DISCLAIMER: This recap of the House of the Dragon season finale, “The Black Queen,” has spoilers. Prepare for fire and blood, and proceed at your peril.
Welcome back, dragonriders! It’s hard to believe we’ve reached the end of Season 1, but here we are. “The Black Queen” isn’t the show’s best outing, but it offers an outstanding turn from Emma D’Arcy. They’ve only appeared in four episodes out of 10; however, their immense talent makes them a seasonal standout. D’Arcy imbues Rhaenyra with nuance and complexity, with equal parts fire and searing vulnerability. This episode belongs to them.
Ready to delve into “The Black Queen”? Let’s get to it.
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We open with Lucerys (Elliot Grihault) standing in front of the Painted Table. He traces the letters in “Driftmark,” clearly thinking about his future seat. Rhaenyra (D’Arcy) enters the room, her hand resting on her stomach. Luke divulges his fears regarding his inheritance of Driftmark. Rhaenyra explains that Viserys named her heir when she was his age (14), and she didn’t feel ready either. Rhaenyra vows to guide Luke through this process. It’s a sweet, tender scene between mother and son.
Next, Rhaenys (Eve Best) arrives on Dragonstone after crashing Aegon’s coronation. She informs Rhaenyra and Daemon (Matt Smith) about Viserys’s passing and the greens’ slapdash bid to crown Aegon. Daemon wonders aloud why Rhaenys didn’t burn the greens then and there, but she asserts it isn’t her war to start. Rhaenyra, overcome with grief and anger, starts going into early labor. Daemon seems simultaneously numb and seething with venom.
Then, Rhaenyra paces back and forth in her chambers, navigating contraction after contraction. Maester Gerardys (Phil Daniels) is present. Rhaenyra refuses to accept help from anyone, almost determined to extract the baby herself. Meanwhile, Jacaerys (Harry Collett) and Luke are training with swords by the water. Rhaenys summons the boys to their mother’s side.
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Rhaenyra tells Jace and Luke about their grandfather’s death and Aegon’s subsequent usurping. Before the brothers depart, Rhaenyra asks Jace, her heir to the Iron Throne, to ensure that Daemon doesn’t retaliate while she’s abed. We see Daemon playing at war with lords sworn to Rhaenyra — including Lord Bartimos Celtigar (Nicholas Jones), an ancient house with Valyrian ancestry — as they all surround the Painted Table. They’re trying to determine their allies in the coming fight. He ignores Rhaenyra’s calls for him.
Jace storms into the room, ordering Daemon to stand down as a conduit for Rhaenyra. Daemon takes Jace outside to teach him a lesson about loyalty. We see the pair stand before Ser Lorent Marbrand (Max Wrottesley) and Ser Steffon Darklyn (Anthony Flanagan), formerly of Viserys’s Kingsguard. Daemon poses an ultimatum: either they swear fealty to Rhaenyra or die. Caraxes lumbers behind them and roars. Naturally, the knights choose Rhaenyra.
Later, Rhaenyra claws the premature baby out herself. Unfortunately, the child is stillborn. While Daemon watches from afar, she cradles Visenya (the show omits her name even though it’s in the book). After Rhaenyra wraps Visenya, Daemon, their children and their sworn lords attend a burning for the child. Ser Erryk Cargyll (Elliott Tittensor) arrives with a crown, one worn by Jaehaerys the Conciliator and Viserys the Peaceful.
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Erryk kneels before Rhaenyra and swears his loyalty and sword to her. He hands the crown to Daemon. Then, Daemon crowns his wife, and we see everyone present bow before her. Well, everyone save Rhaenys. I love this shot — The Queen Who Never Was standing opposite the rightful ruler of Westeros. After the hasty coronation, Rhaenyra joins her black council around the now illuminated Painted Table. I seriously need one of these. Quick, someone pull up Etsy!
A brainstorming session is underway as those present continue to assess their ally situation. Daemon hopes to bring some of his former buddies from the City Watch into the fold. Gerardys already sent ravens to Lord Grover Tully of Riverrun. House Stark doesn’t break its oaths, while House Baratheon should remain loyal to them by blood alone. Of course, the Lannisters aren’t their friends, but that house isn’t friends with anyone. Rhaenyra hopes to have the support of House Velaryon, but Rhaenys remains mum on that.
Celtigar believes they don’t need stacked armies to fight the greens, as they have more dragons than they do. Daemon rattles off the dragons on their side and mentions the riderless ones in the Dragonmont — Vermithor and Silverwing. Seasmoke still resides on Driftmark. Erryk informs Rhaenyra of some unexpected visitors sailing under a green three-headed dragon banner. Aegon’s banner in Fire & Blood is a golden three-headed dragon, à la Sunfyre, but it appears the writers changed it for the series. I’m assuming it’s supposed to represent House Hightower. Honestly, I’m okay with this change.
