Warning: the below contains full spoilers for Episode 9 of House Of The Dragon, which aired on HBO on Oct. 16, 2022. To refresh your memory, check out our review of last week’s episode.
The King is dead! Long live the… er, who’s next? That’s the question that hangs heavy over this penultimate episode of the season, with the death of Viserys the Peaceful marking the end of an era in more ways than one. The departure of Paddy Considine’s well-meaning king, after that sad final hurrah around the family table last week, means that the uneasy cold war between his potential heirs looks likely to get very hot, very fast.
We open with a striking series of images of the Red Keep in darkness and fog, the Iron Throne empty and its throne room silent. After shedding a quiet tear for the dead man, priority number one for Alicent (Olivia Cooke) and her father Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) is to stop the word getting out about Viserys’ death until they’ve had a chance to secure the throne for Alicent’s eldest son, Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney). That means locking up the servants and any nobles who won’t bend the knee; it even means confining Rhaenys (Eve Best) to her rooms until she swears fealty.
Poor Lord Caswell (Paul Hickey) attempts to dissemble, bending the knee and then trying to flee the castle, but thanks to awful Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) he is caught and hanged. Lord Larys, meanwhile, now suggests that he’ll work for Otto as well as Alicent, once again inveigling his way as close to power as possible – but almost immediately double crosses Otto to tell Alicent all about her father’s secrets, in return for – eww – being allowed to perv over her bare feet. At least we know what he’s getting out of the deal.
Alicent is driven by her (honest but mistaken) belief that this is all done according to Viserys’ wishes; Otto by his thirst for power. In one respect Alicent is kinder than her counterpart in George R.R. Martin’s Fire And Blood: she allows the Silent Sisters to tend to the king’s body properly, rather than leaving him to rot for days while messages go out to her allies in preparation for the coronation. This Alicent had some affection for her husband, and even for her wastrel son, and still attempts to protect Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy, not present this episode) as she manoeuvres Aegon into power. She also stands up to her father, claiming that it’s not unduly scrupulous to be willing to go to any lengths short of blatant murder (the entire history of Westeros might dispute that). It takes Rhaenys to point out the contradictions of Alicent’s position, “toiling” in the shadow of men instead of being able to assume power herself. Her costuming is now full Tudor style, which is interesting. Is she a purported schemer like the popular image of Anne Boleyn, a tyrant like Queen Mary or a warrior leader like Queen Elizabeth I? Only time will tell.
It won’t be easy to steal the throne. For one thing, the Small Council is initially divided on the question. Lord Beesbury (Bill Paterson) correctly points out that what they’re doing is illegal. Tyland Lannister (Jefferson Hall) has clearly been pre-plotting the whole affair with Otto and Lord Jasper Wylde (Paul Kennedy), to Alicent’s dismay. Grand Maester Orwyle (Kurt Egyiawan) is not averse to the plot. But Cole reacts violently to Beesbury’s objections to the coup, unfortunately for Beesbury, and kills him in a way that’s maybe manslaughter, maybe murder (in George R.R. Martin’s Fire And Blood it’s a clear murder). The show finally remembers the existence of Graham McTavish’s Ser Harrold Westerling, captain of the Kingsguard, and he at last gets something to do, ordering Cole down and then resigning from the meeting. He’s about the only person that Otto and company don’t immediately stop dead in his tracks.
The key is to get Aegon crowned as soon as possible. Viserys’ purported wishes are one possible source of legitimacy, but with only Alicent to hear them that’s not going to convince everyone. The coronation ceremony will put the matter further beyond doubt: only problem is that Aegon is AWOL somewhere in Flea Bottom. Alicent sends Cristen Cole and Scarier Lucius Malfoy – sorry, Aemond Targaryen (Ewan Mitchell) – looking for her errant eldest; Otto dispatches Ser Arryk Cargyll (Luke Tittensor) and his brother Ser Erryk Cargyll (Elliott Tittensor) on the same mission. The twin knights privately debate the advisability of putting outrageous creep Aegon on the throne: Arryk is in favour; Erryk less so – particularly once he visits the child fighting pit that is one of Aegon’s favourite hangouts. Yes, a pit. Where children fight. While nuclear shitheads like Aegon watch and sometimes father illegitimate children. I can’t be the only one thinking that someone needs to burn this place to the ground – and in fact Otto’s men do a little later.
That’s because the White Worm, Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno), who already knows about the death of the king (note Alicent’s lady-in-waiting lighting a lamp in her window earlier) offers help in finding Aegon in exchange for a promise that Otto will stop the child fighting abuse. Otto and Mysaria’s alliance seems likely to spell trouble for literally all their enemies in future. But there’s a fight for Aegon’s custody as the searchers reach him. Aegon wants to run for the hills and there’s a pitched battle before the errant heir is brought back to endure his own coronation. Alicent attempts to parlay her custody of him to make Cole captain of the Kingsguard and to protect Rhaenyra’s life; Otto keeps his own counsel.
Aegon is a little happier with the crown on his head, the Gold cloaks around him and his new subjects cheering, but he doesn’t get to enjoy his freedom for long. Ser Erryk decides to break from the Green faction and to free Rhaenys as he goes, but they are separated in the crowds being herded to the Dragonpit for the coronation. She decides to go with the flow and try to escape on dragonback.
The climax of the coronation ceremony is therefore marked by the explosive arrival of her steed, Meleys the Red Queen, from beneath the great floor of the Dragonpit. Her escape kills a lot of innocent civilians and none of the royal family, though for one glorious moment it looks as though Rhaenys, looking like the Queen Who Shoulda Been rather than the Queen Who Never Was, might end the whole dispute. Alicent is terrified but faces her down, shielding her son’s body with her own, and in a moment of game recognising game, or mother recognising mother at least, Rhaenys decides not to incinerate the lot of them and simply flies away – never mind the carnage she’s left behind. Hope that doesn’t come back to bite anyone, metaphorically; Meleys seems likely to bite someone literally.
It’s a break from the habit that Game Of Thrones had, in later seasons, of having a huge battle in the second last episode, though perhaps a dragon rampage is close enough. Next week, presumably, Rhaenyra will find out about her father’s death and half-brother’s coronation and the dragonshit will really hit the fan. The civil war known as the Dance of Dragons is about to begin, and no one is going to be safe.