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‘House of the Dragon’ recap: War and peace and war and pieces

Daemon (Matt Smith) and Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) in the Season 1 finale of “House of the Dragon.” (Ollie Upton/HBO)
14 min

Our side has a cool table going for it

We open on a pensive Luke standing beside a giant war table inside the Dragonstone strategy room. The boy runs his hand over the engraved area representing Driftmark. Rhaenyra, still very pregnant, finds her son, who worries that Corlys the Sea Snake will soon die and that he’ll have to be Lord of the Tides; he gets “greensick” on boats, unlike his seafaring grandpa. Rhaenyra tries to impart that they don’t get to choose their destiny. He reminds her that she got to choose with Viserys. It’s complicated, kid, that was a million episodes ago. She kisses her son when he says he’s not perfect like her. She says she’ll prepare him the way Viserys did with her.

Princess Rhaenys arrives. Rhaenyra tries to ask about Corlys’s health, but Rhaenys just throws out, “Viserys is dead.” He died five minutes after they left, how did news not slip back to them by now? Rhaenys buries the lead; Viserys dying is the least of their problems. “There is more,” she says. Lots more, you should sit. Why are there no chairs in here? Aegon took the crown, news of which gives Rhaenyra a cramp. Daemon assumes Viserys was slain, not that he died naturally after decades of body rot. As Rhaenyra grows increasingly uncomfortably physically, Rhaenys describes her escape as Aegon was coronated publicly. Daemon says not-nice things about Alicent and is peeved that Rhaenys could have burned them all but didn’t. You and all of Twitter. Rhaenys says there’s war coming, but it wasn’t her war to start. “The Greens are coming for you, and your children,” Rhaenys warns. Rhaenyra, in pain, bends down and reaches under her dress. There’s blood.

Ready for another excruciating birth scene? Here’s one anyway. The Maester whispers that Rhaenyra isn’t anywhere close to term and this shouldn’t be happening. Rhaenyra paces around angrily, telling everyone trying to reassure her that the sixth time is the charm to get off her.

Jace and Luke, sparring on the beach, get called in to see Rhaenyra. Standing and cursing, she informs them that Viserys died and Aegon was crowned king. Jace asks what’s to be done and hey, where’s Daemon? Rhaenyra says Daemon is probably already starting a war and she wants nothing to be done except by her command. She reminds Jace that he’s next in line to the throne (not Daemon), so Jace needs to handle things while she’s incapacitated.

Daemon meanwhile tries sending ravens to allies and ignoring a suggestion that he talk to the Maester about Rhaenyra. Daemon says he’ll fly to Riverlands to hit up Lord Tully, but Jace comes in saying he’ll do no such thing. Daemon, stymied, says the prince should be patrolling the skies on his dragon. Daemon offers to teach a loyalty lesson to the young prince. The lesson is taking two Kingsguard outside, asking them if they’re loyal to Rhaenyra and threatening to burn them with relatively painless dragonfire from Caraxes now if they side with Aegon or find and torture them later if they lie and betray her down the line. A pretty pointless exercise.

Let’s mourn for two minutes then move on

Refusing help from horrified handmaidens, Rhaenyra gives birth in a sitting position, screaming, “Get out!” as the face of a dragon appears in flashes. She pulls the baby out herself. Its limbs are motionless on the ground. She holds the dead baby, which did not appear to have a skull, to her chest. Daemon walks in and sees what’s happened but doesn’t stick around. Next, it’s another candlelit scene of a dead body being tenderly wrapped. Rhaenyra does the wrapping as Daemon goes and walks the beach to brood instead of supporting his wife/niece/queen.

The child is burned on a pyre in yet another death ceremony. Daemon and Rhaenyra stand together as their family watches near the edge of the shore. Ser Erryk (not Arryk) arrives, delivering something important: the crown of the seven kingdoms. Daemon takes the crown and places it on Rhaenyra’s head the way he once did for Viserys. He bends the knee. “My Queen,” he says quietly. Rhaenyra looks out at her family, all of whom take a knee except Rhaenys, who really doesn’t have to do anything for anybody at this point.

