DISCLAIMER: This recap of the House of the Dragon series premiere episode, “The Heirs of the Dragon,” has spoilers. Prepare for fire and blood, and proceed at your peril.
Welcome, dragonriders! It’s House of the Dragon time, and folks, “The Heirs of the Dragon” delivers the goods. Of course, I came in with low expectations. Firstly, due to the monstrosity that was Game of Thrones Season 8. Secondly, because there’s no way any show set in this universe could live up to the hype of its predecessor. Game of Thrones is an unprecedented pop culture phenomenon regardless of how its final season played out.
This episode is a strong, solid pilot, building on the momentum established in Game of Thrones. Paddy Considine and Matt Smith steal the show for me, churning out stellar, nuance-laced performances as two polar opposite brothers.
Ready to delve into “The Heirs of the Dragon”? Let’s get to it.
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Fire and Blood
We open with an introduction to our players amid a tale taking place 172 years before the age of Daenerys Targaryen. The ailing King Jaehaerys Targaryen (Michael Carter) assembles the Great Council at Harrenhal to name his successor. We see Viserys (Considine) and his wife Aemma Aryn (Sian Brooke), along with Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) and his wife, Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best), seated around the dying king. Despite Rhaenys being the king’s descendant, Jaehaerys names her cousin Viserys the next ruler of Westeros.
Later, nine years into Viserys’ rule, we see Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) riding her dragon, Syrax, across the skies of King’s Landing. Ser Harrold Westerling (Graham McTavish) oversees her arrival back to solid ground. Rhaenyra tries to persuade her BFF Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey) to soar on the back of Syrax with her, but Alicent is content with staying on land.
After returning to the Red Keep, Rhaenyra visits her very pregnant mother, Aemma. Aemma reminds Rhaenyra of the importance of childbirth and how it’s their sacred duty to produce heirs to maintain the Targaryen line. However, Rhaenyra would rather ride a horse into battle than give birth to a child. Girl, same.
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Meanwhile, Viserys holds a council session with his Hand of the King, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), Lord Corlys, Grand Maester Mellos (David Horovitch), Lord Lyman Beesbury (Bill Paterson) and Lord Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes). Corlys mentions mounting alliance in the Free Cities under the “Triarchy” and their ridding of pirates in the Stepstones. Viserys doesn’t view this as a cause for concern. The council discusses Prince Daemon’s continued absence from their sessions. Hey, he’s the resident Targaryen Bad Boy™ — he does as he pleases.
An Uncle Comes Home
Harrold leads Rhaenyra into the throne room, wherein Daemon (Smith) sits on her father’s Iron Throne. The uncle and niece chat with each other in Valyrian, and it’s so wonderful to hear it spoken regularly outside of the few times we heard it on Game of Thrones. Daemon gifts Rhaenyra with a necklace crafted of Vayrian steel, much like Daemon’s sword, Dark Sister. Not gonna lie; there’s something about Matt Smith with long bleach blonde hair and a haughty disposition that does something to me.
Anyway, Alicent and Rhaenyra study for their lessons outside. Rhaenyra would rather shirk her academic responsibilities and ride dragons with her bestie (although there’s undoubtedly romantic tension between these two). Alicent mentions the possibility of Aemma giving birth to a son, thereby eliminating the potentiality of Rhaenyra becoming Viserys’ successor. Rhaenyra says her dad wants a son and has always longed for her to be a boy.
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Next, Grand Maester Mellos oversees the medical treatment of an inexplicable sore on Viserys’ back that’s very much infected. He nonchalantly mentions it most likely came from sitting on the Iron Throne. Getting slashed by swords every time you sit on a chair doesn’t sound fun.
The Last One
Later, Viserys visits his wife, who finds comfort in bathing incessantly to get through this terrible pregnancy. Aemma apologizes for failing to produce an heir for him, but after this pregnancy, she’s done trying. I’d say six pregnancies (seven including Rhaenyra) is enough.
Then, Daemon, Commander of the City Watch, sends his hounds to hunt for the night. We see the City Watch guards kill without justice, viciously dismembering citizens with impunity. Even the prince joins the maiming and mass slaughter. So, King’s Landing is officially a police state. Abolish the City Watch!
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The following day, Viserys and the council convene with the rare presence of Daemon. They reprimand him for his murderous stunt. Viserys defends his brother, asserting he gave Daemon control of the City Watch to act as he sees fit within the confines of the king’s laws. However, there will be consequences if he performs such an act again.
Daemon hurls insults at Otto, who recently lost his wife, while Otto believes Daemon should return to Runestone to spend some time with his spouse, Lady Rhea. Daemon thinks sheep look better than her, which is just rude, dude.
Later, Daemon has some sexy fun times with his mistress Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno) in a pleasure house. Daemon isn’t entirely into it, so Mysaria comforts him. She reassures Daemon that Viserys won’t replace him.
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Now, it’s tourney time! Viserys hosts a tourney in honor of Aemma giving birth to their child. We see knights from all over Westeros, including banners from House Baratheon, House Stark, House Hightower and House Lannister among the lists. Daemon makes his grand entrance being the showman that he is.
Daemon takes on Alicent’s brother, much to her and Otto’s dismay. Thankfully, the Hightower lad survives. Daemon seeks favor from Alicent as a means to burrow under Otto’s skin. Meanwhile, Viserys stands by Aemma’s side while she’s in labor. Mellos pulls him aside to present a life-or-death scenario. They cannot flip the baby, and Aemma struggles to birth the child. No milk of the poppy is enough for the pain. Mellos tells Viserys that he has a choice — either he saves the baby, or they both die.
