Rhaenyra gets the news that her father is dead and Aegon has usurped her throne with the help of Alicent and Otto Hightower -- will any stand by her side?
It's a good thing "House of the Dragon" has turned into a massive hit for HBO because there is no way this was a satisfying ending for the "Game of Thrones" prequel series -- instead, it's one of those endings that leaves you breathlessly awaiting what's to come.
George R.R. Martin had previously said that it would take about four full seasons to tell the tale of the Dance of the Dragons, so we're about a quarter of the way through and already all hell is starting to break loose.
The penultimate installment of the season last week focused almost entirely in Queen Alicent in the aftermath of her father's death. In the following two days, she had to deal with this loss and the discovery that an entire plan was already in motion to anoint Aegon king before Rhaenyra even finds out her father is dead.
That hour ended with Princess Rhaenys escaping her captivity and even securing her dragon. She had a chance to end the conflict in the moment she busted through the floor of the Dragonpit and confronted both Alicent and Aegon, but she did not, opting instead to fly away.
So that's basically where things pick up at Dragonstone, where Rhaenyra and Daemon have been living their lives essentially awaiting the arrival of a message that Viserys had died and it was time for her to return to King's Landing and her place as Queen of the Realm.
Instead, she got Rhaenys with news that her father was dead and Aegon had already been crowned king.
Rhaenys choosing to stay out of the battle for the throne in the beginning could well be one of the reasons the Dance of the Dragons happens at all. Had she simply wiped out Alicent and her line of succession with one blast of fire, this would all be over.
She did go to Rhaenyra to deliver the news, but again she insisted that she would not be taking sides in this war. She had been pushing her husband for years to stay out of it, but like most men in this show, his ego and ambition always gets the better of him. Sometimes, though, it is time to take a stand.
Daemon Offers Kingsguard a Choice
Rhaenyra receives this word while pregnant, and some combination of the shock of Rhaenys' news sends her into early labor. As such, she commands her boys do not make any overt actions with her lead. She is the rightful queen and they are her heirs, so the succession must be honored.
But while she is trapped with labor pains at this critical junction, Daemon is ignoring her cries and instead focused on securing their allies and positioning them for war against the Hightowers. When Jacaerys tells him to stop at Rhaenyra's orders, he offers to show him what true loyalty is.
He then has Jacaerys watch as he offers the officers of the Kingsguard a choice -- either swear fealty again to Rhaenyra and her heir, or die a hot death by dragonfire. Daemon understands control through power and fear. We're getting a hint that Jacaerys may have picked up some of this bloodlust, which could also make him a bit unpredictable at such a critical time.
Sidelined through her own succession, such as it is, Rhaenyra is so frustrated and angry that she rejects any help from the midwives present. Instead, she delivers her own stillborn son crouched in a corner through sheer force of will. She did take a moment for a proper funeral service, an event that was somber for multiple reasons.
If she doesn't have the necessary support for her claim, could her reign be as her child, dead before it even had a chance to begin? Is this service a mourning of what should have been and now may not be? What is the right path forward?
Erykk Brings Rhaenyra Viserys' Crown
In a moment perhaps more symbolic than anything, Ser Eryyk Cargyll arrives with King Viserys' crown. He offers it up to Rhaenyra and swears fealty to her. While this is just one person, he represents to Rhaenyra the idea that it's not a foregone conclusion that the real will reject her because she is a woman.
There are those people out there, and even in King's Landing, who will support their king's wishes and his chosen heir. It's an empowering moment, as well as a deeply emotional one as Daemon crowns her with her father's crown while everyone in attendance kneels -- except for Rhaenys, still refusing to take a side.
Otto Presents Aegon's Offer
Drunk with power, as always, Otto himself arrives at Dragonstone to present King Aegon's most generous offer to Rhaenyra. If she will bend the knee to him and declare him king, Aegon is prepared to give her Dragonstone and name her children heirs there. Lucerys will inherit Driftmark, young Ageon will be the king's squire and young Viserys his cupbearer. On top of that, he'll pardon any knight or lord who "conspired against his ascent."
Daemon immediately shuts down the possibility of accepting these terms, but Rhaenyra holds him back, saying they'll have their answer "on the morrow." Otto's confidence and arrogance are on full display here, as he's incredibly vulnerable in a place with dragons and enemies like Daemon. And yet, he seems to feel invincible. He's probably riding the high from having successfully pulled off this coup.
