‘House of the Dragon’: Here be dragons

House of the Dragon
“The Heirs of the Dragon”
August 21, 2022



We begin this new Game of Thrones prequel series with a little Targaryen history: Roughly one hundred years after Aegon the Conquerer laid claim to Westeros, his heir, King Jaehaerys the first, also known as “The Conciliator,” also known as “The Wise,” and also known as “The Old King,” had a succession problem. He ran a great kingdom, and everything was super cool during his reign — in fact, it was by all accounts the peak of Targaryen power.

But the two sons of his who survived into adulthood both died before their father, leaving something of a succession mess. The Old King called a Great Council to choose who should take the Iron Throne after him, and although there were 14 potential claimants, it boiled down to two of his grandchildren: Prince Viserys, the king’s eldest male descendent, and Princess Rhaenys, the king’s eldest descendent, and who also happened to be the only child of The Old King’s original heir, his eldest son Aemon.

But because Rhaenys was a woman, the choice was pretty simple for the lords of the Seven Kingdoms: Viserys would be king.

According to the title card, we are now 172 years before the death of the Mad King and our girl Daeneyrs’ birth, and we are in the 9th year of Viserys’ reign. And things are looking good for King V. He has one child: a charming teenage daughter, Princess Rhaenyra who is a badass dragonrider, and whom he has made his cupbearer, keeping her close at hand. His wife, Aemma, is pregnant, and Viserys is convinced that it will be a boy and his heir. And any hard feelings from his cousin Rhaenys seems to have been smoothed over: she and her husband, Corlys Velaryon, also known as the Sea Snake (which is just a completely metal nickname) are at court. In fact, the Sea Snake sits on the King’s small council, so everything between them seems to have been smoothed over.

After a jaunt on her dragon, Syrax, Rhaenrya catches a ride back to the Red Keep with her best friend, the daughter of the Hand of the King, Alicent Hightower. Once back at the castle, Rhaenrya swings by her mother’s chambers to check on how Aemma’s feeling.

Rhaenrya jaws about how she’s rather be a knight than a mother — so that we know we’re dealing with a tomboy here — while her mother warns that like all royal women before her, Rhaenyra’s battlefield will be the childbed.

Rhaenyra then hurries to her job serving her father’s small council their cups of Arbor Gold.

The order of business of the small council on this date:

  1. Sea Snake is concerned about three Free Cities who have created an alliance — the Triarchy — which is led by a dude who is known as “The Crabfeeder” (again, a very metal nickname). He’s ridding the Stepstones of pirates, which is cool for Westeros, because boo, pirates. However, Sea Snake doesn’t want the Triarchy to gain too much latitude in the Stepstones, lest they start making trouble for Westeros’ trading lanes (and his own source of wealth and power). King Viserys is not terribly concerned, thanks.
  2. King Viserys’ younger brother Daemon, who is head of the City Watch, also known as the “Gold Cloaks” and can’t be bothered to attend the small council meetings because BORING.
  3. The upcoming tournament to celebrate the birth of King Visery’s new heir. The maester tries to warn that they have no way of knowing that the baby will be a boy, but King Viserys is undeterred: it’s going to be a boy, dammit.

After the meeting, Rhaenrya is led to the throne room by Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, Dougal MacKenzie Harrold Westerling, where they find her uncle, Daemon, sitting on the much more pokey Iron Throne to Westerling’s horror. Rhaenyra shoos the White Cloak away, and in High Valryian, teases her uncle for being a “traitor.” Daemon is unbothered: it’s going to be his throne one day. She notes that he hasn’t been to court in forever, and Daemon grouses that it’s BORING, but now that they are on the eve of a tournament in his honor — for the heir — he thought it would be a good time to swing by. Rhaenyra reminds him that the tournament is for her forthcoming baby sibling, but Daemon reminds her in turn that unless it’s a boy, he will be the heir. BECAUSE WE NEED TO REMIND YOU THIRTY TIMES IN THIS EPISODE: PRIMOGENITURE.

Daemon then gives Rhaenyra a necklace made of Valyrian steel (hang on to that, Rhaenrya, you’re going to need to melt it down in about two hundred years from now), and there is some definite inappropriate sexual tension between these two, and not just because they are uncle and niece.

