In true “Game of Thrones” fashion, “House of the Dragon” Episode 9 packs a helluva punch.
“The Green Council,” written by Sara Hess and directed by Claire Kilner, picks up right after the death of Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine), with his wife and council planning how to pass the crown to son Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) instead of his named heir Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy). All of this roughly follows George R.R. Martin’s “Fire & Blood,” which tells the history of House Targaryen, but at least two major scenes are unique to the show.
The first of those is early in the episode, when Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke) speaks with Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) about events transpiring in the castle and the capitol at that very moment. Larys loves his whispers (like Varys in “Game of Thrones”) and loves drama, so he’s already feasting in this scene — but it gets worse.
Watching a queen in Westeros do something as mundane and relatable as remove her socks is jarring enough for a “House of the Dragon” viewer, and should serve as warning: This is not a show where people wash themselves, eat meals, or remove their clothes without explicit narrative purpose. When the camera cuts between a close up of Alicent’s bare feet and Larys’ hungry expression, the connection becomes crystal clear — and still gets worse.
The scene ends on Alicent turning away from Larys, who starts to masturbate to the sight of her bare feet. Larys’ kinks are his own and certainly not remarkable in a show characterized by various levels of incest, but the added layer of his disability changes the context of this scene. “Game of Thrones” prominently featured a character with dwarfism and a paraplegic teenager, but it was never particularly elegant when it came to handling disability as it pertains to the modern world. Larys is known as “Clubfoot” because he was born with one foot curved inward, and his foot fetish seems driven more by this than by any Rhaeinterest in Alicent herself (though he did kill his whole family for her). This might be part of the show’s larger push to give Larys clear allegiance, when his motives in “Fire & Blood” were not always known. In “House of the Dragon,” Larys is distinctly aligned with the Hightowers and Targaryens, and Alicent acquiescing to him in this manner only strengthens his loyalty to her.
The second new scene is more of a crowd pleaser. Thousands of small folk line the Dragonpit for Aegon’s coronation, and as the reluctant usurper swings his sword in front of the cheering masses, a dragon swoops in to wreak havoc. It’s Rhaenys Velaryon (Eve Best), The Queen That Never Was, and her silent flight could not speak louder: She rejects the false king and supports Rhaenyra, and she’s entirely done with the etiquette and ceremony of King’s Landing now that the Greens are committing open, proud treason. She flies dragon Meleeys right up to the dais where Alicent, Aegon, and their immediate family stand, positioned perfectly to incinerate all of them and end this war before it begins in earnest.
Instead, she flies away.
Rhaenys’ dramatic flight and merciful sparing of the Greens is nowhere in “Fire & Blood,” and though it makes for as cinematic a sequence as any, it reframes a lot of what’s to come in “House of the Dragon.” Whatever happens in the finale and future seasons would definitively not have come to pass if Rhaenys yelled “Dracarys” and ended this war before it even began. And now the Greens owe her their lives, which could make for extremely compelling tension moving forward.
On some level, Rhaenys’ moment feels like justice for Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) in “Game of Thrones,” whose final dragon flights in Season 8 were criticized for shoddy character development that rushed the plot. Here is Rhaenys, a woman of unimpeachable character (surrounded by the highly impeachable), riding a dragon to illustrate the strength of her convictions. She risks being called a traitor and almost becoming a kinslayer, and doesn’t hesitate for a moment to doubt herself. She may be the queen who never was, and this moment proves it: The realm didn’t deserve her.
“House of the Dragon” has improvised scenes not in “Fire & Blood,” just as “Game of Thrones” before it expanded upon “A Song of Ice and Fire” (to mixed reception). Episode 9 epitomizes the range of these creative choices, from charged and disturbing to badass fan service. With a second season in the works (and likely more), these won’t be the last plot twists for “Fire & Blood” readers — not with a finale on the way.
“House of the Dragon” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.