A still shot from 'House of the Dragon' showing two characters conversing in a desert landscape
HBO Max

‘House of the Dragon’ Episode 1 Recap: Welcome Back to Westeros

'House of the Dragon' is here. Is it a worthy successor to 'Game of Thrones'? Let's recap this week's premier episode and find out.
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If you’ve been dying for something to fill that Game of Thrones-sized void in your life since the original show ended in 2019, you’re not alone. The massively popular fantasy franchise left a lot of fans brokenhearted when it ended–and not just because the ending was kind of a let-down.

If you love GoT, there’s not a lot out there that scratches that particular itch. It’s a slower kind of high fantasy, full of political intrigue and light on the sorcery that makes some fantasy series seem so outlandish. And withThe Winds of Winter seemingly no closer to release than it was when Game of Thrones concluded, there hasn’t been a lot for George R. R. Martin fans to get excited about in the intervening years.

Well, that’s all about to change. House of the Dragon is here, and it’s ready to bring you back to Westeros for another gripping political thriller set in a world of high drama and dragons. Let’s break down the premier and get you back to the world you’ve been missing.

Way Back Then

House of the Dragon takes place 172 years before the rebellion that set the events of Game of Thrones into motion. It’s based on another GRRM book, Fire and Blood, that details the reign of the Targaryen family as they sit upon the Iron Throne of Westeros. Many fans of the TV series might find themselves best served by avoiding any spoilers online about the “historical” figures who make up the main cast of House of the Dragon, as their ultimate fates are set in stone by the nature of this show as a prequel.

The premier, “The Heirs of the Dragon,” sets up this series as a worthy follow-up to Game of Thrones. King Jaeherys, the current patriarch of the Targaryen family, needs to figure out who will succeed him after his death. There’s no obvious choice, as he has no son, so a dispute is inevitable. 

Two candidates will vie for the Iron Throne: Princess Rhaenys Velaryon, Jaeherys’ eldest granddaughter, and her cousin, Viserys Targaryen, the oldest male heir to the throne. There’s one problem for Rhaenys: no woman has ever ruled Westeros, so she’s overlooked in favor of her male cousin. Her followers dub her “the queen who never was,” and this sets the stage for a nasty feud.

The Crisis Averted?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_4Bn4fioXA&ab_channel=GameofThrones

Jaeherys avoided an all-out civil war among House Targaryen when he called the Great Council to select a successor. However, Viserys finds himself in a similar situation only nine years into his reign; despite he and his wife Aemma siring six children, their only living child is a daughter, Princess Rhaenyra. She’d face just as much pushback trying to ascend the throne as her cousin once did, so Viserys and Aemma are hoping their next child is a boy to give the family a strong candidate for the throne.

Viserys’s quest for an heir isn’t obviously dire: he’s young still, but the years will creep up quickly if he doesn’t have a son soon. And a persistent wound on his back is causing him some concern. Oh, and there seems to be a political movement conspiring against the king as Prince Daemon, head of the City Watch, conducts himself in an increasingly brutal fashion.

Otto Hightower, the current Hand of the King, is concerned about Daemon’s conduct. While Viserys should heed his counsel regarding his brother’s aspirations for the throne, Viserys is preoccupied with setting up a tournament in honor of his soon-to-be-born son. At least, he hopes the unborn child is a male heir.

Chaos Erupts

At the crowded tournament, spirits are initially high, but the brutality of the spectacle causes the nobles in attendance to take a sour attitude toward the current king. While the festivities continue outside, Aemma goes into labor. In a heart-wrenching sequence, complications arise and Viserys has to choose between saving his wife or his newborn son. He beseeches the doctors to save the infant, but Prince Baelon only draws breath for a few seconds before losing his life, too.

Viserys has to commit both his wife and son’s bodies to cremation by dragonfire, as is Targaryen tradition. Once again, the issue of succession becomes a point of contention. Wifeless, heirless, and growing short on allies, Viserys seems doomed. Many advisors suggest he name his daughter Rhaenyra as the next monarch, while others want the king to choose his brother, Daemon, to sit on the throne.

When Viserys hears word that his brother is celebrating Baelon’s death, he becomes furious and banishes the prince back to their home in the Vale. He immediately names Rhaenyra as the next in line for the throne and makes her swear to guard the late King Aegon’s prophecy that the world of men would end in a saga called “The Song of Ice and Fire”. 

Dark Forces Conspire

Nothing can be simple in Westeros. Daemon and Lord Hightower both have their own designs for the Iron Throne, and neither is content with the idea of a woman taking such a place of power. Hightower, certain that he can engineer a lofty position for his own family, calls on his daughter, Lady Alicent, to go comfort King Viserys in his chambers as he mourns the loss of his wife and son on the same day.

Clearly, things are shaping up for another chaotic and destructive saga in the land of Westeros. Who will sit upon the throne when the dust settles? What dark machinations and brutal plots will play out in the courts and on the battlefields of this dark fantasy setting? Fans are eager to tune in to this prequel series to find out.