House of the Dragon’ Episode 8 Is a Civil War Rehearsal
The House of the Dragon’s ninth episode took a tip from an HBO co-worker. The rehearsal captivated audiences last summer with its odd meta premise, in which lead Nathan Fielder undertook elaborate rehearsals to prepare for traumatic life situations.
So, with a leader’s death and a succession issue looming—the exact definition of a traumatic life event—Dragon decided to try the same tactic. Corlys Velaryon, the Sea Snake and Lord of Driftmark, is on the verge of death owing to battle wounds sustained in the Stepstones, and his succession plan is unclear: Is Lucerys, Corlys’s presumed grandchild by Laenor, next in line? Should Corlys’s brother, Vaemond Velaryon, take precedence over Lucerys because the latter is most likely the son of Harwin Strong, not Laenor?
Six years after “Driftmark,” Dragon responds to this question. All of the Targaryen children have grown up, and Rhaenyra and Daemon have two sons of their own. But the same problems have plagued the Red Keep since the midway time shift, if not earlier—did Rhaenyra abuse her power by having offspring outside of marriage? Will the people accept her as the heir to the throne?—the question remains. And, with Viserys’ health deteriorating, they’re more important than ever.
The fortress on Driftmark and the title of “lord of the tides” are both significant in their own right, but in this case, the feud serves as a proxy war for the even more vital succession to the Iron Throne. “”He meant to call Luke’s legitimacy, and by extension Jace’s validity, and by consequence my own claim to the throne,” Rhaenyra explains.
Vaemond wants Driftmark for the sake of the Velaryon house, while Alicent and Otto Hightower are betting on a larger scale, with the Iron Throne as the prize. It’s a dress rehearsal for when Viserys dies.
In everything but name, Alicent is already in charge in King’s Landing. “These days, the Iron Throne is not occupied by the king, good sister. “It’s the queen,” Vaemond says in the episode’s opening scene to Rhaenys. She and her father, the king’s reinstated hand, preside over Small Council meetings. They redecorate with seven-pointed stars to represent the Faith, which is conveniently based in Oldtown, the affluent seat of the Hightowers. They even “warm [Viserys’] throne,” Rhaenyra complains, referring to Otto’s sitting on the big damaged chair while the royal court is in session.
On the day of the hearing, Otto sits in that great seat as the interested parties present their reasons, but there is a bustle in the hall: the doors to the throne room open, and Viserys emerges. “I will sit on the throne today,” he announces, a golden mask covering half his face and a cane supporting his plodding approach. He shoos away a knight offering assistance, then tries again when he trips on the steps, only to see his brother, Daemon, assisting so many ups and downs in their fraternal relationship.
From the door opening to Daemon’s final crown placement on Visery’s head, the entire procession is appropriately tender and a worthy testament to Paddy Considine’s nuanced performance throughout the season. Between this sequence and Alicent’s arrival to Rhaenyra and Laenor’s pre-wedding feast, two of Dragon’s strongest scenes have been around characters entering rooms dramatically.
Viserys doesn’t consider Driftmark’s inheritance to be a matter at all. “I must admit my confusion,” he says after coming to the throne. “I don’t see why petitions regarding a settled succession are being heard.”
But Vaemond isn’t satisfied with such a hasty dismissal. “Her children are bastards, and she is a whore,” he screams about Rhaenyra. Daemon defends his wife’s honour with his last words before severing Vaemond’s head with a single blade stroke. Valyrian steel is extremely sharp.
(In The Rehearsal, Fielder’s experiments may have been unethical, but they didn’t involve beheadings.)
The family gathers for a group supper at Viserys’ request, with Lucerys’ legitimacy—and, by extension, Jacaerys’ and Rhaenyra’s—reaffirmed. Before the king arrives, there is little dialogue at the table; Alicent and Rhaenyra sit towards the middle, without talking, with Viserys’ vacant chair forming a large symbolic distance between them.
Watch the Season 1 Episode 9 Preview | House of the Dragon (HBO)