Game of Thrones is an interesting show to look back on.
In its glory days, it was praised as one of the greatest television series of all time, yet it has one of the most reviled final seasons in television history as well.
The last few seasons were so bad that there was a lot of bitterness when the spinoff was announced, House of the Dragon, based off George R.R Martin’s Fire and Blood, a history book about the Targaryen dynasty in Westeroes.
Specifically, the show will adapt a certain portion of that book, the best part of it in fact, known as the Dance of the Dragons.
Upon hearing that it was this amazing section of the novel that would be adapted, I became excited for this show and my excitement only increased with every subsequent trailer.
Well, after seeing the first episode, “The Heirs of the Dragon”, I think I can say that the hype was fulfilled.
Directed by Miguel Sapochnik, and written by Ryan Condal, the showrunners, “The Heirs of the Dragon” is a fantastic start to the show, which seems to have already succeeded in getting those who were lukewarm about returning to Westeroes after the disastrous ending to return to the story.
The episode begins in 101 AC (Aegon’s Conqeust), where a great council is convened at Harrenhal to decide the successor of King Jaehaerys Targaryen, the longest ruling king in the history of Westeroes.
Two of his grandchildren are considered, the elder Rhaenys (Eve Best) and her younger cousin Viserys (Paddy Considine).
Because Viserys is a man, he is the one chosen to inherit the Iron Throne over Rhaenys, setting up one of the Dance of the Dragons’ main themes, this being the role of women in Westeroes.
It is also interesting to note a change from the book that occurs here.
In Fire and Blood, Rhaenys is passed over pretty quickly because of her sex, causing her son Laenor to be considered instead, but he is also passed over due to him coming from the female line as opposed to Viserys.
Personally, I like the change of Rhaenys being the main candidate for the throne along with Viserys because it puts the women’s rights aspect of the show front and center.
This entire scene is narrated by Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy), the son of now King Viserys, known as the Realm’s Delight.
Nine years after Viserys becomes king, we see a younger version of her (Milly Alcock) riding the dragon Syrax around Kings Landing in some truly stunning shots.
The CGI for both the dragons and King’s Landing are top notch, and both also contribute to a nice piece of world building, as we see the citizens of the city walk about their daily lives while Syrax flies overhead.
It really shows how much has changed from where House of the Dragon begins to the events of Game of Thrones, 200 years later.
While the people of King’s Landing were terrified of the dragons in the original show (rightfully so), seeing them fly over the city is just a part of everyday life in King Visery’s time.
Rhaenyra lands Syrax at the Dragon Pit and meets up with her friend Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey), daughter of Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), the Hand of the King.
The two travel to the Red Keep, where they meet Rhaenyra’s pregnant mother, Queen Aemma (Sian Brooke).
A brief exchange follows that will become horrifyingly significant later, as Aemma tells a reluctant Rhaenyra that as women the birthing bed is their battlefield.
She also mentions that Rhaenyra stinks of dragon, which is a fun little detail, continued when Rhaenyra visits her father’s small council and Viserys tells her the same thing.
I wonder what dragon smells like?
As for the small council itself, it is quite telling about its state that a joke the king is making takes precedent over Corlys Velaryon’s (Steve Touissaint) report about the rising danger of an alliance in Essos, known as the Triarchy, preparing to take over the Stepstones.
Speaking of Corlys, I absolutley love his characterization here, with him holding up his hand to stop Rhaenyra serving him alcohol, showing he wishes to have a clear mind in important meetings.
He is certainly taking the meeting more seriously than everyone else, but King Visery’s jovial attitude is understandable, since his child will soon be born, one he is certain will be a son because of a dream he had, which he later tells Aemma about.
Although, Targaryen dreams can often be misleading and this is proven true later.
After the small council meeting, Rhaenyra goes to the throne room after hearing that her uncle Daemon (Matt Smith) has come to court.
Honestly, when I heard that Matt Smith had been cast as Daemon, I was a bit unsure about him.
I mean, I never really imagined Daemon as Dr Who.
Yet, after seeing his first scene, I was completley sold.