Now, he just needs to get Rhaenyra and her family in line (and not of succession) and there can be peace ... so long as he wins. Plus, we're pretty sure he'd probably plot to kill them later, anyway. After all, he told Alicent that Rhaenyra would have to kill her boys to protect her claim to the throne, so he surely also thinks Aegon will have to kill Rhaenyra's kids to protect his.
As Daemon and their advisors and generals and other men of war stand around a very cool map with names and other markings illuminated by fire below, Rhaenyra brings a lot of her father's gentleness to the room. While they're ready for blood, and Daemon perhaps most of all, Rhaenyra reveals she's actually considering Aegon's offer.
Her father gave her the responsibility of maintaining the peace in the realm. As she sees it, that goes beyond her own ambitions and ego. Taking Aegon's throne means war, which is not something she should walk into lightly. Daemon is a creature of impulse who believes you fight fire with a volcanic eruption. He can't stand the thought of even considering another option because -- well, remember that thing we said about men's egos and ambitions. Let's throw pride in there, too, while we're at it. Dangerous all of them.
Daemon Chokes Rhaenyra
As if to prove what a loose cannon and wild child Daemon still is, we get a scene where Rhaenyra tries to confide in him her bigger mission, which has to do with the "Song of Ice and Fire" Viserys told her when she was younger, the threat from the North they had to be united to face when the time came.
In response, Daemon choked her to the point of her not being able to breathe and said that Viserys was lost in his dreams and omens, calling his rule feckless. "Dreams didn't make us kings," he tells Rhaenyra as she struggles to breathe. "Dragons did."
The fact that he could do this to a woman he'd just crowned, knelt do and declared is queen proves that Daemon will always do what Daemon wants, and what he says and does has no value or meaning even as he's saying or doing it. He is a true wild card in the most dangerous way with the world at such a delicate point on the precipice of war.
After having been sick for a long time, we get our first look at Lord Corlys Velaryon, alive and better than even he expected to be. Rhaenys is by his bedside and chastises him for running away to adventure when she needed him.
He tells her that he finally sees what she's been saying and that he'd been lost in his -- you guessed it -- ego and ambition for the Iron Throne. He decided to just retire from it all and do what Rhaenys has been doing all this time, declare for no one. But something had changed.
It was seeing how Rhaenyra was ruling in her earliest moments. She wasn't being reckless and rushing in to war like Daemon (and most men) would like. Instead, she was being thoughtful, considerate and wisely doing everything in her power to try and avoid as much bloodshed as possible. She also reminded him that their granddaughters are betrothed to Rhaenyra's heirs, who are clearly in danger from the Hightowers.
Rhaenyra didn't win her over through brute force or threats or even demands. Instead, she proved herself to the woman who would have been queen, and that's all the difference. That's a true loyalty born from faith and trust, rather than expectation or fear.
Corlys Swears Fealty to Rhaenyra
Upon hearing his words, Corlys enters the war room and declares his fealty to Rhaenyra, as well. HIs is a strategically significant victory for her claim, as Driftmark rules the seas with the greatest and most powerful fleet in all of Westeros.
What's more, as they're trying to figure out how they'll have any chance at taking King's Landing, he reveals that he also secured the Stepstones, threw down the Triarchy and now has completely control of the Narrow Seas, which can be used to squeeze King's Landing by controlling access into and out of its ports.
Despite all that has happened between them, Corlys and his family respect the line of succession as they understand it. Viserys' chosen heir is here, and so here is where they should be. It might also be a little self-serving, as well, considering their granddaughters are also inextricably tied with the Targaryens at this point.
It was a huge statement when Rhaenys offered to fly her dragon to patrol the Gullet at the Narrow Sea to assure that they maintain control of it, because this the most overt gesture of support to Rhenyra's claim that's been seen.
It also further adds validity to that claim, as Rhaenys is Viserys' cousin and had a strong claim herself once upon a time. She is respected in the realm and her words and actions carry weight. Just a day or so ago she blatantly said this was not her war and she would not choose sides.
Then, after seeing the care with which Rhaenyra is proceeding, she chose a side. She knows the dangers to herself and her family, but she knows the danger is perhaps great if this usurper is allowed to sit the throne. At this point, do you think she has any regrets about not whispering, "Dracarys," when she had them in her sights? It could have been over before it began.
