Fans of Game of Thrones have been conditioned to expect some big things in the penultimate episode. Whether it be the death of Ned Stark, The Battles of Blackwater Bay and the Bastards or the Red Wedding, major events have often dominated the ninth episode. So I think it’s safe to say that we expected similar for House of the Dragon’s penultimate. But the show subverts expectations and doesn’t go swinging for the fences. In fact, everything more or less goes as you’d expect it to. But just because there was little surprise doesn’t mean the episode wasn’t full of great character moments. Once more, House of the Dragon dominates with strong, complex characters, great dialogue and high stakes.
The Green Council opens up with some rather striking imagery of King’s Landing before sunrise. It’s dark, cold and unpopulated, save for the cooks in the kitchen preparing the next meal. Composer Ramin brings the piano back out for this sequence, harkening to his excellent track Light of the Seven from season six of Game of Thrones. A young boy who works in the castle finds Alicent’s lady-in-waiting and informs her that the King is dead. Alicent also learns of this information shortly afterward and the small council is summoned.
News of the death of the king is to be suppressed until her son, Aegon, can be crowned as the new king, which means the staff within the castle are to be locked up to prevent a leak. But Alicent’s lady-in-waiting uses a candle signal to inform the White Worm of the King’s passing prior to her detention. Alicent states to the council that the reign of Aegon was the dying wish of Viserys and as far as she knows, she’s not being duplicitous, she thinks her intentions are just and true. But we learn that Otto and Ser Tyland Lannister have already been preparing for this moment in secret, while Beesbury, whose known Viserys for almost 70 years, doesn’t buy the last-minute adjustment that was made without witnesses. For his outburst, Ser Cristen (who may as well be dubbed Ser Douche now) kills him, adding to his list of consequence-free murder.
It’s debated, heavily, by the members of the council that Rheneyra and her family should be killed to secure Aegon’s claim without any contestation. Alicent, mortified at the thought, denies this plan, saying that her husband would not want his own child murdered. Again, Alicent isn’t aiming to be cruel and sinister, which makes the accidental crowing (and subsequent war) that much more tragic. It’s also important to note that the Black side of the conflict, Rheynera, Daemon and company, are not in this episode, save for Rhenys, but will certainly be the focus in next week’s episode, aptly titled The Black Queen.
There’s also another problem, apart from the retirement of the Lord Commander of the City Watch, Ser Harrold Westerling, who decided that all this talk of royal murder wasn’t for him. The young heir Aegon is nowhere to be found. It’s possible he’s snuck out into the city, to Flea Bottom, which as we know, is definitely a location of ill repute. Alicent tasks Cristen to find her son, along with Aemond, while Otto sending the twins Arryk and Erryk. Both parties have clear instructions to bring Aegon to the their camp, creating a divide between the good intentioned but misinformed Alicent and the duplicitous Otto.
Alicent confronts Rhaenys, whose been confined to quarters and there’s a wonderful conversation about how Alicent is doing all these major things in the service of men, whether it be her father, late husband or her son. Despite being Queen Regent, she’s not making choices for herself. ‘”And yet you toil still in the service to men. Your father, your husband, your son. You desire not to be free but to make a window in the wall of your prison […]Have you never imagined yourself on the Iron Throne?”, Rhaenys asks the Queen. We later learn that in order to gather information from Lord Larys, she must trade her body, in this case her feet, for his pleasure just to gather intel and get him to act on it. She may be Queen Regent, but she has no power of her own, a prisoner as she’s reminded. Since the beginning, she’s been a pawn in the game and even with the authority given to her by being the Regent, she’s still working to better the lives of men, not herself.
Aegon has been “looked after” by the White Worm, who knows about the death of the king and uses her hostage as a bargaining chip to abolish the child fighting pits of flea bottom. The twins venture here and are repulsed at the locale, a place where Aegon frequents and has even sired some bastards of his own down here. Questions about if Aegon is a good fit for the crown are then brought up and considering Aegon is a useless tool, they’re fair questions. Heck, even Aemond is asking them. Viserys is known as the Peaceful King, one who was kind of incompetent, but also not malicious. Aegon looks to revert to a more Joffrey style of rule, one bound by indifference and cruelty but bolstered by the crown and sword of his namesake, Aegon the Conqueror.
Eventually, Aegon is brought back to Alicent and Erryk springs Rhaenys from the keep, disagreeing with her treatment and the usurping of the throne. Placing Aegon on the throne is essentially an act of war and all those who refused to bend the knee, citing previous oaths, were killed in this episode. Aegon, who initially didn’t want the crown, seems to relish the crowd cheering for him. But the prophecised beast beneath the boards makes an appearance, which is Rhaenys on her dragon, who finally makes an appearance on the show. She escapes on dragon back, flying to Dragonstone to inform the princess of the news.
As you can see, not too many twists and turns this episode but one that was still full of great moments, even if it wasn’t a Game of Thrones level WTF. I was honestly expecting Aegon to get killed, not being familiar with the source material, so that created a bit of false tension, but this episode was dedicated to Aegon’s succession to the throne and the implications that brings. It was surprising how unsurprising the episode was. It set out to do exactly what it intended to do, setting the stage for war. But it was still very engrossing. I have a feeling Aegon won’t be on the throne for too long, especially with Aemond giving him the deadeye and I think his younger brother would make for a much more tyrannical leader in the conflict to come. Stay tuned next week for the finale and the overall thoughts on the season!