Daemon battles Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), a knight from a poor family clawing his way up the ranks. After Criston bests him on horseback, Daemon draws his sword, hoping to take this duel in another direction. Criston and Daemon duke it out to the raucous cheers of the crowd. He rises victorious, urging Daemon to yield. Upon beating Daemon, Criston approaches Rhaenyra, asking for her favor. Alicent gasps when she realizes Criston’s Dornish. Everyone from Dorne is attractive, and that’s all there is to it.
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Meanwhile, Viserys makes a tough decision. He orders Mellos and the team to save his child. We see them cut open Aemma’s belly while Viserys tells her he loves her. Aemma screams in agony, pleading with Viserys to end it. What a way to go. Mellos holds Viserys’ baby, who happens to be a boy. Unfortunately, Aemma bleeds out. It’s awful and painful to watch as a woman.
Later, we see the family attend Aemma’s funeral, wherein we learn that Viserys’ son also died. Daemon gently urges Rhaenyra to give Syrax the signal to burn the funeral pyre. Rhaenyra calls out “Dracarys” to her dragon and watches in tear-streaked anguish as the pyre bursts into flames.
Next, the council assembles an emergency meeting. Otto believes it’s high time they establish the king’s heir. Corlys mentions Daemon, which Viserys shrugs off, claiming his errant brother has zero interest in ruling the realm. We see Daemon eavesdropping outside the chambers. Then, Corlys brings up his wife, the original heir of Jaehaerys. Additionally, she already has a son.
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Otto counters this with a mention of Rhaenyra, to which the council balks at such a suggestion. A woman on the Iron Throne? What next, we give them rights? Viserys, emotionally fragile from literally burying his wife and son, storms out of the chambers.
Then, Otto sends Alicent to keep Viserys company. He urges his daughter to don her mother’s best dress. Ew. This scene is so icky. He wants to send his underage daughter into the king’s private bedroom for more than mere “comforting.”
Visiting the King
So, Alicent does as she’s bid, bringing her favorite book to read with Viserys. Thankfully, this scene doesn’t take a turn for the icky. Alicent gives her condolences to the king. She wishes folks would’ve done the same when her mom died instead of speaking to her in riddles. Amen to that. When I lost my loved ones, I didn’t want platitudes. I wanted someone to say they were sorry for my loss. That’s it.
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Meanwhile, Daemon buys a few pleasure houses for his men to cavort in and imbibe. Mysaria pours him drinks while the City Watch guards drunkenly encourage Daemon to deliver a rousing speech. Viserys learns from his council that Daemon utilized a night of grief and mourning for celebration. He drank to Viserys’ son, styled “The Heir for the Day.” Ouch.
A Brotherly Scolding
Later, Viserys summons Daemon into the throne room for a chat. Viserys claims all Daemon does is throw everything in his face, from working various positions within the court to commanding the City Watch. Daemon retorts that all he ever wanted was to serve as Viserys’ Hand. He calls Otto Hightower the c-word. Viserys orders Daemon to return to Runestone at once.
Then, Viserys meets with his daughter, and the pair discuss dragons and men, along with the fall of Old Valyria courtesy of the Doom. Viserys believes they should never have trifled with dragons. Targaryens are not gods. Viserys broaches the subject of naming Rhaenyra as his successor, which she accepts. Yay! Viserys warns Rhaenyra that no seat in the Seven Kingdoms presents a greater danger than the Iron Throne.
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The Heir of the Dragon
What transpires next is a lavish ceremony wherein the major players of the various Westerosi houses pledge fealty to Viserys and Rhaenyra when she takes the Iron Throne. Meanwhile, Daemon takes Mysaria for one last ride on his dragon Caraxes.
Finally, before the court, Viserys names Rhaenyra Targaryen, Princess of Dragonstone, his heir to the Iron Throne.
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“The Heirs of the Dragon” methodically lays the groundwork for what’ll hopefully be an enthralling, thrilling freshman season. I love the attention to detail and to the intricate lore established via George R.R. Martin‘s rich novels, especially the foreshadowing of “The Song of Ice and Fire” and “The Long Night.” (The Prince That Was Promised, a.k.a. Jon Snow, y’all!) The writers creatively tie together House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones, and I’m excited to see more connections sprout as the season progresses.
Here’s hoping Aemma’s brutal death scene is the only depiction of sexual violence against women. I don’t want this show to inundate us with scenes every episode à la its predecessor, but that’s most likely wishful thinking on my part. Perhaps it’s a commentary on the lack of bodily autonomy and agency for women in modern society; however, I’m doubtful it’s that nuanced. Maybe if the creatives removed the distinctly male gaze behind it, it wouldn’t be so jarring and gratuitous. I’m still all in on House of the Dragon, but I do hope we see less violence against women.
Overall, “The Heirs of the Dragon” is a decent entry and stepping stone back into this universe. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but the performances are top-tier, the visuals are breathtakingly immersive and the episode allows us to get to know these characters. It doesn’t pitch character development by the wayside in favor of the narrative but ensures they coexist harmoniously. Plus, dragons! What more does one need?
Do you think Daemon will do as he’s told? How will Rhaenyra adjust to life as a future ruler? Is Otto Hightower as dishonest as Daemon claims he is? If that scene with him and Alicent is anything to go by, the answer is “yes.”
House of the Dragon drops new episodes every Sunday at 9 pm EST on HBO and HBO Max.
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