'House of the Dragon' episode 10: Dance, dragons, dance
Well, finally. The ruinous civil war called the Dance of the Dragons is here at last, and if this episode is any indication, it's gonna be one bloody mosh pit. Lord Beesbury's was technically the first blood spilled in the war last week, but poor Luke represents its first front-line casualty. They didn't just kill this messenger, they chewed him all the way up. (You know how you never see Cookie Monster actually eating the cookie, he just sort of reduces it to flying crumbs? Sort of that, but with gobbets of flesh.)
I mentioned last week that the characters on this show are drawn with a lot more nuance and ambivalence than their comparatively sketchy and ruthless counterparts in Fire & Blood, the book from which House of the Dragon is adapted. That's particularly true this week, as Rhaenyra argues for caution and restraint, and the show goes out of its way to establish that neither combatant in the dragon-on-dragon air battle is fully in control of his creature when the dark deed gets done.
I like the Rhaenyra stuff, because it's doing solid work to delineate her character and remind us of her childhood friendship with Alicent. I'm less crazy about turning dragons into willful, aggressive mutts you can't take off-leash at the dog park ("Play nice, Vhagar! He doesn't want to play with you, Vhagar. VHAGAR NO HUMP. NO HUMP VHAGAR.")
Is this gonna be a whole thing? That dragons possess rich and textured inner lives of ephemeral moods and nursed grudges? Yes, it adds a layer, I suppose, as it reinforces their status as wild, dangerous beasts, but as employed here, it really lets Aemond off the hook. What is added by turning that horrible, irrevocable moment into an "Oopsie, my bad" ?
Open on: Dragonstone, home of Team Black, where we'll spend most of this episode, just as we spent last week in King's Landing with Team Green.
Luke stands at the Painted Table, the giant dragonglass map of Westeros. Which, I gotta say, seems a lot more carved than painted, but whatever. It looks cool, let them call it what they want. And wait'll you see it at night.
Luke is worried that if Corlys Velaryon dies from his "blood fever," then he'll have to inherit Driftmark, and he really doesn't want it. He's no sailor; he gets seasick in the bathtub.
He and the pregnant Rhaenyra share a nice scene together in which she reassures him that she wasn't ready when Viserys named her his heir. But she decided to "earn her inheritance," a phrase so wildly oxymoronic that it practically devours itself.
Rhaenys arrives from her sold-out one-night-only show in King's Landing, where she killed. She bluntly informs Rhaenyra and Daemon that Viserys is dead, and that Aegon has been crowned in front of thousands — well, thousands minus the couple hundred that she and her dragon Meleys took out, anyway.
Daemon decides that Viserys was murdered, which is a big leap, and that Rhaenys could have burned Team Green into traitorous ash but didn't do it, which is not. Rhaenys says the war that's coming "is not mine to begin," which is a cop-out answer that makes only the kind of sense that is non-, but Eve Best sells it.
Rhaenyra miscarries (amid shots of roaring dragons, to underscore the bond that they share with Targaryens, or something?) and we're once again reminded of the sorry state of Westerosi obstetrics.
Meanwhile, Daemon marshalls Dragonstone's defenses. He learns that Corlys Velaryon is feeling better, but still doesn't know which side he's on. He orders that their nearby allies in the Crownlands (read: the region of Westeros around King's Landing) be alerted: Lord Darklyn (of Duskendale), Lord Massey (of Stonedance) and Lord Bar Emmon (of Sharp Point).
He then singles out two members of the White Cloaks — Ser Lorent and Ser Steffon — to get them to re-swear their fealty to Rhaenyra, under threat of dragon-fricassee.
At the child's funeral pyre, Ser Erryk Cargyll shows up, having snuck away from King's Landing — and from Team Green — carrying Viserys's crown. (The one used at Aegon's coronation was Aegon the Conqueror's, you'll recall.) As Daemon places the crown on her head, the funeral attendees bow to her. Except for Rhaenys, who simply shoots her a look of respect, because Rhaenys's sheer, inviolate awesomeness proceeds apace. (It also reminds us that Rhaenys warned Rhaenyra way back in episode one that everything that's now happening would happen.) (See above re: Rhaenys, sheer inviolate awesomeness of.)
