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‘House of the Dragon’ Episode 8 Mailbag: Aging Up Aemond

Spoiler-free answers to questions about Aemond’s age and appearance, whether winter has already come, and where the great houses’ loyalties might lie

HBO/Ringer illustration

After young Aemond starred in last week’s mailbag alongside Vhagar, his new steed, the (much?) older version of Viserys and Alicent’s second son was the focus of the most questions this week, too. So in less time than it takes the one-eyed prince to insult his nephews, let’s head into the mailbag for House of the Dragon Episode 8.

To appear in future mailbags, message me at @zachkram on Twitter or each week after the Dragon episode airs.

Ryan asks: “Aemond’s casting has to be intentional right? All of the rest of the kids are meant to look like children still and he’s bigger than his uncle.”

The show is playing fast and loose with time and age. On the Inside the Episode segment after “The Lord of the Tides,” showrunner Ryan Condal said all the kids are now “in the 17-to-21 age range.” But a quick calculation casts doubt on this assertion.

Aemond wasn’t yet born at the end of Episode 5. Since then, we’ve seen one time jump of a decade and another of six years, which suggests Aemond should now be 15 years old at most. The same math applies to Jace—who couldn’t have even been conceived before the 10-year time skip—and Luke is even younger.

So I can’t use logic to explain Aemond’s apparent age. Nor can I use logic to explain why he appeared to grow so much more than his relatives over the past six years, after which the recast Aemond emerged looking like a bona fide adult.

The best answer is based in vibes. If Aemond looks as cool as he did sparring with Ser Criston in the yard, who cares how he got to that point? He towers over all the others of his generation, much like his dragon towers above all the other dragons in the realm. The intent seems to be to display Aemond as a powerful, renegade figure, and that much comes across crystal clear.

Continuing the Aemond queries, Colin asks: “Any chance Daemon is actually the father of any of Alicent’s children? Aemond certainly looks like him and has his fighting style as of this episode.” And Dan asks: “Multiple times I mistook Aemond for Daemon until I saw the eye patch. Even then, the sneer and predatory gaze of Aemond seemed like Ewan Mitchell was directly plagiarizing Matt Smith. (In general, Alicent’s boys seem to be more like their uncle than their father.) Is this significant? Foreshadowing? Coincidence? Or should I calm down and get a life?”

Don’t calm down, Dan, and don’t get a life! Stick right here with me, theorizing about the dragon incest show.

I don’t think there’s any chance that Daemon is the father of Alicent’s children. To be fair, there would be a smidge of book backing if this were revealed to be the case. When explaining the long-running rivalry between Daemon and Otto Hightower, the Fire & Blood text says the scandalous source Mushroom “asserts that the quarrel began when Prince Daemon deflowered Ser Otto’s young daughter Alicent, the future queen, but this scurrilous tale is unsupported by any other source.”

Even if this claim were true—and it’s probably not—there’s no suggestion in the book that the two continued their relationship, and at least in my eyes, the show’s never given us reason to think otherwise. For one thing, Daemon and Alicent have hardly ever interacted; for another, I believe Daemon loves his brother and wouldn’t sleep with Viserys’s wife. (Only his daughter!)

That said, the similarities between Daemon and Aemond are obvious, in both physical appearance and personality. They share hair and swagger and rash temperaments. Even their dragons are connected, because when Daemon and Laena Velaryon were married, the two used to fly together—and now Aemond rides Laena’s dragon. Of the currently claimed dragons, moreover, Vhagar and Caraxes have the most combat experience: Vhagar in numerous engagements dating back to Aegon’s Conquest, and Caraxes in a couple of excursions to the Stepstones (both before and after he bonded with Daemon).

But there’s a simpler explanation for these similarities than a convoluted secret affair. It seems to me that Aemond views Daemon as a role model and thus tries his best to emulate his uncle. As a boy obsessed with dragons and fighting, he would have seen Daemon as an aspirational figure—much more so than his bedridden father, who was never a warrior and never took to the skies after the death of Balerion the Black Dread.

Two moments from “The Lord of the Tides” provide supporting evidence for this view. First, after Aemond beat Criston in the yard last episode, he expressed his preference for real fighting over tournaments; it’s notable, then, that Daemon is the only living Targaryen with actual battlefield combat experience. Second, one of the camera’s first cuts after Daemon beheads Vaemond in the throne room is to Aemond, who gazes in wonder and appreciation for his uncle’s violent outburst.

Aemond’s glow-up and behavior modeling mean the greens have a foil for the blacks’ rogue prince. When war erupts, Aemond and Daemon might be the two eager warriors most worth watching.

Nick asks: “Have any winters happened in House of the Dragon? Seems like there should have been at least one in this time span. It was such a big deal in GOT.”

Dragon hasn’t yet mentioned any winters that passed during the time jumps, and we don’t hear about any winters during this span of Fire & Blood, either. The last winter specifically mentioned in the text came in the year 80 AC, and the show is at about 130 AC now.

But a few data points indicate that winters have almost certainly come and gone over the span of the show. At the start of the Song of Ice and Fire book series, Tyrion is in his mid-20s and says he’s lived through “eight or nine” winters, which translates to a rough rate of one winter per three years. And a summer that lasts 10 years, two months, and 16 days represents the “longest summer in living memory,” according to the prologue of A Clash of Kings.

