House of the Dragon Episode 9 review: What’s a king to a dragon?

Alicent in House of the Dragon Episode 9HBO

House of the Dragon Episode 9 doesn’t boast the penultimate spectacle some may be expecting – but it truly feels like a Game of Thrones, nailing its pacing, tension, and shocks, with showstopping performances from Olivia Cooke and Eve Best.

House of the Dragon has never had it easy. Even now, many will view it in the shadow of Game of Thrones; not necessarily its past quality, but its infamous downturn in the final season, with many viewers feeling their time and commitment had been betrayed.

As we approach the end of Season 1, the salient fact is this: House of the Dragon is every bit as good as its predecessor at its peak, and with a clear, brutal endgame in sight, it could be even better.

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Don’t expect a Battle of the Bastards or Rains of Castamere – the plot developments aren’t as substantial, nor is there tremendous bloodshed. Episode 9 maintains the show’s pace and substance, with a climax that leaves a chill knowing the historic scale of its meaning.

House of the Dragon Episode 9: The king is dead

The Red Keep lies under the pale moonlight, with only the devils of King’s Landing left to dance. The winds of change blow past the curtains of the small council’s room. Solemn flames light the hallways, with disquiet and chirping birds filling the morning air.

A young messenger passes the news to the Queen’s handmaiden, who informs her of the tragedy: King Viserys I (Paddy Considine) is dead. Her tears spark action, while Otto (Rhys Ifans) stares into the fire. This is a passing of incalculable weight in Westeros, especially with Alicent’s belief in what he told her before his death. “He told me he wished for Aegon to be king. It is the truth… his last words to me and I was the only one to know it,” she insists to her father.

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They call the small council to meet, and any chirpiness is soon muffled. The entire orbit of the Keep is about to change, and that fact immediately sinks in around the table. “We grieve for Viserys the Peaceful,” Otto says, coining a moniker for the late king, “but he has left us a gift.”

Alicent then learns that the small council had been planning to coronate Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) regardless of Viserys’ wishes – well, apart from Lord Beesbury (Bill Patterson), who brands the plan “seizure, theft, and treason at the least.”

One man’s anger brews another’s rage: Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), detecting an allegation of regicide in the lord’s candor, forces him to his seat and pushes his head through the orb on the table, accidentally killing him. As blood spills from his skull, Lord Commander Harrold Westerling (Graham McTavish) orders him to set aside his sword, but Criston refuses – until the Queen asks him to.

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Otto says the “door remains shut” until they finish their business. They move onto the matter of Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) and Daemon (Matt Smith): Otto says they’ll be given a chance to bend the knee, but Alicent knows they won’t, so their deaths are an “unsavory” but “necessary” sacrifice to prevent a war for the throne.

“The king did not wish for the murder of his daughter. He loved her, I will not have you deny this,” she stresses, but her call for mercy is met with silence. Otto orders Harrold to take the knights to Dragonstone, but he removes his white cloak, swearing allegiance to only the king’s authority. “Until there is one, I have no place here,” he adds.

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House of the Dragon Episode 9: The search for a runaway king

Alicent and Otto break the news to the kids. When they find Helaena (Phia Saban), she’s sitting with two children, presumably her twins with Aegon II: Jaehaerys and Jaehaera. “It is our fate, I think, to crave all of what is given to another. If one possesses a thing, the other will take it away,” she says, before repeating the warning: “There is a beast beneath the boards.”

Otto asks Ser Erryk Cargyll (Elliott Tittensor) where Aegon is, as he’s his sworn protector. “He exploits his authority to order me away and then he evades me more,” he tells him, believing he went to King’s Landing in secret. Otto asks him to retrieve him, but remove his white cloak so nobody recognizes him or suspects who or what he’s seeking. “Bring him to me and me alone,” Otto asks.

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Erryk and Arryk Cargyll in House of the DragonHBO

Alicent then asks Criston to retrieve Aegon, and he takes Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) with him for support. Two of the biggest losers in the Keep teaming up, which is nice.

The tension surrounding the first 20 minutes of Episode 9 is palpable; the mixture of assured ambition and anxiety, those who recognize the death as an opportunity to ascend not grieve, and Ramin Djawadi on the form of peak Game of Thrones once again.

On the Street of Silk, Criston and Aemond knock on the door of a brothel. They have no luck in finding Aegon, but Aemond reveals a disturbing insight into his childhood: when he was 13, Aegon took him there to make sure he was “educated”, and his conversation with the proprietor is all sorts of icky.

The reign of the greens begins in grim fashion, with Otto gathering the heads of the houses and forcing them to bend the knee. When two refuse to comply (including one played by Sophie’s dad from Peep Show!), they’re marched out of the throne room, presumably to a beheading. Larys Strong watches from above, but his plot isn’t yet clear.

