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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Vicky Jessop

House of the Dragon Season one episode nine roundup: Long live the King?

The episodes roll on, and the cloud of discontent hanging over the Targaryen family grows by the year. We left episode eight with Viserys on his deathbed, Alicent misunderstanding which Aegon he was talking about and Rhaenyra sequestered all the way over in Dragonstone. And it looks like things are about to kick off.

As the finale looms, settle back and watch things catch fire in spectacular style...

We open on a shot of the famous Iron Throne in the dark hall. The castle is quiet – but suddenly a young boy appears. We follow him to the kitchens, where he whispers something to what looks like a maidservant.

Smash cut to Alicent saying, “You’re sure”, and bursting into tears. Oh no: it seems that the king has died. Alas, poor Viserys.

However, in classic Alicent style, she doesn’t waste much time grieving. “Stay here. Tell no-one,” she says, and calls for help getting dressed. Where’s she going? Turns out, it’s to her dear father Otto, who stands there looking pensive by the fire.

“Who knows?” he asks. As it happens, Alicent replies, nobody, except some of the servants. You can see the cogs turning in his brain, but then she drops another clanger.

“I saw him last night… he told me he wished for Aegon to be King,” Alicent says and smiles.

Well, not quite Alicent - but that’s not going to stop the small council, which convenes pretty much instantly after she utters the words. Everybody is there – Otto, Alicent, Ser Tyland Lannister – except, of course, Rhaenyra.

Otto imparts the news. “We grieve for Viserys the Peaceful,” he says. “Our sovereign, our friend. But he has left us a gift. With his last breath he impressed upon the Queen his final wish that he son Aegon should succeed him as Lord of the Seven Kingdoms.”

You could hear a pin drop. “Then we may proceed with his blessing on our long-laid plans,” Lannister says. Uh-oh: looks like this has been in the works for a while.

Indeed, Otto says, and all the talk promptly moves to planning. Two members of the City Watch are still loyal to Daemon and need to be replaced; messages need to be sent to their allies in Riverrun and Highgarden.

Alicent, watching this unfold, is perplexed. “Am I to understand that the members of the small council have been planning secretly to install my son without me?” she asks.

Apparently, yes - but not all of them. Naturally there’s dissent and things get shirty. Elderly Lord Lyman Beesbury protests: this is theft and treason, he shouts, pointing (quite rightly) to the highly convenient location and timing of Viserys’ last words.

“Which of you here can swear he died of his own accord?”

He starts to spring up, but Ser Criston Cole slams him back down so hard that he cracks the old man’s skull and kills him. Wow, okay; great job Criston.

There’s a stunned silence. The Lord Commander of the Watch, Ser Harold Westerling, pulls out his sword and tells Cole to drop his – probably in order to arrest him. Cole instead draws his, with a smirk, before being told to stand down by Alicent.

As the other Small Council members fidget uncomfortably, one asks for Lord Beesbury’s corpse to be removed. No, Otto says: the door remains shut until we finish our business. Do these people need any more confirmation that they are the bad guys?

As conversation sputters back into life, Alicent interjects again. “What of Rhaenyra?” she asks.

The former heir cannot of course be allowed to remain free and draw support to her claim, Otto says tactfully. Subtext: she’s a marked woman. They’ll be given the chance to publically bend the knee to the new king, which Alicent scoffs at.

“You plan to kill them,” she says, and looks appalled. I’m not entirely sure why: maybe she should have thought twice about pushing Aegon’s kingship.

“It is unsavoury, yes, but a sacrifice we must make to secure Aegon’s succession.” Otto says. On hearing this, Alicent flies into a fury, but as Tyland Lannister rightly says – what does she suggest instead?

In the silence (a lot of those going around), Otto tells Ser Harold Westerling to go to Dragonstone and lead the assassination party. In response, he tears off his white cloak.

“I am Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. I recognise no authority but the King’s.” Well, his life expectancy has just gone down significantly; on the plus side, Ser Criston Cole looks like he smells a promotion.