Everything about his introduction is perfection, from Smith’s performance, to Daemon and Rhaenyra speaking Velaryon.
But, by far the best part of his intro, in my opinion, is the first clear look at him we get, when Rhaenyra points out that the coming tourney is to celebrate Viserys’ heir, to which Daemon leans forwards and says, “As I said.”
Daemon is going to be a fun character to follow.
To some the greatest of heroes, to others the blackest of villains, as the books say.
We mostly see the villainy part in this episode, with Daemon’s command of the city watch, giving them the gold cloaks they come to be known for.
He then leads them on a raid on the cities “criminals,” cutting hands off “thieves”, gelding “rapers”, and beheading “murderers.”
The reason I used so many quotation marks in that sentence because, to me, it seems pretty ambigious if the people Daemon and his men brutalized were even criminals at all.
After all, we never saw these people do anything before they were attacked, so for all we know they could have been wrongly accused of being criminals and were unjustly punished.
It is the spectacle of the thing that Viserys and Otto take issue with, however, as the two storm into the small council to discuss the attack, only to find Daemon sitting right there.
What follows is a fantastic introduction to the rivalry between Otto and Daemon.
I specifically love how a lot of Daemon’s dialogue from Fire and Blood is adapted here, most notably his comments about his wife in the Vale, calling her his “Bronze Bitch.”
Following the second small council scene, we see Daemon in a brothel having sex with his favourite prostitute Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno).
It was actually kind of funny seeing this scene because news articles were reporting that House of the Dragon would have much less sex and violence than Game of Thrones.
Well, this scene and the one with the Gold Cloaks’ attack completley disprove those articles.
Further disproving them is the violence on the battlefields of the tourney and Aemma’s birthing bed.
As Aemma goes into labour, Viserys holds his tourney where multiple knights celebrate the fast approaching birth of the king’s heir.
The scale and cinematography displayed in the tourney are excellent, with Daemon eventually emerging to challenge multiple jousters, defeating Otto’s eldest son and recieving Alicent’s favor all to piss the Hand of the King off.
However, Viserys is called to his wife’s side right as Daemon is about to fight the low-born knight, Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel).
Unfortunately, Aemma’s telling Rhaenyra that child labour is like a battlefield has become terrifyingly literal, as her baby is breeched and the Grand Maester cannot turn it, requring a C-Section.
In today’s world, such procedures can be done without harming the mother but back in medieval times it was horrifying and fatal.
House of the Dragon translates this horror suitably, with the C-Section being probably the most disturbing scene I have seen on television in a while.
What makes the whole thing worse is how Viserys does not tell Aemma what is about to happen before she is even cut open.
He does not even ask her opinion on it.
Yes, Aemma would have died anyway but it was her life and she spent the last few moments of it in extreme agony, feeling betrayed by the man she loved.
This gruesome scene is intercut with Daemon’s joust and then fight with Criston, their battle intercutting well with Aemma’s death, as Daemon is eventually defeated by Criston, who then gains Rhaenyra’s favor.
Word of Aemma’s death begins to spread but, typically for the time, it seems that Rhaenyra is the last to be informed of it.
In the end, all the pain Aemma went through before she died was not even worth it, because her and Visery’s son dies anyway, and is cremated alongside his mother.
The funeral scene was quite touching, with Daemon comforting Rhaenyra, telling her she needs to be there for Viserys, only for Rhaenyra to say she can never be the son he needs.
Rhaenyra nearly crumbling when she has to give the order for Syrax to cremate her mother and brother is just as touching, with Milly Alcock doing a wonderful job.
Paddy Considine does just as amazingly in the following scene, where Otto tries to convince him to name Rhaenyra his heir, afraid of what Daemon will do if he becomes king, leading to an argument about the succession.
Viserys shouting out that his wife and son are dead and he will not “suffer crows that come to feast on their corpses” was very impactful.
It also may have been a refrence to the fourth book in the series, A Feast for Crows.
Unfortunately for Viserys, more feasting is in order, for Otto sends Alicent to comfort him, hoping to create a connection between the two and extend his family’s influence.
