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‘House of the Dragon’ recap: Here be dragons — finally

Were these the dragons you’ve been waiting for?

For a show called “House of the Dragon,” it has taken an awfully long time to get to the fireworks factory. Last season’s finale featured a scaly fracas that resulted in Luke’s death. Since then, dragons have appeared as transportation options and symbols on battle plans, but little else.

All that changes with this week’s episode, when the inevitable war between Rhaenyra Targaryen’s family at Dragonstone and Alicent Hightower’s at King’s Landing arrives, along with a host of tremendously large CGI dragons.

With Otto stripped of his adviser role, planning for war has been hasty and inept on the Hightower side. But it turns out that ever-watchful Aemond was playing three-dimensional chess while everybody else was struggling with checkers. By the episode’s end, he’s poised to hold the most power in Westeros.

How’d we get there? Let’s recap:

Daemon, you’ll recall, is supposed to be raising an army for Rhaenyra, but he’s trapped in an Ari Aster movie, playing “Extreme Castle Makeover” at Harrenhal. He keeps seeing a young, taunting version of Rhaenyra in his dreams, who tells him, “You are now set on destroying me all because your brother loved me more than he did you.” Daemon beheads dream Rhaenyra, but she continues to speak, even as her head sits on the floor in a pool of blood.

So it seems Harrenhal might really be haunted, as revealed by Alys Rivers, the healer who told Daemon he’d die there. We get to know her a bit more after Daemon hears footsteps outside his door and encounters her in the kitchen, where she’s brewing up something nasty. He calls her a “strange kind of woman,” but she explains that she’s actually a barn owl in human form, which pretty much proves his point. Soon, she’s making moves on him, asking whether he’s at Harrenhal to get away from his wife. How long before Daemon’s making more silver-haired babies with this lady?

Daemon’s meeting with Samwell Blackwood, who Team Rhaenyra desperately needs on its side, doesn’t go well. Blackwood pointedly reminds Daemon that he once vied for Rhaenyra’s hand in marriage and has great respect for her — emphasis on “her.” He promises Daemon his armies if Daemon can “bring justice to the Brackens,” so apparently that beef is still ongoing despite the Battle of the Burning Mill.

Meanwhile, word is that Criston Cole is taking castle after castle, and may be heading to Harrenhal. Daemon needs to line up allies fast, but he falters again: Instead of getting the meeting he wants with Riverlands leader Grover Tully, Daemon meets his grandson, Oscar Tully, the future Lord Paramount. Daemon needs at least Lord Paramount Plus, but Oscar’s father is long dead, and the teenager is unwilling to take any action while his grandfather is incapacitated. Daemon, who makes a bad joke about taking a pillow to the Grandpa Tully’s face, is angry, frustrated and possibly going crazy.

As hostilities continue to ramp up, we finally get the missing backstory on two new characters, the brothers Alyn and Addam, who are connected to Corlys the Sea Snake because Alyn once saved Corlys’s life at sea. The story gets a lot more genealogically interesting when Rhaenys shows up at the shipyard and immediately puts her hand on Alyn’s face, observing that his mother must have been very beautiful. “I know who he is, Corlys,” she tells her husband after Alyn is gone. Corlys seems to have come by his nickname honestly, but Rhaenys doesn’t bear his illegitimate offspring any ill will and observes that Alyn’s past is no fault of his own.

While Rhaenyra was secretly visiting Alicent, her council got impatient. The crotchety old men quarreled with the younger generation — Baela and Jace — about whether to take action in the queen’s absence. Rhaenys returns, and Corlys, who has come with her, chastises the council for infighting.

Rhaenyra eventually returns to find everyone arguing about whether a dragon should be sent to counter Criston Cole’s string of victories, including his win at Duskendale (more on that in a bit). Jace is angry that his mother disappeared at this critical juncture, so she reveals that she met with Alicent in hopes of avoiding war. That prompts even more criticism, but Rhaenyra assures the council it was necessary. Now, she says, “Either I win my claim or die.” Rhaenyra agrees to send a dragon to confront Cole, but will not send Jace or Baela. She wants an experienced fighter, and Rhaenys steps up.