Table the motion
Back to the Painted Table Which Is Actually Carved, Because No, I'm Sorry, Words Mean Things, People. If you thought this show loved tchotchkes before, hoo boy, they're busting out the whole damn Fisher-Price playset of map figurines. There's Hightower gewgaws and Velaryon doohickeys and Targaryen whatsits and then it turns out the whole table lights up once they hit the fantasy LEDs (read: candles) beneath it.
Rhaenyra makes her entrance (again, everyone bows, except for Rhaenys, who nods) and gets an update on their situation. Their army is small. More Houses from the Crownlands have declared for them — Lords Celtigar (of Claw Isle) and Staunton (of Rook's Rest), in addition to the three Houses that Daemon sent ravens to earlier.
They wonder about other, major Houses — Arryn of the Eyrie, Tully of Riverrun, Stark of Winterfell, and Baratheon of Storm's End. They worry about Corlys Velaryon, too.
As for the enemies they know: The Hightowers (duh) and the Lannisters — which is a problem, as the Lannisters are the major House of the Westerlands.
Someone's like, why are we counting up our army men when we got dragons? Dragons eat army men! Dragons burn army men! Dragons smush army men into a thick paste between their dragon toes! You get the point!
Dragon Roll Call!
Get out your scorecards, this will be on the final.
The Greens have three adult dragons: Sunfyre (ridden by Aegon), Vhagar (ridden by Aemond) and Dreamfyre (ridden by Helaena).
The Blacks have Syrax (ridden by Rhaenyra), Caraxes (ridden by Daemon) and Meleys (riddeny by Rhaenys). Add to that the three dragons belonging to Rhaenyra and Laenor's sons — Vermax (ridden by Jace), Arrax (ridden by Luke) and Tyraxes (ridden by young Joff). Then there's Moondancer (ridden by Baela).
There's also unclaimed dragons like Seasmoke (once ridden by Laenor) on Driftmark. Daemon mentions an additional two currently riderless dragons called Vermithor and Silverwing on Dragonstone. Plus three wild dragons, also on Dragonstone, and 20 dragon eggs.
Daemon suggests gathering the whole dragon gang at Harrenhal, in the center of the continent, and then sending them to surround King's Landing, but before Rhaenyra can weigh in, Otto Hightower arrives to offer King Aegon's terms.
They meet on the long bridge, and Rhaenyra makes a dramatic entrance on Syraxback. The meeting is frosty, with Rhaenyra calling Otto a traitor and Otto insisting that since Aegon has all the fancy stuff that kings have (Crown! Sword! Butt on Iron Throne!, etc.) he is legitimate, and mentions that three major Houses — Stark, Tully and Baratheon — are currently considering the king's terms.
This seems an odd thing for him to mention, frankly. He's basically announcing that the Greens haven't locked them down yet.
There's a tense moment when Rhaenyra tosses Otto's Hand pin over the bridge, but he then shows her the page she wilfully ripped from that book way back in episode one, which Alicent has held onto. Daemon's having none of this and starts sword-rattling, but Rhaenyra's sincely touched and having all of it; she orders him to stand down. She tells Otto that he'll have his answer tomorrow.
The dagger is a dragger
Back at the...you know what, let's just call it the Glowing Table, okay? Because it glows. Rhaenyra is reluctant to follow Daemon's Hugely Destructive Dragon PlanTM, which, predictably enough, enrages him. Hell, he's Daemon. An under-ripe peach would enrage him.
She mentions Aegon the Conqueror's prophecy — (here we go) the Song of Ice and Fire — and is surprised to learn that Viserys never told Daemon about it. A snarling Daemon assaults Rhaenyra, and dismisses the whole thing as more of his late brother's obsession with omens.
Look, I'm on record with finding this whole prophecy/dagger subplot clunky and unnecessary. It's only there to give Rhaenyra an objective reason to fight for the Iron Throne that the audience can get behind — a reason beyond personal ambition.
We know the prophecy is true, we know that's she's right. How much more interesting would all this be if we didn't? If the show trusted us to make up our own minds, instead of pushing us so doggedly into Rhaenyra's camp?
Corlys is recovering nicely, thank you very much, and Rhaenys informs him that his brother Vaemond is dead, killed by Daemon for questioning Rhaenyra's sons legitimacy. You'd think this news would cause Corlys to direct his anger at the sociopathic head-lopping rage-monkey that is Daemon Targaryen, but no: He decries Vaemond's "heedless ambition" instead.
Heedless ambition, headless ambition. To-may-to, to-mah-to.
