyra and Emily Carey as Young Alicent. Shoutout to Sian Brooke, whose short-lived Queen Aemma was a portrait of the tragic life even the most privileged women in Westeros lived. When Viserys (the excellent Paddy Considine) later lamented how he would never get over the death of Aemma, you get that, because of the strength of the scenes husband and wife shared in this episode.
The good thing about having read the books is that it is such fun to understand that foreshadowing House of the Dragon does with some of their scenes. King of the Narrow Sea is famous for the brothel scene and the beautifully choreographed sex scene between Princess Rhaenyra and Ser Criston Cole, but it also foreshadowed the deaths of two characters who shall remain unnamed at this time. As Rhaenyra found joy in exploring her sexuality, Alicent remained at the Red Keep, a young wife doing her duty to her King. The differences between the two friends were already there when they were young, but they became more pronounced as they grew older. Whilst one clung to tradition and duty, the other chafed at the imposed restrictions and when given the chance, had fun. Even as a book reader, however, I did not see that tea coming. The modifications the show made to Viserys's character just made him a better, more compelling, more tragic character, and I am here for it.
(2) We Light The Way
A huge part of me wants to name this number one (and it certainly deserves that), however, I will explain later how I ultimately went with Second of His Name as the top episode so far. We Light The Way is a stunning episode that, when it was over, I was so surprised, I thought there had to be a few minutes left. Fitting as the episode at the halfway point, this is when a huge shift in allegiances happen. Near the end of the episode, after Viserys collapsed following that heartbreaking wedding between Rhaenyra and Laenor, the camera panned to Joffrey Lonmouth's blood and a rat that came to nibble on it. If you don't want spoilers, don't Google blood and cheese.
As someone who did not exactly have happy memories of the last few seasons of Game of Thrones, my favourite episode is the one that most mirrored the parent show. Three characters -- Viserys, Rhaenyra, and Daemon -- were placed in different locations, a call-back to Game of Thrones's multiple location storytelling. There was a hunt (Robert Baratheon), a stag (House Baratheon), a bloody princess (Daenerys Targaryen), and a battle won in large part due to one man (Jon Snow). Ultimately, I chose this as my top episode because of its studied focus on Viserys as a man and a King. Paddy Considine deserves all the awards for his portrayal of King Viserys I, but he also worked with a strong script and direction, and the show actually already has the budget to create these large set pieces and frame shots that tell stories without dialogue. Bonus to this episode was the coming out party of Daemon Targaryen the legendary warrior, in that mostly dialogue-free but exciting battle at the Stepstones. This episode was firing on all cylinders great, but I am going to special mention Ser Criston Cole being charming toward Princess Rhaenyra in the woods, and young Ser Laenor Velaryon joyfully riding his dragon Seasmoke into battle.
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