Oct 23, 2022
By Stephen Danay
Photography by Ollie Upton / HBO
Following the death of King Viserys in the final moments of the previous episode, House of the Dragon bifurcates its final two hours between the two factions that will define the show and war to come. This episode focuses on Aegon’s “green council” in King’s Landing, while the finale will focus on the “black council” of Rhaenyra on Dragonstone.
This type of “bottle episode” refers to an installment of a television show set in a single location is one that Game of Thrones was prone to on occasion. But the series took a more elaborate approach to them, usually constructing them around a major battle or season-capping set-piece, such as “Blackwater,” “The Watchers on the Wall” or “Hardhome.”
“The Green Council” hour moves through the city and shows the actions and perspectives of more than a dozen characters, but the lead of the episode is Olivia Cooke, who should submit this episode for her Emmy nomination. Alicent is my favorite character of this first season. She is undoubtedly the most improved over the source material, where, as I’ve mentioned in previous recaps, she’s almost exclusively portrayed as a scheming harridan. Her suppressed sobs after being awoken and told of her husband’s death and her honest belief (or is it genuine self-deception?) that Viserys wished Aegon to be king, cement her as a sympathetic and deeply tragic figure.
Throughout the episode she attempts to compromise and forgive at virtually every turn. She is pushed aside by the men supporting her son who, as she finds out in the Small Council session, have been planning to assassinate Rhaenyra and her family after Viserys’ death as a precautionary measure.
Between her father’s boundless ambition, Cole’s single-minded vengeance and whatever is wrong with Larys Strong, Alicent has surrounded herself with men on whom she relies for protection but see her only as a means to an end. As memeable as the scene between Alicent and Larys has become, in practice, it plays like a chilling twist on the sexual violence that has become a defining feature of this world. Alicent is more powerful than Larys in almost every sense: politically, socially and perhaps even physically given his clubfoot. And yet the scene remains off-putting, violating and sad in all the ways that a depiction of sexual assault can and should be.
The main thrust of the episode, where competing teams under orders from Alicent and Otto attempt to find a drunken, AWOL Aegon in the slums of King’s Landing feels arbitrary. I don’t know how much difference it really makes whether Otto’s or Alicent’s agents find Aegon first, but it does give us a closer look at some of the Greens.
More interesting is Aemond, a wild-eyed (heh) psychopath with a Stannis Baratheon-like devotion to institutional norms. He’s full of reasons why he’d make a better king than Aegon. But he is also zealous in his commitment to his brother’s claim. Who’d have thought that years of tutelage under Criston Cole would have turned him into a violent beast with a chip on his shoulder? As fun as Ewen Mitchell is as Aemond, hats off this episode to Tom Glynn-Carney, who takes Aegon on a rollercoaster of a journey. He goes from a nightmarish hangover to resigned dread at the idea of being king, to really vibing with the idea of a crowd cheering you on while you’ve got a sword in your hand and a crown on your head. Aegon II is not a particularly nuanced character in Fire and Blood but Glynn-Carney and the writing team have taken the few kernels Martin presented there and created a character that’s a horrible person but a sympathetic one nonetheless.
The final scene of the episode is Aegon’s coronation at the Dragonpit, which is interrupted in spectacular fashion by Rhaenys and her dragon, Meleys. In a subplot invented for the show, Rhaenys is in King’s Landing when Viserys dies and is imprisoned by the Greens until she is spirited away by Erryk Cargyll of the Kingsguard.
Witnessing Aegon’s coronation and freeing her dragon, Rhaenys is given the opportunity to make this a one-season show, with Otto, Alicent and their offspring staring down the mouth of Meleys. Rhaenys, a woman who has been constantly caught in the middle of the seasons politicking, and who has lost both her children to it, can’t bring herself to do the same to a defenseless Alicent and her own children. It’s a bold choice on the show’s part, one that shows that even though the Greens may hold King’s Landing, Aegon the Conqueror’s crown and sword, and the male claimant, Rhaenyra and her followers will not be going down without a fight.
Connections and Foreshadowing:
– While Aemond and Cole were searching for Aegon on Alicent’s behalf, the Cargyll twins of the Kingsguard were commanded to bring him directly to her father, Otto. Although they make some disturbing discoveries – the child fighting pits of Flea Bottom are an invention of the show, Aegon having bastards is not – the scenes mostly exist to show the fracturing between the siblings, with Arryk remaining loyal to Aegon and Erryk defecting to Rhaenyra. They’re not major characters, but they are the conflict of the show writ small. They’ll continue to play a substantial role in the finale.
– Returning after a multi-episode absence is Sonoya Mizuno as Mysaria, who has apparently reinvented herself as an information broker and brothel madam in the intervening years. In a somewhat confusingly-shot montage, her brothel is burned down by the episode’s climax. But rest assured, she’ll be back.
– I continue to be stumped regarding the show’s intentions for Ser Harrold Westerling. He’s appeared in almost every episode, often standing wordlessly in the background of council scenes. Harrold is played by Graham McTavish who has previous fantasy clout from The Hobbit films, The Witcher and AMC’s Preacher. He’s also featured in the opening credits in lieu of other characters with far more screen time. In Fire & Blood, he’s mentioned in literally one line, wherein his death paves the way for Criston Cole to become Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. His apolitical resignation in this episode will likely pave the way for a similar outcome but Westerling’s actions going forward will be a complete invention of the show. He seems to be on a very similar path to Ser Barristan Selmy from the original series, who swore his sword to Daenerys after being dismissed from the Kingsguard by Joffrey.
– Speaking of departures from the Small Council, Lyman Beesbury’s death marks yet another instance of Criston Cole perpetrating extreme violence at an official function. In the book, sources differ on whether Cole slit Beesbury’s throat or threw him out the tower window. In the show, Cole slams Beesbury’s head onto the table and directly onto those little marble things that now just seem like they were there for that moment. I liked the suddenness of it, and the way everyone just gets back to business. Incidentally, Aegon will be needing a new Master of Coin.
– A minor story arc that comes to a close this episode is that of Lord Allun Caswell, who reluctantly bends the knee to Aegon by way of Otto Hightower before being caught and hanged while trying to escape the city and warn Rhaenyra. Sharp-eyed viewers will remember him as the lord who “is honored to offer any service to Rhaenyra” during her postpartum march in episode six. Rhaenyra, trying to be polite at a very difficult moment, tells him “the day may yet come, Lord Caswell”, and so it did. Incidentally, House Caswell rules the town of Bitterbridge in the Reach which – if the show continues being as faithful as it’s been thus far – we’ll be seeing in future seasons.
– So Helaena’s prophetic words from last week: “The beast beneath the boards,” seems to have come to fruition with the arrival of Rhaenys and Meleys at the coronation. The two things I was thinking of last week, however, could work as further interpretations of it.
Author rating: 8/10
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