If you haven’t already heard, House of the Dragon will soon focus squarely on the Dance of the Dragons, the struggle of succession between Aegon II Targaryen (Tom Glynn-Carney) and Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy). It’s a romantic name for the event that leads to the decline, and eventual demise, of the Targaryen dynasty and their beloved flying beasts. But how does all this tension erupt into open battle?
House of the Dragon spoilers ahead.
Episodes 1 through 9 of the Game of Thrones prequel series, co-created and co-executive produced by A Song of Ice and Fire saga author George R.R. Martin, have showcased the official prelude to the Dance of the Dragons. Aside from a few interesting alterations, House of the Dragon has mostly stuck to the source material.
The most important on-screen events that have led us to the canonical start of the Dance of the Dragons include:
- Princess Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) is named heir to King Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine) in light of him having no firstborn son to eventually ascend the Iron Throne.
- Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), the childhood companion of Rhaenyra and daughter of Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), marries King Viserys I and finally gives him his firstborn son, Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney).
- Rhaenyra lies to Alicent about her maidenhood — lost to Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) — and the lascivious nature of her relationship with her uncle, Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith). To save face, she boots Otto from court. Alicent later learns the truth from Criston.
- Alicent grows increasingly hostile toward Rhaenyra and her unconsummated marriage with Ser Laenor Velaryon (John MacMillan). Rhaenyra has three bastard sons with Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr), but swears they’re all Laenor’s children.
- Rhaenyra’s son, Jacaerys Velaryon (Harry Collett), stabs his uncle and Alicent’s son, Aemond Targaryen (Ewan Mitchell), in the eye during a brawl after he stole the dragon Vhagar.
- Viserys I dies. Alicent and Otto plan a coup to crown Aegon II, going against the wishes of King Viserys I, which Alicent claims have now changed after a miscommunication on his deathbed. Rhaenyra is oblivious to these schemes.
Presumably, some of the canonical events that signified the end of any goodwill between the Blacks (Rhaenyra’s camp) and the Greens (Alicent’s camp) will take flight in the last episode of House of the Dragon Season 1.
How does the Dance of the Dragons start?
In the A Song of Ice and Fire prequel books, Rhaenyra’s answer to Alicent and Otto’s coup was to create the black council of Daemon, Jacaerys, Lucerys Velaryon, Joffrey Velaryon, Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), and Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best).
Due to the Greens having the massive dragon Vhagar on their side, Rhaenyra and Daemon planned to first fight with diplomacy rather than fire-breathing reptiles. Rhaenyra’s two eldest sons, Jacaerys and Lucerys, were sent to gain the support of the Baratheons at Storm’s End, the Arryns of the Eyrie, the Greyjoys of the Iron Islands, the Manderlys of White Harbor, and the Starks of Winterfell. Daemon, meanwhile, would make Harrenhal their base, and Corlys ensured that Driftmark would block all shipping from Blackwater Bay.
Daemon crowned Rhaenyra queen before flying off to Harrenhall. Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen declared Otto and Alicent Hightower traitors, but also said she would spare the lives of her half-siblings and their children if they bent the knee. Upon hearing this, Aegon II demanded the execution of Rhaenyra and Daemon.
Alicent and Aegon II dispatched Grand Maester Orwyle (Kurt Egyiawan) to offer peace terms to Rhaenyra. If Rhaenyra recognized Aegon II as the sixth king of the Targaryen dynasty, then she could possess Dragonstone, Lucerys could remain heir to Driftmark, and her youngest children would be the king’s squires and cupbearers. Rhaenyra sent Orwyle back with a simple message: Either she’d have her throne or her half-brother’s head.
During his mission to garner support from the Baratheons, Lucerys bumps into Prince Aemond, who detests him above all of his other nephews. Aemond tries to get Lucerys to fight, but Lucerys, who swore an oath to his mother that he would act like a messenger and not a knight, refused. Aemond followed Lucerys after he left Storm’s End and ordered Vhagar to attack Lucerys’ dragon, Arrax, slaying both dragon and rider. This act of kinslaying is what ends the diplomatic struggle and begins the military one.
The Inverse Analysis — It had to start eventually. The Dance of the Dragons was a notoriously tumultuous period in the history of the Seven Kingdoms, marked by a rollercoaster of victories and heartbreaks for both the Blacks and the Greens. While it will be tough to see relatives pitted against each other, the Targaryen dynasty’s downfall shows how warped minds prone to arrogance can become when all that stands in the way of power and glory is family.
The House of the Dragon Season 1 finale airs Sunday evening, October 23 on HBO.