‘House Of The Dragon’ Episode 8 Review: Long Live The King

House Of The Dragon gave us another big time-jump in Sunday night’s episode, ‘The Lord Of The Tides.’

After Episode 5 we jumped ahead ten years, with some of the major characters aging up and recast. We spent two episodes in this time period, learning about the children of Rhaenyra and Alicent. In Episode 8 we leap ahead another six years, and once again many of the actors have been recast.

Team Green

Here are the older versions of Alicent and Visery’s children Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney), Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) and Helaena (Phia Saban):

I knew I recognized the actor who plays Aemond but couldn’t place it until I looked him up. He plays Osferth in The Last Kingdom, the bastard son of King Alfred (ironically enough). In that show he’s an affable monk and a good friend to the main protagonist, Uhtred.

Here he is quite a bit more nefarious. The eyepatch—given to him in the fight in Episode 7—makes for a striking visage. He’s also tall and imposing and, oddly, seems older than his older brother, Aegon.

Team Black

And here are the older versions of Rhaenyra’s children Jacerys (Harry Collett), Lucerys (Elliot Grihault) and Joffrey and Daemon’s younger daughter Rhaena (Phoebe Campbell):

Rhaenyra and Daemon have two younger sons as well.

And here’s Baela (Bethany Antonia) who Rhaenys took as ward:

The Lord Of The Tides

The conflict of succession has loomed large throughout House Of The Dragon but it takes a new shape this episode.

Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) has been grievously wounded battling in the Stepstones and the matter of succession to the Driftwood Throne has come up. His brother, Ser Vaemond Velaryon (Wil Johnson) has petitioned the crown to name him heir against Coryls’s wishes, because he is of the ‘true blood’ and not a bastard like Luke.

Clearly this is a problem for Rhaenyra (Emma D’arcy) that goes well beyond inheritance of Driftmark. If her younger son is replaced as heir to Driftmark, then her older son, Jace, would be on shakier ground as heir to the Iron Throne, which would imperil her own claim as well.

Rhaenyra, Daemon (Matt Smith) and their children return to King’s Landing to make their case for Luke.

Here, Rhaenyra pleads with Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best) suggesting an alliance in order to secure Luke’s inheritance. She and Daemon talk earlier and reveal that Rhaenys thinks they had her son, Laenor, killed. She promises her she did no such thing (which we know is true, though not entirely true) and suggests a double marriage: Jace and Baela, who would go onto become King and Queen, and Luke and Rhaena who would ascend to Lord and Lady of Driftmark.

Rhaenys doesn’t seem thrilled by this suggestion until later, when she brings it up to King Viserys (Paddy Considine) at court.

Nobody expected Viserys to even show up for the proceedings. Alicent (Olivia Cooke) and her father Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) the Hand have been ruling the Seven Kingdoms as the king’s health continues to deteriorate. But Rhaenyra pleads with her father and he makes a shocking surprise entry, hobbling up to the Iron Throne in the middle of the proceedings and taking his place as adjudicator.

The king’s face is half-covered by a golden mask to hide the ruinous visage beneath. Like Aemond, Viserys has also lost an eye, though not to violence. The hollow socket typically remains wrapped in bandages. His hair has all but fallen out. His teeth are black and yellow, his skin grey. Sixteen years have passed since the fifth episode, but it may as well have been five decades for Viserys.

Yet he makes it to the proceedings to protect his daughter one last time. He tells Vaemond that to his knowledge nothing has changed and asks Rhaenys if Corlys still wishes to pass Driftmark on to Lucerys. She says that her husband’s wishes never changed and tells the King about the marriage proposals between her grandchildren and Viserys’s, which pleases the king greatly. The matter, he says, is settled.

But Vaemond is furious and defiant. “You break law,” he says to the king, “and centuries of tradition to install your daughter as heir. You dare tell me who deserves to inherit the name Velaryon. No, I will not allow it!”

“Allow it?” the king replies. “Do not forget yourself Vaemond.”

“That,” Vaemond says pointing at Luke, “is no true Velaryon. And certainly no nephew of mine.”

“Lucerys is my trueborn grandson and you no more than the second son of Driftmark,” Viserys replies, still calm though now with a knife’s edge in his voice.

“You may run your house as you see fit but you will not decide the future of mine. My House survived the Doom and gods be damned I will not see it ended on account of this…” He pauses, weighing whether or not he should take it that far. He had planned on an easy win from the Hightowers and the king’s surprise attendance has clearly shaken him.

“Say it,” Daemon taunts him.

“Her children are bastards!” he shouts. “And she is a whore.”

Viserys stands, drawing his Valyrian dagger. “I will have your tongue for that,” he says, swaying on his feet, astonishment and rage written across the half of his face not hidden beneath the mask.

