Warning: This article contains spoilers for The House of the Dragon.
The king is dead. Long live the new king, whether you like it or not. Such is the position of Ser Otto Hightower, the Hand of the late King Viserys I, and his fellow conspirators in the Small Council in launching nothing short of a coup against the true heir, Princess Rhaenyra.
Due to Viserys’s error on his deathbed, Queen Alicent mistakenly believes that he has changed his mind and has named his son Aegon II as the new heir. With the king dead, Alicent tells her father, Otto Hightower, what she believes was the king’s dying wish. It doesn’t matter if Otto really believes it or not, as it turns out to be precisely the justification he and his fellow conspirators need to take the Iron Throne.
This penultimate episode of the first season of House of the Dragon differs from its source material, George RR Martin’s Fire and Blood, in a few key ways, though the overall gist remains true to the book. In Fire and Blood, Alicent appears as an active schemer, while in the series she is stunned to learn that her father and her cronies had long plotted to install Aegon II as the next king. She was left in the dark so as not to tarnish her, but now her Alicent is involved, whether she likes it or not. Otto believes that Rhaenyra will kill her stepbrothers, Otto’s grandchildren, for being a threat to his rule, so taking power now is her only recourse.
Lord Lymon Beesbury cries treason and is immediately killed by Ser Criston Cole. This, in turn, triggers a confrontation with Ser Harrold Westerling, the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, who ultimately resigns before betraying his oath. In their secrecy and haste to secure Aegon II’s throne, the conspirators lock up anyone outside the inner circle who knows of the king’s death or any nobles who suspect he is not going to play his own game.
Otto and his allies in the Small Council also determine that Rhaenyra and Prince Daemon must die. Alicent is horrified at the thought that her late husband wants her beloved daughter dead so that Aegon will rule over her, though she acknowledges that neither Rhaenyra nor Daemon will bend her knee. Alicent really doesn’t want Rhaenyra to die; her father later points out that she only wants to show Rhaenyra mercy because they were childhood friends.
The changes of episode 9 of The House of the Dragon with respect to the books
This tension between Alicent and Otto does not exist in Fire and Blood, which presents them as a much more united front than the television series. The House of the Dragon adds nuance and emotional complexity to Alicent’s arc that weren’t evident in the book, casting a tragic cloak over events even as Alicent continues to choose to play politics and manipulate people.
An even greater difference between the events of Fire and Blood and House of the Dragon in terms of the depiction of the Greens’ coup is the presence of Rhaenys Velaryon, the Queen who never was, a character absent from King’s Landing before and after Viserys’s death in the book. Rhaenys, a Targaryen who in episode 8 of The House of the Dragon supported Rhaenyra’s claim, is locked in her chambers inside the Red Keep. She is visited by Alicent, who insists that Viserys’ last wish was for Aegon II to be made king. Naturally, Rhaenys doesn’t believe her. For Rhaenys, this is nothing less than the Greens usurping the throne.
Alicent wants the support of House Velaryon and asks Rhaenys what her alliance with Rhaenyra has really brought her, except pain. She claims that he is Rhaenys’s husband, Corlys the Sea Serpent, who “has clung so recklessly to the throne. And even he has deserted you, absent these six long years.” But the Queen That Never Was says that the word of her house is not fickle. In a last ditch effort to win her over, Alicent admits that Rhaenys should have been monarch, not Viserys. “The Iron Throne was yours by blood and temperament,” Alicent said, adding that Viserys would have been content to live his life as a simple lord of the field rather than king, but that is how things turned out.
The real reason Rhaenys is now a political prisoner is that she has a dragon, Meleys the Red Queen. If Rhaenys and her dragon were to return home, Rhaenyra would be tempted to attack them, as the dragons possessed by the Blacks outnumber those of the Greens. Without that extra dragon, Alicent wagers, Rhaenyra could be persuaded to negotiate. She even promises Rhaenys and her granddaughters Driftmark in perpetuity. But still, Rhaenys refuses. She says that Alicent only serves the men in her life, that she doesn’t want to be free but to make a window inside her prison wall. “Have you ever imagined yourself on the Iron Throne?” Rhaenys asks Alicent in her own attempted mind game.
House of the Dragon episode 9 ending explained
Rhaenys eventually escapes, but is swept up in a crowd and arrives incognito at Aegon II’s coronation. Perhaps it’s from seeing the corpse of Lord Caswell (who was hanged for trying to flee the castle after the heist) or the huge skull of Balerion the Black Dread as he left the Red Keep, but something inside Rhaenys clicks as Aegon is anointed. She leaves the ceremony and sneaks down to where the dragons are.
Mounted on Meleys, Rhaenys and her steed make their way into the Pit of Dragons, sending debris and people flying everywhere as if a bomb had gone off. Pandemonium engulfs the crowd as Meleys wags his tail and sweeps her off. In particular, in Fire and Blood the Dragon Pit is chosen as the site of the coronation because it is considered to be defensible. The House of the Dragon quickly shows that this is not the case.
Alicent is quickly placed in front of her son Aegon, a mother who protects her firstborn with her life. She closes her eyes and accepts what appears to be her fiery fate. But Rhaenys doesn’t utter “Dracarys!” so Meleys just lets out an unholy scream at Alicent and Aegon. Alicent and Rhaenys look at each other, and then Rhaenys flies off to presumably inform Rhaenyra that her stepbrother has stolen the Iron Throne.
None of this happens in the book.
A Dance with Dragons: Who Started the Targaryen Civil War?
Fire and Blood is very clear about this: “All three chronicles agree on one thing: the first blood spilled at the Dance with Dragons belonged to Lord Lyman Beesbury, master coiner and lord treasurer of the Seven Kingdoms.” The House of the Dragon, unlike George RR Martin’s book, is not told from the perspective of three different and unreliable narrators. It’s meant to be the ultimate truth of what happened, but even then, pinning down the exact start of the civil war can be open to fan interpretation.
Who fired the first shot in the TV version of A Dance with Dragons? Was it Alicent marrying Viserys? Larys Strong killing her father and her brother to help Alicent? Alice wearing that green dress to Rhaenyra’s wedding? Was it Otto who even broached the idea of a coup with his allies in the Little Council? Or was it that Aegon II was crowned king? These are all critical steps, but nothing is more dramatic or consequential than a dragon attacking civilians and royalty in King’s Landing.
Rhaenys would rather see the realm burn than see Aegon sit on the Iron Throne.
During his speech to Rhaenys, Alicent explains, “We do not rule, but we can guide the men who do, gently, away from violence and certain destruction, and toward peace instead.” In her decision to mount Meleys and literally crash the coronation, Rhaenys not only rejects Alicent’s patriarchal definition of a woman’s role in the royal family, but also sends the clearest message that she does not intend to gently guide anyone from his side towards peace.
The Queen that never was is unwilling to watch another woman – even one she mistakenly believes killed her son – lose her chance to rule the Seven Kingdoms. Rhaenys would rather see the realm burn than see Aegon sit on the Iron Throne.
While that may be what Rhaenys believes was the fair or only option, he immediately went nuclear, taking any political solution off the table in what the Greens can now only see as an act of war. (For her part, Princess Rhaenyra can rightly see the act of usurpation itself as a declaration of war.)
Alicent may have thought that she could, by holding Rhaenys and her dragon hostage, broker a relatively bloodless deal with Rhaenyra, one that might save her childhood friend’s life. Rhaenys’s actions have made that nonviolent path impossible.
The Dance of the Dragons has begun and both the Blacks and the Greens will undoubtedly suffer the tragic consequences of their actions in this episode for seasons to come.
What did you think of Rhaenys bursting into the party?