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House of the Dragon: The Black Queen

“It's been said that as Targaryens, we are closer to gods than to men. And the Iron Throne puts us a touch closer, perhaps."

Season One of House of the Dragon ends with Rhaenyra and the blacks being left in a place of dark uncertainty, much like Alicent and the greens.

As soon as Rhaenys shows up to Dragonstone and reveals what happened in the previous episode, things start to unravel for Rhaenyra and Daemon. The stress of her father's death and the greens' usurping of her throne causes Rhaenyra to go into labor months ahead of schedule, a traumatic scene that ends with her delivering her own daughter, who is born dead and malformed. Daemon busies himself with being the man of action, channeling his grief into focused rage. In doing so, he begins to challenge his wife's authority, who is officially declared Queen after Ser Erryk arrives with her father's crown.

Interestingly, Rhaenyra and Alicent are in the same boat. They're both powerful women who find themselves directly challenged by the man (Daemon for Rhaenyra, Otto for Alicent) who is supposed to be her main ally. Not sure if Daemon has been named Hand of the Queen yet, but he's certainly acting like it. It makes for a fascinating scene when Otto arrives to deliver terms of surrender, and Daemon speaks for his Queen as freely as Otto speaks for people he claims to serve.

While Daemon thirsts for the blood of their enemies, Rhaenyra exercises restraint. This restraint gains the loyalty of Rhaenys and the newly returned Corlys Velaryon, both valuable assets, but makes her appear to Daemon like she's submitting to the Hightowers and being too cautious like her father. I do think it's true that Rhaenyra's reluctance to unleash over a dozen dragons on the realm is partly influenced by Alicent, but I think it's more about their rivalry than the estranged love between them; Rhaenyra's trying to prove that she is the more worthy contender, as opposed to prim and proper Alicent's son.

It doesn't really excuse Daemon choking her out when she tries telling him about the royal prophecy Viserys passed on to her, though. I do find it funny that this was the moment that seemed to turn a lot of people off of Daemon. The laundry list of crimes he committed before this? All fine, I guess, but spousal abuse is taking it too far. While I don't like it, I'd be lying if I said this was not in line with Daemon's character; he probably thought of it as tough love. But like the greens, we're given the impression that the real enemy to the blacks lies within.


Rhaenyra now doesn't fully trust Daemon a) because of his unpredictable nature, and b) because she knows they don't have the same values when it comes to ruling Westeros. She believes she's working to best preserve the realm for a greater threat that's actually generations away, while Daemon is coming from a place of raw passion and ego, thinking of how best to win against the enemy threatening them in the present. There's also the fact that Daemon has always coveted the crown and the throne, but now must submit himself to his younger wife. It's a volatile combination, these two. She did say they were always meant to burn together.

They do, of course, still come off looking better than the greens. It's the greens who start the war. Well... technically.

The biggest thing this episode does is alter the circumstances surrounding the most pivotal moment in this entire era. That being the death of Prince Lucerys Velaryon at the hands of his uncle, Prince Aemond Targaryen. Luke and Jace act as envoys for their mother to affirm the loyalty of key allies across the realm. Jace is sent to the Vale and the North, while Luke flies to the Baratheon seat of Storm's End. Unfortunately, Aemond got there first. Lord Borros Baratheon is quite unimpressed with Luke, since Aemond arrived on a far bigger dragon and came with a marriage offer for one of the Baratheon daughters. While he's decent enough to keep Aemond from maiming Luke in his castle, he also forces Luke to fly home on dragonback during a storm. Making him easy prey for Aemond and Vhagar.

And this is where we get that significant change, I mentioned. In the histories, Aemond unambiguously murdered Luke. Here, I guess he was just going out of his way to terrorize Luke but not intending to kill him, only for both riders to lose control of their dragons, resulting in Vhagar killing Luke and Arrax. It wasn't a case of an evil uncle murdering his innocent nephew to satisfy a blood feud. It was a freak accident resulting from a young dragon-rider not being in control of his young dragon when it panicked, and a cocky dragon-rider not being in control of his old dragon when it got angry.

While it's a change that does take some of the venom out of the Dance of the Dragons, I'm okay with it for a few reasons. The main one being that it neatly ties into what King Viserys told Rhaenyra in the beginning: "The idea that we control the dragons is an illusion." But also, it doesn't really matter how it happened. The result is the same either way. Daemon breaks the news to Rhaenyra, and the season ends with just her face: Furious, tearful, determined. This doesn't look like a queen who prioritizes the good of the realm anymore. It looks like a queen who is ready to rain fire and blood. Zero chance of peaceful reconciliation now.

This was probably one of the most well-structured episodes of the entire season. And how well the rest of the season built up to this dramatic climax where, inevitably, one of Alicent's sons kills one of Rhaenyra's sons, setting everything ablaze. As I've said in previous reviews, this season has mostly functioned as a prologue. Much like the first season of Game of Thrones is a slow buildup to sudden war and the resurgence of magical forces, this has been laying the groundwork for the conflict known as the Dance of the Dragons.

They do such a fantastic job at translating this material, it's been a real pleasure to watch. This season has given me a lot of confidence in the creative team behind this show. I look forward to watching how they proceed with adapting the rest of this particular saga.