Daemon does the rest of the speaking for him. He only has two words for the Velaryon knight: Dark Sister.

That is, of course, his Valyrian steel blade, passed down all the way from Visenya Targaryen, one of the two sister-queens of Aegon the Conqueror. He slices Vaemond’s head in two, lopping it off at the mouth—violence as effective as it is symbolic. When the body hits the floor we can see the tongue protruding from the top. “He can keep his tongue,” Daemon says, smirking.

“Disarm him!” Otto shouts and Daemon is quickly surrounded—grinning. But the Kingsguard do not disarm him. He wipes his blade and makes his way back toward Rhaenyra.

Aemond, watching from across the hall, has a small grin on his face, as if he recognizes a kindred spirit in his uncle. Or perhaps a challenge. There’s no denying the two bear something of a resemblance and share a type of self-confidence that few around them possess.

The king collapses, moaning, and Alicent and Rhaenyra both rush to him. “I must,” he gasps, “make things right.”

Many people thought that Daemon would be Rhaenyra’s biggest threat early on in this show. But he never really seemed to want the Iron Throne. If he had, he wouldn’t have kept getting on his brother’s bad side so publicly. What he wants is for his family to remain strong and he always viewed Viserys as too weak to be king. He wasn’t entirely wrong.

The king’s weakness is one of both temperament and circumstance. Viserys is a kindly man who wants everyone to get along and for everything to go as planned even when that’s clearly not possible. He detests war and conflict, and yet his choices—and avoidances—have ultimately led the realm to the precipice of war.

His illness certainly contributes as well. As he’s deteriorated, the Hightowers have made the Red Keep their own. Alicent has removed Targaryen symbols and statues and replaced them with religious symbols of the Seven. As Viserys rots away in bed, Alicent has all but taken over the Small Council and governance of Westeros, and Daemon and Rhaenyra are clearly perturbed by it, though Rhaenyra is much more nervous about her homecoming. I don’t think Daemon is ever nervous.

A Family Feast

Later, the families gather over a small banquet. Viserys is carried in on his grand chair by servants. “How good it is to see you all tonight together,” he rasps, clearly weakened by the earlier ordeal.

Even here, battle lines are being drawn at the dinner table. To the king’s right sits the queen; to his left, Rhaenyra. The Hand sits to the right of Alicent. At the end of the table, Aemond. Next to him Helaena and her brother-husband, Aegon. (She later reassures her nephews and nieces that marriage isn’t so bad—he mostly just ignores her).

Team Black wraps around from here. Jace and Luke, Rhaena and Baela, Daemon and Rhaenyra. Viserys starts things off with a toast to the betrothed and Aegon teases his nephew: “Well done, Jace, you’ll finally get to lie with a woman.”

The king toasts Lucerys as ‘future Lord of the Tides,’ and Aemond stares daggers at his nephew.

“It both gladdens my heart and fills me with sorrow to see these faces around the table,” the king says, standing. “The faces most dear to me in all the world, yet grown so distant from each other in the years past.”

He takes off his mask to reveal the empty socket and rotting skin beneath. He looks almost skeletal. “Tonight I wish you to see me as I am,” he says. “Not just as a king, but as your father and your brother, your husband and your grandsire who may not, it seems, walk much longer among you. Let us no longer hold ill feelings in our hearts. The crown cannot stand strong if the House of the Dragon is divided. Set aside your grievances!” he says passionately, “If not for the sake of the crown then for the sake of this old man who loves you all so dearly.

Alicent looks as though she’s about to cry. Rhaenyra stands and toasts the queen. “I love my father but I must admit that no one has stood more loyally by his side than his goodwife.”

She continues her toast, complimenting and ultimately apologizing to her old friend. Alicent returns the toast. “You will make a fine queen,” she says, and for a brief moment it’s almost as though the matter is settled.

But Aegon continues to press buttons, taunting Jace and Baela. Jace almost rises to the bait, but instead offers a toast to Aegon and Aemond. “We have not seen each other in years, but I have fond memories of us in our youth. And I hope as men we can be allies.”

“Well done my boy,” Viserys says.

“I’d like to toast Baela and Rhaena,” Helaena says. “They’ll be married soon. It isn’t so bad, he mostly just ignores you. Except sometimes when he’s drunk.”

Viserys calls for music and Jace goes and asks Helaena to dance. They prance around happily while everyone sits and eats and drinks. Rhaenyra and Daemon laugh. Alicent and Otto seem happy. Viserys watches the whole thing with both happiness and obvious exhaustion and pain.

It’s a lovely moment. The calm before the storm. Guards come and carry the king off. It will be the last time Rhaenyra sees her father.