That she was so adamantly against getting involved that she did that and now she's fully committed to Rhaenyra's cause says a lot about Rhaenyra's strength and leadership. She picked up one of the most powerful, and unluckiest, of allies.
Sons Serve as Messengers
Let's put that strength of character to the test right away and see if it exists within her sons. With Corlys' fleet, they're in a better position, but they also needed to ensure that they still had support from Winterfell, Storm's End, and the Eyrie. All had sworn fealty to her years ago, but would they hold to their oaths?
Jacaerys had the idea that the message would be better received from the princes of the realm astride their dragons than a note tied to a raven. Plus, dragons travel faster, and they need to know where they stand and who has their backs sooner than later. They've already seen what Alicent and Otto can do in just two days with them none the wiser.
After the choke, Daemon disappeared. He'd earlier talked about how they could have so many more dragons than the Hightower "Greens," because there are untamed dragons out there, and even staying at Dragonmount. We then see him approaching a huge dragon down in a dragonpit, singing High Valyrian to the best, which does not seem happy at all to see him there.
Now, Daemon already has a dragon, so is his plan to secure this second dragon and then try to get it to imprint/bond someone else among them? He's clearly determined to go to war on his own, so maybe he hopes to lead a fleet of rider-less dragons. Regardless what he's up to, it's incredibly dangerous because he's off the script from how Rhaenyra is choosing to proceed -- or at least, if they're on the same page, we're really not seeing that collaboration and confirmation.
Storm's End Rejects Rhaenyra
With Jacaerys heading to Winterfell and the Eyrie, young Lucerys is sent to the much closer Storm's End, where Rhaenyra believes it will be a much easier task. This is during an era when envoys were treated with respect and allowed to come and go unharmed, so Lucerys was confident enough to continue on his mission even after he saw the massive Vhagar lurking outside near where he left his own dragon, Arrax.
What that means, though, is that Aemond beat him to Storm's End with the king's offer. Rhaenyra's offer was to remind Boros Baratheon of his father's oath. But she didn't offer him anything. Like there were bribes in Otto's offer to Rhaenyra, Aemond came with an offer of betrothal for one of Boros' daughters should he sear fealty to Aegon. And so, he rejected Rhaenyra's "offer," such as it was, striking a huge blow to her campaign to secure her throne.
Even as Lucerys turns to leave, Aemond rages at him. Still bitter over losing an eye, Aemond calls him "Lord Strong" and says that as punishment for trying to steal Aegon's throne, Lucerys should take out one of his own eyes. Obviously, this has nothing to do with Aegon. It's revenge for Lucerys taking out Aemond's eye all those years ago when they were fighting and things got ugly.
Even though he is older and bigger than Lucerys, Aemond's bitterness and rage at his injury have not softened, to the point he almost ignored Boros' demands that there be no bloodshed; Lucerys is an envoy and is free to come and go in that capacity.
Vhagar Kills Arrax
Well, Aemond was able to follow that order, but once Lucerys left, he was airborne and in neutral territory. Almost immediatley, he got the whiff that someone was following him and, as he knew it would be, it quickly became clear it was Aegon, astride Vhagar. Now, Vhagar is about ten times bigger than Arrax, so there is no competition between these two dragons.
They were at first driven by their riders, but eventually, the aerial feud got to be too much, and Arrax attacked Vhagar with fire to try and get him to leave him alone. All the while, Lucerys was yelling at Arrax to stop and trying to regain control. After the fire blast, Aemond lost control of Vhagar, shouting the same commands. And so it was that Aaemond had no control of his beast as it flew across the sky and tore Arrax apart with one bit of its enormous mouth.
While it wasn't explicatly clear, it seems probably that Lucerys did not survive this attack. Not only were they high in the sky but Arrax was torn to pieces, so how could Lucerys have survive such a thing. The look in Aemond's face made it clear that this was much farther than he'd ever wanted to take it with Lucerys. He wanted to taunt him, torment him, maybe even take his eye -- but he wasn't intending for him to die. Plus, he's not stupid. He knows that killing Rhaenyra's son cannot go unanswered after they've already usurped her throne.
The episode ends on a wordless scene where Daemon comes into the war room and tells Rhaenyra her son is gone. Through body language alone, and with her back to the camera, Emma D'Arcy displays her breaking momentarily before her resolve kicks in. Her face when she turns around is all the feels and the perfect way to end the season -- because this is the moment when everything changed within her. All hell is about to break loose.