Rhaenyra then goes over her studies with Alicent near a Weirwood. Rhaenrya could care less about her lessons about Nymeria (about whom a whole other HBO series is being developed), and Alicent calls her out for worrying that her father is going to replace her with a son. Rhaenyra insists she hopes her father gets the GODDAMN SON THAT HE IS SO DESPERATE TO HAVE ALREADY SHE’S NOT BOTHERED AT ALL, before claiming that all she wants to do is ride on Syrax with Alicent.

Inside the Keep, King Viserys’ wounds suffered on the Iron Throne have begun to become infected to the concern of his maester. A course of cauterization is suggested for treatment, with the warning that it will be painful, but King Viserys is all, “sure, OK, do what you need to do.”


King V then checks in on his wife, Aemma, who is soaking in a tub because it’s the only place she’s comfortable at 76 weeks or whatever. King Viserys notes that the water is “tepid …” for a dragon …

But Aemma replies that it’s as hot as the maesters will allow. Aemma also tells Viserys that Rhaenyra has already decided this baby will be a girl and has named her “Visenya.” King Viserys rolls his eyes: they already have a Visenya in the family (as if that’s ever stopped anyone in Westeros from reusing names). Aemma adds that Rhaenyra has already picked out a dragon egg for the baby: one that most reminds her of Vhagar.

(And I hate to do this yet again, but …)

King Viserys tells his wife that he is 1000000% certain this baby is going to be a boy, he had a dream:

“The dream. It was clearer than a memory. Our son was born wearing Aegon‘s iron crown. When I heard the sound of thundering hooves, splintering shields, and ringing swords and I placed our son upon the Iron Throne as the bells of the Grand Sept tolled and all the dragons roared as one.”

Aemma is not amused at the idea of the baby being born with a crown on account of how babies are born, and then informs her husband this is the last damn time she’s going to be pregnant. She reminds him that she lost one baby, had two stillbirths and two miscarriages, and she has mourned as many children as can possibly be expected of her. And King V is like, “Cool. Got it.”

Hey, what’s our favorite ne’er-do-well uncle up to? Well, since he’s in town, he figures he and his Gold Cloaks should clean up the streets of King’s Landing ahead of the tournament. And by “clean up the streets,” I mean, knocking skulls, chopping off extremities, collecting literal heads. You know, good old-fashioned sociopathic violent fun.

The small council, however, is less than amused. Otto Hightower, the Hand of the King and father of Alicent, complains that Daemon appointed himself judge, jury and executioner, just as a smirking Daemon finally joins the meeting. Daemon claims he was just cleaning up the town ahead of the tournament. Viserys doesn’t want all his fancy friends to be mugged and raped while they’re in town, right?

Hightower sneers that Daemon should spend more time with his wife, and Daemon is all, “Eww, gross, no.”

We next find Daemon taking his frustrations out on Mysaria, a Flea Bottom lady of sexytimes, and … it’s not going well for our Dragon Prince. Little Caraxes is not roaring, if you catch my drift. After offering him someone who might excite the dragon more, Mysaria reminds him who he is: Daemon Targaryen, rider of Caraxes, wielder of Dark Sister. The king can not replace him. (But he’s gonna try!)

It’s tournament time, and King Viserys welcomes the crowd with big news: the Queen is in active labor!

Right, so knights joust and stuff, and Rhanerys and Alicent’s curiosity is piqued by one hot young fighter in particular: Ser Criston Cole. He’s a common-born son of a lord’s steward, and quite the jouster, unseating two Baratheon boys in no time.

Daemon is also on hand to joust, and deliberately chooses Otto Hightower’s son to humiliate. Which he does, handily. After winning, to just rub some salt into the wound, Daemon asks for Alicent’s favor, which she gives, much to Otto’s irritation.

Daemon then challenges Ser Cole to a joust, and it does not go well for Daemon, with Cole knocking him and his VERY RAD armor off of his horse in no time. Daemon then chooses to fight in a “contest of arms” and Cole manages to best him there, too, forcing Daemon to yield, an embarrassment that I’m sure a Targaryen will handle with coolness and grace and not let burn in his chest for decades to come.

MEANWHILE, things aren’t going great in the Queen’s chambers. The baby is breech, and no amount of attempting to turn it is working. The maesters inform a distraught Viserys that he has to make an impossible decision: he must sacrifice one or lose both mother and child. There is a new technique in which they can cut into the mother’s womb to free the baby, but the blood loss will be such that Aemma will surely die. He has to choose. Right now.

King Viserys returns to Queen Aemma’s side and assures her that they are going to bring the baby out now, and that he loves her. With that, the septas grab Aemma’s arms and legs and hold her down while the maesters cut open her belly.