Aemond, who has not spoken a word this entire time, sees Luke laughing at the other end of the table. He leans forward, anger flickering across his face, and pounds the table, raising his goblet. The music stops.

“Final tribute,” Aemond says. “To the health of my nephews. Jace, Luke and Joffrey. Each of them handsome, wise . . .” He pauses. “Strong.” He says the word pointedly, making it clear that he’s referring to Harwin Strong, their true father. “Come, let us drain our cups to these three strong boys,” he says. Alicent tries to shush her son but he ignores her.

“I dare you to say that again,” Jace says, more upset by this taunting than by any of Aegon’s ribbing.

“Why?” Aemond replies. “It was only a compliment. Do you not think yourself strong?”

Jace punches him and Luke starts to rush around the table. Aegon grabs the younger boy and slams him to the table. Aemond shoves Jace to the floor.

“Why would you say such a thing before these people?” Alicent says to her son.

“I was merely expressing how proud I am of my family, mother,” Aemond says, “though it seems my nephews aren’t quite as proud of theirs.”

Daemon gets between Jace and Aemond and stands staring at the young man with a smirk on his face. Aemond scowls and stalks off.

Rhaenyra and Alicent, at least, seem to have mended an old wound. Alicent doesn’t want her old friend to leave, and Rhaenyra promises to return on dragon-back after she returns her children safely to Dragonstone.

But alas, this brief moment of friendship may be the last between these two women.

Alicent goes to her husband that night as he lays dying in his bed. Delirious with pain and milk of the poppy, he mistakes her for Rhaenyra. He rambles about Aegon’s dream, the prophetic song of Ice and Fire. Since Alicent has no knowledge of this, she thinks he’s discussing their son, Aegon, when he talks about uniting the realm against the dark.

“It is you, you are the one,” he tells Alicent, thinking she is Rhaenyra. “You must do this. You must do this.”

And just like that, Alicent’s resolve to welcome Rhaenyra as queen is shattered, believing that her husband wants Aegon to sit the Iron Throne instead. “I understand my king,” she tells him, blowing out a candle and leaving the room.

Viserys moans, clenching and unclenching his fingers. “No more,” he gasps, and raises his hand up above the bed, a tear falling from his eye, his breathing slowing. As the screen goes to black we hear him say his final words: “My love.”

First off, I have to give a standing ovation to Paddy Considine for his performance here. He’s been excellent this entire season, but this was simply astounding work. His Viserys is a heartbreakingly tragic figure, and his three major scenes in this episode were each brilliant.

When he shows up in the throne room and hobbles his way to the Iron Throne, it’s a powerful show of strength and resolve and loyalty to his daughter. His speech to his family, pleading with them to set aside old grievances, was powerful and heart-wrenching. And his final moments of delirium that will shape so much of what’s to come was hauntingly beautiful and terribly sad.

I included a lot of dialogue in this recap simply because it’s all so damn good. There’s a Shakespearean quality to this show that makes every scene, no matter how apparently banal, gripping and dense with meaning, even those scenes with very little dialogue.

At first, I wasn’t as drawn in by House of the Dragon as I was by Game of Thrones but I’ve really shifted my views on this as the season has progressed. I’ve now watched the first six episodes twice and watching them weekly rather than all at once (like I first did) has been a better experience. This isn’t as binge-worthy as some shows. It takes its time—even as we time-jump to crucial moments in the story, often skipping years between episodes.

The characters are so richly drawn and the tension and conflict that’s built up between them so compelling and complex, in many ways I do believe this show is a more serious, more mature story that, ironically, is more about the actual game of thrones than its predecessor. Despite the plethora of dragons, it is less fantastical for one thing. It’s also more focused and less epic, with a smaller cast and a tighter focus.

At first, I wasn’t sure if we’d have characters we could really root for, but I think it’s pretty clear now that while everyone is complicated and layered, there are some characters I would rather see win than others. Jace is a studious and honorable young man; Aegon is violent and depraved. Luke is a bit of a blank slate at the moment, but seems affable enough; Aemond is cruel and menacing. Alicent seems like she wants to do the right thing, but ultimately she is self-serving and manipulative; Rhaenyra is certainly not above amoral actions, but she’s nonetheless the far more sympathetic of the two.

Game Of Thrones was often praised for its complex characters with their ‘grey morality’ but this show does it far better. The inscrutable Daemon, the scheming Otto Hightower, the good boy knight Ser Criston Cole turned dark and sour once spurned.

I am glad we have two episodes left and excited beyond words that we’ve returned to Westeros and found ourselves with a show that has exceeded all of my expectations.

What did you think of tonight’s episode? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook.

P.S. My apologies for the late review. I’m quite sick! Writing with this level of brain fog is no easy feat!

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2022/10/10/house-of-the-dragon-episode-8-review-long-live-the-king/