An unwelcome surprise

(2022 Home Box Office, Inc. Al)

As the meeting comes to a close, Alicent goes to visit her children. Helaena is sewing dutifully alongside her three small children – in classic Targaryen style, they’re the product of her marriage to brother Aegon.

Does Helaena know where Aegon, the new King is? Turns out, she doesn’t: this kingship is off to a good start.

What’s happened, Helaena asks. Then she adds: “There is a beast beneath the boards.” Alrighty then.

Meanwhile, Otto is making his own plans to find Aegon, enlisting the luscious-locked Ser Erryk Cargyll to conduct an incognito hunt in King’s Landing, where it appears Aegon has gone.

“Bring him to me and me alone,” Otto says. Looks like there’s some dissent brewing between Otto and his daughter, who asks Ser Criston Cole and her son Aemond to do the same thing.

Meanwhile, Rhaenys wakes up to find herself locked in her own chambers. Surprise, surprise – nobody wants the Queen That Never Was to be interfering in crown affairs. And when she looks out of the window she sees a host of servants being shepherded to the dungeons, presumably to stop them blabbing about Viserys’ death.

The game is afoot

With that, the hunt for Aegon is on. First up, Ser Criston Cole and Aemond head to the Street of Silk, where Aemond explains his brother used to take him. However, clearly that was a while ago: the sneering brothel owner says he doesn’t frequent any of the brothels there anymore.

“His tastes are known to be less discriminating,” she says. Eek.

Meanwhile Otto is also having difficulty. He’s holding court in the Great Hall, demanding Westeros’ lords swear fealty to Aegon rather than to Rhaenyra. Some kneel, but two dissent.

“I must confer first with my house on this matter,” he says - what are the chances that he’s a Stark? - but Otto isn’t having it. Nobody is leaving without declaring their intention, he announces.

“I am no Oathbreaker. I will not bend the knee,” he replies (definitely a Stark). The two dissenters are rapidly led away by guards, and with that, all the remaining Westerosi lords hurriedly swear fealty to their new King.

Meanwhile, in the streets of King’s Landing, the luscious-haired Pantene brothers (Erryk and his confusingly-named twin, Arryk) head to a dusty, decrepit fighting ring where peasant kids with filed teeth and nails battle it out for the delight of the baying punters.

“Prince Aegon spends many a night in this place,” one tells the other. “Do you see now what he is?”

They look sideways and see a little blonde boy looking up at them. Is he fighting too? Either way, he’s very clearly a Targaryen bastard.

While the brothers argue, a woman sneaks up behind them and says that she can tell them where Aegon is… for a price. Looks like Mysaria also has a stake in who becomes King – but she has to talk to the Hand of the King or there’s no deal.

Yeah right, the brothers tell her, but the spy is unfazed. “I think he will wish to hear what the White Worm can tell him,” she replies.

Things aren’t going too well for their competitors, either: in the other camp, Aemond is sulking. Aegon is a wastrel and not fit to be king, he says. Aemond is the one who studies, who trains with the sword, who rides a dragon. It’s all but a sales pitch to be King, and Cole is sympathetic.

“I know what it is to toil for what others are freely given,” he says. Both of these blokes have mountain-sized chips on their shoulders.

“Should they come looking for me, I intend to be found,” Aemond replies.

Any dissent will be crushed

(2022 Home Box Office, Inc. Al)

Back in the castle, trouble is brewing. A member of the small council is caught trying to escape the Keep by Larys. Though he’s defiant, Otto essentially condemns him to death and thanks Larys. Maybe they can help each other, he says. Looks like Larys is rising in the world.

Meanwhile, Alicent is rocking some serious goth vibes in all black, as Viserys’ body is being wrapped in gold cloth for his funeral.

As they leave, she tenderly picks up his crown and places it on his chest. Then she goes to visit Rhaenys, who understandably is less than impressed at how she’s been treated. But then she twigs the reason why.

“The king. And you’re usurping the throne.”

Alicent is defiant; the air sizzles. Both of the women here (Olivia Cooke and Eve Best) are acting their socks off.

“It was my husband’s dying wish. Believe it or no, it is of no consequence. Aegon will be king,” she says, then asks for Rhaenys’ backing. She’s got some nerve – and Rhaenys says much the same.

