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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Vicky Jessop

House of the Dragon, season one, episode one recap: Let the mayhem commence

We get it: House of the Dragon has started, but there’s so much lore to get to grips with that it can be easy to lose your way, even though we’re only one episode into the new season.

What’s the difference between Rhaenys and Rhaenyra? Will another woman really sit on the Iron Throne? What was that essential nugget of plot that you missed at the start of the action? And how are they keeping those wigs clean?

Don’t worry: read our recap for episode one below. Needless to say, spoilers abound.

The heir with the hair

Rather aptly for a show that’s all about the line of succession, we start House of the Dragon with an heir-naming ceremony.

The current King of the Seven Kingdoms, Jaehaerys I, is getting old and he doesn’t have an heir. In the running for his replacement are his two grandchildren, Viserys (Paddy Considine) and Rhaenys (Eve Best).

The air is sombre. The camera filter is dark. Everybody is wearing wigs of startling platinum white; Paddy Considine’s makes him look like a thumb.

Steve Toussaint as Corlys & Eve Best as Princess Rhaenys Velaryon (© 2022 Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved.)

To the surprise of nobody, he is the one picked to rule after Jaehaerys, making him Viserys I.

Meanwhile, Eve Best does an excellent lemon-faced pout as a woman who’s understandably put-out that she’s been passed over for the kingship by virtue of her gender. Men, eh.

Meet the family

Our first glimpse of the present day (or past day, depending on which timeline you’re working to) is of the young Rhaenyra – played by Milly Alcock – riding her dragon Syrax over the skies of King’s Landing.

It’s pretty majestic, even more so when the clouds part and we swoop with them around the High Sept and Red Keep. We’re back in Westeros, baby; let the mayhem commence.

This Westeros is very different to the war-ravaged place we’re used to: the lighting is Instagram-filter quality, the clothing is perhaps even more opulent and everybody looks generally better-fed and happier.

Well, most people do: in addition to Rhaenyra and her friend Alicent Hightower, we also meet Rhaenyra’s mother, Aemma, who is heavily pregnant and looks like she’s not enjoying it at all.

“We have royal wombs, you and I,” she tells an appalled Rhaenyra. “The childbed is our battlefield.”

“I’d rather be a knight and ride to battle in glory,” Rhaenyra replies. Can anybody say ‘foreshadowing’?

Best of frenemies: Alicent and Rhaenyra (© 2022 Home Box Office, Inc. Al)

Roundtable discussions

Politics looks set to be just as big a factor in House of the Dragon as Game of Thrones - get ready for endless talky scenes around privy council tables. In this one (the first of many), Viserys is joined by the Hand of the King (Otto Hightower, played with a withered kind of arrogance by Rhys Ifans), Lord Corlys Velaryon (Rhaenys’s husband and the richest man in Westeros; played by Steve Toussaint) and various other minions.

Viserys is fully expecting a son, and has arranged a knight’s tournament for the week that Aemma goes into labour to celebrate his birth.

He seems to be counting his chickens rather, but the rest of his Privy Council are happy to indulge him and instead spend most of their time griping about money, the Free Cities being a bit rebellious across the sea in Essos, and about Viserys’ brother Daemon, who has taken charge of the City Guard and furnished them with some rather natty-looking gold cloaks with which to mete out justice. He evidently has a flair for the dramatic.

Daemon little brother

What would this show be without its resident psychopath? We meet Daemon (a bewigged Matt Smith) in person a few minutes after the council meeting – he’s the first person we see lounging on the Iron Throne. And what a throne it is: far more brutal and massive than its Game of Thrones predecessor, with a kind of walkway made of swords that any unfortunate monarch has to avoid impaling themselves on when ascending. Metaphor, much?

Undeterred by the scandal of being caught with his bum on the spikiest seat in the realm, Daemon exchanges some high-falutin’ gibberish (aka Valyrian, the Targaryen mother tongue) with Rhaenyra and gives her a gift: a necklace made of Valyrian steel, so she can “own a piece of our ancestry”.

Cheeky: Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen (© 2022 Home Box Office, Inc. Al)

How sweet – less so in the next scene, where he’s telling his fancy new City Guard how he’s transformed them from “stray dogs” to “hounds, primed for the hunt”. Daemon’s hounds then head out into King’s Landing to embark on a crusade that sees them clean up the streets by lopping off the appendages of various criminals (including one unfortunate soul who has a rather important piece of his anatomy removed on-screen). Reader, I winced.

So does Viserys, who pulls up a smirking Daemon in the debrief to tell him that he’s gone too far. Daemon is Viserys’ heir, but as might be apparent by this point, he doesn’t exactly act like it, spending his time in brothels in King’s Landing to avoid heading home to the wife he can’t stand. Plus, he’s rather too hot-headed and tyrannical for most people’s comfort.