It’s about to be a rockin’ D&D night: The war table’s candles are being lit, and the big ally tokens are in play. The table lights up spectacularly, making it the envy of every gamer watching. Rhaenyra takes command of the war room for the first time as queen. Everyone is quiet as they await her wisdom. “What is our standing?” she asks. It’s not great, just a few hundred various troops. Daemon explains that Dragonstone is easy to defend, but there’s not much of an army for conquest. They start to count up possible allies including The Vale and Riverrun. Tokens get added to the table. When asked about Driftmark’s support, Rhaenys just says that her husband will decide where the ships go when he arrives, so that’s a big maybe. The Lannisters are against Rhaenyra. One of the war council members says all this talk of men is less important than dragons. Dragons: It’s right there in the title! Daemon starts rattling off dragon names, suggesting that while the other side has only three adult dragons, they have about 14 if you count unclaimed and wild dragons, plus incubating eggs. Daemon thinks they could set up at Harrenhal, surround King’s Landing and win in short order. Their planning is interrupted: A single ship with the banner of a green three-headed dragon has arrived.

It’s Otto Hightower on the stone bridge. Rhaenyra arrives on Syrax the dragon, making a big, showy entrance. Otto calls her Princess, but she insists, “I’m Queen Rhaenyra now.” Respect the Rhaehive. She calls Otto and his crew traitors. Otto offers terms. If Rhaenyra supports Aegon, they’ll get Dragonstone and Driftmark. Her sons by Daemon will get places on the king’s court. Daemon says some very nasty things about Aegon. He’d rather feed his sons to a dragon than have them serve. Otto says Aegon has the Conqueror’s name, sword and crown and he’s already on the Iron Throne, as witnessed by thousands. The houses of Stark, Tully and Baratheon are striking a deal with them. This bothers Rhaenyra; they had all sworn fealty to her. Otto calls those “stale oaths.” Otto admits this all changed when Viserys had a male son, they were just all too dumb to see it. Rhaenyra comes at Otto and removes his Hand of the King pin, throwing it off the bridge. Otto has 50 of those pins, probably. Swords are at the ready before Otto delivers the message from Alicent. It’s a page torn from an illustrated book about Nymeria’s fleet facing storms. It was the page that she ripped out of a book she and Alicent read together to remind her of their friendship. “No blood need be spilled,” Otto says. A tear rolls down Rhaenyra’s face as Daemon starts trash talking and swords are drawn. The dragon roars and things sure look like they’re about to get bloody, but Rhaenyra just says: “No. King’s Landing will have my answer on the morrow.” Otto looks surprised and impressed.

Peace is really, really hard

Back in the Spectacular Game Table Room, Daemon suggests dragons can kill one another in battle. Rhaenyra knows the histories and says when dragons went to war, everything burned. She doesn’t want to rule over “ash and bone.” Rhaenyra asks rhetorically if her job is to unite the kingdom in peace or to put herself on the Iron Throne at any cost. Daemon doesn’t like this line of talk, it’s too Viserys for him. Daemon yells at her, asking what she’s going to do about a declaration of war. She asks for the room to be cleared. Before she leaves, Rhaenys gives Rhaenyra and Daemon a long knowing look, wishing she could stick around for the fireworks. By the fireplace, Rhaenyra says that this is bigger than their ascension. She mentions the “Song of Ice and Fire” prophecy. Daemon grabs Rhaenyra by the neck, choking her and saying that Viserys wanted desperately to make his reign more significant. He says dreams didn’t make them kings, dragons did. Rhaenyra realizes that Viserys never told his brother about the prophecy.

Corlys wakes up next to a sitting Rhaenys. She’s very upset that Corlys abandoned his family for six years while they dealt with tragedy after tragedy. She gets him up to speed on his brother Vaemond, who famously called out the paternity of Rhaenyra’s first three sons and got his head chopped off by Daemon. Corlys winces. “Heedless ambition has always been a Velaryon weakness,” he says with a sigh. More like headless ambition. Corlys says they’ll give up on the throne and just be neutral. Rhaenys reminds her foolish husband that their grandkids are involved. They can’t be neutral. And furthermore, Rhaenyra has impressed Rhaenys by not rushing toward war. She thinks Rhaenyra is the only one showing real strength.