Since Dragon has traversed about 20 years (not counting the prologue scene at the start of the pilot), even a conservative estimate would suggest at least one or two winters have transpired so far. More likely, half a dozen have visited Westeros during the Dragon time frame.

This question is even more relevant because of Aegon the Conqueror’s prophecy. As you note, winter is already a big deal in normal circumstances—food becomes scarce; scores die—and now the king and his heir both know that any given winter might bring the apocalypse, too. With the prophecy in mind, the throne should rally the realm in defense of the Wall every time winter strikes, just in case this is the winter about which Aegon warned.

But we haven’t seen any sign of such preparations. We haven’t visited the North or heard mention of the Night’s Watch at all. (The book doesn’t visit the North during this period, either—but the book’s narrator doesn’t know about the prophecy.) And we haven’t seen the realm respond to any large-scale defensive maneuvers, either. Would Westeros’s noble houses obey their king or grumble and chafe at his orders? Would they ask why he’s so worried? Would they treat Viserys like the boy who cried wolf after the fifth time he overprepared and the apocalypse didn’t arrive?

The introduction of the prophecy to Dragon’s “objective” version of this story adds a fascinating element in some respects, but it also highlights some gaping plot holes, and the lack of any winter talk thus far is an example of the latter. Hopefully we’ll learn more about this interaction soon: Not to sound like a Stark, but winter is coming at some point over the next couple seasons of Dragon.

Tina asks, “Considering book canon and the creative liberties being taken in the show, can we get a guess/breakdown of which houses in Westeros are on Team Green and Team Black?”

At the end of the pilot episode, all the realm’s major houses swore fealty to Rhaenyra. So it’s easiest to think about who might have a reason to switch their allegiance to Team Green; without evidence to the contrary, we should assume that a house remains with Team Black.

While I know more from the book, I won’t accept your invitation to spoil any developments here! Rather, I’ll raise the kinds of considerations that Alicent and Rhaenyra might ponder when considering the battle lines soon to take shape.

Let’s start in the Reach, where House Hightower is clearly on Team Green. That’s a meaningful foundation for a political alliance, as the Hightowers command the prosperous port city of Oldtown. (According to a George R.R. Martin not-a-blog post from Tuesday, Oldtown is also where Alicent and Viserys’s fourth child, young Daeron, is living off-screen, even though he hasn’t yet been mentioned on the show.)

Because the High Septon lives in Oldtown, and because Alicent has draped herself in the trappings of religion, it’s fair to assume the Faith of the Seven would lean toward the greens as well. That could be a powerful inducement for further dominoes to fall, especially in the more pious pockets of the southern half of Westeros. Note, however, that if the greens do end up pursuing religious justification for their claims, then all the Northern houses would probably stick with Team Black. Worshippers of the Old Gods wouldn’t be moved by appeals to the Seven.

Perhaps the key question in the Reach is whether the Hightowers could compel other large houses to wear matching green. The Redwynes live near Oldtown, in the Arbor, and control the realm’s second-largest fleet behind the Velaryons. And while the Tyrells in Highgarden technically outrank the Hightowers, the Hightowers are their most prominent vassals—Fire & Blood calls the Hightowers “overmighty bannermen”—and could pull all sorts of levers to try to sway Highgarden, with all its wealth and grain, to Team Green.

Outside the Reach, the first place we’d suspect to go green is Harrenhal, which is held by Alicent’s ally Larys Strong after the, ahem, tragic deaths of Lyonel and Harwin. Harrenhal is one of the closest major castles to King’s Landing, which could provide the greens with a tactical advantage in the Riverlands.

Swinging to the northeast, the Vale intrigues. We haven’t seen much of it in the show, but the powerful Royce family harbors ill feelings toward Daemon after Rhea’s, ahem, also tragic death. Could the Royces and Hightowers convince Lady Jeyne, head of the Arryn family and the Eyrie, to side with the greens because the enemy of their enemy is their friend?

Another such alignment might present itself at Casterly Rock in the west: House Lannister also seems gettable for the greens, given the acrimony between Rhaenyra and jilted suitor Jason Lannister. Even back in their teenage years, Rhaenyra was much less of a people person than Alicent, and Rhaenyra has seemingly spent the past six years at Dragonstone while Alicent and Otto made alliances at court. Those personal differences might cast a long shadow over the present conflict.

If the Hightowers do manage to recruit the Lannisters to their side, then two of Westeros’s three wealthiest houses would be on Team Green. The other member of that trio is House Velaryon—so Episode 8’s betrothals of Baela and Jacaerys, and Rhaena and Lucerys, would all of a sudden look extremely timely as they’d tie the Velaryons firmly to Team Black.

That initial survey suggests that the greens would most likely have a smaller foundation of support than the blacks, but they’d potentially control key industries like food production and religious practice if the chips fell their way. But all of those alliances are hypothetical for now, and subject to change based on personal appeals and events to come. Remember, most of the realm’s noble houses haven’t had to seriously contemplate Targaryen succession since they swore allegiance to Rhaenyra decades earlier, and that’s a lot of time for heads of house to die and feelings to change.