Meanwhile, Erryk and Arryk Cargyll visit a horrid fight club for children, surrounded by impoverished people cheering and jeering at the spectacle of cruelty. According to Erryk, it’s a favorite venue of Aegon, and not just for the entertainment – a young boy sits in the corner with a head of shining blonde hair, who they believe to be “one of many” of his bastard children.

Aemond reveals a scheme in his frustrations: he rides the biggest dragon in the world, he’s committed to armed service for the crown, so why shouldn’t he be king? He’s next in line to the throne, so it wouldn’t be the worst thing if Aegon is killed or simply never found.

House of the Dragon Episode 9: Alicent faces off with Rhaenys and Otto

While a lord tries to flee the city, Alicent places Viserys’ crown upon his wrapped corpse before telling Rhaenys (Eve Best), who we saw locked in her chambers, about her brother. “So you’re usurping the throne,” she says, but Alicent promises it was Viserys’ wish for Aegon to be king. Rhaenys doesn’t look surprised; a knowing smile comes across her face like she’d already seen the forecast of the storm.

Alicent asks Rhaenys to swear allegiance to the rule of Aegon, citing the woes that have come from Rhaenyra’s side of the family, and tells her she should have sat on the Iron Throne, not Viserys. “We do not rule, but we may guide the men that do gently away from violence and sure destruction and instead toward peace,” Alicent says, but Rhaenys isn’t convinced, despite being taken aback by her wisdom.

Rhaenys in House of the DragonHBO

Best’s performance has been one of the most quietly commanding in the show, and this is another showcase of her talents; the temperament in her delivery is chilling, especially when she asks: “Have you never imagined yourself on the Iron Throne?”

Otto meets with the mysterious “White Worm”, who turns out to be Lady Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno), now an expert spymaster in King’s Landing. In exchange for Aegon’s location, she wants him to put a stop to the brawling of children in Flea Bottom, and urges him to remember: “There is no power but what the people allow you to take.”

Erryk and Arryk find Aegon and try to drag him back to the Keep, but they’re confronted by Criston and Aemond. A sword fight ensues, though only Erryk participates, with Arryk watching from afar. Aegon begs Aemond to flee with him, as he has no ambition to rule, but he’s forced back home by Criston.

Alicent and Otto realize they were both working against each other in their recovery of Aegon, and a fraught discussion unfolds. While Alicent believes she’s been treated like a “piece on a board”, Otto thinks she should be glad to be Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. When Otto mocks her “squeamishness” over the idea of killing Rhaenyra and Daemon, she says: “Reluctance to murder is not a weakness.”

She sets it out clearly and immovably: Rhaenyra will be sent the terms of Aegon’s rule, and if she doesn’t like it, she must never return; Criston will become Lord Commander of the Kingsguard; and Aegon will be anointed carrying the same namesake as the Conqueror, as well as his sword, Blackfyre.

House of the Dragon: The Clubfoot has a fetish

Soon after, she finds Larys in her chambers, who wishes to tell her how Otto found Aegon first – but at a price. Is it money, or the promise of power under her son’s stewardship of the throne? No – the Clubfoot just wants to see her ordinary feet, with each tease – the removal of shoes, and then her stockings – seen as payment for more information.

He reveals Otto’s web of spies – including her handmaiden, Talia – and suggests Alicent should kill her father to prevent any further interference. Alicent asks if it’s something he could organize, and for obliging such a deed, she places her feet up on the couch. What does he do next? Well, he masturbates, of course! Enjoy feeling grossly uncomfortable.

Alicent, Otto and Criston in House of the DragonHBO

While Erryk tries to escort Rhaenys out of King’s Landing, one of Larys’ little helpers sets a building alight. It’s coronation day, and Aegon remains unconvinced Viserys ever wanted him as heir. All it takes is a glance at his catspaw dagger – holding the centuries-old Targaryen secret he wasn’t told, because Viserys didn’t want him to be king – to sway him.

Rhaenys gets caught up in the crowds being ushered by the city’s knights to Aegon’s coronation, before making a hasty escape. Dressed in Draco chic, the po-faced king makes his way to the front, where’s given the crown of the Conqueror. At first, he doesn’t seem to appreciate the curtseys and nods, but as the crowd erupts into rapturous applause, he lifts his sword, relishing every chant of “long live the king.”

Just as you think the credits are going to roll, and explosion of stone hits the center of the arena. From the smoke emerges a dragon: Meleys, with Rhaenys on her back. Panic sets in, with the city’s residents either crushed, whipped by the beast’s tail, or legging it for the doors.

Alicent prepares to die in a blaze of dragonflame, but Rhaenys doesn’t command it. Meleys roars in the faces of the crown, and Rhaenys flies away. The Dance of the Dragons has begun.

House of the Dragon Episode 10, the Season 1 finale, will be available to watch on October 23 in the US and October 24 in the UK.