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The Dragons are Dancing

Weeks of plotting and intrigue pay off with the first major skirmish in the War of Succession.

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Did you catch your breath yet?

The ending of Episode 4 of this season of House of the Dragon, “The Red Dragon and the Gold”, gave us the dragon-on-dragon (on-dragon) action I’ve been looking forward to all season. This has the most impressive dragon choreography I’ve seen, either in this show or in Game of Thrones. 

Oh, and the build-up to this was equally exciting. Palace intrigue, battle strategy, feints, family secrets coming out, witches… This was top notch Game of Thronesing all around.

The red dragon of the title refers to Meleys, the mount of Rhaenys, the Queen That Never Was and wife of the Sea Snake, Corlys. The gold? That would by Sunfyre, the mount of King Aegon the Second. What? After all of the machinations last week to keep the young king safe at King’s Landing, he just up and heads off to battle? Why, yes. Have we mentioned lately that Aegon is a rather impetuous brat?

The show has spent a lot of time on the impetuousness of youth, with Rhaenyra flat out stating that the young men are eager to go to war to prove themselves, while she is making desperate attempts with Alicent to stop it before the slaughter gets out of hand. But, alas, that time has passed. Rhaenyra is forced to admit as much to her council when she returns from her secret trip. Alicent realizes that even if Aegon got put on the throne by mistake, it doesn’t matter. He’s now the king, and short of regicide, there is no real way to remove him. The die has been cast, and the armies are on the move. The women of Westeros tried, but the blood of the youth beats too strongly.

It’s a contrast to the way the older generation handles things. Rhaenys tracks down the sailor, Alyn, who saved her husband from drowning to thank him. She comments that his mother must have been very beautiful, right when Corlys shoos him away. In their conversation, it’s obvious that Rhaenys knows that Alyn is the bastard son of Corlys. However, unlike Caitlin Stark, she doesn’t seem upset by this. Rather, she hints that he should make Alyn the heir to the oceans. After all, he was fretting about his options last week.

In the war, Cole and Aemond are implementing their battle plan, namely, to scoop up all the small castles in the Riverlands, defeat all the small houses that support Rhaenyra, and then assimilate their troops while killing those that refuse to support Aegon. It’s very effective! From the point of view of your average spear-carrying farmer, it doesn’t really matter who is in charge. Your life expectancy isn’t going to be very long in Westeros; does it really matter which lord is taxing you and taking your sheep? They have now amassed a large army and are heading to Rook’s Rest.

Aegon is perplexed. Not Harrenhall? Harrenhall is the key to the Riverlands! And Daemon just strolled in and claimed it! Larys, the new Master of Whispers, shrugs it off. He still controls all of the coin from Harrenhall, and the place is in such decay that it would take Daemon months to do anything with it. Let him get stuck there, while Cole’s armies take Rook’s Rest, a small castle across the bay from Dragonstone. Once captured, Aegon’s forces will have effectively isolated Rhaenyra from and land based allies.

It’s actually a very smart strategy, familiar to anyone who’s played Risk. Cut off your enemy’s base of support and isolate them. It should be quite familiar to those in King’s Landing, since Rhaenyra’s blockades on the sea are starting to cause inflation and shortages. But Aegon cannot deal with the fact that his council went and did war without him. Aemond taunts him in High Valerian. Is it not a good plan? Is there something Your Grace would like to change? Besides, “You had more important matters to attend to. Such as holding court, choosing your sobriquet, and naming imbecilic lickspittles to our Kingsguard.” You be king, leave the important stuff to us. Aegon tries to say something back, but can only muster a weak “Can I have to…make a… war?” (C’mon, Aegon, how can you command a dragon with Valerian that bad? That’s like “donde esta la biblioteca” level Valerian.)

Alicent isn’t any more sympathetic to him. She finds him pouting in his room, complaining that the mean small council doesn’t listen to his cool ideas. Alicent is nursing a sore stomach after the Maester brewed her a pot of the Plan B moon tea. (Which, smart. We don’t need Cole’s bastard children running around and complicating the line of succession.) She has no time for his whining. Did you think that putting the crown an your head automatically makes you wise? Otto and I have been planning for you to take the throne for years. I ruled in your father’s stead while he was sick! Otto is the best statesman in the Seven Kingdoms! Yet you banished him and sidelined me! You should be begging us for advice! (I like cranky Alicent! More of her!) When he starts to complain about Aemond and Cole going to war without him, she shuts him down. The strategy is fine, and sometimes the best thing a king can do is nothing.

Which is not the best thing to tell Aegon. It’s often difficult to remember that he is the older brother, given how much more mature Aemond is and how he towers over him. The tables have turned since their childhood, when Aegon would tease Aemond about his dragon egg being a dud and giving him a winged pig to ride. Now, Aemond is massive and rides Vhagar, the largest dragon in Westeros, and Aegon is the one insecure in his role. After getting some liquid courage, he decides that he’ll strap on Aegon the Conqueror’s armor and fly off to Rook’s Rest on Sunfyre to join the battle. And that is — of course — a spectacularly bad idea. Aegon is a dilettante who has never fought in a battle before, and is going to be a tempting target for everyone on the Black side.

