House of the Dragon Season 1 Finale Recap/Review
House of the Dragon ’s Season 1 Finale is here, and it closes off this ten-week journey on a bitter note as war breaks loose following our first dragon battle.
Last week’s episode was all about the Greens and the usurpation of the Iron Throne. Naturally, the season 1 finale of House of the Dragon, “The Black Queen,” is dedicated to the Blacks and their cause. No time’s wasted as we open on Dragonstone with a worried Lucerys (Elliot Grihault), reluctant to be the heir to Driftmark as he doesn’t believe to be fit to rule over his grandfather’s lands. Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) sympathizes with her son since she, too, thought herself not to be worthy of her father’s position. The tender moment is interrupted with the arrival of Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best), demanding to have an audience with her and Daemon (Matt Smith). She informs them about King Viserys I Targaryen’s (Paddy Considine) death, Aegon II’s (Tom Glynn-Carney) ascension to the throne, and the possible plot to have Rhaenyra’s family put to the sword. The news is so shocking it sends Rhaenyra into early labor.
Angered by the prospect of his brother being murdered by the Hightowers to steal the throne, Daemon begins making war plans against his wife’s enemies. Rhaenyra sends Jacaerys (Harry Collett) to prevent Daemon from doing any dangerous moves without her consent because she wants to approach the issue with diplomacy, not violence. Jace does his best, but Daemon forces the Prince to watch as he makes members of the Queensguard swear fealty to Rhaenyra.
The birth goes horribly wrong after complications, resulting in Rhaenyra and Daemon’s third child together to be a stillborn. As is common for House Targaryen, the baby is burned after a bleak funeral. Interesting developments occur during the ceremony with the arrival of Ser Erryk Cargyll (Elliot Tittensor), who helped Rhaenys escape King’s Landing and is now delivering the stolen crown of King Viserys to the Blacks as a sign of loyalty. Daemon crowns Rhaenyra with it in front of everyone present to witness the coronation of the Black Queen.
The Black council’s first meeting is organized where our characters discuss how they will proceed to win people to their side. Rhaenyra urges to recruit House Arryn since they’re family through her late mother, as well as House Stark and Baratheon after Viserys made them bend the knee to her. Meanwhile, Daemon mentions how he’ll personally deal with the lords of the Riverlands and hopes to have Corlys Velaryon’s (Steve Toussaint) loyalty as he’s sailing to Dragonstone while recovering from his injuries. There’s growing tension that could be cut with a knife between Rhaenyra and Daemon because of their disagreements, but it’s cut short when they’re informed about Otto Hightower’s (Rhys Ifans) unexpected arrival.
Otto cunningly brings word from the Red Keep to announce Aegon II as King of the Seven Kingdoms. Rhaenyra gets to the scene riding Syrax to interrupt Daemon and Otto’s quareel, similarly to what she did in episode 2. The Hand of the King proposes for Rhaenyra to surrender and in return she will be able to stay at Dragonstone with Jace as the heir to the castle, Luke heir to Driftmark, and her younger sons offered roles at court. Daemon escalates things when his guards draw their swords ready to cut through Otto’s men, but they’re stopped by Rhaenyra after being handed an old page from a book she used to read with Alicent (Olivia Cooke), a sign of peace. She sends Otto back to King’s Landing, reassuring him she’ll soon answer his terms.
Back inside of Dragonstone, Daemon and Rhaenyra get into a heated conversation about war: one is trying to prevent it, the other is ready to spill blood. She attempts to persuade her husband by mentioning Aegon the Conqueror’s prophecy and how they should be united and avoid civil war. Of course, Daemon doesn’t have a clue what she’s talking about since Viserys didn’t trust him enough to share this information. In a moment of anger and frustration, Daemon grabs Rhaenyra by the throat and chokes her, but almost immediately takes it back.
Corlys is seen resting in one of Dragonstone’s chambers with Rhaenys keeping him company. Once he wakes up, he is informed about the current situation: the Blacks and the Greens readying themselves to go to war, Vaemond (Wil Johnson) being executed by Daemon, and their grandsons being involved in the Blacks’ plans. The Sea Snake implies not taking a side and retiring to Driftmark, especially because Corlys still blames Rhaenyra for Laenor’s (John Macmillan) death. Rhaenys, though, surprisingly defends her niece, saying she’s keeping the realm together by not sending her banners to war right away.
Both Rhaenys and the Sea Snake declare that they will support Rhaenyra with the help of the latter’s new envoys from the Stepstones following his victory to secure the Narrow Sea. With this settled, the issue to win the Arryn, Stark and Baratheons remains. Jace and Luke offer to fly to these locations in the name of their mother, which she accepts as it’s time for them to embrace leading roles as members of House Targaryen. Before parting ways, Rhaenyra makes her sons swear oaths not to get themselves into trouble and avoid any possible fights. Jace is sent to the North and the Vale, Luke to Storm’s End. As this is going down, Daemon is within the caves of Dragonstone singing in High Valyrian to the untamed dragons as a way to build a connection with them.
