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House of the Dragon summary: Rhaenyra finally dances with dragons

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“When dragons fly to battle,” Rhaenyra warns her husband, Prince Daemon, “everything burns.”

Throughout the season finale, only the newly crowned queen seems to understand the gravity of choosing to back down against the usurpation of her crown. She alone is weighing diplomatic options, up to and including capitulation, rather than risking throwing Westeros into a war unlike anything it has ever known. Against the warmongering of her bannermen and consort, the provocations of her old enemy Otto Hightower, and even the temptation of the divine destructive power that her faction’s dragons offer her, Rhaenyra stands steadfast. Emma D’Arcy brings tremendous subtlety to Rhaenyra’s struggle throughout the episode, from their wry, puzzled smiles at Lucerys’ fear of his future responsibilities to their expression of mixed loss and hope of receiving proof of Alicent’s continued love in the form of a childhood keepsake. Peace holds the promise of love, of children, of honoring her father’s peaceful heritage and faith in the Conqueror’s Dream. War entails everything.

Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO

Yet, as Rhaenyra tells her middle child, the world has no eye for our plans. First, a painful and exhausting miscarriage costs Rhaenyra her unborn daughter. Watching the sweat-soaked and bloodied woman cradle the disfigured body in her arms, it’s hard not to see it as an omen of things to come, a shadow cast by all the innocents whose lives a war between the rival princes would no doubt lead to. to break down . The war also drives a wedge between Rhaenyra and her husband, exposing Daemon’s violent insecurities as he confronts both his own immaturity and his jealousy over his wife’s closeness to his late brother, the King. The scene where Daemon attacks his queen is one of the most shocking of the season, a showcase for Matt Smith’s ability to simultaneously see and distance himself from his surroundings. It’s an ugly contrast to the warmth between Lord Corlys and Princess Rhaenys, who share a distinct warmth and solidarity even in conflict. Daemon has no such understanding, and it seems that Rhaenyra is risking her marriage by refraining from the bloodshed he craves.

Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen, opposite Rhys Ifans as Otto Hightower, and Emma D'Arcy as Rhaenyra Targaryen in HBO's House of the Dragon

Image: Ollie Upton/HBO

Director Greg Yaitanes frames this parade of loss and turmoil with painterly precision, and the episode’s color gradation is one of the best yet, with rich, dark reds and sickly grays predominating against a backdrop of dramatic blacks and pale-light blues. “The Black Queen” causes the Targaryens to be directly associated with their dragon through artful framing and intercution. During Rhaenyra’s toil, we see flashes of Syrax roaring in sympathy with her rider. When Daemon threatens the knights of the Kingsguard, Caraxes’ massive head fills the frame behind him, a scene repeated by a later sequence in which Daemon awakens the ancient dragon Vermithor and the two appear reflected in each other’s eyes, two incarnations of careless strength and devastation.

The imagery of the episode prompts us to think about who exactly is in charge here. Is it the Targaryens, driven as much by old grudges and infatuations as by a greater sense of duty? Is it the dragons themselves who, like the proverbial knife, incite violence through their very existence? The answer, as much as one can be freed from the tangle of guts and screams that close the action scene from the episode’s centerpiece, is that the worst of both sides is in charge. The royal family’s venal pettiness, the excessive power their dragons afford them, and their utter lack of experience with real violence and its consequences all come together in a literal deadly clash. It’s a heartbreaking sight to see Aemond and Lucerys scream in terror as their dragons, pushed too hard by Aemond’s cruel game of chicken, turn against each other, building Yaitanes tension during their dogfight with brutal, rock-hard precision and a physically harrowing feel. of speed. When the last blast of blood and gore comes home, it’s almost a relief, until you start thinking about what comes next.

    A dragon flies to Storm's End on HBO's House of the Dragon

Photo: HBO

Rubber meets road, the idea of ​​a peaceful solution to the succession crisis is shattered in the blink of an eye, and Rhaenyra is gutted by betrayal and grief. Not only has she lost her son, but she has lost her sense of security in her marriage and her chance to rekindle her bond with Alicent. At the same time, she has gained bannermen, the vital support of House Velaryon, and the allegiance of another knight of the Kingsguard. Even before she learns of Lucerys’ death, marching to war has become much more plausible. D’Arcy’s final look into the camera is terrifying, a surer harbinger of things to come than a prophetic dream or lofty speech about the welfare of the realm. Throughout the episode, we see Rhaenyra pushing for peace again and again, on the uneasy and often disappointing path of compromise. But what awaits beneath Dragonstone, its frayed wings folded in the dark, its furnace breath scorching the cave walls? Which beast by firelight shines reflected in Daemon’s eyes, even when he shines in his own?

We know what’s coming. Revenge. Justice. Fire and blood.

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