You really have to feel bad for Alicent, as she is clearly uncomfortable about the whole thing, and you have to wonder how her friendship with Rhaenyra will suffer because of it.
The episode does a really good job of showcasing this friendship in an earlier scene, as it has the best humor of the episode.
Aging Alicent down to Rhaenyra’s age to create this friendship will surely make where their relationship goes more interesting.
Just as interesting is seeing the “heir for a day” scene play out, with Daemon using the title to refer to Visery’s dead son.
Otto learns of this through his spy network, which I think we see spying on Daemon when he is having sex with Mysaria.
When Viserys is informed, he calls Daemon to the throne room and the two argue, with Daemon calling out Otto for using Viserys.
It is interesting how Daemon and Otto both hate one another for things they themselves are guilty of.
Otto warns of Daemon, stating that, “the gods have yet to make a man who lacks the paitience for absolute power.”
Otto says this when he wants power for his family, proven when he sends Alicent to seduce Viserys after Aemma’s death.
As for Daemon, he hates Otto because he is “a second son who stands to inherit nothing he doesn’t seize for himself”, which is exactly what Daemon does.
The two are so similar, yet they hate each other equally, making for a compelling conflict.
Just as compelling is Daemon himself because in Fire and Blood I was pretty certain that Daemon did most of what he did for power and did not care for most of his family, except for a select few.
This assumption is proven wrong with the show version of Daemon because he clearly cares about Viserys and Rhaenyra, shown when he worries that Viserys is being used because of his weakness.
It is true that Viserys is weak, since Otto is seeking to use Alicent to manipulate him, and even the throne seems to reject him, cutting him, which is the sign of a weak king.
Back to Daemon himself, his clear love for his family makes the “heir for a day” moment pretty ambigious, a staple of Fire and Blood.
For example, we do not see Daemon actually say it, it is only repeated by Otto.
Still, Daemon does not exactly deny saying it but, given how he looks somber in the scene where he gives the speech, I think it is possible he did not mean to call Baelon “the heir for a day” as an insult.
In any case, Daemon and Visery’s argument results in the king sending Daemon away and naming Rhaenyra his heir.
The latter is where my big issue of the episode comes into play.
Viserys informs Rhaenerya that Aegon conquered Westeroes because he dreamed of the White Walkers eventually invading.
The reason I have a problem with this is because the White Walkers turned out to be pretty easy to defeat in Season Eight.
Plus, the trailer for the next episode shows Rhaenyra reading about “the prince that was promised”, something which was never paid off.
I guess we’ll just have to think of this reveal in terms of book continuity rather than show continuity.
After all, the whole “prince that was promised” storyline may pay off in the Winds of Winter, whenever that releases, if ever (probably never).
Despite my issues with the White Walker reveal, the scene of Rhaenyra being declared heir is pretty great, especially with how it cuts from Viserys talking about the North to Lord Rickon Stark swearing fealty to Rhaenyra, alongside the other lords of Westeroes.
Not all look happy about this, however, is Boremund Baratheon, understandably so, since his own cousin Rhaenys is the Queen Who Never War, yet Viserys is now crowning his own daughter.
Overall, “The Heirs of the Dragon” is a fantastic start to House of the Dragon.
It sets up the characters and conflict well, with some excellent performances, set design, cinematography and CGI.
The story of Game of Thrones may be returning to its glory days once more.
I have decided to put a spoiler section at the end of every one one of my House of the Dragon reviews, so I can talk about things from Fire and Blood, without spoiling the show.
For this first review, I do not have much to mention, merely that Rhaenyra and Alicent being made best friends will make them becoming enemies more impactful.
Along with this, I would like to talk about the sexual tension between Daemon and Rhaenyra in the throne room scene.
Yep, those two are going to end up togethor and yep, they are uncle and neice.
Targaryens, am I right?
In all seriousness, the moment Daemon wrapped the necklace around her neck was very uncomfortable due to that sexual tension and we’ll definitley be seeing more of that in the show because of the Targaryen’s incestuous ways.
I will probably have more book spoiler moments to talk about as the season progresses.