Season 1 of House of the Dragon comes to a close with Lucerys’ arrival at the ancient seat of power of House Baratheon. There, Borros Baratheon (Roger Evans), lord of the Stormlands, welcomes the young Prince into his home. Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) is present too, trying to make a deal with Borros to win him to his brother’s cause. After hearing Rhaenyra’s proposal, Borros refuses to accept and sends Luke away, but not before things get complicated. Aemond starts screaming at his nephew, ordering him to take one of his eyes out to settle their past issues. They eventually take their fight to the sky in their dragons, culminating in them losing control over their dragons and resulting in Vhagar eating Luke and his dragon Arrax whole. The finale closes with Daemon delivering the news of the tragedy to Rhaenyra.
House of the Dragon ’s season 1 finale will probably go down as one of the most controversial closing chapters in the Game of Thrones franchise. The dragon scene towards the end, which I loved, will be a hot topic of discussion in the coming weeks, if not months. Fans will complain that having Aemond not mean to kill Luke makes the Dance of the Dragons less impactful, since it takes away the political agency from both sides of the civil war.
The way I read the scene, though, is that Aemond did want to hurt Luke, but not necessarily kill him. The dragons being the ones to take the Targaryen Princelings’ fight to another level to protect their riders is an interesting decision that hints at the dragons acting up on their owner’s worst instincts, which has been hinted at before in the books and Game of Thrones.
The one thing that did seem odd to me is Daemon choking Rhaenyra out of nowhere. It almost seems to be domestic violence for the sake of shock value. I know the point of the scene is to show that they have two completely different ideologies on how to approach the incoming war, which we saw the same thing with the Greens last week, but it just seems weird coming from the guy who chopped off somebody else’s head after his wife was insulted.
You can remove the choking part and the scene remains the same. You could argue it isn’t totally out of character, as you can tell Daemon is somebody who is repressing his grief for his late brother and frustration with Rhaenyra, not knowing how to control his emotions. This doesn’t excuse his behavior, but it does introduce a new layer of dysfunctionality to their relationship that I hope is explored and not ignored as if it didn’t happen come season 2.
House of the Dragon as a complete piece is an interesting television series. Its first half is essentially a coming-of-age journey for Rhaenyra as she embraces her new role given to her by her own father. The second half is more of a straightforward family drama as the generational conflicts between our characters are passed down from generation to generation, setting up an unavoidable clash that is destined to happen amongst both sides of the Targaryen family.
The time jumps were a smart choice in the beginning, as they allowed us to steadily witness the most important series of events in our characters’ lives. That said, once we skip ten years to welcome the adult versions of Rhaenyra and Alicent is when things start to feel off. Daemon’s relationship with his late wife Laena (Nanna Blondell) feels hollow because we don’t get to spend enough time to care about their marriage. The same can be said about Rhaenyra’s affair with Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr). His character has a large role to play in the lives of his children, yet we never explore why we should be invested in his love life with Rhaenyra.
To close off this final piece in the journey we embarked on with House of the Dragon, I want to talk about a key difference with Game of Thrones that I believe fans should consider when watching and analyzing the prequel series. Game of Thrones’ first major war was fought amongst different Westerosi houses. House Stark against the Lannisters, Baratheon, and Greyjoy. These families had little love for one another, making it easier to fight each other on the battlefield and stab their enemies or allies on the back.
House of the Dragon isn’t as simple as Game of Thrones. This is a story about a singular family falling apart. They might not see eye-to-eye on certain topics, some going as far as being hateful and resentful, but they are still a family. Alicent uses Viserys’ words to help usurp Rhaenyra’s role, yet she does not want to hurt her. Aemond meant to hurt his nephew and unintentionally caused his death. It is still his fault for instigating the fight in the first place, but it adds a new layer of tragedy to the Targaryen civil war. No matter how much you might dislike your family, they’re still family and it should hurt when they incite violence on their own.
Ryan Condal as a showrunner and his team of writers have done a solid job at reintroducing us to this world and these new characters. House of the Dragon is a bit of an uneven, sometimes messy start to HBO’s series. My personal issues with the show are more structural problems than character or storytelling decisions. I can’t blame the writers for going this route with time jumps, though, because, at the end of the day, season 1 serves as a ten episode prologue. With season 2 underway, we hope to expect a slower paced season that will allow us to breathe with our characters as Westeros rediscovers what the Targaryen meant by reigning with fire and blood.
The Season 1 Finale of House of the Dragon is now available to watch on HBO Max. Read all our reviews/recaps of the series.