The House of the Dragon finale ended season 1 with the fireworks that were promised. After a disappointingly sedate penultimate episode, the finale started the war that has been slowly set up for the past nine episodes over an in-show span of near 30 years.
House of the Dragon has taken its time (and time jumps) to establish the main players and move them into place on the board. Now, the game of thrones can truly begin.
And like a lot of wars, this one begins by accident (Not unlike Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s driver turning down the wrong street, resulting in a chance assassination that triggered World War I).
A significant, unplanned death is also the spark that will ignite fire and drawn blood within the Targaryen royal family and across Westeros. Book readers have known it was coming, but the show changes the way it happens — for the better.
The Black Queen is crowned
Before the climactic scene ending with that death, the focus is entirely on Team Black on Dragonstone. Rhaenyra (Emma D'Arcy) and Daemon (Matt Smith) learn of Viserys' death and Aegon's crowning from the recently-escaped Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best).
Rhaenyra is shocked into delivering her baby too early. Yet again, we are subjected to a horrific birthing scene. Her daughter is born dead and deformed, but the princess has very little time to mourn her. During the funeral, Ser Erryk arrives with Viserys' crown and Daemon places it on Rhaenyra's head to anoint her as queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
Daemon is chomping at the bit to go to war, as befits his personality. They have more dragons than the Greens. When Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) arrives to Dragonstone with terms of surrender — in a scene reminiscent of the one in episode 2 — he is ready to slice his head off.
But Rhaenyra wants to hold back, plan, strategize. She wants to be queen of more than ashes and bones. What she really needs are allies. She cements the support of Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), who has recuperated from a near-mortal wound. But Rhaenyra needs other lords — namely, the heads of Houses Baratheon, Arryn and Stark.
Her sons, Jacaerys (Harry Collett) and Lucerys (Elliot Grihault), are dispatched with messages — Jace heads off on Vermax to the Eyrie and Winterfell, while Luke will ride Arrax to Storm's End.
A stormy dance of the dragons
When Luke shows up in Storm's End, we see the place is appropriately named — lashed by rain, wind and lightning. He's immediately unnerved when he spots the hulking form of Vhagar. Uh oh, Uncle Aemond is there. That can't be good.
Luke isn't exactly welcomed with open arms by Lord Borros Baratheon. Nor is his mother's message received well. Rhaenyra has miscalculated by not making some kind of offer for the house's fealty, while the Greens have apparently pledged to wed Aemond to one of Borros' daughters.
Before Luke can leave, a menacing Aemond approaches. He wants one of his nephew's eyes — just like Luke took his years back. (Side note: How cool is that sapphire embedded in Aemond's socket?) Lord Borros forbids any bloodshed in his hall, so Luke hurriedly departs and takes off on Arrax.
But during the flight, the immense shadow of Vhagar creeps over them, like a horror movie. Aemond is giving chase, seemingly to mess with his nephew. He's got the biggest dragon and enjoys intimidating others (often, the biggest bullies were bullied themselves).
Luke and Arrax manage to evade them by flying through a narrow canyon, but then the young dragon breathes fire at Vhagar. This was not at a "dracarys" command from Luke. A pissed-off Vhagar pursues them, despite Aemond repeatedly telling him, "No, no, no, no, no."
A terrified Luke urges Arrax higher and higher until they break free of the storm. But Vhagar suddenly emerges from below, like a feeding shark, and bites Arrax and Luke into pieces that plummet to the sea.
Aemond looks chagrined. He took the wrong turn and now a prince is dead. War is sure to follow. When Rhaenyra learns of the news, her face is a portrait of fury and grief. Alicent wanted an eye for an eye; Rhaenyra undoubtedly will want to take a life in return for her son.
Analysis: Dragons have minds of their own
The dance between Vhagar and Arrax is told differently in Fire and Blood, George R.R. Martin's book. But I think the change works well for the show.
First, the book was intentionally written from the perspective of an unreliable narrator. Second, the idea that this Targaryen civil war is triggered by an unplanned and unexpected death suits how history often takes place.
And most importantly, it highlights the fact that "A dragon is not a slave," as Daenerys Targaryen will save some 200 years in the future. Her ancestor, Viserys, also emphasized this point in the very first episode of House of the Dragon.
"The idea that we control the dragons is an illusion," he told Rhaenyra. "They’re a power man should never have trifled with — one that brought Valyria its doom."
Most likely, war would've eventually broken out between Team Green and Team Black. You can't have two monarchs trying to rule the same realm. Perhaps Luke's death only hastens matters. It's clear, though, that dragons are weapons that cannot be fully controlled. This is a dance that can only bring doom.