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The Five Ways That Episode 9 of ‘House of the Dragon’ Underwhelmed

Ninth episodes were often high points in ‘Game of Thrones,’ but the first Episode 9 of ‘House of the Dragon’ was a letdown

HBO/Ringer illustration

Every ninth episode of a Game of Thrones season was a blockbuster. Episode 9s shocked viewers with Ned Stark’s death and the Red Wedding, and delighted them with the battles of the Bastards and the Blackwater. We at The Ringer placed three Episode 9s in the top five of our Thrones episode ranking, and viewers consistently gave them the best grades.

After the emotional peaks of “The Lord of the Tides,” possibly the best House of the Dragon episode thus far, hopes were high for Dragon’s first Episode 9. But “The Green Council” is an underwhelming mess, and the low point of an otherwise enjoyable first season of franchise television.

In contrast to every Thrones season’s penultimate effort, this Episode 9’s characters weren’t compelling. Its tension didn’t rise. And its action fell flat as the episode stumbled to a close. There’s still room for Dragon to rebound as the Targaryen civil war begins in earnest. But here are five overarching reasons the Dance of the Dragons is off to a lackluster start.

1. Uneven Pacing

Broadly speaking, “The Green Council” has a consistent through line: the greens’ scramble to crown Aegon after King Viserys’s death in the closing shot of Episode 8. But the steps taken from the starting point of the king’s death to the destination of a new king’s inauguration were terribly rushed, and then terribly uneven.

In the Fire & Blood book, Viserys’s death leads to a lengthy debate among the Small Council about how they will respond and whom they will crown. That was the expectation on the screen, too, not least because of this episode’s title.

Yet this scene moves much more hastily, and ends much more abruptly, in “The Green Council.” Right away, the council moves to implement its “long-laid plans,” as Tyland Lannister says. “Yes,” Otto Hightower adds, “there is much to be done, as we’ve previously discussed”—which is how both Alicent and the audience learn that the Small Council has secretly schemed to crown Aegon for a while.

Instead of showing these crucial discussions, Dragon instead informs viewers they’ve already happened, and it’s time to move on. Then Lyman Beesbury protests and Ser Criston murders him by smashing his face onto a small attendance stone. Other than Harrold Westerling, lord commander of the Kingsguard, none of Beesbury’s longtime colleagues seems to care, let alone express horror at his sudden death. It’s time to move on once more.

And within minutes, with scarcely any debate, the meeting breaks. It’s time to move on again; the rest of the episode awaits. And while some of this disorganization may reflect the greens’ desire to proceed to Aegon’s coronation as quickly as possible, the result is that most of the episode dramatizes less interesting material than the missing debate over who should rule the Seven Kingdoms as Viserys’s heir.

2. A Lack of Dramatic Tension

Speaking of that less interesting material: The episode’s main problem is a lack of tension commensurate with its placement in the season. For large swaths of the episode, I was bored! In an Episode 9!

That’s because the central tension of the episode isn’t whether Aegon will be crowned instead of Rhaenyra. That much is a fait accompli, decided minutes in; as Alicent says when pleading her case to Rhaenys, “Aegon will be king.”

Rather, the central tension is whether Otto’s men or Alicent’s will find Aegon first, because Otto tasks the Cargyll twins, Arryk and Erryk, with bringing Aegon to him—at the same time that Alicent asks Criston and Aemond to deliver her son to her. But Otto and Alicent are on the same general side in this conflict. Rhaenyra and Daemon, leaders of the opposing succession faction, don’t appear in this episode at all—an intentional narrative choice, because their absence highlights their removal from any of the decisions taken in the immediate aftermath of Viserys’s death, but one that saps much of the dramatic tension from the episode.

Otto wants Rhaenyra killed right away, to remove any challenge to Aegon’s fledgling rule; Alicent doesn’t want her former friend murdered, nor does she think Viserys would have wanted his eldest daughter to die. But Alicent doesn’t have a reasonable alternative proposal for dealing with the deposed heir; she tells Otto, “We will send terms to Rhaenyra on Dragonstone—true terms, such that she may accept without shame,” even though it’s hard to imagine or define what those “true terms” might be.

Otto and Alicent are aligned on the most important decision, though, as they both want Aegon crowned, so the tension between them feels manufactured. Much of the episode tracks the royal hide-and-seek game through the streets of King’s Landing, but the outcome seems predetermined either way: If the Cargylls found Aegon first, Aegon would sit the Iron Throne and Rhaenyra wouldn’t. If Criston and Aemond found Aegon first … Aegon would still sit the Iron Throne and Rhaenyra still wouldn’t.