Blacks and greens:

* Emma D'Arcy and Matt Smith brought their A game in this episode, as did Eve Best and Steve Toussaint as Rhaenys and Corlys.

* This is the first episode I took a good look at the crown worn by Jaehaerys, Viserys and now Rhaenyra. It not only has the Targaryen three-headed dragon sigil, but the sigils of the other ruling houses in the Seven Kingdoms: Stark, Lannister, Tully, etc. The crown symbolizes the unified realm the two previous kings struggled to preserve, a legacy of peace that Rhaenyra has the grim task of carrying on.

* The dragon Daemon sings to is apparently Vermithor, the dragon that belonged to Jaehaerys the Conciliator. Aside from that, Daemon listed off the various other dragons Team Black has at their disposal, most without riders. And we never did get a good look at Aegon II’s dragon, Sunfyre. Though not to worry, next season is where they start to go all out with the dragons.

* Love the back-to-back close-up shots of Daemon and Vermithor's images being reflected in each other's eyes. The whole scene is a lovely way of demonstrating that, for whatever reason, Daemon has more in common with the dragons than he does his fellow man.

* I was also very glad to see that they included Aemond's sapphire-eye. It looks eerily real somehow.

* The CGI during the final sequence of Aemond and Luke flying their dragons through a raging storm probably features the most impressive special effects I've seen in this show; I'm not sure even Game of Thrones had anything that came close to that.

* 'The Black Queen' had a lot of callbacks to previous episodes. Of course, we have that whole scene on Dragonstone's walkway, mirroring the confrontation between Daemon, Otto and Rhaenyra from 'The Rogue Prince.' Rhaenyra receives the page she tore from Alicent's history book when they were girls as a message of peace from her former friend. Luke and Arrax soaring majestically above the clouds before his death was a lot like our introduction to young Rhaenyra in the first episode. There were also call-forwards to Game of Thrones. Several of the blacks give off vibes that make them very similar to certain Targaryen descendants in the parent series. Rhaenyra and Daemon project a lot of Daenerys vibes, with her being a rightful Targaryen ruler sequestered on Dragonstone and Daemon operating at "die screaming" levels of intensity, and their main advantage in war being dragons. They also both resemble Stannis; Daemon choking Rhaenyra was a lot like Stannis choking Melisandre after the Battle of Blackwater, and Rhaenyra even drops his "We do not choose our destiny" line. Luke once again proclaims that he does not want to be heir to Driftmark, much like Jon Snow didn't want to be king.

Quotes:

Daemon: “That whore of a queen murdered my brother and stole his throne. And you had the chance to burn them all for it.”
Rhaenys: “A war is like to be fought over this treachery, to be sure. But that war is not mine to begin.”

Daemon: “I’m grateful for your long service to the crown. So I’m presenting you with a choice... Swear anew your oath to Rhaenyra as your queen, to Prince Jacaerys as the heir to the Iron Throne. Or... if you support the Usurper, speak it now, and you will have a clean and honorable death. But if you choose treachery, if you swear fealty now only to later turn your cloaks, know that you will die... screaming.”

Lord Baritmos Celtigar: “There has never lived a Stark who forgot an oath. And with House Stark, the North will follow.”
If the next season doesn't begin with Aemond returning to King's Landing, I hope it begins with Jace hanging out with the Starks at Winterfell.

Daemon: (to Otto) “I would rather feed my sons to the dragons than have them carry shields and cups for your drunken, usurper, cunt of a king.”
This line is both horrifying and hilarious.

Rhaenyra I: (to Otto) “You are no more Hand than Aegon is King. Fucking traitor!”

Daemon: "Let's end this mummer's farce!"
Absolutely love how much more of the vernacular from the books we get in this show. I honestly can't remember if the word "mummer" was even used once in Game of Thrones.

Rhaenyra I: “You know my oath reaches beyond our personal ambitions. The Song of Ice and Fire.”
Daemon: “What?”
Rhaenyra I: “The coming war against the darkness in the North, the Conqueror’s dream. Viserys shared it with me when he named me heir—”
Daemon: (starts choking her) “My brother... was a slave to his omens and portents. Anything to make his feckless reign appear to have purpose. Dreams didn’t make us kings. Dragons did.”

Lord Corlys Velaryon: “Heedless ambition has always been a Velaryon weakness. You were right, Rhaenys. I reached too far. And for nothing.”

Lord Borros Baratheon: “Which is it? King or Queen? The house of the dragon does not seem to know who rules it.”

Aemond: “Wait… my Lord Strong. Did you really think that you could just fly about the realm trying to steal my brother’s throne at no cost?”
Lucerys: “I will not fight you. I came as a messenger, not a warrior.”
Aemond: “A fight would be little challenge. No. I want you to put out your eye. As payment for mine. One will serve. I would not blind you. Plan to make a gift of it to my mother.”

Thank you, readers, for keeping up with my coverage of this mature TV series about dragons and the people who ride them. I'm glad I gave this show a chance. It's been a hell of a ride so far. Five out of five wars declared.

3 comments:

  1. Logan, congratulations on finishing season one, and thank you so much!

    ReplyDelete
  2. The dragon chase was really fun and I liked how it recreated some scenes from How to Train Your Dragon.

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  3. Thanks for your reviews! I always keep an eye out for them once an episode airs. I enjoyed this season a lot and look forward to watching the dance of dragons unfold next season.

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