Then it’s done: King Viserys has a son, Baelon, and he’s lost a wife.

And with that, Daemon is defeated for the second time that day.

Queen Aemma’s and Baby Baelon’s funeral — because that’s right, the baby also died after all that — is held somewhere outside of King’s Landing. All the sad Targaryens stand around the funeral pyre in their black clothes until Daemon approaches his niece Rhaenyra, and tells her that everyone is waiting for her to do her thing. She wonders if in the few hours her brother was alive her father finally found happiness, before calling out to her dragon, Syrax.

The small council doesn’t even let this man have a minute to grieve before Hightower is calling an “urgent” meeting: they have a succession problem, and Viserys is without an heir. Sea Snake is like … “Uh, Daemon?” But Hightower feels like Daemon could destabilize the realm and might be an actual physical threat to King Viserys himself if he suddenly started feeling ambitious.

The maester, Mellos, is like, “I mean, there’s the king’s firstborn child …”

But the Master of Laws, Lyonel Strong is like, “A GIRL? Absolutely not.”

Sea Snake is like, “I mean, if you’re looking for someone who isn’t Daemon or Rhaenyra, there’s always my son, Laenor, who is the grandson of the Old King’s eldest son …”

But King Viserys has had enough and calls an end to this meeting because HIS WIFE AND BABY JUST DIED, YOU GUYS.

Later, Otto Hightower calls his daughter Alicent to his chambers and is like, “Hey, you know what you should do? You should go ‘comfort’ King Viserys. And wear one of your dead mother’s dresses when you do so.”

But Alicent is nothing but obedient and stops by Viserys’ chambers where he’s busily making a model of King’s Landing. She explains that she’s here to seduce him brought him some histories, and wanted to tell him that she’s sorry for his loss. King V eats this shit up with a spoon.

Meanwhile, across town, Daemon is in a brothel celebrating being the heir once again.


In the small council meeting the next morning, Otto Hightower shares that his sources tell him that Daemon bought out the brothels to entertain his Gold Cloaks the night before. And while there, he toasted Baby Baelon, calling him “The Heir for a Day,” openly celebrating his death.

King Viserys is not amused.

Daemon is called to the throneroom where King Viserys meets him in full-on King drag. Viserys demands to know if his brother said it, did he call the baby “The Heir for a Day,” and Daemon demurs, claiming that everyone grieves in their own way.

Viserys is furious, but Daemon has his own grievances: notably that his brother only sends him away: to The Vale, to the City Watch, anywhere but the position that he really wants: Hand of the King. And speaking of, Daemon sees Otto Hightower for what he truly is.

Viserys: “An unwavering and loyal Hand?”

Daemon: “A cunt.”

Daemon insists that he would protect his brother from those on the council who would prey on him for their own purposes, but Viserys has had enough and informs Daemon that he’s chosen a new heir, and it’s time for Daemon to go home to his wife, bye.

Daemon follows Viserys’ orders and promptly fucks off on his dragon, but he takes Mysaria with him; Mysaria who is definitely not his wife.

King Viserys then meets with Rhaenyra in front of a shrine built around Balerion’s skull, reminding her that the dragon was the last living creature to have seen Old Valyria before the Doom. He then asks Rhaenyra what she sees when she looks at the dragons. She replies that people think the Targaryens are like gods, but really, without the dragons, they’re just like everyone else.

Her father respects his answer and notes that the dragons are a power that men should have never messed with, that they’ll only bring doom like in Old Valyria. And if the Targaryens don’t mind their history, they’ll do the same to them.

Viserys then apologizes to Rhaenyra for wasting her life wishing for a son and reveals that she will be his heir. Rhaenyra protests that Daemon is his heir, but Viserys counters that he doesn’t believe Daemon was meant to wear the crown: she was, but warns that the Iron Throne is the most dangerous seat in all of Westeros.

Viserys then reveals something else: According to the histories, their ancestor Aegon conquered Westeros because he saw a rich land that he could take with his dragons. However, it’s more than that. Just like Daenys the Dreamer, Aegon had a prophetic dream that saw a terrible winter ending the world of men:

“Aegon saw absolute darkness riding on those winds. And whatever dwells within will destroy the world of the living. When this Great Winter comes, Rhaenyra… all of Westeros must stand against it. And if the world of men is to survive, a Targaryen must be seated on the Iron Throne. A king or queen, strong enough to unite the realm against the cold and the dark. Aegon called his dream ‘The Song of Ice and Fire.'”


