House of the Dragon’s 15 Most Surprising Moments So Far

House of the Dragon’s 15 Most Surprising Moments So Far

It’s time for House of the Dragon season two, which means it’s also time to remember how we left those chaotic Targaryens. The short answer: on the brink of civil war. But how did we get to the Dance of the Dragons? Here are the 15 most shocking moments of House of the Dragon season one in chronological order, because ranking them would be futile—and this way, the list also serves as a crash-course reminder in everything that’s happened so far.

Aemma’s death

Siân Brooke as Queen Aemma

After a prologue that details just how much Westeros does not want a woman to rule—explaining why Viserys (Paddy Considine) leap-frogged over his older cousin, Rhaenys (Eve Best) to ascend the Iron Throne—we understand the urgency facing King Viserys and his wife, Aemma (Siân Brooke) to produce a male heir. Thus far, their only child together that’s survived Aemma’s many troubled pregnancies is daughter Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), but Viserys is certain his about-to-be-born child is a boy. When Aemma’s labor becomes dangerous, Viserys chooses his obsession with succession over his wife, authorizing a C-section he knows she won’t survive. (She’s conscious as this is happening and screaming at him not to do it.) She dies, the baby (which was indeed a boy) dies, and from that double tragedy, House of the Dragon’s central conflict is gruesomely set in motion.

Aegon’s dream

King Viserys (Paddy Considine) and Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock)

We knew Westerosi history would tie House of the Dragon to Game of Thrones; the prequel begins by reminding us that all this is taking place nearly 200 years before our pal Daenerys Targaryen was born. But there’s also some mythology at work here, blended with a bit of retcon. When Viserys is about to name Rhaenyra his heir, he shares with her a secret passed down through generations of Targaryens from the first Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, Aegon the Conquerer. It’s a prophetic dream Aegon had envisioning the rise of the White Walkers that we see in Game of Thrones—and his belief that Westeros will need to be united behind a Targaryen ruler (you know, that old Song of Ice and Fire) to survive the threat.

Daemon vs. the Crabfeeder

Prince Daemon (Matt Smith)

Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) doesn’t need his brother’s army to defeat a tenacious band of pirates who’ve been squatting in the Stepstones under the leadership of the ruthless Crabfeeder. He just needs his own roiling anger and stupid bravery, with some well-timed dragon breath and maybe a small assist from Velaryon forces. Of all the batshit stuff that happened on House of the Dragon season one, it’s the beach fight—basically, Daemon vs. everybody—that made io9’s list of standout TV moments from 2022 for its sheer John Wick-i-ness.

Rhaenyra’s choice

Rhaenyra and Ser Criston Cole (Fabian Frankel)

After a teenage Princess Rhaenyra sneaks out of the castle for a night of debauchery with Daemon—which almost results in niece and uncle hooking up (don’t bother clutching your pearls, they get married later in the season)—she returns home hot and bothered and decides doing the deed with her sworn-chaste-but-willing bodyguard, Ser Criston Cole (Fabian Frankel), is the next-best thing. Many House of the Dragon characters make impulsive choices that have negative reverberations over time, but Rhaenyra’s horny mistake is near the top of the “bad idea” list.

Joffrey’s death

Ser Joffrey (Solly McLeod) and Ser Criston.

As Game of Thrones fans well know, weddings can be a dicey affair, especially when guys named Joffrey are in the mix. But there’s no conspiracy in House of the Dragon’s version of this scenario; instead, it’s Ser Criston taking out his rage on Ser Joffrey (Solly McLeod), who’s just tried to bro down with him over the fact that he and Criston are the secret lovers of newlyweds Princess Rhaenyra and Ser Laenor Velaryon (John Macmillan). The camera lingers on Joffrey’s caved-in face, because this is Westeros and we are all ghouls.

Rhaenyra’s bastards

Ryan Corr as Ser Harwin Strong, Rhaenyra’s not-so-secret lover.

When House of the Dragon’s sixth episode begins, there’s been a time jump of several years. Rhaenyra’s (now played by Emma D’Arcy) third son has just emerged from his mother when Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke) demands to see the infant. Alicent is Rhaenyra’s former best friend and the daughter of the Hand of the King, Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans); she married King Viserys not long after Aemma’s death, part of a long game engineered by Otto after he realized Viserys would name Rhaenyra his heir. Her claim, of course, is vulnerable because she’s a woman, and Otto is eager to exploit that. At this point, Alicent has already given Viserys the son he so desperately wanted—further foreshadowing the battle over the Iron Throne to come.

At any rate, there’s an important reason why Alicent wants a look at the newborn. Like his two older brothers, this new baby (named, ahem, Joffrey) doesn’t have the trademark Targaryen silver hair, which both Rhaenyra and Laenor share. Laenor is also biracial. Instead, the boys look a lot like… white guy with dark hair Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr), the Lord Commander of the City Watch in King’s Landing. Remember “the seed is strong” from Game of Thrones? Same deal. It’s an open secret that Laenor isn’t the father of these kids. An open, very touchy secret that, again, becomes vital in the succession fight as things heat up.

Suicide by dragon

Lady Laena Velaryon (Nanna Blondell)

Faced with the same agonizing medical emergency that killed Aemma, Lady Laena Velaryon (Nanna Blondell)—Daemon’s wife, pregnant with her third child after having two daughters—decides that rather than submitting to guaranteed-to-be-fatal surgery, she’ll go out on her own terms: commanding her dragon to incinerate her.

Lord Larys Strong’s unhinged fealty

Lord Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), always plotting.

