For a brief moment in this week’s House of the Dragon, it looks like King Viserys’ dream of family unity might actually come to pass. Because, really, who’d be able to refuse the last wishes of a visibly dying man who’s merely asking his kin not to destroy each other?
But then there’s a confusing conversation that happens right before Viserys breathes his last, and that seems like it will change everything. Are we really surprised? After all, while it might be nice to imagine a world in which Alicent and Rhaenyra fly together on dragon back, see the great wonders across the Narrow Sea and eat only cake… well, we all know how things tend to go in this violent, incestuous, power-hungry universe.
Read on for the highlights of Episode 8, then make sure to check out what surprised us about the king’s long-time-coming passing.
WHO’LL REPLACE THE SEA SNAKE? | Rhaenys questions a maester about the health of Corlys, whom she hasn’t seen in six years. Seems like a good time to check in! The man reports that the Sea Snake led his men into an ambush, suffered a gory neck wound and then fell into the ocean, losing a lot of blood in the process. “But the greater concern is the fever that followed,” the maester says, adding that Corlys is due home in three days.
Vaemond warns that his brother may be dead by the time his ship reaches home port, “and who will take the Driftwood throne?” Though Rahenys has been ruling in her husband’s absence, she reminds Vaemond that the seat will pass to Lucerys Velaryon, as Corlys promised when Rhaenyra and Laenor were wed. “My brother cares only for the history books, but what of the Velaryon line?” Vaemond bristles, asking for her support in his laying claim to Driftood’s power position. “The winds have shifted. The Crown has good reason to take my side,” he says. More on that in a minute!
HAVE FUN STORMING THE CASTLE! | At Dragonstone, Daemon climbs down into Syrax’s den and harvests three eggs, handing them off to the dragon minders. They give him a note from his daughter, Baela, that’s just arrived from Driftmark. Inside the house, Rhaenyra — who’s pregnant again — checks in on Jacaerys during his High Valyrian lesson. Daemon interrupts to share what he learned from the letter: Vaemond is going to call Rhaenyra’s kids’ legitimacy into question, and they’ve got to go to King’s Landing to deal with it.
When they arrive, they see firsthand that Viserys is somehow still alive, though he’s decrepit, bed-ridden and in INCREDIBLY rough shape. The princess and her consort immediately head to her father’s quarters and waste little time getting to the meat of the matter. “Brother, listen to me: You are to affirm your position for Lucerys to be Corlys Velaryon’s successor,” Daemon says, leaning over the bed to make sure that Viserys hears him clearly. Does the message land? Probably not. But then Rhaenyra announces that they want to introduce Viserys to someone, and she brings in twin blonde babies Aegon and Viserys. (Side note: I give Baby Viserys a lot of credit for not immediately losing his cool when someone strongly resembling the Crypt Keeper starts pawing at him.)
Alicent is delayed on her way to attend to her guests by a knight who alerts her to a spot of bother in Prince Aegon’s apartments. As she listens to a sobbing serving girl who delivered wine to the prince’s rooms, we learn that Aegon raped her. Alicent embraces the young woman and says she believes her… but that others likely won’t. After she subtly threatens her a little more, she puts a bag of coins in the serving girl’s hand, essentially force-feeds her some moon tea (“It’s best to be certain”), and then marches to Aegon’s room to scream at him about how disgraceful he is. The prince shows no remorse, of course; as Alicent hollers at him about how he’s brought shame upon them and his wife, he stands up, bare-assed, and cries a little when he says he’ll never be good enough for her or Viserys.
When Alicent finally makes her way to say hey to Rhaeynra and Daemon, they accuse her of keeping Viserys insensate via milk of the poppy so that she and her father can rule the kingdom. She counters that she and Otto are merely carrying out the king’s wishes, and that the old man’s suffering when he is unmedicated is unimaginable. Oh, and the combined HIghtowers will be the ones ruling on Lucerys’ claim to Driftmark the next day, so that’s a fun new wrinkle.
CATCHING UP | Jace and Luce make their way to the training yard, where they see a platinum-haired young man best Ser Criston Cole. When the blondie turns around, they realize it’s Aemon, who’s now sporting a gnarly eye patch over the peeper that he lost in the last episode.
In the weirwood, Rhaenyra finds Rhaenys and they play a game of semantics. “I loved your son, and I did not order his death, nor was I complicit in it. I swear this to you,” the younger princess tells the older one. Then she makes an offer: Back Luke’s claim, and betrothe Laena’s children to hers. “Balea will be queen of the Seven Kingdoms, and her sons will be heirs to the throne,” Rhaenyra says. Rhaenys warns Rhaenyra that the following day, the Hightowers will land their first blow. “They will force you to your knees,” she says, and Rhaenyra looks legitimately worried.
That night, Rhaenyra sits at her father’s bedside, crying a little as she laments that the burden of leadership is very heavy and that she needs his backing to succeed. But he’s a wheezing, babbling mess, and it makes her weep harder.
