The exposition of war comes to a conclusion in the season finale of House of the Dragon.
Throughout a series of timeline jumps, the first season of House of the Dragon focuses on the inner relations of the Targaryen family. Set approximately 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones, the Tragaryen family struggles to balance duty and independence while ruling over The Seven Kingdoms. The last episode showcases Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen in action as she prepares to claim her spot on the Iron Throne and ruler of The Seven Kingdoms. The final moments of Rhaenyra’s actions in the finale are crafted throughout the exposition of the first season.
A young Rhaenyra, played by Milly Alcock, is controlled, perceptive, independent, and fiesty. Much of Rhaenyra’s personality is defined by redefining her duty. She lives in the shadow of an unborn male heir. Rhaenyra, as kin of the king, is sought to be heir to the throne, but because she is a woman Rhaenyra is denied this right. She is expected to wed and birth children for the royal family as her mother claims “the childbed is their battlefield”. She is meant to save herself for her betrothed and provide children to serve the realm. All of these expectations that are bestowed to her by society are challenged by the princess.
FIRE AND BLOOD
Shortly after the death of her newborn brother, King Viserys (Paddy Considine) names Rhaenyra as heir. Apart from eventually ruling The Seven Kingdoms, her father instills in her the Song of Ice and Fire, a prophecy that asks for a Targaryen to sit the Iron Throne once the long winter comes (i.e. Game of Thrones). While the responsibility of her duty becomes larger, Rhaenyra continues to have her say in matters.
When picking a sworn protector, Rhaenyra is prompted to pick a knight that is politically advantageous despite their capabilities. Rhaenyra chooses Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) a knight who has experience in combat but doesn’t prove to be a political move. Rhaenyra wants her protector to have experience in combat, Cole was the only one who could fill her request. Despite the pressures of duty, she picks the man that is best for the job.
In Rhaenyra’s personal relationships, she is forced to balance her own goals with the kingdom’s. As the king prepares to set up an arranged marriage, Rhaenyra is frustrated. “Those men and boys don’t fawn over me. They only want my name,” she laments to her friend Alicent (Emily Carey). Rhaenyra is meant to wait to have sex with the man betrothed to her, regardless is she likes them or not. In this frustration, Rhaenyra spends a night with someone she loves, her uncle Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) and later Ser Criston Cole. Her decision led to panic in the Targaryen family, for the princess had betrayed her duty. Although King Viserys quickly tries to move past the situation, the effects of Rhaenyra’s actions form ripples that will soon turn to waves.
As an adult, Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) is married to Laenor Velaryon (John MacMillan) who is in a secret relationship with a man. As much as Rhaenyra wanted to have children with Laenor, they never ended up conceiving. To respect her husband’s sexuality, as well as her duty as princess, Rhaenyra kept Laenor’s sexuality a secret and conceived children with Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr). She claimed her children were Laenor’s but very few believed her lies. As much as Rhaenyra tried to do the right thing for everyone, her decisions were seen as villainous and disrespectful.
The princess tries to do what is best for herself, her peers, and her kingdom, regardless of law or preconceived expectation. Criston Cole and the adult Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) use the princess’ decisions as a weapon to criticize her. These weapons are spread throughout Alicent’s family and used to separate Rhaenyra from her claim even more.
In the season finale “The Black Queen”, Rhaenyra’s claim to the throne is directly threatened by Alicent and her family known as the greens. In the wake of threat, Daemon tries to pressure Rhaenyra to immediate war. The princess refuses to take action. She remains controlled and continues to strategize the onset of a civil war.
Rhaenyra has been ordered around her whole life. As a woman she was told she couldn’t be queen. She was told she had to marry who was right for her politically. Her relationships were criticized. Her children were criticized. Despite all of the people telling her who she should be and not living up to their expectations, she remained defiant.
Throughout the season Rhaenyra has remained strong in the face of adversity. Her calm demeanor guides us through her formative years. As we grow with the series, we grow with Rhaenyra. During the finale, I feel compelled to settle things diplomatically, the way Rhaenyra does. I want an honest conversation between Alicent and Rhaenyra. I want them to talk as women. Discuss what they have both gone through in a society that uses them to their control.
After 10 episodes of meticulous character crafting and exposition, the final moments light a spark of Targaryen fury that will change the dynamic of this series. With Rhaenyra’s back turned, she discovers that her son has just been murdered. She turns to the camera; teary eyed and full of rage. Control and perception has served Rhaenyra well throughout the first season. But the final shot foreshadows what the entire season was building to: action, payback, and war.
BEN-THINKING: A collection of random thoughts
- Rhaenyra is SUCH a wonderful mother. Particularly in the scene where she sends her sons off to secure her allegiances. She knows her sons, she knows what each of them need to hear in this moment. It’s another great moment that shows Rhaenyra balancing the roles of mother and queen simultaneously.
- Give it up for Eve Best who always manages to captivate me, even with the smallest of smirks.
- I appreciate how carefully this series is handling gore and violence. In the first episode during the jousting sequence, there is a quick cut of how our characters react differently to violence. In this episode the stillbirth is treated with care. As a viewer I appreciate scenes like this that have intention and aren’t purely shock value.
- I am going to miss seeing Olivia Cooke and Emma D’Arcy on my screen, so instead I will watch their interviews for the remaining months…negroni, sbagliato, with a bit of prosecco