Showrunners Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik:

George R.R. Martin fans everywhere:

This, Viserys adds, is a secret that has been passed from king to heir since Aegon’s time, and now it’s her job to protect it.

And with that, King Viserys declares his daughter Rhaenrya his official heir in a big ceremony in the throne room, forcing all the Lords of the realm to kneel before her and swear an oath to be faithful and pledge their fealty to both King and heir and to defend them against all enemies.

SPOILER ALERT: Not everyone is going to keep their oaths.

Alright, so let’s do some very quick Targaryen history, because there were a lot of names thrown at you just now, and it will help give a little context for this series. As Viserys mentions, Aegon the First conquered Westeros roughly 100 years earlier, but Aegon didn’t come from Old Valyria to do so. The Targaryens had actually arrived in Westeros about 114 years before the conquest after Daenys the Dreamer had a prophetic dream that Old Valyria would be destroyed. Her father moved his family and their dragons to the island that is now known as Dragonstone and when the Doom occurred 12 years later, the Targaryens were the only dragon riders who survived.

What we now know is that Aegon had his own prophetic dream about the Long Winter, and he and his two sisters — and wives — conquered Westeros, so as to save it. His sisters were Rhaenys, the younger, prettier one; and Visenya, the fiercer warrior queen who wielded Dark Sister, one of the two ancestral swords of House Targaryen (and which Daemon now owns). Visenya also rode Vhagar, a dragon you’ll be hearing more about in this series. Visenya is the Targaryen Rhaenyra clearly admires the most, and who she wanted to name her potential baby sister after.

The characters also mention King Maegor a few times, noting that he was a tyrant whom Daemon would like to emulate. So Maegor was the son of Visenya and Aegon, and who took the throne after his half-brother King Aenys died, even though Aenys had named his own son his heir. Maegor is clearly modeled after Henry VIII, going around pissing off the clergy by taking a bunch of wives, declaring war on said clergy, and ruling as a tyrant. His is a tumultuous reign, with another of Aenys’ kids challenging Maegor’s claim to the throne. Eventually, Maegor dies without an heir (despite all those wives). His nephew is Jaehaerys I Targaryen, grandson of Aenys. Thus, the Old King that we started this episode with becomes Maegor’s successor.

What is also important about Maegor and Jaehaerys is that Westeros hasn’t seen any warfare since Maegor’s death. Jaehaerys repaired the relationship between the crown and the clergy, and things were calm during his long reign. So we have a bunch of very green warriors running around, too young to have experienced real battle: for better and worse.

Which brings me to Viserys’ prophetic dream about his son. He tells Aemma that he heard “thundering hooves, splintering shields, and ringing swords” when he put his son upon the throne, and this innocent Summer child thought “tourney time!” instead of war … because there has been no war in Viserys’ lifetime, just these tournaments that pretend at war.

It’s not that the dream is wrong. SPOILER ALERT: One of Viserys’ sons will sit on the throne, and his name will be Aegon — hence, he’s wearing Aegon’s iron crown literally. It’s that this is not how the Fates work: They are never going to be like “Hey, here’s the future in a straightforward, easy-to-understand message.” Instead, they dick around about it, allowing mortals to ALWAYS AND FOREVER misinterpret things.

Example: The other day, I was rewatching some Game of Thrones, and it happened to be the second season episode where Daenerys is trapped in the House of the Undying, with those crazy-ass wizards who want to steal her dragons. There, she has a vision of herself walking through the destroyed throne room of the Red Keep. Snow is falling and she approaches the Iron Throne … but just as she’s about to touch it, she’s distracted by the cries of her dragons from elsewhere, and her hand pulls away. She then wanders into a tent where Drogo and their unborn child greet her.


I can’t believe I didn’t see all of this until this rewatch years later.

THE POINT IS: prophecy is never straightforward, and yet, everyone assumes that their dream is some obvious answer, and that it will happen sometime in the immediate future. IT’S NEVER A STRAIGHTFORWARD ANSWER. And it never takes place in the immediate future.

Anyway, this brings us to Aegon’s dream, “The Song of Ice and Fire,” which I would love to know more about. Was there more detail? What exactly did he see? When he says a Targaryen must be on the throne, how does he know that? And did he see a specifically male or female Targaryen?