The next morning, as maesters treat the king’s sore-covered body, he mentions that he’d like to have a family dinner that evening. And even though he winces at the slightest movement and seems like he’s one foot and four toes in the grave, he refuses the milk of the poppy that Otto Hightower offers.
THE MAIN EVENT | Later, in the Throne Room, Otto presides over the petitions for Corlys’ seat. (Keep in mind, the Sea Snake isn’t dead yet.) Vaemond goes first, bringing up his “true, unimpeachable blood of House Velaryon,” which sets off Rhaenyra. But her objection is stilled by Alicent. And when it’s time for Rhaenyra to make her formal speech on behalf of Luke, she’s interrupted by Viserys’ unexpected entrance into the proceedings.
The king is leaning heavily on his cane. He’s wearing a golden mask that covers half his face, and I half expect him to launch into a wheezing rendition of “The Music of the Night.” But he rebukes almost all help, telling Otto to skedaddle from the seat of honor, because “I will sit the throne today.” When the king’s crown falls as he limps up the stairs to his chair, Daemon steps forward to help his brother the last few paces, then gently places the ornament on his head.
Even though Viserys looks like eight kinds of fried death, he immediately makes his thoughts clear: Why is everyone bickering over a succession that is already settled? Then he calls Rhaenys forward to speak, seeing as she’s the one who has the most insight into her husband’s thoughts and/or wishes. When she does, she says that Corlys backs the current plan — that Lucerys take the Driftmark throne — and then she announces Rhaenyra’s marriage plan for her boys with Daemon’s daughters, adding that she agrees with it.
Vaemond’s face upon hearing this news is rather epic. He immediately challenges the king, saying that he will not “allow” this breaking of tradition. “THAT IS NO TRUE VELARYON!” he yells, pointing at Lucerys. “That certainly is no nephew of mine.” He continues to rant, ending with the declaration that Rhaenyra’s “children are BASTARDS! And she is a whore.” Though the audience in the Throne Room is small, the gasp that follows his statement is huge. Viserys unsteadily rises, pulling his dagger. “I will have your tongue for that,” he says. But then, all of a sudden, Vaemond is missing the top half of his face… because Daemon has used his sword to slice off the northern third of his skull from behind. “He can keep his tongue,” the prince quips. Uh, woah. The whole episode is too much for Viserys, who falls back onto the throne, moaning; he’s carted away by a knight and a maester.
HEY, YA GOTTA EAT | Despite all of the death, discord and partial decapitation, that dinner Viserys wanted? It still happens. “How good it is tonight to see you all together,” he says after he’s carried into the feast, as though murder did not unfold before them all just a few hours earlier. He toasts the kids and their messed-up achievements, then laments how distant they’ve all grown from each other. He removes his mask at one point, revealing an empty eye right eye socket. “Tonight I wish you to see me as I am, not just a king, but your father, your brother, your husband, your grandsire, who may not, it seems, walk for much longer among you.” He exhorts them to set aside their grievances, but then I get so distracted by the fact that an ulcer has eaten clean through his cheek that I go into a fugue state for a while. When I come back, he’s demanding that they set aside their grievances “for the sake of this old man, who loves you all dearly.”
He sits, exhausted, and Rhaenyra immediately stands and raises a glass to Alicent for her steadfastness and loyalty to the king. She also apologizes. When she sits, the queen is visibly moved, saying that she and her former best friend “have more in common that we sometimes allow. I raise my cup to you and your house. You will make a fine queen.” Everyone follows suit, lifting their goblets, and it seems like maybe we’re on the very tenuous road to family unity? Eventually there’s music and dancing and smiling and laughing, and Viserys looks content as he surveys his family gathered around him.
But after the king is carried out, mid-meal, Luke can’t help but snicker as the roast pig is placed directly in front of Aemond. So Ol’ Eyepatch himself stands up and offers a toast to Jace, Luke and Joffrey, “these three STRONG boys.” It’s a not-really-veiled reference to their true pop, Ser Harwin Strong. Luke and Jace quickly throw down, but Daemon steps in to stop things before they get too intense. Alicent quickly runs to the princess’ side, lamenting when Rhaenyra says its best for her family to go back to Dragonstone. But she says she’ll return on dragonback after she sees the kids home safely, and the closeness between these two is something we haven’t seen since before the first time jump. Alicent grasps Rhaenyra’s hand and says both she and Viserys will be happy to have her back.
Late that night, the king is moaning in pain as Alicent attends to him. He starts babbling about Aegon’s dream and the Prince That Was Promised, and the queen is confused. But when he says “You are the one… you must do this,” she seems to come to a realization. “I understand, my king,” she says, leaving the room. (He definitely thinks she’s Rhaenyra, yes?)
Then Viserys reaches into the darkness for something or someone that only he can see. A tear falls from his remaining eye. He seems relieved, slightly, as he breathes what I assume is his last breath (though I thought he was a goner two episodes ago, so what do I know?) and says, “My love” — ostensibly seeing the deceased Queen Aemma as the scene goes to black.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!