House of the Dragon Episode 10 review: The Dance of the Dragons is here

A scene from House of the Dragon Episode 10HBO

House of the Dragon Episode 10 has everything the finale needed to deliver: brutality, heartache, spectacle, and the harrowing klaxon behind the Dance of the Dragons.

There’s no question in my mind: House of the Dragon is the best TV show of 2022. To overcome such trepidation with sweeping success in every aspect of its production – above all else, the story – after the calamity of Game of Thrones’ final season is no small feat.

Its predecessor had grander scope, but the prequel has always been building to this: the Dance of the Dragons, the Targaryen civil war defined by Fire and Blood spilled across the Seven Kingdoms.

Article continues after ad

Episode 10, the finale of Season 1, is breathtaking television, showcasing the winning charisma of the – ahem – correct side, while earning a deafening cry of “no!” when the credits roll, knowing the painful wait ahead. Heartbreak feels good in a show like this.

Spoilers for House of the Dragon Episode 10 to follow…

House of the Dragon Episode 10 review: Rhaenyra’s anger begets tragedy

The finale opens on a drift, gazing across the map of Westeros on Dragonstone. Lucerys put his hand on Driftmark, considering the inheritance that should be coming his way, as per Viserys’ wishes – but as we know, the desires of the late king were thrown into disarray by the coronation of Aegon II.

Article continues after ad

“The Sea Snake is going to die, isn’t he?” he asks Rhaenyra, who attempts to shake it off like a mum who can’t avoid the truthful answer. Lucerys is anxious about becoming Lord of the Tides, as his grandsire’s legacy is too great (not to mention the inevitable problem of his sea sickness). He insists it should have passed to the half-skulled Vaemond, but Rhaenyra tells him it’s beyond his choice.

The sweetness shown between Rhaenyra and Lucerys is subtly moving; she calls him “sweet boy”, he calls her “perfect”, and she promises to prepare him for his duties not as a queen, but as a mother. D’Arcy’s performance has been note-perfect since their re-casted introduction, and this shows necessary range on the first steps of the Dance, instead of pantomimic rage and villainy (depending on who you ask).

Article continues after ad

Rhaenys’ arrival rises Lucerys’ anxiety to the boil, but Rhaenyra remains calm and composed. Of course, she’s here to deliver two bouts of bad news: Viserys has died, and Aegon has been named his successor. Again, the range of thoughts in D’Arcy’s flickering eyes is clear: sadness, shock, and cautious anticipation, until the blow of Alicent’s betrayal.

Ramin Djawadi’s score simmers with anger as Daemon’s accusatory rage bursts. He believes Alicent murdered Viserys so she could crown her son king, and asks Rhaenys why she didn’t burn them to a crisp. She knew a war would be fought over this “treachery”, but it’s not hers to begin, and she only flew back out of loyalty to her house.

Article continues after ad

It gets worse: Rhaenyra goes into labor far before the end of her term, as a maester puts it. “It is f**king happening,” she shouts, while Daemon gathers the forces of Dragonstone in preparation for an attack from the Greens.

Rhaenys summons Jacaerys and Lucerys, and Rhaenyra tells them of Aegon’s usurping of the throne. Like a loyal son and protective brother, Jacaerys heads off to find Daemon, who’s “gone to madness”, but Rhaenyra orders him to do nothing without her say-so. Unlike the Greens, whose deceit feels spiteful and villainous, the Blacks are more familial and, dare I say it, likable – they’re the brighter side of the grey.

Article continues after ad

House of the Dragon Episode 10 review: A baby is lost, but a Queen is crowned

Jacaerys pitifully attempts to order Daemon to halt his pre-wartime arrangements. Obviously, he refuses, before taking Jacaerys outside where two members of the King’s Guard are standing. Daemon asks them if they’re loyal to the true line of succession: Jahaerys, Viserys, Rhaenyra, then Jacaerys.

If they bend the knee now, all will be well. If they openly support Aegon’s rule, Caraxes will give them an “honorable death.” If they swear fealty only to fall toward corruption, Daemon issues a chilling promise: “Know you will die… screaming.” Each week, it’s clear why Smith’s performance is making him the fan favorite; he has all the disarming wit and charisma of a great villain, but his motives and actions evoke support, no matter how macabre his past behavior has been.

Daemon in House of the Dragon Episode 10HBO

Meanwhile, Rhaenyra’s labor intensifies, with her agony echoed by Syrax in the pit. Major trigger warning: the birth scene is unblinkingly graphic, with a splurge of blood followed by Rhaenyra cradling her dead baby; it attests to the creators’ comparison of childbirth to violence. Details of the baby’s anatomy will likely be studied in the days to come, considering its importance in George R.R. Martin’s Fire and Blood, but we won’t do that here.

As Daemon and Rhaenyra set their child alight at the funeral, Djawadi’s score soars into high grief with the sort of epic, feel-bad music that’s defined much of Season 1. Erryk, one half of the heir-hunting twins from last week, arrives to swear his allegiance to Rhaenyra and hands her the crowd she was owed. As Daemon places it on her head, the surrounding people bend the knee – all bar Rhaenys, who watches from the back with a smile. Westeros, to some, has a queen for the first time.

House of the Dragon Episode 10 review: Rhaenyra and Daemon plot their war

Soon after, the war table is set alight, revealing the map of the Seven Kingdoms atop the gentle, amber glow of candlelight. Rhaenyra seeks to understand their standing: their troops, weaponry, fleets, allies, enemies, and everything in between. Rhaenys says Corlys will soon sail to Dragonstone, but their support in the war is anything but certain.