Corlys then says the only thing that needs to be said by any character on this show, ever: "You were right, Rhaenys." Start cranking out the t-shirts now. Because, yes. Always. In all things.
Corlys proposes taking their football and going home and letting the Greens and the Blacks destroy each other. But Rhaenys points out what we already know — that Rhaenyra is actually pretty good at this whole queen thing, counseling restraint and unity. She really seems to have the best interests of the realm at heart.
And that's all it takes for him, because again: Rhaenys = right. He knows it. He lives it.
He approaches the glowing table, and sees that Houses Arryn, Baratheon and Stark still have not declared for their side. But Corlys officially declares for Rhaenyra, and informs her that the Triarchy has been routed (he's said that before) and he now controls the Stepstones — and the Narrow Sea. This means they can cut off all sea trade to King's Landing, and just when all this pulse-pounding talk of trade route logistics threatens to give you brown-acid, Phantom Menace flashbacks, Rhaenys offers to patrol the sea by air with her dragon. Aww.
But Rhaenyra wants to wait until she knows if the Arryns, Starks and Baratheons will side with her. Jace suggests that he and Luke fly their dragons and deliver her message to the three Houses. Jace is to head North, to deal with the Arryns and Starks. But never mind that for now, because this season we won't be hearing how any of that went down.
No, we're sticking with Luke, who's flying south to Storm's End, seat of House Baratheon.
But not before Rhaenyra makes them swear that they will not engage in any fighting. She assures Luke that Borros Baratheon will greet him warmly, because only one character on this show gets to be right, and she ain't her.
Three dragons take off from Dragonstone — Rhaenys to patrol the Gullet, where the Narrow Sea meets Blackwater Bay, Jace to head North, and Luke to Storm's End. (Welcome to the stage: Luke's dragon Arrax! The show's ninth dragon!)
Daemon heads down to the caverns underneath Dragonstone, and comes across a huge, old and not particularly easygoing dragon. It's likely Vermithor, the dragon once ridden by King Jaeherys, who preceded Viserys to the Iron Throne. But until we can verify this dragon's identity, they will not be welcomed to the stage.
Curse you, Red Baron
Li'l Luke arrives at Storm's End, where the weather is more like Storm's-Still-Ramping-Up. On the way into the castle, he sees the enormous bulk of Vhagar chilling nearby.
He steps up to the throne occupied by Lord Borros Baratheon, and sees that Aemond "Left Eye Lopez" Targaryen is already there, peering at Luke as if the kid was a small, stubborn stain.
Lord Borros does not greet Luke warmly — he's kind an belligerent oaf, frankly, and he has to summon a maester to read Rhaenyra's note to him. Heh. He's offended by its tone, and points out that Aegon offered to marry Aemond to one of Borros' daughters. That's not something Luke can match, so the lord dismisses him. Rudely and crudely.
Aemond demands that Luke cut out one of his eyes, in payment for the one he took from Aemond all those years ago. Aemond reveals that he's toting a sapphire around in the empty eye socket underneath his patch. It's an arresting look; you wonder why he bothers with the eye patch. Much less exciting. Really hiding his light under a bushel there. Shine on, you crazy sapphire.
Borros demands that the kids not fight under his roof, and we're reminded of how much lip-service the lords of the Seven Kingdoms pay to the safety of their guests. Until they suddenly and bloodily don't. Borros may be a boor, but he's no Walder Frey, and Luke makes it out of the castle un-murdered.
He has a bit of trouble mounting Arrax in the courtyard, though; the dragon seems agitated. There follows a long sequence of Luke flying through a nasty thunderstorm, warily checking for any sign of Vhagar.
Who shows up, of course, with a cackling, taunting Aemond on her back. Luke is overmatched, but he does manage one smart maneuver, by steering Arrax through some chasms too narrow for Vhagar to follow.
Then Arrax turns around, and, very much against Luke's wishes, breathes fire into Vhagar's face, then soars above the storm. An annoyed Vhagar, of her own accord, with Aemond screaming in dismay, follows them up and chomps Arrax and Luke in two.
Later (how much later?), on Dragonstone, Daemon approaches Rhaenyra and informs her of Luke's death. Which he knows about...how, exactly?
Anyway, never mind, the important thing is the next bit, when Rhaenyra turns to stare down the barrel of the camera. There are tears in her eyes.
Tears, and resolve.
And something maybe a bit like hate.
The dragons are dancing; there's blood on the dance floor.
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