‘House of the Dragon’ – Best & Worst of ‘The Black Queen’

Dreams didn’t make us kings. Dragons did.

These words, uttered by Matt Smith‘s Prince/Prince Consort Daemon Targaryen in a moment of raging spousal abuse, really set the tone for an unexpectedly intense season finale. House of the Dragon returned for another hour on HBO last night, it’s last of the year, and somehow managed to up the dramatic ante on a show that’s been pretty consistently melodramatic for ten-straight episodes. Titled The Black Queen, in reference to Emma D’Arcy‘s Princess/Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen, the finale stands as the series’ official boiling-over point in the conflict between members of the Targaryen family.

With Tom Glynn-Carney‘s Aegon II Targaryen crowned King of the Seven Kingdoms against the proper line of succession, Rhaenyra and her supporters – known as the “Blacks” – must devise a game plan to win back the Realm. Unfortunately, as is often the case in Westeros, nothing really plays out all that smoothly. While Rhaenyra hopes to find a peaceful transition between rulers, Daemon goes rogue and begins plotting a full-scale war. Elliot Grihault‘s Prince Lucerys Targaryen and his brother Jacaerys (played by Harry Collett) head north in search of allies among the Starks and Baratheons, but a surprise confrontation with Ewan Mitchell‘s Prince Aemond Targaryen puts a major damper on Rhaenyra’s rallying cry.

In the only bit of good news, Steve Toussaint‘s Lord Corlys Valaryon is revealed to have survived his wounds. He and his much-smarter wife, Eve Best‘s Princess Rhaenys Targaryen, pledge their dragons and their navy to the Black Queen, setting up an action-packed second season with tensions high and hearts broken. As per usual, it’s a lot to break down. Luckily for the folks at home, Murphy’s Multiverse has already determined the best and worst moments that occur in The Black Queen.

BEST – Deaths in the Family

House of the Dragon‘s first season finale begins and ends with the deaths of Rhaenyra’s children. Both moments are fairly impactful in terms of viewing experience, but it’s Emma D’Arcy‘s performance in reaction that solidifies The Black Queen as one of the series’ best installments yet. At the top of the hour, Rhaenyra is informed rather abruptly by Rhaenys that her father has finally passed and that Aegon has been chosen to succeed him – in what could be considered a coup on the part of Olivia Cooke’s Queen Alicent Hightower. This shocks the pregnant, would-be Queen into a premature stillbirth, which she delivers on her own – standing up – before walking away to initiate her rightful rule of the Seven Kingdoms. It’s exactly as impressive as it sounds, and an incredibly powerful sequence that likely made it hard for fans to keep their jaws from dropping. The grace and capability with which Rhaenyra handles the situation is eye-opening and sufficiently proves she has the temperament to lead that Aegon does not.

As if that wasn’t enough trauma for poor Rhaenyra, the hour concludes with the loss of a beloved son. Prince Lucerys travels to Storm’s End in an effort to sway Roger Evans’ Lord Borros Baratheon to his mother’s side, but when he arrives, he finds an uncooperative, and surprisingly rude, Borros has already aligned with Aegon at the behest of the latter’s brother, Aemond. The kindly Lucerys tries to leave peacefully on his dragon, Arax, but is pursued by his violently vengeful uncle in a gorgeous – *ahem* – dance of the dragons in the dark skies over Storm’s End. As beautiful and awe-inducing as the moment is, it also results in Aemond losing control over his dragon, Vhagar, with the beast killing both Lucerys and Arax in a shocking clamp of its teeth.

Stylistically, the ending is one of the best to come out of the entire Game of Thrones franchise. Storm’s End and the lightning-filled clouds above it appear to be out of a 1980’s-style Jim Henson film, a la The Dark Crystal, and the visual effects on the dragons and their duel are stunning. There’s a lot to love. However, it’s the minutes following Lucerys’ death that resonate the most. Aemond, for the first time, seems to show some sort of compassion, and the look on Rhaenyra’s face when she learns of what happened can only mean one thing – The Black Queen now has a pretty good reason to be a little less reasonable. Perfect set-up for a second season.

WORST – Otto Hightower Being Himself

Truthfully, there wasn’t much to hate in The Black Queen. The episode sped along at an insane pace and was chock-full of buzz-worthy scenes. However, there was one moment that felt truly infuriating as a viewer, and that was the only one involving a Hightower. Rhys Ifans‘, as good as he is, continues to be one of the most obnoxiously vile characters on the show, with his Otto – Hand of the King – arriving in Dragonstone in an attempt to make Rhaenyra and Daemon swear fealty to their new King. Obviously, they do not, and Otto is forced to make several snide remarks before leaving ominously with the promise of death floating in the air. The best part of his brief appearance in the finale was when Rhaenyra removed his symbol of the Hand and tossed it off a bridge. Hopefully, he never gets it back.

All 10 episodes of House of the Dragon are now streaming on HBO Max. A second season is unlikely to stream until 2024 or later.

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