Being in line for the throne doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the one with the most clout. Far from it, in fact, as the penultimate episode of House of the Dragon’s first season makes clear. Aegon is called to take over the throne, but he literally has to be dragged kicking and screaming to his duty; meanwhile, Rhaenys, the spurned party of Westeros’ last succession dispute, proves to be the true heavy hitter of the hour.
“The Green Council” is a tense chess game of an episode, kicking off the power vacuum that we knew was coming the moment Viserys breathed his last. It’s telling that Otto Hightower dubs the late king “Viserys the Peaceful” because the flip side of his near-bloodless 26-year reign is the brutal civil war that will follow. Moments after learning of the king’s death, Otto springs into action. He’s spurred on by Alicent’s news that her husband’s final words to her were that he wanted Aegon, and not Rhaenyra, to succeed him on the throne. This is a radical interpretation of the text, of course: In his milk of the poppy–addled haze, he mistook Alicent for Rhaenyra, telling her that he believed Aegon the Conqueror’s prophecy of the Prince That Was Promised was about her. Alicent filled in what she wanted to hear in the empty spaces between Viserys’ words—which were, to be fair, extremely confusing sans context.
Otto assembles the Small Council in the predawn hours. It’s chilling how quickly most of the members accept this change in the line of succession, less than a day after Viserys publicly reinforced his choice of Rhaenyra as heir. Turns out the Hand has been conspiring with Master of Ships Tyland Lannister, Master of Laws Jasper Wylde (Paul Kennedy), and Grand Maester Orwyle (Kurt Egyiawan) to put Operation Usurp the Throne into action, right under the noses of the rest of the council—including Alicent.
Otto and company coldly lay out their plan to crown Aegon, which includes the swift assassination of Rhaenyra, Daemon, and their children. Loyal old Lord Beesbury (Bill Paterson) calls shenanigans, raising the question of regicide, and Ser Criston “Casual Public Homicide” Cole brutally murders him—making him the first casualty of the coming war. When Otto orders Ser Harrold Westerling (Graham McTavish) to dispatch the princess and her family, the longtime Lord Commander promptly resigns. And so exit the two people who were arguably the only purely good men in the Red Keep, leaving the proverbial crows to feast on the king’s corpse.
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Director Clare Kilner’s camera returns over and over to Olivia Cooke’s face as Alicent watches events unfold with increasing horror and revulsion. Gray as her morals have become over the years, her devotion to Viserys was never an act—and she won’t let Otto order the death of the daughter her husband so dearly loved. (And it’s clear that, despite all the rancor between them, Alicent loves Rhaenyra, too.)
The first volley in this war isn’t between the Greens and the Blacks; it’s Hightower versus Hightower, as the queen finally sees how ruthless her father really is. Later in the episode, she’ll tell him that he’s been using her as a pawn from the moment he sent her to “comfort” Viserys all those years ago. But she’s a player now—and their game begins when Prince Aegon, the dirtbag teen who’s got a date with the Iron Throne, goes AWOL.
They each send their lieutenants out into the city to search for the wayward prince: Alicent enlists Ser Criston and Aemond, arguably the two biggest sociopaths in the Red Keep. And Otto turns to…Okay, look. George R.R. Martin was definitely messing with us when he named the Cargyll brothers, identical twins who are both knights of the Kingsguard, “Erryk” and “Arryk.” And since House of the Dragon screeners don’t have subtitles, I can’t tell you which is which. So let’s go ahead and call them Cargyll 1 and Cargyll 2.
The race is on to find Aegon in increasingly unsavory corners of the city. Apparently, the prince’s tastes are too fucked-up for the mainstream brothels, but he is into watching 10-year-olds with filed-down teeth and sharpened nails fighting to the death for sport. Yikes. The only thing that makes Aegon less of a monster than GOT’s Joffrey Baratheon is that, as he later tells Aemond, he knows he’s too sadistic and stupid to rule the Seven Kingdoms.
The twins get a lead from a girl who serves “the White Worm,” aka Daemon’s old flame, Mysaria. She’s forged an intricate chain of connections at every echelon of King’s Landing society, from Flea Bottom to the Red Keep. One of her chief informants is Alicent’s handmaiden Talya (Alexis Rabin), whose inside info runs so deep that she’s the first to catch wind of Viserys’ death. In exchange for a fat bag of coins and vague promises to aid the peasants, Mysaria tells Otto where Aegon is secreted away.
The Cargylls find the prince hiding beneath the altar of the Grand Sept, drunk and desperate to escape his birthright. Alicent’s crew intercede and try to grab the prince for themselves, Aemond restraining his fleeing brother while Criston crosses swords with Cargyll 1. That’s when Cargyll 2 moonwalks away, realizing that he wants no part of this royal shitshow.
It’s the queen’s side that nabs Aegon in the end, meaning Alicent has finally gained the upper hand over Otto. She confronts her father and lays out her terms: The new king will be crowned first thing in the morning, Criston will be named the new Lord Commander, and terms will be sent to Rhaenyra rather than long knives. A thoroughly licked Otto tries to play dear old dad, telling his daughter that she looks like her mother in certain lights. Alicent rolling her eyes at this feeble gambit and leaving without another word is the second-most badass moment in the episode.