For Alicent, perhaps, the outcome feels important because she wants an opportunity to implore the soon-to-be king not to kill his half sister. But for the viewer, what’s the payoff of Alicent winning the episode-long Aegon scavenger hunt? It’s not as if Otto won’t be able to talk to Aegon later.

3. The Fallout of Viserys’s Final Words

One key reason for the missing tension in “The Green Council” is that essentially everyone in this episode—or, at least, essentially everyone with power—wants Aegon to be king. That count includes Alicent, who just last episode told Rhaenyra she’d be a good queen, and who clearly is repulsed by her eldest son’s behavior.

But her mind changes because of how Episode 8 ends, with a miscommunication straight out of a soap opera. In his dying moments, Viserys mistakes Alicent for Rhaenyra and tells her he believes in Aegon’s dream. The result is predictable, as Alicent seizes on Viserys’s babbling as a true change of heart and spends Episode 9 repeatedly telling disbelievers that she witnessed a deathbed audible by the king.

Despite many other possible explanations for wanting her son crowned, the addled Viserys’s utterance is Alicent’s entire justification for Aegon’s claim in “The Green Council.” Does Alicent voice her fears that Rhaenyra and Daemon might kill Aegon, Helaena, and Aemond to remove potential challengers to the throne? Does she reference her opinion of Rhaenyra’s haughtiness and impurity? Does she worry about how best to unite a realm that she believes won’t accept a woman’s rule? No, no, and no—she only says, as he tells Rhaenys, “It was my husband’s dying wish.”

Maybe Aegon’s coronation would have pressed onward even without Alicent’s support, given the Small Council’s secret planning. But if Alicent had remained conflicted about her son’s impending rule, or even opposed to it, then the episode’s events might have unfolded differently, with more actual tension between its main characters.

That this change came about because of a foolish miscommunication is entirely out of step with how consequences typically transpire in this grounded story. An entire civil war brought about, apparently, because too many Targaryens are named Aegon. Dr. Seuss’s “Too Many Daves” didn’t change the fate of an entire continent.

4. An Inordinate Focus on Lesser Characters

As the episode devolves into a citywide search for the prince, several peripheral characters come to the fore. That means the most important episode of the season centers on characters who aren’t familiar to the audience.

Mainly, the Cargyll twins have scarcely appeared or been introduced before this episode, but the camera follows them all across King’s Landing. Rhaenyra and Daemon aren’t in this episode—but a Cargyll detour to a child fighting ring is!

(“Prince Aegon spends many a night in this place,” one Cargyll says to his brother. “Do you see now what he is?” As if viewers hadn’t already had their eyes opened to Aegon’s nature while watching the boorish rapist of a prince over the last few episodes.)

Ultimately, they find Aegon via a tip from Mysaria, who’s involved in a confusing, clandestine plot to hide (or kidnap? This whole subplot confounds) the prince. Mysaria and her spy within the Red Keep, Talya, are more familiar than the Cargyll twins—but even so, I can count on one hand the number of Mysaria lines and scenes since her tête-à-tête with Daemon all the way back in Episode 2, and her unique accent hasn’t grown any more intelligible in the meantime.

The final member of this unfortunate group is Larys, who continues his poor impression of Littlefinger in this episode. At least viewers learn Larys’s motivation for serving the queen, thanks to an intensely uncomfortable scene in which he, ahem, derives pleasure from a view of her uncovered feet. But this development doesn’t make his character more compelling in the slightest.

5. The Baffling Action at the End

The final confusion of the episode came in its closing scene. Initially, Rhaenys, having escaped from the Red Keep, finds herself swept along with the crowd and ushered into the Dragonpit to witness Aegon’s inauguration. Hooded and nondescript, she parallels Arya Stark’s position at the end of “Baelor,” when the young girl stands in the crowd during Ned’s beheading.

But Arya didn’t have a nuclear weapon waiting underneath Baelor’s Great Sept, as Rhaenys does in the Dragonpit. So as Aegon brandishes Blackfyre, the Valyrian steel sword of the Conqueror, before the cheering crowd, a sudden explosion tears through the floor. Meleys, Rhaenys’s dragon, rises through the hole (a huge deviation from the source text, where Aegon’s crowning proceeds without a hitch).

Seemingly dozens of innocents die as Meleys tramples the masses. Yet with Aegon, Alicent, and all the rest of the traitors to Rhaenyra standing right in front of her dragon’s snout, Rhaenys pulls an Obi-Wan Kenobi and turns to leave instead of ending the war before it even begins.

It seems that Dragon wanted, well, a dragon scene, so it invented one—but forgot to have it make climactic sense, for either the plot or the characters involved. The result is a scene that, much like “The Green Council” as a whole, left me bewildered, underwhelmed, and wishing I hadn’t placed quite so much hope in another amazing Episode 9.