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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Tom Huddleston

House of the Dragon recap: episode 10 – the birth scene is like an act of violence against viewers

Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen (right).
‘Nasty piece of work’ … Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen (right). Photograph: HBO

Spoiler alert: this recap is for people watching House of the Dragon. Do not read on unless you have watched episode 10.

‘The Greens are coming for you, Rhaenyra. And for your children’

Can a show go too far? Is there a limit on what viewers should be expected to endure? Game of Thrones prided itself on pushing boundaries when it came to on-screen sex and violence – often at the same time – but by the end of its run, this had come back to bite it. House of the Dragon has, thus far, been relatively demure, revelling in sudden violence rather than lingering nastiness, but that changes about 15 minutes into this final episode. The premature stillbirth of Rhaenyra Targaryen’s (Emma D’Arcy) sixth child – the fourth bloody, screaming birth in the series, by my count – and the graphic images of the dead babe and its mother’s grief feel gruesome in an entirely new and tasteless way. For anyone who’s lost a child, these scenes must have been unbearable; for this parent it was just very upsetting. I’ll be interested to read the comments and get a sense of how others feel about it.

The episode begins with the adolescent fears of Prince Lucerys Velaryon (Elliot Grihault) as he faces the prospect of ascending to the throne of Driftmark should his uncle, Lord Corlys (Steve Toussaint), succumb to his battle wounds. His mother Rhaenyra’s response is more sympathetic than “man up and deal with it”, but only just – though his description of her as “perfect” is quietly lovely. But this mother-son moment is interrupted by the arrival of Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best), fresh from not burning the entire Hightower clan alive and ready to share the news of the death of King Viserys. The shock sends Rhaenyra into early labour – but is it the loss of her father that’s so disturbed her, or the fact that her half-brother Aegon has been seated on the Iron Throne?

‘That whore of a queen murdered my brother and stole his throne’

Queen of the Seven Kingdoms … Emma D’Arcy as Rhaenyra Targaryen
Queen of the Seven Kingdoms … Emma D’Arcy as Rhaenyra Targaryen. Photograph: HBO

But at least Rhaenyra isn’t all-out for revenge – at least, not yet. Instead, it’s her uncle and husband Daemon (Matt Smith) who leaps into action, ordering ravens to be dispatched to their allies and calling on their bannermen to rally the troops. It’s left to Prince Jacaerys (Harry Collett) to get his stepfather to back down, reminding him that Rhaenyra is the only one on this island qualified to make a declaration of war. The revelation of his son’s birth and death seems to focus Daemon, and when Ser Erryk (Elliott Tittensor) shows up bearing a crown and declaring his loyalty, Daemon is able to place it on his wife’s head and lead the court of Dragonstone in naming her Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. The only holdout is Rhaenys – but even that won’t last.

Then it’s back to the keep for a council of, if not quite war, then at least strategy. That shot of the up-lit Painted Table was gorgeous – Stannis Baratheon never utilised that function, but then he was a gloomy bugger. But the facts on the ground don’t look too promising – Rhaenyra’s forces are meagre, her alliances uncertain (as Corlys will later point out, “hope is the fool’s ally”). She may have dragons, but so do the enemy – and theirs are battle-hardened. But Rhaenyra isn’t about to back down, so when the “fucking traitor” Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) has the cheek to show his face she pulls the same trick she did in episode two, landing her dragon Syrax directly on the walled walk in an effort to make Otto and his men tremble. It doesn’t really work – Otto retains the upper hand, brandishing tokens to remind Rhaenyra of her childhood friendship with Queen Alicent, and causing her to reflect on the devastation that will follow if war breaks out between the two factions.

‘When dragons flew to war, everything burned’

For the increasingly petulant and haughty Daemon, however, Rhaenyra’s reticence to set the realm on fire looks a lot like cowardice. It’s time for him to remind her – and the viewers – just what a nasty piece of work she married, wrapping his hand around her throat in an effort to force her to step up and declare war. But the only effect is to drive them apart, which is unlikely to serve him well when it counts.

