(l-r) otto hightower, alicent hightower, and criston cole in house of the dragon

Ollie Upton/HBO

‘House of the Dragon’ pulls some power moves in penultimate episode

The brewing conflict comes to a head.


Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

Warning: This recap contains spoilers for House of the Dragon episode 9.

Viserys the Peaceful may have wanted peace more than anything among the two sides of his family, but as “The Green Council” demonstrates as plots decades in the making start to emerge, one side’s idea of peace might be just what kickstarts a full-blown civil war.

Twenty-year-old sworn oaths? Don’t know her. Legitimacy set by the king that he’s defended again and again and again? Not a problem. Flimsy close-to-final words are heard by only one person with an agenda that was part of a misinterpreted prophecy? Sounds legitimate enough to the Greens!

If you’re wondering what Daemon and Rhaenyra might think of all the events that just unfolded, you’ll have to wait until next week’s season finale, titled, “The Black Queen”; neither character appeared in “The Green Council” at all. Although, as negotiations over the Greens’ decades-long plan to usurp the throne even before Viserys was cremated demonstrated, they’re both on their minds—Rhaenyra especially.

This is how you get an insurrection, folks

lyman beesbury (right) in house of the dragon
Ollie Upton/HBO

Lord Lyman Beesbury, we hardly knew ye.

One of the steadfast members of Viserys’ small council, he is the only person who sticks up for Rhaenyra’s claim to the Iron Throne. He’s been around longer than anyone—he himself states that he’s 76 years old—and is quick to call the Greens’ move seizure, theft, and treason; he even insinuates that someone in the small council killed Viserys.

But he doesn’t have much time to figure out what he might do with that seed of an idea. Criston Cole, insulted by Beesbury hinting that Alicent might’ve killed her husband, forces him to sit down, and the push is hard enough that Beesbury’s small council round stone (which they use to check in at the beginning of meetings) goes straight through his skull, killing him instantly.

His death differs from the book in that none of the alleged methods played out; the small council stones are a show invention. Two of the methods (being flung out of a window and getting his throat cut) were enacted by Criston while the third involves him being locked in a dungeon. But the method doesn’t matter, as Fire & Blood surmises.

“All three chronicles agree on one particular: the first blood shed in the Dance of the Dragons belonged to Lord Lyman Beesbury, master of coin and lord treasurer of the Seven Kingdoms,” Fire & Blood states.

The small council takes great pains to ensure that the transfer of power to Viserys’ son Aegon is smooth, which means getting the lords to swear fealty to him. But Ser Harrold Westerling, the head of the Kingsguard, does just as much to start the war by witnessing this meeting and doing nothing to stop it. Disgusted by it (and Criston’s murderous streak) he might be, but he clings to duty over action.

“I am Lord Commander of the Kingsguard,” Westerling says. “I recognize no authority but the king’s. And until there is one, I’ll have no place in it.”

Westerling takes off his cloak and appears to live for now. (His book counterpart has been dead for a while.) But his inaction is enough to get Alicent to appoint Criston as the next Lord Commander.

Do we think Alicent really couldn’t have known about the plot to put Aegon on the throne?

alicent hightower in house of the dragon
Ollie Upton/HBO

Alicent Hightower has spent much of her reign as the queen trying to usurp her stepdaughter’s claim to the Iron Throne partly because of her fear—one stoked by her father Otto—that Rhaenyra would have all of her children killed. And upon Viserys’ death, she seems to be more annoyed that the rest of the small council had been planning to put Aegon on the throne without including her than the actual act of usurping. The small council was going to pull an insurrection with or without Viserys’ blessing, but now that they have “it,” they’ve got a cloud of legitimacy.

“My Queen, there was no need to sully you with darkling schemes,” Jasper Wylde, the master of laws, tells Alicent.

Did the small council not trust her or think she would’ve gone along with it? It’s hard to say, but when it comes to the question of what to do about Rhaenyra and Daemon, she’s at odds with them. She knows Rhaenyra will never bend the knee to Aegon and the Greens, but she also doesn’t want to murder Rhaenyra. (See: her previous squeamishness when Larys Strong casually became a kinslayer at her suggestion he took way too far.) No matter what Otto insists, she refuses to accept that as the course of action, and she even urges Aegon to offer his older sister mercy. (When it comes to the common folk, Alicent doesn’t seem to have such an issue with murder by paying for Larys’ latest act of arson committed against Mysaria’s stronghold by allowing him to indulge in his fetishes.)

