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House of the Dragon: The Green Council

"There is a beast beneath the boards!"

In a twist, instead of publishing House of the Dragon Season One's penultimate episode and finale reviews in their own consecutive weeks, I chose to do what many of us pray George R.R. Martin is doing with his final two A Song of Ice and Fire books: finish writing both and publish them back-to-back.

We focus on the conspiratorial greens in the wake of the King Viserys Targaryen's death. As soon as they receive the news, Team Green initiates their plans to install Prince Aegon as King over his father's preferred heir, Princess Rhaenyra, and things quickly begin to spiral out of control. Lord Beesbury objects, calls them out for reason, and gets suddenly killed by Criston Cole. Harrold Westerling abandons the Kingsguard in disgust, leaving the Lord Commander’s position open for Cole. And Alicent and Otto are both on the hunt for Aegon, who has disappeared into the city.

For as much as it offered, as far as interesting scenes and performances, I was a bit let down by this episode. I guess I had hoped for more planning and conspiring within the small council chambers, but a lot of this episode’s runtime is devoted to the search for Aegon. It felt like padding, even if it is used as a device to flesh out some of our other characters: Aegon, Aemond, Mysaria, Ser Arryk and Ser Erryk Cargyll.

Another thing that annoyed me was Alicent's seeming naivete. Here's someone who has been actively opposed to and conspiring against Rhaenyra for around two decades, and when the time comes to choose a new ruler, she is aghast that her father and others on the council have been scheming to usurp Rhaenyra and make her son king. Or maybe it's denial. Pretty much no one really believes Alicent when she claims Viserys revised his choice of heir on his deathbed, not even Aegon. That at least is a unique conflict, having Alicent believe she is still in the right even though her actions are based on a misunderstanding and her hearing what she wanted to hear.

Well, after that bittersweet dinner last episode, Alicent no longer thirsts for Rhaenyra and her family's blood like she once did. The reason for the extraneous hunt for Aegon is all about who can influence his kingship. Otto wants him to eradicate Rhaenyra and the rest of Team Black, while Alicent will encourage him to offer his half-sister peaceful terms.

The hunt for Aegon ends up illustrating the farcical nature of the greens' efforts to make him king, as there is nothing kingly about him. Not only is he a shameless rapist, a serial philanderer and a drunken lout, he also frequents the seediest parts of King's Landing to pay to see peasant children fight each other to the death and has left an unknown number of illegitimate children in his wake. I feel I have to appreciate the writers' efforts to underscore Aegon's pitiable circumstances even as they shed light on what a massive prick he is. He had a bad upbringing for a prince, made to feel ridiculously entitled by his mother the Queen while also receiving no expectation of responsibility from his father the King. And he never really felt loved by his parents.

Doesn't excuse his actions as a man, but it does figure into his eventual acceptance of the role suddenly thrust upon him. Because it's rooted in his belief that his father really did love and accept him, as he is assured by Alicent and her self-deluded interpretation of Viserys's obscure last words. And that acceptance is solidified during his coronation, where he comes into the crowded Dragonpit bearing the crown and sword of Aegon the Conqueror. We can see his ego reshaping itself and increasing in size as he watches the people cheer for him and sees his family bow their heads to him. In that moment, he willingly transforms into Aegon II.

Which brings us to the most surprising moment in this episode.

No, not the foot fetish thing. We'll get to that.

It's actually the great and bloody escape of Princess Rhaenys. She spends most of the episode confined to her room. Despite being one of the most powerful women in the realm and one of the show's coolest characters, a lot of Rhaenys's time in this season has been devoted to illustrating how powerless she is made to feel. Powerless to protect her loved ones, to curb the ambitions of her family, to assert her own influence; the previous episode is one of the first times she was allowed to affect an outcome. And all of this gets thrown in her face by Alicent as she attempts to demoralize Rhaenys and gain her support. Ironically, this is Alicent doing like her dad and manipulating someone as they make a show of empathizing with them. Unfortunately, Rhaenys sees through her. Despite her enduring respect for girl-boss vibes, Alicent is a slave to the status-quo and ultimately subservient to the will of men. What power and authority she does assert, she does in the name of elevating her loathsome son; although, she does defy her father a little bit, and that's nice.

That quiet conversation between the Queen and the Queen Who Never Was explodes into a much more fatal encounter at the end of the episode, when Rhaenys has her dragon Meleys literally crash Aegon's coronation during her getaway. This shocked a lot of people. Not just because it doesn't happen in the books, but because Rhaenys kills so many bystanders, ostensibly because she was going to wipe out Aegon and perhaps all of the greens. And then she doesn't kill any of them, choosing instead to fly away... having only killed a bunch of smallfolk who were not there by choice.

I get why people find it so frustrating, but there are a few reasons why I'm okay with it.

For the entire season, Rhaenys has been one of the most sensible, likable characters in a sea of troublemakers (the worst things she had done up to this point was try to marry her pre-teen daughter off to Viserys and cold-shoulder Rhaenyra's sons), the one always considering the real cost of these power plays. So I find it interesting that the first dragon-rider to senselessly kill a bunch of random peasants in a selfish act – either self-preservation or blind rage – was Rhaenys. I also think she was going to kill all of the greens, but seeing Alicent rush to shield Aegon from her dragon maybe killed her mood for slaughter. Doesn't excuse the peasant deaths; though, I suppose the blacks could argue they were all engaging in treason by applauding Aegon.

