This week's episode of House of the Dragon features a dueling search for the would-be king, an epic dragon escape, and an absolutely bizarre foot scene. Let's break it all down with some book context:
The episode begins in the immediate aftermath of King Viserys' (Paddy Considine) death, which Alicent (Olivia Cooke) is informed of by her lady-in-waiting, Tayla (Alexis Raben). Her reaction to his death, which later includes crying about it in private, surely confirms she didn't poison him like some fans theorized, though the possibility Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) did so on his own isn't entirely off the table.
The small council is quickly assembled, and Alicent claims Viserys' dying wish was for her son Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carne) to be king, confirming she completely misunderstood him. In reality, Viserys was saying the exact opposite, confirming he wanted Rhaenyra (Emma D'Arcy), his named heir, to be queen while he thought he was talking to his daughter. But it's revealed Otto has been secretly scheming to make Aegon king even before this, with assistance from members of the small council like Tyland Lannister (Jefferson Hall), all while Alicent was left out of the loop; they've got a whole plan ready to go, including replacing members of the City Watch loyal to Daemon (Matt Smith).
The whole deathbed misunderstanding with Viserys wasn't in the book, and this episode suggests it was added largely to make Alicent more sympathetic. In Fire & Blood, we didn't see any of this hesitation from the queen, who in the book immediately moves to make Aegon king without even having the excuse of misinterpreting Viserys. Still, based on Otto's scheming, this is probably always where things were headed, so the prophecy misunderstanding is more meant to explain why Alicent gets on board when she had the opportunity to make peace with Rhaenyra. It sounds mighty convenient that she's the only person who heard him say this, though, and it doesn't seem like many people are actually buying it. Besides, if Viserys never got around to actually naming Aegon his heir, it hardly matters what he muttered while drugged up out of his mind.
But one small council member is outraged by all this talk of installing Aegon as king: Lyman Beesbury (Bill Paterson), the master of coin. He's calling B.S. on the Viserys deathbed confession claim and even suggests the king may have been murdered, leading Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) to brutally kill him by pushing his head into the table. The small council meeting continues … with everyone forced to sit there right next to their colleague's dead body. Talk about a toxic work environment.
The (surviving) small council members confer about who might support their cause, noting they have allies in Riverrun and Highgarden, though Storm's End and Borros Baratheon are a concern. You'll recall Rhaenyra visited Storm's End, seat of House Baratheon, during her marriage tour in episode four; Borros' father, Boremund Baratheon (Julian Lewis Jones), was seated by her side. Boremund was one of the lords who swore loyalty to Rhaenyra in the first episode, and Fire & Blood notes the Baratheons have also "always been staunch in support of the claims of Princess Rhaenys and her children." Later in the episode, a woman from House Fell refuses to swear loyalty to Aegon, and the Fells are allied with Storm's End.
Otto recommends immediately executing Rhaenyra, an idea Alicent strongly opposes, setting up a sort of civil war within a civil war. Otto accuses Alicent of being swayed by feelings for her childhood friend, and that seems like an accurate read. Once again, the show is seeking to make us sympathize with Alicent more than the book and suggests Otto is the ruthless one in the equation, and the man really responsible for this conflict. According to the book, this gathering would later be dubbed the "green council," with "the greens" being the term for Alicent's side of the succession conflict (named after the green dress she wore at Rhaenyra's wedding feast).
Despite Alicent's protests, Otto orders Harrold Westerling (Graham McTavish), Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, to go to Dragonstone and execute Rhaenyra, but he resigns instead, turning in his white cloak; he's held that position since the death of Ser Ryam Redwyne in episode two. We later learn Criston Cole will be getting that job. You know, the guy who just brutally murdered a government official?
Viserys is at least treated in a much more dignified manner in this episode than he was in the book. We see his body being wrapped up, but in Fire & Blood, Viserys is left "swollen and rotten" for days while Otto and Alicent try to keep his death a secret for as long as possible. It gets to the point that people in the Red Keep even start smelling his dead body.
The search for Aegon
The episode then essentially turns into a race between Otto and Alicent to find Aegon, with the idea being the first one there can sway him on what to do about Rhaenyra.
Alicent and Otto first check with Aegon's wife (and sister) Helaena (Phia Saban), who has no clue where he is, as per usual. We do see, though, that Aegon and Helaena have had two children: Twins Jaehaerys and Jaehaera.
"There is a beast beneath the boards," Helaena cryptically says. She once again seems to be having visions of the future, and that's the same thing she muttered last week during the dinner. Book readers who know what's coming have had a theory about what that phrase could be foreshadowing, but it's a big spoiler; it also may have been foreshadowing Rhaenys' (Eve Best) dragon escape at the end of the episode.
Alicent sends Criston Cole and her son Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) to search for Aegon, while Otto sends Kingsguard knights Erryk Cargyll (Elliott Tittensor), who is sworn to protect Aegon, and his twin brother Arryk Cargyll (Luke Tittensor). It all has to be done rather discreetly, as they're heading to look in the street of silk, which is known for being filled with brothels. We learn Aegon took Aemond to one of these brothels when he was just 13 years old — the woman they inquire with still recognizes him — but it turns out Aegon has gotten involved in far more twisted things on these streets.
The Cargylls come across an underground child fighting ring, where Aegon is apparently a regular patron. We see a young boy with silver hair there, who's implied to be a bastard of Aegon's. But they soon get a tip about Aegon's whereabouts from a woman working for Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno), Daemon's old lover who has spies all over King's Landing. Mysaria, nicknamed the White Worm, even already knows the king is dead, alarming Otto. Otto has been making use of Mysaria's spies — she was the one who gave him the tip about Rhaenyra going to the brothel with Daemon in episode four, you'll recall — but he apparently didn't know her true identity.