We’ll never know, but the most interesting revelation here  — well, two — is that 1. Aegon conquered Westeros because he knew the Long Night was coming and wanted to be in control when it happened (even though it didn’t happen for another 300 years) and 2. Daenerys, of course, never knew about “The Song of Ice and Fire” because her father Aerys the II, and his heir, Rhaegar, both died in Robert’s Rebellion before they could share the “secret.” And even if they had shared it with Daenerys’ shitty brother Viserys (which … I mean, maybe) he was unlikely to share it with Daenerys as he would have never considered her a legitimate heir to the throne.

My point is: Daenerys (along with her Targaryen nephew/lover Jon Snow) was the ultimate fulfillment of Aegon’s dream … some 300 years later, and without her knowledge of the dream at all. This spins me off on an entirely different quantum theory thought about observers and non-observers and whether or not a prophecy can only truly be fulfilled by a non-observer AND OH MY GOD, I CAN NOT GO BACK INTO SCHRÖENDIGER’S BOX.


Oh! And one more thought on the Song of Ice and Fire prophecy before I leave this (for now, I’m sure). So, the show makes this considerably simpler and cleaner than the books for obvious reasons, but the Great Council that chose between Viserys and Rhaenys to succeed the Old King wasn’t quite the “choose between boy or girl” conundrum the way it is portrayed on the series. Instead, the reason Rhaenys is called “The Queen that Never Was” is because her father, Aemon, was the Old King’s oldest son and heir. However, Aemon dies before the Old King. The Old King then named his son Baelon his heir, passing over Rhaenys who was pregnant at the time, and who believed that her unborn child, a potential grandson of Aemon the first heir, had a claim to the throne. But then Baelon goes and dies before the Old King, too. By then, Rhaenys has given birth to a son, Laenor, and it is actually this child, not Rhaenys, that she and her husband were advocating be the Old King’s heir against Viserys.

And here’s the thing: had Rhaenys and her child been chosen, it would be in violation of the prophecy, because Laenor is a Velaryon, not a Targaryen. This would also explain why when the Sea Snake suggests in this episode that Laenor could be Viserys’ heir, the king doesn’t seem to even consider it.

It’s also, of course, a violation of primogeniture and the patriarchal system as a whole. Rhaenys might have been the eldest son’s eldest child, but she’s still a woman, and that is enough to be disqualifying in this particular universe. Which is, as most of George’s Ice and Fire stories are, based our universe’s history. Just as Maegor is based on Henry VIII, the Dance of the Dragons — the story that is to be told in this series — is based on true events from 12th century England, known as “The Anarchy.”

The TL;DR is that in 1120, England’s King Henry I’s son and heir, William Adelin, drowned unexpectedly, leaving a vacancy in the succession. In 1125, King Henry called his daughter Matilda back to England from Germany after her husband died, and married her to an ally. Henry then named Matilda his heir and forced his court to swear loyalty to her. This proved unpopular with the Anglo-Normans of the time, and when Henry died ten years later, Matilda’s cousin Stephen claimed the throne for himself, with the backing of the church.

Matilda didn’t take this lying down, though, and supported by her half-brother and uncle, Matilda’s forces invaded from Normandy and captured Stephen. However, the crowd in London violently opposed her being crowned Queen in Westminster, and she never officially took the throne. There was some more fighting back and forth between her forces and Stephen’s, and eventually, her son becomes King Henry II.

So there’s been a lot of complaining in some quarters about this series and its treatment of women; the common complaint being that this is a fantasy world — so why can’t the men who create this show fantasize a world without misogyny and violence towards women? And I understand … I guess.

But I would counter, as I think George R.R. Martin would, too, that he’s making us look at our own world through a critical lens to expose the misogynistic rot that we just live with because it’s always been there. It’s like the famous David Foster Wallace “This Is Water” speech: when you live inside a misogynistic or racist or unjust system, it can be hard to recognize that it is misogynistic or racist or unjust. It just always been thusly. But by presenting our world through a prism, through distortion, maybe with a few silly silver wigs and dragons, we can safely, and from a distance, begin to grapple with how a misogynistic or racist or unjust system is destructive to everyone. And I don’t know, but I for one, feel like we all have a lot of grappling left to do.

Finally, I leave you one kind of silly question that I don’t have the answer to: When the maesters are treating Viserys’ infected wounds, they warn him that cauterization is the best course of treatment and add that it will be painful.

… But would it? What would a little cauterization be to a dragon? After all, Viserys’ great-grandaughter x 7 is out here walking through fire like it ain’t no thang:



House of the Dragon airs on HBO and streams on HBO Max

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