What Happened Last Night on House of the Dragon? Here’s Our Recap of Season 1 Episode 1.
Only once in Game of Thrones’ eight-season run did the series utilize a voice over—or a “flashback.” Those came in the Season 5 opening episode, “The Wars to Come,” when a young Cersei Lannister learns of the fate of her future children: dead. Otherwise, the series stuck to its present, using dialogue in the form of bedtime stories and theatrical-like monologues to tell the story of previous Westeros eras, such as the “long night.” The Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon—based on the George R.R. Martin book that is literally the history of one house in Westeros—opens with both, voice over and flashback. In fact, the series jumps between two distinct moments in Westeros history, and its future episodes will likely take place in a third. Already, House of the Dragon announces structural and storytelling differences from its predecessor—a comparison that will probably be made throughout the first season. At least in Episode 1 the series stands apart, while using the same DNA that made the former successful. Hopefully, they can tow this line for the next 9 episodes. So far, the show is a success.
The series premiere opens with a kind of prologue. The year is 101 AC, a century after the Targaryen conquest that saw them claim the Seven Kingdoms. King Jaehaerys I, the grandson of Aegon I, the first Targaryen king, sits on the Iron Throne. Both his sons, however, are dead, leaving a power vacuum; he must declare his successor.
His choice is between Princess Rhaenys Targaryen (his eldest descendent, played by Eve Best) and her younger cousin Prince Viserys (his oldest male descendent, played by Paddy Considine). The choice is between the rightful heir by age and the conventional heir by sex. Viserys is chosen, setting up a gendered succession conflict that will likely rage throughout the remainder of the series.
This opening sequence is narrated by an older version of Viserys’ daughter. (Her mother is shown pregnant during the succession naming.) Her name is Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock in Episode 1; an older version of the character will be played by Emma D’Arcy). She becomes the oldest heir of Viserys and, therefore, the rightful successor to the Iron Throne once her father is named king.
Of course, just as with the generation before her, succession isn’t that easy.
Meet: 10,000 New House of the Dragon Characters
It is now 112 AC.
We’re introduced to an 11-year-old Rhaenyra (who will be the series’ protagonist) flying into King’s Landing atop her dragon. The sequence alludes to a similar flight made by Rhaenyra’s descendent Daenerys Targaryen (born 172 years later) who will destroy King’s Landing in her quest to take back the Iron Throne. (See: one of the Game of Thrones’ most intense episodes, “The Bells.”)
We’re then introduced to a cavalcade of new characters, so bear with us here as we run through them. (Joking aside, the series does a fantastic job introducing the relationships and conflicts.)
After alighting from her dragon, Rhaenyra meets her friend, Alicent Hightower (played by Emily Carey here; an older version of the character will be played by Olivia Cooke), who is the daughter of the Hand of the King, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans).
The two enter the Red Keep and meet with Rhaenyra’s mother, the Queen, who is pregnant—meaning Rhaenyra will soon no longer be the only possible heir to King Viserys I. The Queen tells an indignant Rhaenyra that she should expect her role to be that of a child bearer rather than a soldier. (Already, we are meant to see the character parallels between Rhaenyra and Daenerys, who was originally used by her brother to marry into military power.)
Rhaenyra then joins a council meeting, where we’re introduced to the other power players—who, thus far, are all men.
Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussant), lord of House Velaryon and commander of Westeros’ largest Navy, speaks first, warning the king of insurrection. (Velaryon is married to Rhaenys, “The Queen Who Never Was.”)
Otto Hightower, the Hand of the King, seems to dismiss his concerns.
The conversation then turns to the coming tournament, held to celebrate the birth of Viserys’s child; he’s convinced it will be a son, his new heir.
Rhaenyra then finds her uncle Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) seated insubordinately in the throne room. Daemon should have been in the council meeting, as the King’s brother and commander of the city watch; he was given the position by the other council members to occupy his attention, as the council agrees that he is violent and dangerous to the realm.
Conversations about power in the throne room—beside the chair those speakers wish to occupy—is peak Game of Thrones posturing, and the scene sets up two likely power players in future succession disputes: the King’s brother and the King’s daughter. Both seem to bemoan the coming birth of the King’s son, as it would displace both from their current succession position.
Meanwhile the King is treated for a skin condition, potentially signaling future illness.
A Question of Succession
As commander of the city watch, Daemon leads a criminal shakedown, rounding up thieves, rapists, and killers and enacting draconian punishment in the form of dismembering and ceremonial beheading. In other words: tough medieval policing. (The city watch should head to We Own This City’s Baltimore next.)
The stunt leads to a debate the next morning in the council room, where we begin to see the formation of two sides: those who stand by Daemon and those who oppose him.
Velaryon sees these tactics as necessary, whereas Hightower rebukes the use of the city watch. Most of the other council members grumble but are clearly afraid of Daemon. (It is worth pointing out the blocking for this scene. Daemon is seated on the left of the King next to the maester and council members. Hightower is seated to the King’s right across from Daemon. Despite his position, Hightower is alone. Seated across from the King and between Daemon and Hightower is Velaryon. His support may just decide who wins in this battle.)
The verbal jousting between Daemon and Hightower then turns to the real jousting of the King’s tournament, which is framed against the Queen giving birth.
We meet Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), one of the favored nights in the tournament. Rhaenyra expresses interest in him to her Kingsguard. He is said to be “common-born.”
Daemon, the apparent reigning champion, then choses his opponent. He selects the eldest son of Otto Hightower—to Hightower’s disgust—then asks for the favor (medieval chivalry stuff) from Hightower’s daughter. More disgust. Then he wins in total bush league fashion by tripping the Hightower horse. We get it: Daemon is a piece of shit.
Meanwhile, the Queen struggles to give birth. Midway through the jousting, Viserys is called away to make a decision: he must either allow the doctors to perform a violent C-section, killing the mother, or allow both of them to die. He chooses the C-section.
The bloody birth is then framed against the fight between Daemon and Ser Criston Cole, signaling the coming bloodbath of a battle for succession—Cole may here be a stand-in for Rhaenyra.
Cole wins as the baby is born. The Queen dies. Then the baby dies.
The power vacuum opens.
“No Queen Has Ever Sat the Iron Throne”
After the Queen’s funeral, a council meeting is held to decide the King’s heir. Many are opposed to appointing Daemon. (Except for Velaryon.) Daemon is absent but is shown eavesdropping on the meeting.
Hightower suggests that the King name Rhaenyra, his first-born child, as successor. The response: “a girl?!”
Velaryon suggests his wife, “The Queen Who Never Was.” The others protest. The King leaves the meeting.
After the meeting, Hightower tells his daughter to visit the King and cheer him up. It is suggested she seduce him and, therefore, bear his heir. She is shown entering his room with a book. (The King is found building a model of King’s Landing, the city his descendent Daenerys will later destroy—more symbolic overlay). However, the audience doesn’t see what happens next, if anything.
Later at a brothel, Daemon announces to the room a toast to the King’s dead son. Viserys finds out and is furious, calling Daemon to the throne room. Daemon says his brother is weak, and that the council members, particularly Hightower, are manipulating him. Viserys says he will name a new heir and sends Daemon back to his wife’s lands.
That new heir: Rhaenyra.
When he tells her, he passes along a vision foretold by Aegon I.
That vision: the plot of Game of Thrones. (Basically.)
He warns that when a force from the north threatens the Seven Kingdoms, a Targaryen King or Queen must unite the realm against the dark.
We all know how that played out.
Joshua St Clair is an editorial assistant at Men’s Health Magazine.
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