Alicent tries her best to convince Rhaenys. Corlys has abandoned her; her children have died; Rhaenyra doesn’t care for her.

“The word of my house is not fickle,” Rhaenys protests, but Alicent stops her. You should have been queen, she says, and were robbed of the chance by Viserys, whom they all know would have been happier living the life of a scholar in the countryside than ruling.

“We do not rule, but we may guide the men that do. Gently, away from violence… toward peace.” To sweeten the deal even further, Alicent says that Rhaenys can even have Driftmark.

You’re wiser than I thought, Rhaenys says. “Yet you toil still in service to men. Your father, your husband, your son. You desire not to be free, but to make a window in the wall of your prison. Have you ever imagined yourself upon the Iron Throne?” Zing.

Alicent has no response to that, as well she might. Instead, she fairly flees Rhaenys’ chambers, telling her to ring the bell when she has an answer. In other words, when she’s ready to switch sides.

The true hero

Meanwhile in King’s Landing, the game is afoot: Ser Criston Cole and Aemond spot none other than Otto Hightower deep in conversation with Mysaria (welcome back, Sonoya Mizuno). But Otto is sceptical: is she genuine?

“My condolences on the passing of your King,” she replies. This seems to be enough for Otto (with all the trouble he’s gone to keep this secret, it had better be) and a big bag of cash is passed across the table.

It turns out that Aegon is in Fleabottom – but Mysaria is giving them nothing more until Otto promises to stop the child fighting pits. Wait, is she the hero we should have been backing all along?

“I’ll look into it,” he says.

Remember me when Aegon is on the throne, she replies. She could have killed Aegon, and she has a message for Otto: “there is no power beyond what the people allow you to take.” Are we seeing the start of a revolution?

Either way, the Pantene brothers presently find Aegon squirrelled away underneath the altar in the Great Sept. He’s got serious bed head, and his eyes are bleary: it looks like he’s hiding. In fact, he tries to run away, and is pursued all the way into Criston Cole and Aemond’s arms. Like any good snoops, it seems they’ve let the brothers do the hard work, before making off with the prize.

As Ser Criston Cole spars with the brothers, Aemond rugby tackles his wayward older brother, who is less than impressed.

“Let me go! I have no wish to rule, no taste for duty. I’m not suited,” he complains – and then offers to run away, à la Laenor. Aemond looks very tempted indeed, but duty calls, and Ser Criston bundles the royal king-in-waiting away to the palace.

There are no winners

As Aegon is being manhandled back to the arms of his mother, Alicent bursts in on a serene Otto.

“Well played,” he tells her. None of this is a game, she retorts. He tells her that they’re both striving for the same thing: the good of the family. And whatever their differences, their hearts remain as one.

“Our hearts were never one.” She tells him. “Rather I’ve been a piece you’ve moved about the board.” What is this: is Alicent finally having her long-overdue feminist awakening?

As you might expect, Otto is unmoved. I made you Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, he tells her. Would you have desired otherwise?

She replies that she doesn’t know: she’s always wanted whatever he wanted her to. But now she’s breaking free, apparently – thanks to her squeamishness about murdering her once-best friend Rhaenyra.

Otto is pragmatic: Rhaenyra’s death would be for the good of the realm, and she’s endangering them all by refusing to commit to it.

“Reluctance to murder is not a weakness,” she snaps. “I have Aegon. We’ll proceed now as I see fit.”

(2022 Home Box Office, Inc. Al)

This means, apparently, that they’ll be sending surrender terms to Rhaenyra on Dragonstone. Furthermore, Alicent says, her son will be anointed at dawn with the crown of Aegon the Conqueror, reminding everybody of the strength of House Targaryen. Now, they’re doing things her way.

Otto seems speechless. “As you wish,” he says, seemingly conceding the game to her. Is that sadness we see on his face? Surely not?

But the night isn’t over for Alicent yet. Upon returning to her rooms she’s interrupted in the middle of pouring a massive glass of wine by Larys, who’s come to stir the proverbial pot. Doesn’t she want to know how Otto found Aegon first, he asks?

