The seeds of the Dance are planted in the first episode of House of the Dragon
This recap is coming late because I truly did not plan on recapping House of the Dragon. It was only after the second episode aired that I found myself compelled to write about it, so now here I am, returning to Heirs of the Dragon, which set the stage of this coming Targaryen Civil War with such confidence, and even gifted book readers with a heretofore unknown nugget of Conquest information. It began with The Great Council, where the elderly King Jaehaerys I gathered the great lords of the realm in Harenhaal to choose his successor following the deaths of his two sons, the Princes Aemon and Baelon. The two strongest claimants were Princess Rhaenys, daughter of Prince Aemon and wife of the great Lord Corlys Velaryon, and Prince Viserys, son of Prince Baelon and husband to Lady Aemma Arryn (herself half Targaryen, she is the daughter of Princess Daella). Because powerful men did not like the idea of a woman ruling over the Seven Kingdoms, or even of the Crown passing via the female line (Rhaenys has a son, Laenor), Viserys was named heir.
Nine years into Viserys's reign as King, and the Targaryens were again occupied with the question of succession. The King and Queen only had one surviving child, a daughter, Princess Rhaenyra. Viserys was so convinced the babe Aemma carried was a boy, that he called a tourney to celebrate the birth of his son and heir. In the meantime, his tempestuous younger brother Daemon remained his presumed heir.
Anyone who has read the books or even read Internet spoilers knows that Daemon Targaryen is one of the most fascinating characters in this whole complex world George R R Martin created. I was happy to hear of Matt Smith's casting and had no doubt he would crush this role. As I am writing this after the fourth episode has aired, fandom feedback on Matt Smith's Daemon has been overwhelmingly positive. Though this is a recap site, I strive to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but there are certain scenes coming that would break Twitter and I cannot wait to see them!
Daemon was introduced in the best way possible, sitting on the Iron Throne. His niece Rhaenyra was unfazed by this. Setting aside all the things that would make us modern, living in the real world audiences uncomfortable about this relationship, the exchange between Daemon and Rhaenyra gave us so many things about the Targaryens. They spoke Valyrian, which immediately set them apart from the rest of Westeros. They were clearly a family fond of each other. When Daemon gave Rhaenyra a Valyrian steel necklace, he mentioned how now the both of them had a small piece of their history (Daemon carried the Valyrian steel sword Dark Sister previously owned by Visenya Targaryen, whilst the sword Viserys could be seen later in the episode I am assuming was Aegon the Conqueror's Valyrian steel sword Blackfyre).
Daemon was not formally named heir, but he was presumed to be, until the King had a son, since he was the closest male relative to Viserys. For Otto Hightower, however, he was a headache. Viserys insisted on giving his brother a position at Court, but Otto opposed Daemon as Master of Laws and Master of Coin, and instead relegated him as Commander of the City Watch. Daemon poured his energies into what could be viewed as a minor appointment of someone of his rank, and turned the Gold Cloaks into a well-armed, well-armoured, well-trained army of 2000 loyal only to him. With the tourney approaching, and with that, hundreds if not thousands of people, many of them high-born, trooping into King's Landing, Daemon personally headed a brutal crackdown of the city's known criminals.
Otto Hightower was furious with this, as he tended to be furious with everything Daemon did. At the Small Council, however, Daemon argued his case well. With a carefully modulated voice, Daemon explained that the smallfolk viewed much of King's Landing as lawless and terrifying, a viewpoint that someone like Otto who rarely left the Red Keep would not be familiar with. Corlys Velaryon backed Daemon, as did Viserys, though he did caution his brother against further displays of wanton brutality.
It was interesting to watch Otto in this scene, the way he pivoted to chiding Daemon about not visiting his wife in the Vale when he found himself starting to lose the argument. Daemon's relations with his wife Lady Rhea had nothing to do with the issue of maintaining law and order in the city, but Otto smoothly brought it up and managed to get Daemon to utter not just cruel things about his wife but also needle Otto about the recent loss of his own wife.
The tourney was a lavish event interspersed with images of Queen Aemma on the birthing bed. The very first knight we saw was Ser Criston Cole who, according to Ser Harrold Westerling of the Kingsguard, was a common born son of a steward of Lord Dondarrion. His skill caught the eye of both Rhaenyra and her best friend Alicent Hightower, the beautiful daughter of Otto. He even unhorsed the rather arrogant Lord Boremund Baratheon, who referred to his cousin Princess Rhaenys as the Queen Who Never Was, not quite the most politic thing to say in front of the actual King, Viserys, and could have landed him in trouble with a less chill monarch. Then, Daemon Targaryen, Prince of the City, entered the lists.
Daemon's first chosen opponent was Otto's son Gwayne Hightower, whom he violently unhorsed in what I am not quite sure is a move allowed to those who are not Targaryen princes. In Criston Cole, however, he found a more formidable opponent. Daemon himself was unhorsed, and they continued their fight, Daemon with Dark Sister and Criston with a mace. I had a hard time watching this scene because of the images that were flashing with it, but just as Daemon had a good introduction, Criston did, too, and much of it became apparent when Daemon arrived. Daemon was cheered by the people; people barely knew who Criston was. Daemon was in this elaborate armour; Criston's armour was clearly old and chipped in many places. The contest of arms was initially won by Daemon, but he gloated too early and Criston made him pay for that. Forced to yield, Daemon did not take the hand Criston offered. Later, Criston removed his helmet (yes, he is handsome, just as he is in the books) and asked for Rhaenyra's favour.
The horrifying ordeal of Queen Aemma in the birthing bed was shown through the violent images of the tourney. Grand Maester Mellos explained to the worried King that the baby was in breech and all efforts to turn it had failed. They had reached the point when the King needed to choose between the life of his beloved wife or the heir he longed for, or lose them both. The King gave his permission to cut the baby out of Queen Aemma in a brutal heartbreaking scene. Sian Brooke had few scenes, but her Queen Aemma left her mark as an affecting, memorable, ultimately tragic character.