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Outside, we see Otto (Rhys Ifans), Grand Maester Orwyle (Kurt Egyiawan) and some Kingsguard knights. Daemon arrives to greet them with Dark Sister sitting on his hip. Otto claims he comes at the behest of the Dowager Queen Alicent to confer with Rhaenyra. Rhaenyra makes her grand entrance astride Syrax, landing on the parapet. She’s donning her crown. Otto refuses to address her as Her Grace. He hands her the torn page from the book we last saw in the pilot, wherein young Rhaenyra and Alicent were studying. Otto reveals that Alicent hasn’t forgotten her friendship with Rhaenyra. We see our queen tear up at the sight.
Otto presents Aegon’s peace terms — Rhaenyra gets Dragonstone and Jace inherits it after her, with Luke taking Driftmark and Aegon the Younger and Viserys scoring high positions at court. Hot-blooded Daemon withdraws his sword, planning to kill Otto on the spot, but Rhaenyra orders him to stay his blade. She claims she’ll present her answer the following day. Before Otto departs, Rhaenyra calls him a traitor and rips off his Hand of the King pin. That’s my queen!
Later, while standing around the Painted Table, Daemon accuses Rhaenyra of going soft. Their enemies are itching for a war, so why not give them one? Rhaenyra pulls Daemon aside and discloses the prophecy Viserys imparted, a.k.a. “A Song of Ice and Fire,” Aegon the Conqueror’s Dream. Daemon, angered that Viserys withheld this info from him, starts choking Rhaenyra. She insinuates that Viserys didn’t tell Daemon about this because he didn’t trust his baby brother. Daemon storms out. I don’t like this bit at all. That said, I do believe it fits Daemon’s character. He’s volatile and unpredictable.
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Next, Rhaenys sits next to Lord Corlys (Steve Toussaint), whose fever has just broken. I’m glad we’re seeing him again. Rhaenys fills Corlys in on what he’s missed while communicating how hurt she was by his six year-absence. They lost two children, and she needed him. Rhaenys also informs him of Vaemond’s death, and that Daemon killed him. Corlys swears off his pursuit of the Iron Throne, citing that heedless ambition is an inherent Velaryon trait. However, Rhaenys addresses the Rhaenyra development and how their grandsons stand to claim the Iron Throne after her. She also commends Rhaenyra for exercising restraint and pragmatism when all the lords want her to go to war.
Then, the Sea Snake and Rhaenys make their grand entrance while Rhaenyra and her council continue preparations for the war. Rhaenyra expresses her relief that Corlys is on the mend. Just when we think he might steer clear of the oncoming storm, Corlys and Rhaenys swear their allegiance to Queen Rhaenyra, with the might of House Velaryon at her beck and call. We see Baela (Bethany Antonia) and Rhaena (Phoebe Campbell) stand next to their betrothed boys, Jace and Luke. Look at those cute kids!
Rhaenyra believes they should send ravens to the lords most likely to support her. However, Jace urges his mother to send him and Luke as envoys. Dragons are faster and more intimidating. Rhaenyra allows it, giving Jace the longer route since he’s older. He’ll start at the Vale to treat with Lady Jeyne, then end at Winterfell to treat with Lord Cregan Stark, a.k.a. the Wolf of the North. Meanwhile, Luke will make a beeline for Storm’s End to deliver a message to Lord Borros Baratheon. Daemon plans to head to the riverlands on Caraxes.
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Rhaenyra imparts advice to her boys before they leave on dragonback. She clutches Luke’s hands, and, folks, I don’t know if I’m gonna be okay. My baby Luke! Daemon doesn’t depart quite yet, as he’s hellbent on getting Vermithor and Silverwing on their side. Vermithor was last ridden by King Jaehaerys, while Silverwing was Queen Alysanne’s mount. Daemon sings a High Valyrian lullaby to Vermithor, a.k.a. the Bronze Fury. We see the great beast emerge from the darkness, letting out a fiery roar before inching closer to Daemon. I’ll never get over how impressive the dragons are on this show.
Then, Luke lands at Storm’s End with Arrax, his dragon. He tells the knights on duty that he bears a message for Borros from the queen. Luke spots Vhagar lurking outside. Seriously, this looks like a shot from Jurassic Park, especially with how much Vhagar resembles an old dinosaur. He sees none other than Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) inside the castle, having beaten him to the punch. Borros (Roger Evans) sits on his throne. Aemond is perpetually giving face. Or maybe that’s his resting face face.
