We have returned to Westeros, y'all! The new HBO original series House of the Dragon aired its first episode on Sunday, August 21, night to a record-breaking audience. It was the most-watched premiere of any film or TV series in HBO Max history with nearly 10 million viewers! It also garnered more than 2 million Google searches the same day, which leads me to the purpose of this article! Y'all need our help to understand what is happening in this new series and don’t worry, we got you covered here at Couch Soup!
First up, don't miss our new show "Decoding Dragons" where my talented co-host Liza Phoenix and I break down all things House of the Dragon (also available on YouTube and podcast format)! If you don’t have 20 minutes to listen or watch but have a few minutes to read, continue forth, my Lords and Ladies. If you don’t want to get burned by spoilers, I suggest watching the first episode before continuing on!
If you’re wondering where House of the Dragon fits into our Game of Thrones world and timeline, be sure to check out Liza’s article “House of the Dragon: the main Who’s Who” to get your questions answered! Now, let’s go ahead and get into what happened in Episode 1, “The Heirs of the Dragon.”
Episode 1 opens with the Great Council of 101 AC, which sets the precedent for the entire series. King Jaehaerys I Targaryen (grandson of Aegon the Conqueror) has ruled over the Seven Kingdoms following the awful reign of Maegor the Cruel. For a little background, King Jaehaerys convened the Great Council because both of his sons had passed away in untimely deaths. This left the crown’s succession uncertain since it was a societal standard for the crown to pass down to the first direct male heir. The 2 people who had the greatest claim were grandchildren to King Jaehaerys. Prince Viserys was the son of Jaehaerys’ second son, and Princess Rhaenys was the only child of Jaehaerys’ first son. Due to propriety and "male proximity" (as well as influence of gold), the gathered lord's favored Prince Viserys in honoring him with the title of heir. This skipped over Princess Rhaenys simply due to her sex, though she had the strongest claim. (Psh, societal standards, amiright?)
This solved the succession crisis, and King Jaehaerys felt as if a civil war was avoided by allowing the realm to choose the leader of the Seven Kingdoms in an unprecedented situation. King Jaehaerys died in 103 AC, leaving the Iron Throne to King Viserys. King Viserys and his wife Aemma Arryn had already produced a daughter, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, and now needed to produce a male heir to the Iron Throne.
Easter egg alert! Fans of the Game of Thrones series will recognize Harrenhal as the castle Arya was taken prisoner in Season 2. That's when she was pretending to be a boy to escape King’s Landing after the death of her father (RIP NED). The Lannisters had taken Harrenhal as an outpost, and Arya became Tywin’s cupbearer while she was there.
The next big aspect is the birth of King Viserys’ heir! Or was it? After character introductions, we learn Viserys’ brother, Daemon, is a firecracker confident that he is the heir to the Iron Throne. When Viserys’s wife Aemma becomes pregnant, Viserys is certain it is a boy because of a Dragon Dream! During a celebration tournament, Aemma "begins her labors," and things quickly take a turn for the worst. It’s George R.R. Martin, y’all; what were you expecting?
King Viserys learns that the baby is breech. Because they don't have medical advancements to handle that situation, he is presented with the impossible decision of either waiting to act and risk losing both the baby and his wife or allowing the maester to perform a procedure to cut out and save the baby, sacrificing his wife in the process. Since his prophetic dream was so strong, and he is convinced the baby is a male heir, Viserys decides to proceed with cutting the baby from the womb. In a graphic scene, the procedure results in fatal blood loss for Aemma, and the new male is confirmed.
The next scene is the funeral of Queen Aemma, and when the camera pans down, we're hit with a surprise shot of the baby wrapped beside her. The heir did not survive.
Easter egg alert! The fan service was huge in this funeral scene as Princess Rhaenyra, King Viserys’ daughter, had to instruct her dragon Syrax to burn the corpses. The word we heard? The infamous "Dracarys." The pronunciation differences between Rhaenyra and Daenerys came from the fact that Rhaenyra speaks proper High Valyrian while Daenerys learned her Valyrian from people who didn't speak the old High Valyrian dialect.
In true Game of Thrones fashion, Prince Dameon all but celebrates the death of his nephew by renting out a bordello and making a speech about “The Heir for a Day.” This gets back to his brother, King Viserys, who has been through the wringer already and is completely distraught. In anger, Viserys sends Daemon back to Runestone in the Vale where the wife he detests awaits his return. Upon his departure, Daemon rides away on his dragon Caraxes accompanied by Mysaria the White Wyrm. She will be more important later, but this first episode introduces her as Daemon’s mistress and confidante at the brothel.
Through all of this, King Viserys is bombarded by his High Council to choose an heir since his son died. He finally makes a choice after Prince Daemon shows his true colors, much to the delight of the Hand of the King, Otto Hightower. Viserys chooses his daughter, Rhaenyra, as his heir. Remember at the beginning of the episode when, just 12 years prior, the entire realm chose a male over a woman simply because she was a woman in order to avoid a Targaryen civil war? Well, we now have almost all the pieces of the puzzle in place to propel the story forward in preparation for the Dance of the Dragons, and it’s only Episode 1!
Major Easter eggs abound! Once King Viserys decides to name Princess Rhaenyra his heir, he feels remorse for ignoring her in hopes for a son. In a scene where Viserys calls for Rhaenyra, they are shadowed by the skull of Balerion the Black Dread. Viserys was actually the last Targaryen to ride Balerion before the dragon’s death in 94 AC As he reminded Rhaenyra in the scene, Balerion is the dragon that Aegon rode over from Old Valyria in his conquest of Westeros. You may remember Balerion's skull in the Red Keep throughout Game of Thrones and also in the basement where Cersei shoved it, probably because she was intimidated by it and what it represented.
Throughout the scene of King Viserys discussing his decision with Rhaenyra, he begins to tell her of a Dragon Dream that Aegon had about the fall of Man. He tells of a Long Winter that is coming and that all of Westeros must stand together to fight whatever darkness rides on the winds of this winter. While he is talking, he also flashes the Catspaw Dagger, which we know as the dagger Little Finger betrayed Catelyn Stark with in attempting to have Bran killed in Season 1 of Game of Thrones. It is also the dagger Arya uses to kill the Night King in Season 8!
Later, as the lords of the realm are swearing fealty to Rhaenyra, we get an amazing shot of her necklace which has the larger houses of Westeros and their sigils. It’s a beautiful nod to the familiar images from GoT for keen-eyed fans! The final huge Easter egg here is something we talked about in our Decoding Dragons episode: The final credits song is a remix of the Mhysa episode, which is the final episode of Season 3 of Game of Thrones. This is following Daenerys’ freeing of the slaves of Mereen when she is surrounded by love and those calling her Mhysa, or "mother." It’s an amazing nod and fan service moment.
All in all, this episode of House of The Dragon was story PACKED, and they knew what they were doing with the fan service. There was little action save from the jousting tournament and some gruesome moments of cleaning up the crime in King’s Landing. This series may give some answers to why certain things were fleshed out in the end of Game of Thrones, but one thing is for certain: the writers have all the source material, and we can just expect an amazing story!
What did you think of the first episode? Are you excited to watch the new episodes as they come out each weekend?