The anticipation is high for House of the Dragon’s finale, even if it might have been spoiled for many due to a leak. The series is gearing up for a war of dragons as a new king has been crowned, even though many witnessed the dying king proclaim his daughter would take the Iron Throne.
Given the ferocity of Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) in previous episodes — the man single-handedly won a battle that seemed impossible to win — a lot of blood will likely flow. The last few episodes have been a slow-burn exploring character dynamics and melodrama. Will HBO kick this show into full war mode, or will it save all that action for the next season airing in 2024?
“The Black Queen” opens with Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen’s (Emma D’Arcy) son — born from non-kingly blood — observing the battle map table. Soon Princess Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best) arrives and informs them what has happened. Rhaenyra is shocked to learn her father is dead, but even worse, she gets a pang of pain in her womb when she finds out Aegon Targaryen (Tom Glynn-Carney) has been made king.
Daemon is immediately in questioning mode, seemingly thinking his brother was killed, and questions Rhaenys for not killing everyone when she had the chance. This is a good dialogue since the audience is likely wondering the same thing. Soon though, a baby is to be born, and planning for war takes a backseat.
One can see the symbolism of Rhaenyra giving birth while war and death loom. These opening scenes bookend well with Rhaenyra’s mother’s failed birth in episode one. Fair warning, though, this episode contains graphic images related to childbirth, including potential miscarriages. The graphic nature seems warranted because it is great pain and loss for Daemon and Rhaenyra, who are already feeling defeated with the kingdom snatched from them.
Daemon is off the leash, but Smith plays him with controlled intensity. Nobody has gone mad or plays these parts in an unrealistic way. They are people, making choices and being careful with how they feel and act. Much of the first half of this episode is focused on Princess Rhaenyra realizing what she must do and leaning into her new role as queen.
Going into this show, we knew there’d be more dragons and that dragons nearly died out when Game of Thrones began, so expect some dragon action. In fact, Rhaenyra’s most significant advantage is how many dragons she has. Daemon has shown he understands this, and it’s smart he’d want to leverage their might against Queen Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) and her son, given her armies are far more significant.
Like some kind of metaphor for spoiled children, there’s a dragon battle you won’t want to miss with an inherited giant dragon fighting a baby dragon. The special effects are well done in this sequence, capturing the sheer size difference. Set during a rain storm, the dragon chase leads to a cavern and some cool close calls with cliffs. It’s also a major turning point that’ll lead to major consequences in season two.
There are other callbacks beyond failed births, like Rhaenyra and Daemon standing on Dragonstone against an enemy, only now they are working together. Against them is Hand of the King Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), who now it seems, has angled to get his lineage into power from the start. The war may not have started, but you’ll hang on to every word in their conversation. Whatever is said, whatever is retorted, could turn the tide from full-blown war to peace.
This scene leads directly into a conflict between Daemon and Rhaenyra and, in some respects, the peaceful nature of King Viserys. Does his legacy continue in Rhaenyra, or is she acting tactical? The two actors spar with words in a great back and forth, pushing their relationship while reminding us of the Song of Ice and Fire. If you were a fan of Daemon, this scene might change things for you.
If you thought Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) was dead, think again. He returns for a scene with his wife, Princess Rhaenys, although he’s been absent so long it’s hard to care. I’ll admit, this scene and how the episode’s first half plays out is a bit frustrating. The last episode did a lot of table setting with little conflict, and it appears that continues here. While the melodrama between characters can be delicious, it feels like they’re biding their time at this stage. It seems they can’t do too much without spoiling what we’ll get next season.
Once again, Aemond Targaryen (Ewan Mitchell) becomes the creepiest character in the series. Barely uttering a word, the showrunners introduce him with lightning flashing like he’s some kind of horror movie monster. He’s a wildcard, to be sure, and one to watch going forward.
House of the Dragon is a well-made show, but it walks and does not run in its climactic finale to season one. “The Black Queen” is likely titled as it is since it sets up a queen who desires only death, but to get there, it’s primarily slow-moving dialogue scenes. Knowing war is coming, it’s unfortunate this episode doesn’t start the war but rather tidies things up for a clean start in season two. That leaves you wanting and wishing the finale had more action and intrigue.
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