Aegon, already put out by his knowledge that his father never liked him, flat-out asks his mother if she loves Rhaenyra. Notably, she doesn’t respond.

Think all of the Aegons and Rhaen-es in HOTD are confusing? Meet the Cargyll twins

erryk (left) and arryk cargyll (right) in house of the dragon
Ollie Upton/HBO

Back during the era of Game of Thrones, the show famously changed the name of Theon’s sister from Asha to Yara because the writers thought the former name was too similar to the freefolk Osha. But in HOTD, we’ve already got three named Aegons; two Viseryses; a Rhaenyra, a Rhaenys, and a Rhaena in one family; siblings named Laenor and a Laena; and a Daemon and an Aemond.

But that’s nothing compared to Arryk and Erryk Cargyll, two members of the Kingsguard who happen to be identical twins. Unlike the Lannister twins (two roles played by one actor), the Cargyll twins are played by two actors who are also twins.

Last week, we briefly met Erryk—Aegon’s sworn protector—when he informed Alicent about Aegon’s latest mess to clean up (raping one of Helaena’s handmaids). His interaction with the queen highlighted what could very well be a recurring bit: Nobody can tell Arryk and Erryk apart.

But as the duo is tasked with retrieving Aegon from wherever he’s hiding, their difference in thought starts to emerge: Arryk is disgusted by Aegon’s transgression and doesn’t think he’s fit to be king. But he’s also very much the person to point out that they “swore an oath of service until death.” Erryk, however, knows what Aegon is capable of behind closed doors: The king is a rapist, he’d rather be drunk than do any of his duties, and he’s a fan of watching children fight in caged matches (including, the Cargylls remark upon, a very young blond-haired boy who is probably Aegon’s bastard son).

By the episode’s end, Aegon’s actions and ascension leave Erryk so uneasy that he frees Rhaenys from house arrest and tries to get her on a boat out of King’s Landing. Rhaenys, however, has different plans.

Aemond just really wants to be king

aemond targaryen in house of the dragon
Ollie Upton/HBO

Should Aegon be king? Probably not. And, what’s even more surprising is that he’s self-aware enough to know that he shouldn’t be king. But dueling searches through the underbelly of King’s Landing—the Cargyll twins for Otto, Criston and Aemond for Alicent—give Aemond the rare chance to voice his royal ambitions. He’s the one who’s studied, trained, and has the world’s biggest dragon.

He wouldn’t have been too bothered if Aegon had turned up dead; when Arryk and Erryk find him, Aemond is almost disappointed his older brother is alive. But before that moment, he almost relished the challenge the Blacks would offer if Aemond overstepped his nephews (from Aegon and Helaena) to ascend the Iron Throne himself.

“We are decent men with no taste for depravity,” Aemond argues. “His secrets are his own. He’s welcome to them. I’m next in line for the throne. Should they come looking for me, I intend to be found.”

But Aegon is found, and he embraces it all eventually. All it takes is Aegon the Conquerer’s crown, the Valyrian steel sword Blackfyre, and an adoring crowd who was forcibly made to attend the coronation for him to do it.

Another dragonrider emerges

rhaenys targaryen in house of the dragon
Ollie Upton/HBO

Granted, we technically saw Rhaenys fly her dragon Meleys to her son Laenor’s wedding in episode 5. But a wide shot and a close-up, which happens at the end of episode 9, are two very different things.

For much of the season, Rhaenys has been on the sidelines. She’s had plenty of quips and played her hand when it benefited her, but she didn’t usually make a move in court. But we now know that someone other than Corlys has noticed it: Alicent, in trying to appeal to her to bend the knee to Aegon, says what we all know: Rhaenys would’ve been the better ruler.

“You, more than any soul alive, understand what I say now,” Alicent says. “Princess Rhaenys, I loved my husband but I will speak the truth we both know: You should’ve been Queen.”

The moment offers enough of a connection for Rhaenys for her to hesitate and then spare the Greens at Aegon’s coronation. Would it have been easier if she killed them all? Of course, but no matter what character logic we might try to assign, the greater show one remains: If Rhaenys smoked the Greens, we would have a very short show, and we know that George R.R. Martin is aiming for four seasons of HOTD.

No matter what should have happened at that coronation, the war that’s been bubbling for decades is finally here.

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