The couple soon joins Rhaenyra in the war room. Corlys eyes the pieces on the table and immediately sees that they have too few allies to win a war. Rhaenyra says they hope to have a few more in the north. “Hope is the fool’s ally,” he admonishes. He offers the full support of their fleet and house, a huge win for Rhaenyra. Before she acts, Rhaenyra wants to know who’s on their side first. Corlys reveals that they’ve got control of The Stepstones, so they can create a shipping blockade against King’s Landing. “The Narrow Sea is ours,” he declares. In order to lay siege to King’s Landing, though, Rhaenyra says they need the support of Winterfell, the Eyrie and Storm’s End. Jace suggests that instead of sending ravens, they should go on dragonback, to seek support because it’s faster and more convincing. After some hesitation, the queen agrees. Jace will go to the Eyrie and then to Winterfell. Luke will go south to Storm’s End to deal with Lord Baratheon. The plan: remind them of their oaths and the cost of breaking them. Send very non-threatening boys to do that, sure.

Before they leave, Rhaenyra gives them a parting lecture. She tells Jace and Luke that they are going as messengers, not warriors. No fighting. She makes them swear on a huge Faith of the Seven book. Luke is looking very worried; Rhaenyra assures him that he’ll receive a very warm welcome, which just goes to show that Rhaenyra should probably get out more. They fly off on their dragons, blissfully unaware of how this universe works.

Daemon, meanwhile, is skulking around the dragon caves, holding a torch and singing a song in Valyrian. Daemon carefully places the torch on the ground but continues singing. Out of the darkness, a blast of fire suddenly appears, coming out of an enormous dragon. Daemon stops singing only for a moment. The dragon, Vermithor, growls at his face, but they lock eyes and Daemon has just made a new friend.

Dragon bites

Luke arrives at Storm’s End. Things start off badly when Luke notices a much bigger dragon, Vhagar, right outside. Luke is led inside and there’s more bad news: Aemond is already there, glowering. Luke is introduced as the son of Princess (not Queen) Rhaenyra. Lord Borros Baratheon, who sits about a mile from where Luke is standing, chides the messenger, saying he already got an envoy from the king. “The House of the Dragon (they said the name of the show!) does not seem to know who rules it!” The message just says to remember his father’s vow but doesn’t offer anything new in return for loyalty. Aemond, it turns out, already offered a marriage pact to Borros, which explains why he’s standing next to a young woman. Borros asks which of his daughters Luke plans to wed. Luke says he’s off the market, sorry. As Luke tries to leave, Aemond stops him. Aemond takes off his eyepatch and tells Luke to remove one of his own eyes as payment for Aemond’s. “One will serve,” he says calmly. “I would not blind you.” Lord Borros has had enough of this ridiculousness as everybody starts drawing swords and daggers. He demands they take it outside; he just had the floors waxed, come on, guys!

Luke gets on his dragon Arrax, but the dragon is spooked by the weather, which has gotten worse. Vhagar is nowhere to be seen. In Valyrian, Luke urges his dragon to be calm and fly. As lightning and thunder fill the skies, Luke and Arrax encounter Vhagar in the sky, hovering above like a reverse shadow. Aemond is laughing and really scaring Luke. The dragon tries to take bites out of Arrax but keeps missing. Luke manages to get his dragon to dive into a canyon where the larger dragon can’t get through. It’s a good move and nearly works. “You owe a debt!” Aemond yells in Valyrian. Just then, Arrax appears and spews fire at the face of Vhagar. It catches Aemond by surprise and apparently Luke as well, because Luke is yelling for Arrax to get back under his control. Aemond has lost control as well. “No, no, no, no, serve me, Vhagar!” Aemond cries. Luke and Arrax manage to get past the storm into some clear skies. But just as they do, Vhagar is there to take a huge chomp out of them. The sky is awash in the blood of the boy and the dragon as Aemond cries, “Vhagar, no!” Aemond looks around, genuinely horrified. He sees dragon wings and body parts sailing down through the clouds. He gulps hard. They made multiple movies and several TV series about how to train your dragon, did these boys never watch them?

The scene cuts to black. We return on Daemon, entering the standing-desk war room. He goes straight to Rhaenyra and takes her hand. The two of them turn away from us, toward the fireplace, as he relays the news. We don’t hear dialogue, just sad strings. The camera slowly glides to the back of Rhaenyra’s head as she seems to stumble and clutch at her stomach and legs. She finally turns, facing us. She has a defiant “Guess we’re going to war!” sneer on her face that closes the season.

And that’s it! Thanks for sticking with us through advanced leprosy, incest, temperamental dragons and so many wigs. See ya next season!