By design, House of the Dragon feels like a very similar show to its predecessor, Game of Thrones. The opening theme song, the location of King's Landing, the bleached Targaryen wigs, the medieval costumes, the "prince that was promised" prophecy, and the sex, gore and politics of it all — all hallmarks of Game of Thrones. The prequel's plot is literally a game of the Iron Throne, just a couple centuries earlier.
It's not surprising, considering Game of Thrones was a massive hit and possibly the last example of monoculture. In this case, familiarity breeds contended viewers.
Yet, House of the Dragon has chosen to differentiate itself from the original in a key way that left me utterly disappointed after the most recent episode. And now, I'm dubious about how the finale will shake out.
Spoilers ahead for House of the Dragon episode 9 and the entire Game of Thrones series.
Game of Thrones was famous for action-packed penultimate episodes
Game of Thrones fans quickly became used to action-packed, jaw-dropping, climactic episodes, starting from season 1. "Baelor" killed off Ned Stark, who was portrayed as the show's protagonist. That was the first moment when Game of Thrones essentially declared, "We're not playing around."
The penultimate episodes of later seasons featured similarly momentous occasions ("The Rains of Castamere," "The Dance of Dragons") or big battles ("Blackwater," "The Watchers on the Wall," "Battle of the Bastards," "Beyond the Wall," "The Bells").
The finales often followed up with developments that set up the next season. Think of Daenerys emerging from the Khal Drogo's funeral pyre with three baby dragons in "Fire and Blood" or gaining the support to the freed slaves in "Mhysa." Jon joined the wildlings in "Valar Morghulis," Sansa and Theon fled Winterfell in "Mother's Mercy," and Cersei takes the throne in "The Winds of Winter."
So, naturally, I expected some fireworks in House of the Dragon episode 9, "The Green Council." Instead, I got a sedated installment that advanced the plot by a (very blonde) hair.
House of the Dragon's pacing: Too fast, then too slow
After a season filled with significant time jumps, House of the Dragon's penultimate episode takes place largely in the day, or few days, after Viserys' death. The end of episode 8 saw the king breathe his last.
Episode 9 begins with Queen Alicent learning her husband has (finally) passed away, after years of illness and suffering. She and her father, Hand of the King Otto Hightower, confer about what to do. On the one hand, Rhaenyra was named the heir some two decades prior. On the other, Alicent mistakenly believes Viserys' final words were to anoint their son, Prince Aegon, as the next ruler.
But to put Aegon on the Iron Throne, they must first find him. He's on his usual tear of drinking and sexual assault in the city, so brother Aemond and Ser Criston Cole are sent off to find him.
Essentially, the episode is comprised of this search, some politicking and Princess Rhaenys' being held captive unless she signs up for Team Green.
After setting a breathtaking pace for most of the season, House of the Dragon felt like it was dragging its feet through episode 9.
What will happen in the House of the Dragon finale?
If House of the Dragon had followed the Game of Thrones model, the finale would've been the more sedate one that put pieces into place for season 2 (already confirmed by HBO).
Perhaps they're flipping the script, with a quiet penultimate episode and a fireworks-filled finale. The finale's title is "The Black Queen," which seems to refer to Rhaenyra. Could she learn of her father's death, Aegon's crowning and attack King's Landing?
That seems highly unlikely. First, she is pregnant, which seems would preclude her from riding Syrax into battle. Second, while she can count on Daemon and Caraxes, her sons Jacaerys and Lucerys are still young teens. Meanwhile, Aegon and Aemond are older. Aemond also rides the biggest dragon of them all, Vhagar, and has been shown to be a capable fighter.
Plus, Rhaenyra will need actual troops on the ground to secure King's Landing — and she doesn't have enough (or any). She will need to gather an army, and for that, she must call upon the lords of Westeros who remain loyal to her.
That will take time. And now that House of the Dragon seems to have slowed way, way down, I don't see it happening in the space of an episode.
I'm very worried that the finale will be a mirror of episode 9: Rhaenyra holding urgent meetings with advisors and being crowned queen by Team Black.
But surely, the showrunners must know viewers would riot if something big doesn't happen in the finale. By big, I mean dragons fighting. This is what we came here for and not getting a taste of it could sour everyone on House of the Dragon for good.
Give us some dragon-on-dragon action — and not the incestuous kind.
If you've read George R.R. Martin's book Fire and Blood, scroll down for some spoiler-iffic speculation.
Once again, spoilers from the book ahead.
I can't imagine the showrunners are going to end the first season of a high-profile, big-budget series like House of the Dragon with two nothingburger episodes.
A tremendous event must occur in the finale and from the timeline, it can only be one thing: The battle over Shipbreaker Bay.
Rhaenyra sends her second son, Luke, on his dragon Arrax to Storm's End to convince Lord Borros Baratheon to join Team Black. When he arrives, he finds his uncle, Aemond, already there. After delivering his mother's message, Luke leaves but Aemond gives chase on Vhagar. They fight, with Aemond and Vhagar the victors. Luke and Arrax are killed and fall into the bay, with their corpses washing ashore later.
On Dragonstone, Rhaenyra collapses when she learns of Luke's death. With that, the Dance of Dragons truly begins.
Next: Here's what's new on Netflix, the new movies and shows starting October 17. The AirPods Max make movie nights complete. Are you ready for AnAndor episode 7?