Borros’s maester reads Rhaenyra’s message, which enrages the Lord of Storm’s End. He asserts he doesn’t need reminding of the oath his father swore to Rhaenyra all those years ago. Aegon came with an offer: the allegiance of House Baratheon for a betrothal. Aemond is there to choose one of Borros’s daughters to wed. Borros asks Luke if he’ll marry one of his daughters as well. Luke informs him that he’s already betrothed to another. Borros sends Luke on his way.
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However, Aemond pursues Luke, calling out to “Lord Strong” with a request. Aemond removes his eyepatch, and we see a sapphire glowing in his eye socket. Admittedly, it looks hot. What can I say? I love a good complex baddie. Aemond asks Luke to put out his eye before he goes. Aemond only wants one, as he doesn’t want to blind Luke. A literal eye for an eye. Luke refuses, reminding Aemond that he’s present under a peace banner. Enraged, Aemond lunges at Luke but stops in his tracks when Borros orders them to leave. He’ll have no bloodshed under his roof.
Luke exits and runs toward Arrax. The storm around them worsens considerably. Luke speaks to his dragon in Valyrian to calm him. I want an Arrax. On a separate note, Grihault’s Valyrian is so well executed here. Luke and Arrax take to the skies amid the storm. Suddenly, Aemond looms into view atop Vhagar. The size disparity between the two dragons is staggering. Aemond laughs maniacally while he and Vhagar swoop after Luke and Arrax. Arrax is a young dragon and faster, but the storm hinders him quite a bit.
A chase unfolds between the dragons. At one point, Luke and Arrax appear to out-fly their pursuers, arriving in a patch of peaceful, cloudless sky. But Vhagar reappears, and Arrax lashes out by unleashing a stream of fire in her face. Luke orders Arrax to listen to him. Vhagar retaliates, swooping in for the kill. Aemond does the same as Luke — he demands that Vhagar stand down. Unfortunately, it’s too late. Vhagar takes a swift bite out of Arrax. We see pieces of the dragon fall into the depths of Shipbreaker Bay below. Luke is nowhere to be found, but it’s a given that he fell with his dragon. RIP, my baby Luke and Arrax!
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Aemond sits in shock, indicating that Luke and Arrax’s deaths were an accident resulting from his provocation and Vhagar’s unruliness. While the outcome in the book is the same, the motivation behind Aemond’s actions is quite different. I’m not sure how I feel about it.
Meanwhile, Daemon enters Rhaenyra’s council chambers to deliver the news about Luke. She turns toward the roaring fire, her back convulsing in pain and grief. Daemon holds her hand. Rhaenyra whirls around to face her council, tears streaking her cheeks, with a look of war in her eyes.
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“The Black Queen” takes a few literary liberties, deviating from a few plot points in Fire & Blood. When the leaks of this episode took the internet by storm, I scanned through some of the reactions on Twitter. Firstly, never use Twitter reactions as a barometer for, well, anything. After watching it, the furor surrounding “The Black Queen” feels misplaced. However, I’m reminded that Twitter’s algorithm always shows the most reactionary tweets that’ll spark engagement.
Did I enjoy watching Daemon choke Rhaenyra? Did I like watching him abandon her while she literally clawed Visenya out of her body? No, and no. But Daemon has never been painted as a good guy. Sure, he loves his family, but that doesn’t mean he treats them well. Plus, I think folks fail to remember that Daemon lost his brother and believes the greens murdered him. His knee-jerk reaction to anything is fire and blood. Rhaenyra’s reaction to his violence indicates this isn’t the first time he’s hurt her.
Aemond inadvertently killing Luke paints future events on the timeline in a different light. On the one hand, I don’t mind the show injecting Aemond with more nuance. On the other, we need at least one full-fledged villain to keep things interesting. As for the argument that dragonriders possess complete control of their dragons, remember how Drogon resisted Dany? Remember Viserys’s statement about how Targaryens never should’ve seized control of dragons?
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The episode sets the stage for a frenzied, bloody, ruthless Dance of the Dragons. I think this is the last we’ll see of Rhaenyra’s pragmatism and restraint. I can’t wait to see Hell Hath No Fury Rhaenyra in Season 2. There are moments aplenty from this outing I enjoyed. The performances are solid, the visuals are stunning and that chase between Aemond and Luke had me on the edge of my seat, and I knew what was coming.
Season 1 of House of the Dragon isn’t without its flaws, namely the abysmal pacing caused by too many time jumps, but it’s still damn enjoyable. Everyone acts their faces off as if the rent is due tonight. This world is incredibly immersive and addictive, and overall, it’s a relatively faithful adaptation of Fire & Blood with some tweaks and necessary blank filling. Plus, dragons! I don’t know what to do with my Sunday nights for the next two years.
House of the Dragon Season 1 is now streaming on HBO Max.
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