Meanwhile, at Harrenhall, things are going just as badly for Daemon as Larys predicted. He’s having a hard time getting his bannermen in line, since the lord of the Riverlands is in a coma and his heir will not act against his wishes. He can’t get any sleep in the drafty, damp castle, as he keeps getting interrupted by rather vivid nightmares featuring people from his past. Young Rhaenyra is there, taunting him about how he wants the crown she wears; his late wife Laena appears to be pouring wine at the council table. He suspects the witch Alys River, a Harrenhall bastard, has something to do with it, but happily drinks the sleeping draught she gives him. (Wow, the men on this show are dumb. I don’t pretend that I would survive 30 minutes in Westeros, but even I know not to drink potions from strange witch women.)

The attack on Rook’s Rest starts strong. Cole’s army outnumbers the men in the keep and they lay siege. From across the bay, the council, and especially Jacaerys, urge Rhaenyra to send a dragon to support them. Jace wants to go himself, but Rhaenyra again refuses. She will go instead. And again, it’s a real dumb idea to put your leader — and the prize target — on the front lines of a battle. Fortunately, Rhaenyra can be reasoned with. Rhaenys will go on her dragon, Meleys.

Frustrated, Jace goes to see Rhaenyra, who explains something to him. The reason she is fighting for the Iron Throne is not merely because she was promised it. No, it is because of what her father Viserys told her. She has to unite the realm because of what the dream of Aegon foretold. She then proceeds to share the Song of Ice and Fire with Jacaerys, passing down the charge to the next in line.

Across the bay, Rhaenys and Meleys seem to have turned the tide. Cole’s soldiers run in terror from the dragon. However, this was part of the plan. Cole signals to Aemond, who is hiding in the woods on Vhagar, ready to attack.

That is, until he sees Aegon fly over on Sunfyre and head straight towards Rhaenys.

The fool is going to ruin everything, but rather than help him, Aemond is content to let Aegon go fight.

It goes about as well as you’d expect. Aegon is an inexperienced rider on a small dragon, Rhaenys is a master, and Meleys scratches and wounds Sunfyre. It’s only then that Aemond joins the fray, with the giant Vhagar lumbering out of the forest like a dinosaur in Jurassic Park. It’s a truly terrifying sight, and Aegon is happy to get the help since he’s getting beaten by Rhaenys.

That is until Aemond dracaryses him. Vhagar unleashes flame on both dragons, sending the king and Sunfyre crashing to the ground, while Rhaenys flies away.

Note to Aegon: do not tease Aemond, Ever. Especially about his choice of bedmates. The boy can hold a grudge. You got in the way of his battle plans, and he took the opportunity to take you out.

Rhaenys manages to wound Vhagar, sending him crashing to the ground. (And the sight of Vhagar stomping on Targaryen soldiers just sums up what a raw deal the small folk get in Westeros.) But, as she swoops over Rook’s Rest, Vhagar comes up from underneath and chomps Meleys by the neck, practically decapitating the dragon. Rhaenys and Meleys plummet to the earth. The Queen That Never Was is no more.

And Aegon isn’t doing much better. He’s clinging to life, with the badly injured Sunfyre curled around the broken king.

This was one of the strongest episodes of the series. We had our first major death of the season with Rhaenys. Aegon is near death, and Sunfyre isn’t doing so well either. Dragonstone has been cut off from the mainland which means that Rhaenyra is going to have to do something desperate, and now she has lost her closest adviser in Rhaenys. The show was already very good, but now has kicked into high gear.

I remember, way back in August 2022 when season one began, I had my doubts about this show. The pilot doubled down on the nudity and gore and hadn’t yet built up the characters. Well, I think it’s safe to say that the best episodes of House of the Dragon can match up with the best of Game of Thrones, which is an achievement. Great job, let’s keep our foot on the pedal.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Who’s The Worst? Well, it takes a special sort of animosity to attack and nearly kill your own brother with a dragon, so give it up for Aemond.

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The Red Dragon and the Gold
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Victor Catano
Victor Catano lives in New York City with his adorable pughuaua, Danerys. When not writing, he works in live theater as a stage manager, production manager, and chaos coordinator. His hobbies include coffee, Broadway musicals, and complaining about the NY Mets and Philadelphia Eagles. Follow him on BlueSky and Instagram at @vgcatano and find his books on Amazon
house-of-the-dragon-season-2-episode-4-the-red-dragon-and-the-gold-review-recapDid you catch your breath yet? The ending of Episode 4 of this season of House of the Dragon, "The Red Dragon and the Gold", gave us the dragon-on-dragon (on-dragon) action I've been looking forward to all season. This has the most impressive dragon choreography...

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