Just as this episode is all about the greens, next week will likely be all about the blacks. I always liked when Game of Thrones would take a break from the globetrotting every so often and focus in on one set of people at one location, and this reminds me of that. Instead of the watching the conflict spill over between the blacks and greens, here we explore the various conflicts within one of the factions. Though they are in a powerful position with strong allies, the greens are not stable. The now Dowager Queen Alicent and Hand of the King Otto are butting heads, vying for control of the realm through their supposed puppet King Aegon II. Aegon II is newly emboldened and intoxicated by his crown, but he remains a disappointing flake, cowering behind his mother (understandably) when Meleys gets up in his grill. Aemond One-Eye chafes at being the more powerful but less favored second son and secretly covets all that his undeserving brother has. And there's their main enforcer Criston Cole, whose despicable actions are driven by a bitter sense of self-righteousness.

Despite all the pageantry of Aegon's coronation and their possession of the Iron Throne, the greens are off to a rocky start with their reign. Now that leaves us wondering how much better the generally more tolerable blacks will fare.

Blacks and greens:

* That's twice now that Criston Cole has murdered someone in full view of witnesses and received no admonishment whatsoever. In fact, his more noble superior attempting to call him out is the one who ends up out a job.

* Speaking of which, I hope Harrold Westerling joins Rhaenyra's Queensguard. Graham McTavish is a great actor, so it'd be cool to see him have more to do on this show.

* I like how the conflict between Ser Arryk and Ser Erryk is portrayed. Sort of highlights the moral ambiguity of the black vs. green situation.

* Though it’s suggested to be Larys Strong who had Mysaria’s residence torched, it isn’t clear if he was also behind poor Lord Caswell’s hanging. I guess we can assume so.

* That brings me to the second big unexpected moment from this episode; though, considering the internet's reaction, it might as well be the biggest shocker. That would be the creepy new layer to Alicent and Larys Strong's mistress-servant relationship. At some point over the years, Larys managed to exploit Alicent's need for an ally such as him by getting her to... bear her feet for him to get off to. A lot of impressionable viewers took this scene and determined that Larys's motivation this entire time has been an obsession with Alicent's feet. Really all this scene does – besides showing us another way in which Alicent debases herself in the name of fulfilling her duties – is reveal how scarily manipulative Larys Strong can be. Initially, he allowed Alicent to use him for his skill at gathering information. He remains low-key about it, but he's become so valuable as an information broker that he's able to casually pull this sort of depraved power move on the Queen of Westeros.


Alicent: “Am I to understand that members of the small council have been planning secretly to install my son without me?”
Jasper Wylde: “My Queen, there was no need to sully you with darkling schemes.”

Ser Harrold Westerling: “I am Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. I recognize no authority but the King’s. And until there is one… I have no place here.”

Helaena: “It is our fate, I think, to crave always what is given to another. If one possesses a thing, the other will take it away.”
Handmaiden: “Yes, Princess.”
She is dismissed by just about everyone, even her servant here, but Helaena might actually be the wisest character in the show.

Alicent: “I trust again to you, Ser Criston, and to your loyalty. Aegon must be found, and he must be brought to me. The very fate of the Seven Kingdoms depends on it. Everything you feel for me… as your Queen.”
Ser Criston Cole: “I will not fail you.”
I don't think Alicent loves Criston Cole. She might see him as a kindred spirit and finds him pitiable, but mostly I think she's just exploiting his obsessive need to champion a proper lady.

Aemond: ’Tis I, the younger brother, who studies history and philosophy. It is I who trains with the sword, who rides the largest dragon in the world. It is I who should be…”
Criston: “I know what it is to toil for what others are freely given.”
Aemond: “Mm. And we can’t find him, Cole. You are a decent man with no taste for depravity. His secrets are his own… and he’s welcome to them. I’m next in line to the throne. Should they come looking for me, I intend to be found.”
How perfect that these two ruthless thugs driven by petty grievances view themselves as "decent men" who are unappreciated.

Otto: “You’ve spent many hours with the Queen of late.”
Larys Strong: “There’s no reason those hours could not, in the end, benefit you.”

Alicent: “A true queen counts the cost to her people.”
Rhaenys: “And yet you still toil in 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.”

Mysaria: “There is no power but what people allow you to take.”

Ser Erryk Cargyll: “You flee what other men die seeking, Aegon.”

Otto: “No king has ever lived that hasn’t had to forfeit the lives of a few to protect the many. Though I understand your squeamishness.”
Alicent: “Reluctance to murder is not a weakness!”

Alicent: “Listen to me, Aegon. Your grandfather, the Hand, will try to impress on you that Rhaenyra should be put to the sword. You must reject this counsel. We must not rule with cruelty and callousness. For all her faults, she is your sister, your father’s daughter—”
Aegon II: “Do you love me?”
Alicent: “… You imbecile.”
Think you can read this exchange in a couple different ways. Like, is she calling him an imbecile because he's not listening to her, inadvertently revealing she doesn't love him? Or is it being said in a way that's more like "After everything I've done for you, do you even have to ask?"

There were parts that whelmed and parts that underwhelmed. Not the best penultimate episode I've seen, but still pretty damn good. Will publish the Season Finale review later tonight. Four out of five royal coups.

1 comment:

  1. I'm rewatching this season in preparation for season 2 (I wish June would sure get here already). I also liked that they kept this episode in King's Landing and focused on the Greens instead of going back and forth. It took me over half the episode to realize there were no Blacks involved (well except Rhaenys), and I'm firmly on team Black. I found myself wishing Rhaenys had brought dragon fire down on the Greens and ended the war before it really started. But then the show would be over, and I definitely don't want that.

    It's weird because I didn't know the ending of GOT, but I've been spoiled and know exactly the end of this saga (the complete book is out so it's not exactly a secret). But I'm still very interested in all that happens to the main and secondary characters along the way. I think GRRM said he imagines this as a 4 season show in some interview. I certainly hope they don't drag it out beyond what material is available for it. I like the pace they are moving at currently.

    I can't wait to see how Team Black reacts next episode.


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