As you’re no doubt well aware, we bid adieu (for now) to House Of The Dragon last night with the season-one ender “The Black Queen.” The plot-packed episode, which threw many a tragedy at Rhaenyra, was a lot to take in, setting up what sure looks to be a very bloody season two. Now that we’ve had a moment to reflect, let’s get into how well it fared, just like we did with our halftime report on the Game Of Thrones prequel, sounding off on what bugged us, what thrilled us, and any other lingering thoughts we have on the show.
Saloni Gajjar: At the risk of being absolutely annoying: The book is always better. Fire & Blood has its issues, but at least it made its characters’ evil and ambitious motivations clear. House Of The Dragon has kind of failed in that regard. As much as I enjoyed revisiting Westeros and the political mind games that followed, I’m not sold on the intensity of it. Major plot points were morphed into being “accidental,” like Alicent misunderstanding Viserys on his deathbed or, in the finale, Aemond fighting Lucerys, with the latter’s death only happening because of an uncontrolled dragon. Apart from Daemon and Otto—two men who were never going to get the throne to begin with—no one else has shown real interest in owning the power. I’m all for switching up the narrative for the sake of a TV adaptation, but HOTD didn’t earn these moments. The pacing was either too rushed or too slow.
The finale had the same problems. I appreciate that Rhaenyra has finally shown interest in ruling beyond “it’s my duty”—she lost her father, kingdom, newborn, and second son in quick succession, so revenge is her driving force now. But the show suffered from not diving into this more. “The Black Queen” was a fine enough season-one ender, and I know I’ll be seated for the next round whenever it arrives, but my hope is the writers dig into the characters in a deeper way. The final shot of Rhaenrya promises that, so we’ll see. I will admit: The shot of Vhagar chomping Arrax into half was cool as hell. Also, Emma D’Arcy’s performance made the entire hour worth it.
Sam Barsanti: Game Of Thrones taught us that the one who deserves to be king is the person who has the best story, and while that was and continues to be completely stupid, I think Tyrion Lannister would really appreciate the fact that Westeros is now going to war (over a century before he’s born) with such clear lines between who has the Good Story and who has the Bad Story. On the one side, we have Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen, first of her name, etc. etc., rightful heir to the Iron Throne and the only one who knows about the prophecy that we all know will eventually come true (to some extent). On the other, we have Alicent and her dumb family of jerks, who have upended all sense of honor and justice in Westeros over a misunderstanding that is as stupid as anything that happened in the final episode of Game Of Thrones.
What I’m saying is that half of House Of The Dragon has a story that I like and am invested in, because Rhaenyra is cool and because we will always stand up for the Eleventh Doctor in my house, and the other half of House Of The Dragon has characters that I’m not interested in and writing that I think is silly and contrived. So I like that this finale was all about Rhaenyra ruling in a way that only she can and I hope she is able to swiftly destroy all of the parts of the show I don’t like—which, again, is Alicent and her dumb family of jerks.
Tim Lowery: I’m sure I’m the trillionth person to say as much, but doesn’t every episode of this show kind of feel like a season’s worth of television? As Jenna Scherer put it so well in her recap of the finale, HOTD packs in so much plot in such a small amount of time. Now, it can be thrilling, sure. That dragon chase at the end of “The Black Queen,” like a lot of the endings of a lot of the episodes this season, indeed very much was. Watching it, you realize, there’s nothing quite like this on television. But (and to quote Pee-wee, this is a big but) the show has yet to suck me in—and I think a lot of that has to do with how many dramatic beats this show plows through in just one episode. When characters eat it in a dramatic fashion, it’s tough to feel anything as (more often than not) we barely know them or their motivations. Also, as well acted (and the show really is) and stunning HOTD is to look at, the finale was especially guilty of having big dramatic scores and line deliveries for big dramatic moments, a move that, as a viewer, I find grating. So please, House Of The Dragon, slow down next time.
Drew Gillis: In hindsight, I’m a little embarrassed that I was so caught off-guard by Luke’s death at the episode’s end. As Jenna Scherer points out in her recap, the preceding scene with Rhaenyra wishing him well certainly telegraphed it. I was even sitting there thinking, “Wow, it seems like these characters have a lot of plot armor lately!” Boy, was I happy to be wrong, and I’ve never wanted to see the next episode of House Of The Dragon more than I do this morning.
If I have one gripe, it’s that I truly cannot stand Aemond as a character. I get that he’s supposed to be hateable, but he’s one-dimensional at this point, in a way that other hateable characters Alicent and Daemon aren’t. He’s out for blood because he lost his eye, but he lost his eye because he stole his dead aunt’s dragon and was generally being, you know, a world-class asshole. The look on his face in his final scene of the episode, wherein he accidentally kills his cousin when he just meant to terrorize him and realizes that he did, in fact, step in it, hints that we may see something resembling depth from him in season two. Here’s hoping.
Cindy White: Having read Fire & Blood, I knew what was coming at the end of this episode, and I was bracing for a tough blow. It didn’t really hit the way I was expecting, though. If we’d spent more time with Prince Lucerys and his dragon this season I think it would have been devastating, but as exciting as that aerial dragon fight was, and as shocking as it was to see Luke get gobbled up by Vhagar, I didn’t have enough of an emotional connection to him to care all that much. I did feel for Rhaenyra, thanks to Emma D’Arcy’s moving performance and the realization that they basically fridged two of her children in one episode. That’s not something that occurred to me when I read the book, so I can say that the show is making me think about these characters in new ways. Maybe next season they’ll convince me to care more about the next generation.
That lack of a connection is emblematic of a problem House Of The Dragon has had all season long. The many time jumps didn’t let us live with the characters long enough before catapulting us to the future, where we had to play catch up all over again. Looking back at season one as a whole, I guess I can see now why they did it. It feels like they had this endpoint in mind from the start, and worked backwards to get to it by episode 10. The pacing issues and narrow focus on a handful of locations and characters (as opposed to the larger scope of Game Of Thrones) come down to a singular drive toward the first major event of the civil war—Aemond killing Luke. Things are ramping up now, but I’m not sure it was worth sacrificing what we lost in those skipped-over years.