House Of The Dragon Season 1 Finale Review: The Darkest Scenes So Far, And The Most Exciting
The House of the Dragon season finale brought a thrilling dragon chase and a very dark miscarriage scene.
Even in the age of peak television, House of the Dragon debuted to ridiculously severe expectations. As the follow-up to the definitive post-Lord of the Rings fantasy series, the HBO show had to both match up to the best moments of Game of Thrones and make up for the much-derided final season. While it can be (and undoubtedly will be) argued how well the first season of House of the Dragon did that as a whole, the tenth and final episode absolutely raised the stakes to a fever pitch and unveiled one of the single best action sequences of the entire franchise.
House Of The Dragon Season 1 Finale Review Score:
SPOILERS FOR THE SEASON FINALE OF HOUSE OF THE DRAGON BELOW… BE WARNED
The finale episode of House of the Dragon is titled “The Black Queen,” referencing Rhaenyra Targaryen’s (Emma D’Arcy) new, disputed title as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. The episode opens immediately after the climactic final moments of “The Green Council,” in which Rhaenyra’s elder relation Rhaenys (Eve Best) crashed the coronation of Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney) with a dragon, killed a bunch of commonfolk and then did not kill the people who had imprisoned her and executed a long-developing royal coup. Apparently, she went straight to Dragonstone to inform Rhaenyra and her uncle-husband Daemon (Matt Smith) that King Viserys (Paddy Considine) had died.
That is a whole lot of names and plot details just to intro what happens, but House of the Dragon does not let up for a moment from there. The revelation that her father has suddenly (or not so suddenly, considering he was basically a walking corpse) died and that her former best friend Alicent (Olivia Cooke, who does not appear in the episode) and her father Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) have installed the degenerate, sniveling Aegon as king induce Rhaenyra into a miscarriage. Then things really go off the rails, even by the standards of Game of Thrones.
While the franchise as a whole has never been afraid to get extremely, extraordinarily graphic, “The Black Queen” may contain some of the most visceral scenes in either House of the Dragon or the original Game of Thrones. While Daemon marshals their few allies and attempts to make preparations for civil war, Rhaenyra quite literally pulls a stillborn baby out of herself, letting it fall to the floor in a truly disquieting scene. But it does not let up there, showing the new Queen weeping over the tiny body and cradling it to her chest, then preparing it for funeral immolation, where she is formally crowned.
Without a doubt, House of the Dragon can be seen as a reaction to many of the criticisms of Game of Thrones as being fixated on female suffering and sexual violence. The scene of Rhaenyra screaming through a miscarriage while her midwives helplessly weep around her is no less fixated on female pain, but while the original series generally treated these scenes as a motivating factor for the (usually) male leads, this feels more like a depiction of genuine pain.
Of course, this is still a Game of Thrones series, so these scenes are swiftly followed by arguments over political strategy, the tactical advantages and disadvantages of each side (Rhaenyra has a lot of dragons, but few troops, while Alicent and Otto have the opposite), and how best to get Houses Stark, Tully, and Baratheon to honor their supposedly ironclad oaths of loyalty they swore to Rhaenyra.
It is the necessity of getting House Baratheon on the Black Queen’s side that leads to a climactic, airborne, dragon-on-dragon scene that rivals anything the franchise has ever done. Rhaenyra sends her 14-year-old son Lucerys (Elliot Grihault) on his equally young dragon to enlist the Baratheons, only to find that Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) has gotten there first with a better offer and a much, much bigger dragon. As viewers might recall, Aemond is missing an eye due to an altercation with Lucerys involving said very big dragon, and has very much held a grudge.
The subsequent scene in which Lucerys desperately flees back home through a raging storm while Aemond pursues him on a dragon that dwarfs his own like a shark hunting a minnow could very easily go over the top, particularly with Aemond mocking and cackling him through the clouds. However, the short, thrilling chase threads that needle perfectly, with both dragons weaving in and out of sight in the storm; there is a true sense of danger in what will happen and that anything could happen here, particularly when both enraged dragons cease obeying their suddenly desperate riders.
Then Lucerys rides high above the storm clouds into the sun, seemingly safe until Aemond’s out-of-control dragon suddenly lunges out and completely tears the prince and his dragon apart in seconds. It is the kind of shock that Game of Thrones has pursued ever since Ned Stark was beheaded in the first season finale of that show, and only occasionally achieved. And while Lucerys may have been a comparatively minor character, the shock and horror on Aemond’s face when he realizes he has just made open war inevitable perfectly demonstrates just how quickly the stakes have risen.
One of the most undersung and poignant recurring themes of the Game of Thrones franchise has always been how enormously huge events that affect the lives of thousands are prompted by impulse or random chance. In the original series, Robb Stark (Richard Madden) and his new wife, mother, and vassals are slaughtered because he impulsively chose to marry for love rather than political necessity. Bran Stark is thrown off Winterfell’s tower, kicking off the entire series, because he decided to go climbing on a whim and saw something he should not have.
In this case, House of the Dragon is barrelling to a second season of bloody civil war because, yes, there has been a coup and a question of the line of succession. However, it is also because Aemond lost an eye in a fight between children, which itself was prompted by him feeling the need to prove himself by finding his own dragon, which was prompted by his cousins Lucerys and Jacaerys mocking him with a pig dressed with dragon wings.
If the second season of House of the Dragon can provide more scenes like that chase in the clouds (and absolutely gargantuan viewing numbers), we have a lot more to look forward to.