The first episode of House of the Dragon, a prequel to Game of Thrones, aired a couple weeks ago on Aug. 21, but there’s still much to unpack.
One of the episode’s opening images is of a sleek, silver-haired girl riding dragonback over King’s Landing. The question on everyone’s mind: is it Dany? When the girl dismounted, I was surprised but not disappointed to see not Dany, but Rhaenyra Targaryen, the sole child of King Viserys I.
In some ways, Rhaenyra bears an uncanny likeness to Dany. She has the same rebellious spirit. Rhaenyra’s spunkiness, however, doesn’t get in the way of her seamless portrayal of a dutiful daughter to King Viserys I.
Rhaenyra and Alicent Hightower — the daughter of the King’s Hand, Otto Hightower — have a relationship that sparkles on screen. It is almost sororal. Moments between the two friends seem to linger for longer. The scene of the two girls sitting beneath the Weirwood tree is brimming with innocence. In this moment, Rhaenyra conveys her desire for her mother Aemma’s pregnancy to be successful in producing a male heir, leaving her free to traverse the Seven Kingdoms on the back of her dragon and eat “nothing but cake.” I feel that. For a moment, it seems we aren’t inhabiting the crude Game of Thrones universe, but a world where dreams like Rhaenyra’s are entertained.
Unsurprisingly, the innocence of this episode fades away quickly. The birthing scene was, um, too much for me to bear. Maybe I’ve changed since the Game of Thrones days, but I don’t think I have the same kind of tolerance for gore. I’m just not sure the scene was needed at all — it felt utterly gratuitous.
The jousters’ tournament intersects the labors of Queen Aemma. As Aemma writhes and screams and protests, onlookers cheer the jousters on. It is quite the, uh, juxtaposition.
Aemma is left lying in a pool of her own blood. The baby boy that was taken from Aemma’s belly dies shortly afterwards. A bad omen, to say the least. So much for King Viserys I’s male heir.
Aemma’s funeral follows shortly after her death. It is up to Rhaenyra to deliver her mother’s final send off. The famous word Dracarys in High Valyrian sits quite well on Rhaenyra’s tongue, and the dragon Syrax dutifully delivers. Viewers begin to see how Rhaenyra may be fit for rule after all, and she may have to be.
Pressure soon follows for Viserys to name a new heir. The obvious answer is his younger brother, Daemon, who has never really shown an inkling to anything but brothels and violence. But Daemon has spurned the throne multiple times: first by taking it upon himself to mutilate the city’s rapists and murderers, and second by mockingly naming the King’s dead son “heir for a day.”
The King quickly unnames Daemon his heir and banishes him from King’s Landing.
Conflicts are quick to fester within the House of the Dragon, hinting at the house’s eventual downfall with the Mad King.
By the episode’s conclusion Viserys has named a new and unlikely heir, Rhaenyra. This poses some immediate problems, as a woman has never sat atop the Iron Throne, which is more prickly than ever in House of the Dragon.
I found myself wondering if this wide-eyed and precocious girl with some likeness to both Dany and Arya had Dany’s same proclivity toward madness. That could truly portend the downfall of the House of the Dragon. I’m holding out hope though that House of the Dragon can do a little more right by its female protagonists and allow them to occupy unlikely roles, while not utterly losing themselves in the process.
Lena Thakor is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].