The first, of course, belongs to the legendary Princess Rhaenys herself. She’s still in King’s Landing following the debate over the future Lord of the Tides, and she wakes to find the door to her room locked. It’s hours before Alicent comes in, bearing news and an attempt to win Rhaenys to her side. The queen may have outwitted Otto, but he’s small potatoes compared to a master opponent like the Lady of Driftmark. Cooke and Eve Best deliver a verbal showdown that’s twice as thrilling as the Kingsguard swordfight. Alicent brings out all the old saws: Supporting Rhaenyra has left Rhaenys with two dead children, bastards for grandsons, and a grievously wounded husband. “We do not rule, but we may guide the men who do,” the queen finishes.
The Queen Who Never Was isn’t having it. If the Hightowers respect her so much, she posits, then why are she and her dragon both locked up? And then she drops a piece of wisdom that’s also a trap: Though Alicent has become a true player in the game (of thrones), everything she does is “in the service of men.” “You desire not to be free,” Rhaenys says, “but to make a window in the wall of your prison.” One more man will sap Alicent’s dwindling energy before the night is out: Creepy Larys Strong, who has sniffed out Mysaria’s informers in the castle, including Talya. He offers to take out the White Worm just as he did his father and brother. Then we see the price of Larys’ favors: Indulging his foot fetish. This is the second time we’ve seen Alicent forced to put up with a dude masturbating in front of her when she has better things to do; “in the service of men” indeed.
Rhaenys won’t be in her cage for long, because a fed-up Cargyll 2 comes to spirit her out of the castle in disguise. But it’s a rough time to take to the streets of King’s Landing, as the Gold Cloaks are rounding up the smallfolk like cattle to funnel them into Aegon’s coronation. It’s as grand a spectacle as the Hightowers (and House of the Dragon’s VFX team) can cook up, as thousands of bodies are packed into the Dragonpit to await Aegon’s arrival. The king-to-be is sulking in a carriage beside his mother, who’s doing her level best to prepare her son for what’s to come. The prince says he knows his father never wanted this; Viserys had two decades to make him his heir, but he never did. So why would he change his mind on his deathbed? You know that when Aegon friggin’ Targaryen is the most reasonable voice in the room, things have gone extremely pear-shaped.
Tom Glynn-Carney does a lot to humanize his loathsome character as he proceeds to the dais beneath a canopy of raised swords, tears shining in his eyes. He’s a monster, but he’s also a scared kid forced to step into a role for which he’s massively unqualified. Miraculously, the whole thing goes off without a hitch: The Septon anoints him, newly minted Lord Commander Criston places the crown on his head, and the crowd breaks out in cheers so seemingly sincere that Aegon smiles for the first time in days.
But then, in House of the Dragon’s most spectacular moment to date, the stone floor beneath the onlookers explodes. Surprise, motherfuckers! It’s Rhaenys, in full armor, astride her dragon, Meleys. As Meleys’ gaze lands on the royal family, Alicent shields the just-crowned King Aegon II with her own body. The queen squeezes her eyes shut as she prepares to be incinerated, but the red dragon only roars—a display of both might and mercy. Fixing the queen with a stare that speaks volumes, Rhaenys wheels Meleys around and shoots off into the sky. Talk about a power move.
- “The Green Council” is the first HOTD installment without Rhaenyra or Daemon, and it drastically changes the energy of the episode. But considering next week’s season finale is called “The Black Queen,” they’ll certainly come roaring back.
- Early in the episode, Helaena repeats one of her cryptic statements: “Beware the beast beneath the boards.” Looks like our new queen consort is a prophetess.
- • Speaking of Helaena, she has her first one-on-one scene with Alicent this week, and they couldn’t look less like mother and daughter. That’s probably because the actors who play them, Cooke and Phia Saban, are only four years apart in age.
- One of Otto’s first moves after Viserys’ death is to make the lords and ladies of the Red Keep bend the knee to Aegon. The two holdouts are swiftly carted away by the guards, while the third, Rhaenyra’s faithful Lord Caswell (Paul Hickey), reluctantly kneels. He’ll later make a bid to escape to warn the princess, winding up at the end of a noose for his troubles.
- While twin brothers Jason and Tyland Lannister are played by the same actor (Jefferson Hall), Erryk and Arryk Cargyle are played by real-life twins Elliott and Luke Tittensor.
- Like most second sons, Aemond has a major chip on his shoulder. The prince tells Criston that he’d make a much better king than Aegon because, unlike his big bro, he’s hardworking, cunning, and deadly. It doesn’t hurt that he rides the largest dragon in the world. He’s right, but it begs the question: Is it worse to have a cruel, incompetent king, or a cruel, competent one?
- The Thrones-verse doesn’t often pay attention to the smallfolk, so it’s fascinating to watch Mysaria bring up class in her negotiations with Otto. She asks him to stop the barbaric child-fighting rings in Flea Bottom, which are allowed to thrive because the Gold Cloaks turn a blind eye. She also reminds the Hand that she could have easily killed Aegon rather than helping him. “There is no power but what the people allow you to take,” she warns.
- Alicent knew exactly what she was doing when she named her firstborn after Aegon the Conqueror. To further drive home the connection, she gives her son his namesake’s longsword, Blackfyre; his ancient iron crown, and that fateful Valyrian steel dagger.
- The massive building that Meleys blows a hole through is the same spot where, centuries later, the Great Council of 305 AC will gather to name Bran Stark Lord of the Six Kingdoms. By then, it’s a roofless ruin.
- In an example of art accidentally imitating life, King Aegon II’s hasty coronation is a strange echo of King Charles III’s ascension ceremony last month. No dragons showed up at St. James’s Palace, though.
- Look out for The A.V. Club’s interview with episode director Clare Kilner on Monday.