Luckily, though, Rhaenyra has a saviour – and it’s this very restraint that convinces him to take her side. Despite repeated reports that he was at death’s door, Lord Corlys wakes on Dragonstone looking surprisingly hale. His first instinct might be to retreat to Driftmark and wait out the storm, until his wife, Rhaenys, points out that their grandchildren, legitimate or not, will be first on the block if the usurpers win. Arm thus twisted Corlys swings in behind Rhaenyra – not just with his fleet, but with the newly liberated Stepstones, a network of islands whose ownership should allow the Blacks to bottleneck the Narrow Sea and besiege King’s Landing. All they need now are for the Starks, Arryns and Baratheons to come on board and make those alliances more than just hopeful.

‘Dragons are faster than ravens, and more convincing’

Fresh from not burning the entire Hightower clan alive … Eve Best as Princess Rhaenys.
Fresh from not burning the entire Hightower clan alive … Eve Best as Princess Rhaenys. Photograph: HBO

It’s to that end that the queen dispatches her boys, Jace and Luke, banking on their royal status to curry favour with the wavering Lords. But it’s a disastrous miscalculation: Rhaenyra isn’t wrong when she tells Luke that Lord Borros Baratheon (Roger Evans) will be “honoured to host a prince of the Realm, and his dragon” – the problem is, he’s already got one of each. The sight of Vhagar in the courtyard at Storm’s End should’ve been enough to send Luke scurrying back to his mother, but instead he soldiers on, weathering both the derision of Lord Borros and the taunts of his uncle Prince Aemond (Ewan Mitchell), who demands the boy pluck out his own eye.

The rainswept dragon chase that follows can only end one way – Aemond may not intend to kill Luke, but dragons don’t know the meaning of restraint. All it takes is a blast of fire from Luke’s dragon Arrax to push Vhagar over the edge – and with that, the Greens strike the first blow. Judging from Rhaenyra’s face in the closing seconds, any protestations that it was the dragon’s fault really aren’t going to wash.

Additional notes

  • Rhaenys justified her decision to spare the Hightowers by claiming that this wasn’t her war to start. Why didn’t Daemon simply point out that she could’ve ended it at the same time?

  • I was slightly confused by that scene of Daemon in the catacombs with Vermithor, firstly because who the hell sings to a dragon, but also, doesn’t he already have one? Can one man ride two dragons? If anyone can, it’s probably Daemon.

  • On a related note, what was going on with Matt Smith’s voice this week? Perhaps he was just trying to seem extra annoyed and snippy, but to hear him clipping off every syllable like an angry upper class hole-punch was rather peculiar.

  • As I said in the first of these recaps, I have read George RR Martin’s Fire and Blood but it was a few years ago, my memories of it are vague and I decided not to revisit it so I could fully enjoy the twists and turns of this series. So without spoilers, what do we anticipate from season two? The brutal nature of Luke’s death seems likely to bring at least the Arryns and Starks on board, setting the board for the promised siege of King’s Landing. Might the struggle for control of the Narrow Sea dominate the entire season? Because that could be quite something.

  • Speaking personally, I think my fondest hope would be for a bit more of a geographical sweep overall – let’s see what is kicking off in Essos, let’s visit Dorne, let’s get out of these gloomy palaces and into the mountains and the forests. Oh, and a touch more scabrous humour wouldn’t go amiss, either.

Violence count

Quite honestly, that birth scene and its aftermath felt like an act of violence against the audience. Otherwise we witnessed a brief bit of swordplay between Jace and Luke on the beaches of Dragonstone and one great big Jurassic Park chomp right at the end.

Nudity count

Nothing to report.

Random Brit of the Week

‘Been in just about everything’ … Nicholas Jones, right, as Lord Bartimos Celtigar
‘Been in just about everything’ … Nicholas Jones, right, as Lord Bartimos Celtigar. Photograph: HBO

Now THIS is what I call a career: appearing this week as Rhaenyra’s adviser Lord Bartimos Celtigar, 76-year-old Nicholas Jones has a CV that stretches all the way back to Z Cars in 1969 followed by a stretch on Coronation Street in 1970, when the soap was a mere decade old. In the intervening years he’s been in just about everything – The Bill, Casualty, Boon, Sharpe, Kavanagh QC – while also, according to Wikipedia, pursuing his interests in yoga, windsurfing, kickboxing, kayaking, motorbiking, playing the piano and 19th-century literature. Magnificent.

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