Mysaria is able to secure a meeting with Otto, where she reveals she has Aegon hidden and will give up his location if Otto agrees to crack down on the child abuse going on in Flea Bottom; members of the City Watch have been taking bribes to look the other way, and it's implied Otto has known about this all along, too. She also takes credit for Aegon's upcoming installation on the throne, ominously pointing out she could have killed him and warning the crown only has power because people like her let them. She essentially secures one big IOU from Otto, but Alicent's side ends up getting Aegon first, so the plan to execute Rhaenyra probably won't be happening.
The book goes even further with Aegon's depravities, with one of Fire & Blood's in-universe sources claiming that the prince was found "naked in a Flea Bottom rat pit, where two guttersnipes with filed teeth were biting and tearing at each other for his amusement whilst a girl who could not have been more than twelve pleasured his member with her mouth." Thank the gods the show didn't try to depict that on screen.
Lock her up
Despite Alicent's hesitance to go around murdering people, Otto moves to imprison or even kill anyone who refuses to swear loyalty to Aegon. Lord Allun Caswell (Paul Hickey) does kneel, but Larys (Matthew Needham) thinks he's faking so he can escape to Rhaenyra, so he turns him over to be executed. Caswell is even hanged publicly in the Red Keep, sending a message to anyone else who might question Aegon's claim. You'll remember Lord Caswell as the man who told Rhaenyra it was a "privilege to be among the first to congratulate you" on her newborn son as she trekked up the stairs to see Alicent in "The Princess and the Queen." He asked Rhaenyra if he could be of any service, to which she responded, "The day may yet come, my lord." Well, this was that day, and he tried his best!
We also see various servants, including Tayla, being imprisoned to prevent word of Viserys' death from spreading. "No ravens flew that night," Fire & Blood describes. "No bells rang. Those servants who knew of the king's passing were sent to the dungeons."
More importantly, Rhaenys is locked in her room, as it's not clear which side she'd ally with. Alicent comes to make the case for Aegon, offering to give her Driftmark and telling her that while a woman can't sit on the Iron Throne, she can steer the king in the right direction — kind of a weak argument given the other option in this conflict is an actual woman. Rhaenys, though, isn't so quick to go back on her house's word, nor does she buy Viserys' supposed dying wish. She also accurately assesses Alicent as someone who feels trapped in this situation her father placed her in.
Later on, Erryk Cargyll helps Rhaenys escape, perhaps suggesting seeing Aegon's depravities first-hand has convinced him the boy must not be king.
Best foot forward
Larys is playing both sides of the Alicent vs. Otto conflict, initially giving that tip to Otto about Caswell trying to flee the city and suggesting he's open to joining his side. But later, Larys has another one of his meetings with Alicent and tells her about the web of spies within the Red Keep, which includes Tayla, Alicent's own servant. Tayla, you'll recall, was the woman we saw delivering a tip to Mysaria at the end of last week's episode, possibly regarding Aegon raping a woman.
"When the queen dies, the bee flies without purpose," Larys tells Alicent, suggesting she needs to kill Mysaria to take down this circle of spies — and she tasks him with doing so.
But this scene takes an absolutely bizarre turn as we see Alicent taking off her stockings and putting up her feet on the table while Larys gives her more and more intel; he even stops at one point, signaling she has to keep going to get more out of him. He eventually starts to masturbate, with the implication being he has a foot fetish and the two have a messed up deal in place where she shows him her feet in exchange for information. Did Quentin Tarantino direct this episode?
Near the end of the episode, we see a fire has been started at the building where Mysaria was getting information from last week, indicating Larys has already followed through on Alicent's orders. It's unclear if Mysaria was inside, but the fire seems to have been started by one of the men without a tongue who Larys tasked with starting the Harrenhal fire that killed Lyonel and Harwin Strong. What can he say, the guy just absolutely loves burning people to death.
On his way to being crowned king, Aegon emphasizes for the umpteenth time how little he wants the job, and he even tries to flat-out run away from King's Landing. But Alicent telling him about Viserys' supposed deathbed confession, combined with giving him his Valyrian steel dagger on which the Song of Ice and Fire is written, seems to sway him slightly.
In a ceremony in the Dragonpit, Aegon is crowned king with the actual crown worn by Aegon the Conqueror, first king of the Seven Kingdoms, and he wields the original Aegon's Valyrian steel sword, Blackfyre. Alicent notably tells Otto she wants to show the "ancient strength of House Targaryen," which Otto may see as a bit of a rejection of House Hightower; it stands in contrast to Alicent taking down Targaryen heraldry last week and replacing them with Seven-Pointed Stars, which are more closely associated with the Hightowers, though she's probably only interested in Targaryen history to the extent that it makes her son look like a strong king.
A large crowd gathers, but there's some real Jeb Bush "please clap" energy going on when Aegon is triumphantly announced as king two separate times, only to be met with dead silence or nervous muttering. Applause eventually does break out on a third try, but it seems the common folk may be reluctant to get behind an obvious case of someone usurping the throne.
But while everyone's distracted, Rhaenys sneaks back her dragon, Meleys, and rides it up through the floor, probably killing a bunch of people in the process. Hey, maybe having a giant coronation ceremony right above a bunch of dragons wasn't a great idea? Meleys comes quite close to actually killing Alicent and Aegon, though she spares them and flies off after giving a look of, "I'll let you live this time, but watch your back." It's safe to say that's one ally who won't be siding with the greens, and she's probably headed right to Rhaenyra at Dragonstone.
Speaking of which, Rhaenyra and Daemon still haven't received word of the king's death when the episode ends, and they'll probably find out this and the fact that Aegon is already king at the same time. So Daemon may soon be ready to behead a few more people.