For a brief moment, House of the Dragon Episode 8 is a picture of domestic bliss. The actively dying King Viserys looks on at his family, which is finally getting along after his speech about the importance of loving one another. Musicians play, and warm lighting films the room.
For a famously dark show—literally and figuratively—it’s a lovely moment of respite, and I for one would have happily ended the season there on this high note. Of course, that’s not what this show is, and anyone who thought they’d be basking in that warmness for more than a scene is a sucker. (It’s me, I’m the sucker.)
The episode centered upon Lucerys Velaryon’s claim to Driftmark, after we’ve gotten word that Corlys Velaryon has been perhaps mortally wounded in fighting in the Stepstones (yes, that’s back, since there’s been two time jumps since Daemon led that weirdly silent, very striking surprise attack on the Crabfeeder). Vaemond Velaryon thinks he’s the rightful heir, as Corlys’ brother; Luke, as Corlys’ grandson (despite bearing no family resemblance—sorry, I’m just reporting the facts) has a better claim, due to a) primogeniture, and b) Corlys’s long standing wishes, as reported by his wife, Princess Rhaenys (who also briefly toys with making a claim to Driftmark herself).
So we all meet in Kings Landing, which Rhaenyra and Daemon’s families have apparently not visited in years. We’ve got new actors playing the young male Targaryens, and man, are they creepy. To make sure we know how bad Aegon, the eldest (who has, in the past few years, married his sister? Even when it comes to shoring up your claim to the throne, that should be illegal. It’s not just weird, it’s cheating!) is, we’re forced to endure a scene of a terrified chambermaid telling Queen Alicent that Aegon has raped her, with Alicent walking a horrible line between questioning and reassuring this girl. This whole scene is deeply uncomfortable, but it does showcase how Alicent has learned to preserve her family’s reputation—albeit in a slightly less violent and cruel way than, say, Cersei Lannister. (Also, 10 points to Olivia Cooke’s micro facial expressions here. Gods, she’s good.)
Upon her arrival, Rhaenyra immediately begins back-channeling, visiting her father on his soon-to-be deathbed, where Daemon sniffs the medicine he’s been drinking and deduces that Otto Hightower (the absolute GOAT of weirdness, Rhys Ifhans) and Alicent have been keeping him drugged for reasons of both pain and power. Rhaenyra later visits her father at night, literally begging him to defend her son’s claim.
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This brings us to the Iron Throne room. (Shortly before everyone gathers to make their case for Driftmark, Viserys refuses the milk of the poppy, so you know shit’s about to get real.) Vaemond Velaryon goes first, and is interrupted first by Rhaenyra (it’s hard to bite your tongue! I get it!), then Viserys. The king himself is not particularly old, but the disease he suffers from has been eating away at his body for years. We watch him walk through the whole room, the scene not skipping any of his slow, painful walk to the throne, building a shocking amount of additional tension in an already-stressful scene.
Vaemond continues; Viserys sides with his daughter and, according to Rhaenys, Corlys himself. Vaemond loses it and then—after Daemon taunts him, whispering, “say it”—declares what everyone else in the Red Keep has been thinking for over a decade, that Rhaenyra’s children are bastards. Then he goes one fatal step further, calling the princess a “whore”—which is immediately followed by Daemon slicing through his head. It’s disgusting and awesome.
The vignette at the banquet table follows soon after that and, following that flash of good old-fashioned Game of Thrones violence and lineage fights, it’s very obvious fan service—and I loved it.
Another brief happy moment this episode (that I know will be dashed upon the rocks of Driftmark in the season’s final two episodes) is Alicent and Rhaenyra’s tentative steps toward rekindling their friendship—especially after I spent my entire weekend watching their incredible chemistry in promo interviews that are making the rounds on TikTok.
Right before he dies, Viserys is visited by Alicent, ever his doting, long-suffering wife. But in his diminished mental state, he confuses her for his daughter, telling Alicent that the “Song of Ice and Fire” is real and that it is she who must rule in order to keep the peace. Of course, he means Rhaenyra, but Alicent does not know this and takes it to heart, once again acting the hell out of her face. Viserys then dies, and we are left with the knowledge that the subsequent bloodshed will be over a dying man’s confusion. Honestly, it feels a little bit too on the nose for how futile violence often is in the Thrones universe.
I have never read George R.R. Martin’s books, but even I, a mere casual fan, could tell this episode was positively rippling with rising action and foreshadowing. Viserys, the man under whom a long peace continued, is literally falling apart before our eyes, just as real threats of war appear at the edge of his kingdom? His crown literally clatters to the ground as he attempts to take the throne one last time?
Even though the matter of Lucerys’s succession is supposedly settled, the episode ends with a looming sense of dread—not over Viserys’s death, which releases him from his painful disease, but because we know what’s coming next won’t be good for any of our protagonists.