In private, Rhaenyra gives Jace more details about the “Ice and Fire” prophecy. She tells her son that, as her heir, he needs to know they’re not just fighting for the throne, but to protect of the entire realm when they unite against a common foe. Of course, everyone on this show will be long dead by the time that happens, but in Westeros, it’s best to take the long view.

Team Alicent, featuring Larys the Sneaky

Alicent is still rattled by her conversation with Rhaenyra. Although she’s in denial, she suddenly becomes interested in the history books that captivated Viserys. She even asks the Grand Maester whether he thinks Viserys wanted Aegon on the throne. (The Grand Maester, who wasn’t born yesterday, says he doesn’t know.) He has also brought her an abortion potion, ostensibly for a friend, that she drank herself.

After Alicent misses a council meeting, Larys visits. He clocks the potion but is cool with it, saying it’s a sin to deny our appetites. When he notices the book that Alicent has been reading, Larys says he didn’t know she shared her late husband’s love of history. Alicent, still soul-searching, admits it’s impossible to know what Viserys was really thinking in his final hours. Ultimately, she decides, what matters is who wins the war: The ends justify the means, people.

Ser Cole has won a string of battles, including a shoreline fight at Duskendale. When we catch up with him, he’s offering the men of House Darklyn the chance to turn against “The Whore of Dragonstone” — or else. Lord Gunthor Darklyn chooses “or else,” chastising Cole for un-knightly behavior and losing his head to Cole’s sword shortly thereafter.

Back at King’s Landing, Aegon the Peeved, Most Restless of His Name, fumes that Daemon has already taken Harrenhal, but he’s unaware that the spooky stronghold could have been taken by three toddlers standing on one another’s shoulders in a trench coat. He lashes out at Larys — it’s his family castle, after all — but Larys assures the king that Harrenhal will serve the dual purpose of driving Daemon crazy and wasting his time.

Aemond supports the idea of Criston holding off on Harrenhal and instead marching to Rook’s Rest, where they’ll cut off Dragonstone by land. In front of the council, Aemond switches to speaking High Valyrian, challenging Aegon to come up with a better strategy. Aegon not only doesn’t have a better plan, he can’t speak the language.

Later, luckless Aegon is confronted by Alicent. She’s frustrated that her son thinks the crown confers wisdom and tells him he has done nothing to earn his seat. Aegon asks what she’d have him do. “Nothing,” she says. That, she tells him, is what she needs most from him. Cole is ready to move on Rook’s Rest and plans to do so in broad daylight. As Cole is preparing his attack, a surprise! We see Aegon getting into his battle gear to join the fight even as Rhaenys is saying goodbye to Corlys and mounting her dragon. This time, there’s nobody around to stop Aegon.

Team Green approaches that castle and fends off rounds of arrows from the battlements. Then Rhaenys arrives, her dragon Meleys incinerating Cole’s men. As Cole’s troops summon Vhagar and Aemond, Aegon arrives, urging his dragon on with the incredibly unthreatening battle cry “Forward, Sunfyre!” Meleys and Sunfyre tangle in the air, with Meleys clearly winning. Aemond and Vhagar come to Aegon’s aid, but — plot twist! — Aemond commands his dragon to fire on Aegon instead. Aegon and Sunfyre plummet to the ground and crash in the woods.

Rhaenys could have returned to Dragonstone and claimed victory at this point, but instead she turns to attack. Aemond is ready to fight, and their mighty dragons spit fire and claw at each other in a midair dance of death. Vhagar hits the ground and crashes into a bunch of troops, including Cole, who is knocked unconscious. As Meleys passes over the castle, Vhagar attacks from the ground, seizing the other dragon by the neck. Meleys falls backward, and Rhaenys, realizing there’s nothing she can do, lets go and falls to the ground, landing with her dragon in a burst of fire. RIP, the Queen Who Never Was.

Cole comes to surrounded by bodies. He tries to get the attention of a soldier in armor, but the body inside is nothing but ash. As Gwayne leads what’s left of Cole’s army to take the castle, Cole goes to look for Aegon in the woods. There he finds Aemond, sword drawn, about to strike what’s left of the king. Aemond doesn’t kill his brother but does pick up Aegon’s Valyrian sword. Cole, victorious in battle but unable to protect his king, falls to his knees. We close on the grim scene.

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