Finally, someone says it: why are they worried about gathering men when they have dragons? The Greens have three, while they have 10, including unclaimed dragons like Vermithor – and that’s before the three wild dragons, all of whom nest in Dragonstone, and the score of dragon eggs in the dragon mound.

Otto Hightower arrives to present terms from King Aegon – generous terms, at that. Basically, Rhaenyra and Daemon would keep everything they have, their children would be guaranteed what they’re owed in terms of Dragonstone and Driftmark, and everyone who supported them would be pardoned. Daemon puts it best: “I’d rather feed my sons to the dragons than have them carry shields and cups for your drunken usurper c**t of a king.”

HBO

As the face-off intensifies, Rhaenyra brands Otto a traitor. He hands her a ripped page from Ten Thousand Ships, and appeals for her to remember her once-held affection for Alicent. Daemon isn’t interested and asks for Erryk to bring him Otto – but Rhaenyra says no, pledging to give her answer to King’s Landing tomorrow. For now, bloodshed has been avoided.

“When dragons flew to war, everything burned. I do not wish to rule over a kingdom of ash and bone,” she says in response to Daemon’s insistence that they use the dragons as their arsenal. With a position rightly likened to her father, she believes the welfare of the realm is a bigger priority than war – but as Daemon also points out, the Greens have already declared war. It is now a question of obeying or resisting.

Rhaenyra clears the room and tries to explain to Daemon why she has larger interests than crushing the rebellion. When she tries to explain Aegon the Conqueror’s vision of a Song of Ice and Fire, Daemon grabs her by the neck and criticizes Viserys’ “feckless rule… dreams didn’t make us kings, dragons did.” Rhaenyra realizes that Daemon must be oblivious to the true nature of the Targaryen dynasty.

House of the Dragon Episode 10 review: Corlys returns

Corlys is back! As he lies in bed, Rhaenys fills him in: Viserys is dead, Vaemond got himself killed with his heedless ambition, and Rhaenyra is “holding the realm together.” Corlys doesn’t want to support either royal, but Rhaenys stands behind Rhaenyra, who’s the only one showing “any restraint” on the crest of war.

He comes face to face with Rhaenyra and picks apart her plans for war, should they come to pass. “Hope is the fool’s ally,” he says, before offering the full support and fleet of House Velaryon in response to the Hightowers’ treason, and giving her the respect of calling her queen. It gets even better: Corlys has secured the Stepstones, so Rhaenyra has control of the Narrow Sea, strengthening their forces by a huge margin.

Before encircling King’s Landing, Rhaenyra wants the support of the Baratheon and Stark lords at Winterfell and Storm’s End, so she sends Jacaerys and Lucerys on their dragons. Anyone who’s read the book knows this is only a bad thing. Yet, an air of excitement fills the room – Rhaenyra has made the first major decision of her reign, and it’s altogether measured and sensible.

Before the brothers take off, she makes them promise not to engage in any fighting – they’re messengers, not warriors. The difference between them is heartbreaking, really – Jacaerys is brimming with confidence, while Lucerys is clearly frightened, calling Rhaenyra “mother” before “your grace.”

Elsewhere, Daemon heads into the dragon pit while singing a Valyrian song. From the darkness, a massive beast creeps out, spouting plumes of fire into the void. Even in the face of something so immense, Daemon keeps singing, and the dragon begins to calm. This is Vermithor, the second-largest living dragon in all of Westeros.

House of the Dragon Episode 10 review: Lucerys and Aemond finally fight

As Lucerys arrives at Storm’s End, he catches sight of Vhagar and Aemond. Borros Baratheon quickly sends him and his “empty hands” on his way, but Aemond stops him from leaving. “A fight would be little challenge,” he mutters, before demanding Lucerys repay his past debt with one of his own eyes, revealing the sapphire gem under his eye patch for the first time. Before they cross swords, Borros orders Aemond to leave him alone and for his knights to escort Lucerys back to his dragon.

Outside, Storm’s End earns its namesake; thunder and lightning crackle through the torrential rain, and Lucerys asks Arrax to focus ahead of their flight. As he heads back to Dragonstone, the silhouette of Vhagar lingers above him. Aemond chases Lucerys through the clouds, cackling with every roar and taunt, before Lucerys manages to fit in a gap in the cliffside.

Aemond in House of the Dragon Episode 10HBO

As Aemond calls out to him, Lucerys reappears and smothers Vhagar’s face in dragonflame. At this point, Vhagar goes out of control. He refuses to serve Aemond and pursues Arrax through the sky, flying above the stormy clouds and – in a horrific flash of blood – chomping Lucerys and his dragon in half. Aemond looks on as Lucerys’ body falls to Earth, fully knowing the gravity of what he’s done.

This is where the big-budget spectacle pays off. For the most part, it’s a nail-biting game of cat and mouse, emphasized and given tremendous oomph with the scale of the dragons and the deft choreography of the chase. Its endgame was always going to be horrific, but it’s a good omen for the show’s future that it’s handled such a pivotal scene so perfectly.

The episode ends somberly: Daemon informs Rhaenyra that her son was murdered. She stumbles toward the fire, stumbling in heartache, before turning to the camera with a face of unquenchable fury. The Dance of the Dragons is here, and there will be blood.

House of the Dragon Season 1 is available to stream now. For more on Season 2, click here.