Gore galore

Fortunately for everybody’s stress levels, the tournament finally starts and, pretty much simultaneously, the much-anticipated royal baby decides it’s time to make an entrance.

But while the great and good of King’s Landing watch young knights get their brains bashed out on the battlefield (to Daemon’s horror, he is roundly defeated in the jousting by complete unknown Ser Criston Cole), Aemma’s labour is not going smoothly: Viserys visits her bedchamber to be told that the baby is in breech and that he has to decide to save the child or potentially lose them both.

Newcomer: Fabien Frankel as Ser Criston Cole (© 2022 Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved.)

What follows is a scene so grim that it doesn’t really bear committing to print, save to say that the caesarean happens, mostly on-screen, Aemma dies and the baby soon follows.

Viserys, obviously, is traumatised (as are the viewers), and at the funeral that follows, Rhaenyra is given the task of burning her mother and baby brother’s body with a command to her dragon.

“I wonder,” she asks an unusually sad-looking Daemon before she does, “If during those few hours my brother lived, my father finally found happiness.”

It’s Succession all over again (but with dragons)

The core focus of House of the Dragon is the issue of Viserys’ succession, and this becomes acutely apparent in the days after Aemma’s traumatic death. Soon, Viserys’ cabinet is hassling him to name an heir, while delicately suggesting that the unhinged Daemon might be best replaced by Viserys’ daughter, Rhaenyra.

Needless to say, the King is not best pleased and storms out.

“I will not be made to choose between my brother and my daughter!” he snaps (just as well, since Daemon is listening in behind a secret screen). Gasps all around the table as the Privy Council determine the wisdom of putting a female on the Iron Throne.

Pensive: Paddy Considine as Viserys I (© 2022 Home Box Office, Inc. Al)

“No queen has ever sat the Iron Throne,” one blusters. “If order and stability so concerns this council, then perhaps we should not break 100 years of it by naming a female heir,” another adds. It seems that they favour stability and a strong government with Daemon over chaos with Rhaenyra.

Undeterred by Viserys’ tantrum, the scheming Otto Hightower then suggests to his own daughter, Alicent, that the king might be in need of a bit of female company.

“You might wear one of your mother’s dresses,” he tells a petrified Alicent as she leaves the room. Thanks dad; nothing like the pressure of creating some more male heirs for the kingdom.

Daemon then goes ahead and gets himself in trouble at the brothel, toasting Viserys’ dead son Baelon to his cronies as “heir for a day”. Understandably, Viserys is livid, and what follows is a rather epic scene where he effectively banishes Daemon from King’s Landing, de-heirs him (if that is indeed a term) and tells him to go home to his wife. Daemon looks furious, and the odds on him actually obeying his brother’s orders would seem to be slight, at best.

Prophecies and payoffs

The plus side of all this drama for Rhaenyra seems to be that her place in the line of succession is confirmed. Viserys calls her into the secret shrine/ burial place for Balerion, one of the ancient dragons from Aegon’s conquest, to tell her the good news.

“You are the very best of your mother, and I believe, as I know she did, that you could be a great ruling queen,” he tells her. “Daemon was not made to wear the crown, but I believe that you were.”

He also tells her the great secret that has been passed down from king to heir: that winter is, indeed, coming.

“Aegon foresaw the end of the world of men. It is to begin with a terrible winter, gusting out of the distant north,” he tells her.

Finally... the moment Rhaeynra is crowned heir (© 2022 Home Box Office, Inc. Al)

“Aegon saw absolute darkness riding on those winds, and whatever dwells within will destroy the world of the living. When this great winter comes, Rhaenyra, all of Westeros must stand against it. And if the world of men is to survive, a Targaryen must be seated on the Iron Throne, a king or queen strong enough to unite the realm against the cold and the dark.”


As the sweeping music sounds, we cut to shots of the Westerosi lords swearing allegiance to Viserys – and to his new heir, Rhaenyra... as Daemon and a friendly sex worker to whom he seems to have taken a shine at the brothel ride off into the sky on dragonback. Mischief will follow, no doubt.


Sweeping and grandiose, House of the Dragon kicks off its first season in style. There’s basically everything you could ever want from a Game of Thrones spin-off in this show: gore, sex (but not sexual violence - executive producer Sara Hess has said explicitly that there will be none of that in this show, which may tempt back fans who were put off by it in the original series), political chit-chat, wildly ambitious courtiers and dragons. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but it does the job so well, what’s not to love?

It also makes an excellent fist of maneouvring the pieces into place for episode two. Now, Rhaenyra is the heir to a country that might well not want a woman seated on the Iron Throne at all; Daemon is quite possibly contemplating rebellion and Otto Hightower has his eye on some royal grandchildren. Oh, and Viserys isn’t getting any younger. Plus, we’ve only seen two dragons so far. Roll on episode two...

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