When Queen Alicent laments that she wishes her father hadn’t been removed as Hand of the King, slippery Ser Larys Strong—son of the current Hand, Lord Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes), and brother of Ser Harwin Strong—sees an opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty. After a public brawl amid whispers about his true relationship to Rhaenyra’s children, Ser Harwin is sent back to Harrenhal accompanied by Ser Lyonel. Larys, whose nickname is “the Clubfoot,” is a guy who’s used to being ignored and underestimated. But he rises to the occasion here, hiring a couple of crooks to burn down the castle—successfully murdering both his brother and father, and ensuring Otto Hightower will be reinstated as Hand. Ruthless? Yes. Creepy? Yes. Turn your back on this guy? Never.

“I may have lost an eye, but I gained a dragon”

Young Aemond (Leo Ashton)

The festering tension between Rhaenyra and Alicent has unsurprisingly infected the next generation. This achieves a new level of violence when Alicent’s second son, Aemond (Leo Ashton), decides the day of Laena’s funeral is the right moment to claim her suddenly riderless dragon as his own. That doesn’t go over well with Daemon’s daughters or Rhaenyra’s sons—and the ensuing disagreement turns physical, with Rhaenyra’s second-oldest boy, Lucerys, desperately slashing out with a knife. Aemond loses an eye, and everyone freaks out—Alicent tries to rip out one of Lucerys’ eyes as payback—but Aemond, who’s been emboldened by the experience, takes it chillingly well. He may have lost an eye, he reasons, but he gained a big, badass dragon.

Laenor escapes

Laenor and Qarl (Arty Froushan)

Sorry to his parents, Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best) and Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), aka “the Sea Snake,” but the only way Laenor was going to find true happiness was to fake his own death. Also, Laenor being dead is the only way Rhaenyra and Daemon can finally get married. So Rhaenyra cooks up the plan, Daemon murders an unsuspecting servant to stand in as the corpse, and Laenor’s boyfriend, Ser Qarl Correy (Arty Froushan), fake-attacks Laenor before tossing the servant’s body into a disfiguring fire. With his unmistakable Targaryen hair shaved away, Laenor escapes with Qarl and notches a rare House of the Dragon triumph: a happy shocking moment, for once.

Ser Vaemond loses his head

Ser Vaymond Valaryon (Wil Johnson)

Rhaenyra’s son Lucerys is next in line to be the Lord of Driftmark, a title held by the ailing Lord Corlys Velaryon—Laenor’s father. But succession is a problem here, much as it is for the Iron Throne, because of the open but stringently unacknowledged secret that Laenor isn’t Lucerys’ biological father. Pointing out that Rhaenyra’s kids are illegitimate does not go over well with King Viserys, something that Lord Corlys’ brother, Ser Vaymond Valaryon (Wil Johnson) learns the hard way.

Intent on claiming the seat for himself, Corlys takes his beef very publicly to court… then is relieved of his head (by Daemon, suddenly and in front of everybody) for daring to scream out “her children are bastards and she is a whore!” The world of Game of Thrones sure does love a severed head, doesn’t it?

The death of Viserys

King Viserys (Paddy Considine) faces the end.

To be clear, Viserys’ death is maybe the least shocking thing that happens in House of the Dragon. Even early in the series when he’s relatively healthy, he’s showing signs of the wasting disease that will cause his slow decline. It’s what happens when he dies that’s a gasp-worthy moment: barely coherent, he mistakes his wife for Rhaenyra and murmurs about Aegon’s dream, the “Song of Ice and Fire,” and insists “you are the one… you must do this.” Naturally, Queen Alicent misinterprets his fevered ravings as the kingdom-splintering decision that her eldest son, the grievously ill-suited Aegon II, must ascend to the Iron Throne instead of Rhaenyra.

Larys’ foot fetish

Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke)

Lord Larys’ power grows as House of the Dragon progresses, but he remains ever-loyal to Alicent as her spy and doer of dirty deeds. All that doesn’t come for free, though; he doesn’t need money, so he accepts payment of a different sort that pleases his particular desires. And we can tell Alicent knows the drill. When Larys has a juicy bit of info to share, she removes her shoes, then her stockings, and puts her bare feet on display. For really big favors, there’s an added cost—though the pious Alicent does turn her face away while he’s masturbating and staring hungrily at her toes.

Rhaenys crashes the coronation

Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best)

When Viserys dies, his cousin Rhaenys is visiting King’s Landing. She’s imprisoned in her room with an ultimatum from Alicent: switch sides from Black to Green, or else. But Rhaenys isn’t one to back down; she may not always support Rhaenyra’s choices, but she’s Team Black all the way. After a sympathetic member of the Kingsguard sets her free, she crashes the coronation of King Aegon II on dragonback. There’s a long pause where it seems she might actually incinerate the entire royal family—though of course House of the Dragon fans know there’s a civil war coming that will involve all of these characters. But the look on her face says it all: she dearly wishes she could just light them all up and be done with it.

Dragons gonna dragon

Image: Courtesy of HBO

A lot transpires in House of the Dragon’s season one finale. But nothing is as startling as the moment Alicent’s son Aemond (riding the dragon he lost an eye for) and Rhaenyra’s son Lucerys (who wielded the knife to take that eye) engage in a mid-air battle—and Aemond’s dragon suddenly devours both Lucerys and his dragon. Every viewer, in unison, wondered “Wait… did that just happen?” Yes, yes it did. And season two’s premiere—arriving June 16—is titled “A Son for a Son,” so you know this is going to be urgent business as soon as we pick back up with House of the Dragon.