Viserys's longed for male heir, Baelon, lived for only four hours. In the tradition of House Targaryen, a funeral pyre was made for Aemma and the baby. For once, Daemon was the adult in the scene, and he convinced Rhaenyra to step up for her grieving, guilt-ridden father. It was Rhaenyra who gave the order to her dragon Syrax, the all too familiar dracarys. I really liked how there was a slight accent there that was different from Daenerys Targaryen's British dracarys; unlike Daenerys, Rhaenyra lived amongst many native Valyrian speakers so the accent would come more naturally to her.
Not even the tragic death of the Queen stopped Otto from his campaign to undermine Daemon. He brought up the matter of succession to a Viserys still very deep in his grief. Otto suggested naming Rhaenyra as heir, whereas Corlys, who previously supported Daemon (because of the precedent set by the Great Council) brought up his wife Rhaenys. The normally genial Viserys erupted in fury.
Otto's response to this show of royal grief and temper was to send his very young daughter to comfort the King in his chambers. He even suggested that Alicent wear one of her mother's dresses. Alicent did as she was bid, and found Viserys grieving over an unfinished model of old Valyria. Alicent wisely connected with Viserys through their shared grief; she did lose her mother not too long ago.
Whilst Viserys and Rhaenyra were deep in their grief, Daemon rented out a pleasure house for his City Watch officers. There, he made an ill-advised speech that of course Otto quickly reported to Viserys. Viserys confronted his errant brother in the throne room, wearing his crown and royal regalia, a King speaking to his subject. Daemon did not deny calling Prince Baelon the 'heir for a day', though he did try to excuse it by saying we all grieve in different ways. Soon enough, the battle of words became brother against brother, as Daemon called Viserys weak and insisted that he wanted to protect him, that he saw through Otto Hightower. Viserys banished his brother to Runestone and his lady wife and announced that he was naming a new heir.
Viserys spoke to Rhaenyra in what looked like a shrine to the skull of Balerion the Black Dread. There, he apologised to her, and told her the secret that for generations had been passed down from King to heir, the reason why Aegon the Conqueror invaded Westeros. This information is not in the books so this is a gift to book readers as well. Like Daenys, Aegon was a dreamer, and he dreamed of the end of the world of men. It would begin with a terrible winter from the North. Whatever dwelt in the absolute darkness that came with this winter would destroy the world of men, and all of Westeros must stand against it. Aegon believed that a Targaryen must sit on the Iron Throne, one strong enough to unite the realm. He called his dream The Song of Ice and Fire.
Viserys's conversation with Rhaenyra was interspersed with images of the throne room, where lords of the realm where swearing their fealty to King Viserys and his named heir, Princess Rhaenyra, the Princess of Dragonstone. There was a nice cut to Lord Stark at the mention of The Song of Ice and Fire. And that was how the episode ended, with a closeup of Rhaenyra in full princess regalia, now carrying the power and the burden of Aegon the Conqueror's vision.
♕ 'The only thing that could tear down the House of the Dragon was itself.' Word.
♕ This is not included in the show, but in the books, the claimants during the Great Council included three of Princess Saera's bastard born children.
♕ I appreciated the Daenerys Targaryen mention because had her character not worked out, this show would not have been made.
♕ A bit random but Ser Harrold Westerling reminded me that in the books, Robb Stark's wife is Jeyne Westerling. She remained devoted to Robb's memory even after his death.
♕ So so good to see Rhaenyra on Syrax. And saddles! Poor Daenerys really had no guidance on how to ride her dragons. I loved hearing the Dragonpit workers speaking Valyrian as well.
♕ House of the Dragon's budget, clearly much bigger than the budget of Game of Thrones season one, gave us a good view of King's Landing at the height of Targaryen power through the carriage ride back to the Red Keep of Rhaenyra and Alicent.
♕ Rhaenyra would rather serve as a knight than birth royal babies. It was so sweet how concerned she was for her mother, whilst everyone else was concerned mostly for the babe.
♕ Corlys Velaryon gave us a quick overview of the Triarchy situation at the Stepstones. Viserys was unconcerned, Otto dismissive of Corlys's report and counsel.
♕ Alicent was surprised that Rhaenyra was not concerned over her loss of position at the birth of her brother.
♕ There was a wound that refused to heal on the King's back. Paddy Considine recently revealed that Viserys is suffering from a form of leprosy.
♕ Recalling the conversation between Viserys and Aemma whilst Aemma bathed hurts my heart. This is a political marriage, but they loved each other. Aemma mentioned how Rhaenyra was convinced she would have a sister, named the babe Visenya (a great Targaryen warrior), and chose a dragon egg for her. Aemma also told Viserys that this was her last pregnancy. Viserys was convinced the babe was a son because of his dream -- a son born wearing Aegon's crown, with the sound of thundering hooves and splintering shields, and the dragons roared as one. I don't get how Viserys thought this was a good thing, those details are portents of war.
♕ Of course there was a brothel scene. Daemon, uh, had trouble performing, and Mysaria offered to bring in another, even one with silver hair. Is Daemon only into women with silver hair? Is that why he disliked his wife so much? In the promo photos of the next episode, she looks very pretty.
♕ Daemon watched the Small Council through a screen as they discussed removing him as heir.
♕ Otto sent a letter to Oldtown after the Small Council meeting; I am including this small scene to this recap in case it becomes significant later.
♕ Apologies for this late recap! Hopefully, the next ones won't be too late. Till next episode!
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Writer: Ryan Condal
First Aired: August 21, 2022