The Civil War has brewed for a television season and three decades of in-universe tension over the succession to the Iron Throne.
Many characters died along the way, like Dragon House jumped back in time and dramatized all the slights and feuds that led to strife within House Targaryen. But until DragonThe Season 1 finale of – until the mighty dragon Vhagar slew young Arrax and his rider, Prince Lucerys Velaryon – no straw had yet crushed the proverbial camel’s back.
“The first battles of the Dance of the Dragons were fought with quills and crows, with threats and promises, decrees and flattery,” says Fire & Blood, Dragonthe source text. “The murder of Lord Beesbury on the Green Council was not yet widely known…many still hoped that the question of succession could be resolved peacefully.”
But now, like DragonRhaenyra’s first season ends, Rhaenyra’s second son is dead, and her angry eyes are seemingly set on revenge. The royal blood has been shed. The war does not come any more; it’s here.
DragonThe Season 1 finale is an emotional rollercoaster for Rhaenyra, focusing almost exclusively on her and her fans after Episode 9 focused entirely on the greens. “The Black Queen” begins with a bang, when Rhaenyra, Daemon, and the others on Dragonstone learn of Viserys’ death and the Greens’ bang.
For Rhaenyra, the news doesn’t just complicate her plans to sit on the Iron Throne; it also induces premature delivery. Thereby DragonThe Season 1 finale of its pilot episode ending, when Rhaenyra’s mother died in childbirth. (Daemon and Viserys’ mother also died due to a difficult childbirth, prior to the events of the series. And in episode 6, Daemon’s second wife, Laena, also died from complications related to the ‘childbirth.)
Rhaenyra does not die, but her sixth child does. Her emotional roller coaster spins around another bend as she buries her child, however, because Erryk Cargyll arrives with a gift, removing Viserys’ crown from his satchel like Flynn Rider in Tangled. Daemon places the crown on Rhaenyra’s head and the burial turns into an impromptu coronation; everyone present (except Rhaenys, who has yet to talk to her husband, Corlys, and choose sides) kneels.
The coronation of Aegon II in “The Green Council” overflowed with pomp and circumstance; it was a staged public event that told the masses of King’s Landing that all the aesthetic attributes of power belonged to him. Rhaenyra’s coronation, on the other hand, is a smaller, more spontaneous ceremony, and carries far more emotional weight for the first woman to be named Queen of Westeros.
Monarchs are a bit like quarterbacks: if you have two, you really have none. And in the final, most urgent entry to the “quills and crows, threats and promises” phase of the war, Otto Hightower arrives for an encore in Episode 2, as he once again measures Daemon on the Dragonstone Bridge.
Still like in Episode 2, Rhaenyra arrives in style, in late fashion, riding a dragon. Yet in this encounter she is on Daemon’s side, not Otto’s, and she receives the terms of peace from the Greens: if Rhaenyra swears fealty to Aegon, she may keep Dragonstone and pass it on to her sons, who will be royally recognized as true-born; Lucerys will inherit Driftmark; his sons with Daemon will become Aegon’s squire and cupbearer; and all his supporters will be pardoned.
Daemon immediately dismisses the terms and threatens Otto with his sword; Rhaenyra preaches caution, lets Otto go in peace, and agrees to consider the proposal. Then comes a heartbreaking scene, as Daemon chokes his wife as they argue about Aegon the Conqueror’s prophecy – which Daemon is unaware of – and the right path to save the kingdom. This scene does not appear in Fire & Blood, but it suits a character who has already killed a woman. We hope that in season 2, Dragon will explore the fallout from this violence more carefully than game of thrones considered, say, the rape of Cersei by Jaime.
In this episode, at least, those fallouts don’t materialize. Instead, after Rhaenyra and Daemon part ways, Black’s battle plans form in quick succession and triumphant music rumbles. Corlys Velaryon, now recovered, agrees to support Rhaenyra’s claim and use her family’s naval might to block shipping lanes in the Straits. Rhaenys will use Meleys to patrol the Gullet to cut off any naval entry to King’s Landing. And they come up with a plan to besiege the land side of the capital as well, but they’ll need the support of the Baratheons, Arryns, and Starks to do so.
So Rhaenyra finds an ostensibly peaceful mission for Jace and Luke, her two oldest boys with Laenor, uh, Harwin Strong. “You go there as messengers, not as warriors,” she tells them, and asks them to swear on the gods “not to take part in any combat.”
Yet this is only the latest in a series of McBain moments for Luke, who will soon meet his demise. The first scene of the episode hosts a tender moment between Rhaenyra and Luke, as she comforts her son. And before sending Luke on his way to Storm’s End, she also said to him, with a smile, “I expect you will receive a very warm welcome.”
Surprise! Vhagar is already there. As Luke ascends the steps into the hall of Storm’s End, he repeatedly looks at the towering dragon, knowing exactly what its presence means: that Aemond defeated him at the Baratheons. And inside the hall, Luke’s welcome isn’t “very warm”, but rather as cold as Storm’s End in a gale – both from Borros, who is in no rush to confirm his father’s oath receiving nothing in return, and Aemond, who mocks Luke and calls him “my lord Strong” and “bastard”.
Aemond wants Luke to cut out his eye, as payment for the eye he cut out during the kids’ fight so many years (and only three episodes) ago. Borros will not have it; he is comfortable refusing Rhaenyra’s request for loyalty, but not allowing violence in his own room.
Instead, danger follows Luke outside the castle walls. The camera follows him and Arrax through the rain, ground to air, as they take hold and then struggle to maintain flight in the midst of a storm. Then comes a growl, and an ominous shadow appears overhead, and like a horror movie monster with a jump scare, Vhagar appears in full. The oldest, greatest, and most battle-tested living dragon eclipses young Arrax, and a laughing Aemond calls out, in High Valyrian, that a debt is still owed.
Thanks to his small size and a narrow canyon, Arrax nearly escapes, disappearing into the mist – but then, frightened and resisting his master’s commands, the young dragon spits flames on Vhagar’s thick skin. The hunt is back, despite Aemond’s frantic cries of “No!”
As King Viserys says in Episode 1, “The idea that we control dragons is an illusion.” Aemond, Luke, and Arrax learn this lesson the hard and deadly way, when Vhagar ignores his rider, lunges forward, snaps his jaws, and rips Arrax’s body in two. The young dragon and his boy collapse in the sea below.
That Vhagar pursues this violence of his own volition is a notable departure from the source text, which gives no indication that Aemond attempted to subdue his dragon. This on-screen change also aligns with one of the show’s other major changes, as in Episode 8 Alicent misinterprets Viserys’ last words as a plea for her Aegon to become king. Both changes serve to highlight the unintended tragedy of the Targaryen Civil War; if not for a name-based misunderstanding and a disobedient dragon, perhaps a chance – however slim – of resolving the succession crisis “peacefully” might have stood.
But there’s no turning back now, not after Rhaenyra lost two children in this episode, all in the wake of Aegon’s coronation and his budding war with the Greens. As Fire & Blood describes, with Luke’s death, “the war of crows and envoys and marriage pacts ended, and the war of fire and blood began in earnest”. Presumably, more fire and blood will pour out in season 2. For now, they’ve claimed an innocent boy and his dragon, torn to pieces above the narrow sea.