According to Larys, there’s a web of Msyaria’s spies in the Red Keep that Otto has left there. Sometimes it can prove useful, for those “willing to feed the weaver.” And as it turns out, one of the little spiders is Alicent’s lady in waiting.

Larys tells Alicent the one way to ensure this advantage is neutralised is by taking out the Queen Bee. “I assume this falls within your expertise,” Alicent says, tucking her feet up on the couch.

Larys stares – because they’re her feet or because they’re just feet (as you may remember, he is himself a cripple)? We don’t know, but it’s one of the more skin-crawling moments in this episode.

All hail the... King?

As the night rolls on, a parade of sleepless faces flashes before our eyes: Aemond, Alicent, Otto.

And Rhaenys, who ends up escaping captivity, as she’s rescued by Ser Erryk (or Arryk). “With me, princess,” he tells her. “I cannot let this treachery stand.” Hooray!

As they leave they walk past the member of the Small Council, now hanging from a rope: one more reminder that what they’re doing is dangerous. But the pair make it into King’s Landing without incident and sneak off under the cover of darkness… past a burning building.

We all know how Larys killed his own family, and has promised to get rid of Mysaria… is this his work too? We don’t know, and neither does Rhaenys, who wants to go back for her dragon, Meraxes. Without her children, husband and even a home, Meraxes is probably the one thing she still holds dear.

However, the Kingsguard refuses; sensibly, it’s deemed too dangerous. But even they can’t predict what happens next – basically, a flash mob descends on the streets of King’s Landing. Guards are shoving them every which way, Rhaenys gets separated from her protector.

Make way, peasants: it’s the day of Aegon’s coronation.

As the city buzzes, Aegon is getting forcibly wheeled to the Great Sept for the big day. As always, Alicent is lecturing him. You should be grateful, she says. Look how much we’ve done to get you here.

Aegon is unimpressed and pours scorn on her claim that Viserys named him heir. Twenty years and he never did it, he tells her. Why should he do that now? Clearly, neither his father nor himself wanted Aegon to be King. Poor Alicent; not even her own children believe her.

She then gives him the original Aegon’s dagger (the one Viserys initially gave to Rhaenyra) and tells him not to listen to Otto’s demands for Rhaenyra’s death. “For all her faults she is your sister, your father’s daughter.”

This is Alicent’s big moment, but Aegon is unimpressed.

“Do you love me?” He asks. “You imbecile,” she responds. Ah, happy families.

Meanwhile the crowd containing a rather bemused Rhaenys has been swept into the Sept, and as they assemble, Otto is ready and waiting.

He tells them that Viserys has died – including the bit about his disputed last wish – and while the crowd take it with whispers rather than cheering, they dutifully clap when Aegon appears and walks under a procession of crossed swords to the dais.

Flanked by his mother and grandfather, Aegon kneels and as the ceremony begins, Rhaenys starts making her way through the crowd and slips down a staircase.

As the anointment comes to a close, Ser Criston Cole (presumably finally elevated to Lord Commander of the Kingsguard) places the crown on Aegon’s head.

“Aegon the King!” the priest announces. There’s a moment of silence, and people start cheering. Aegon looks blank. Then the cheering seems to spark something in him. He pulls his sword out and holds it over his head; the crowd goes wild.

Then- an explosion! Dust and debris rain through the Sept. Out of the chaos, a massive dragon rears its head. As the people stampede in panic, guards start closing the Grand Sept’s doors, locking them in.

As the dust clears, Rhaenys is revealed riding her dragon, Meraxes. With the entire Targaryen line at her mercy, Alicent shielding her son, the dragon roars in their faces – then Rhaenys takes off into the afternoon sky. Now that’s a Queen worth worshipping.

The verdict

The battle for the Iron Throne kicked off in style this episode. With poor old King Viserys finally (finally!) biting the dust, Alicent’s maneouvring seems to have paid off: she’s placed her son on the throne and booted Rhaenyra to one side with the help of the devious Small Council, with the princess seemingly none-the-wiser as to what’s happened in her absence.

Expect her to find out next episode, though - and when she does, all hell will break loose...

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