The king is dead, long live the king … or queen. With Viserys finally having succumbed to his long-running illness, the Iron Throne is up for grabs, and many in Westeros will need to decide whether they support Aegon II or Rhaenyra. As Episode 9 of House of the Dragon, “The Green Council,” conveyed, the Dance of the Dragons is beginning.
But a civil war will involve more than just the Targaryens and Hightowers at the heart of the conflict. Will the rest of the realm align with the greens (as Alicent’s contingent is known, for Hightower green) or the blacks (Rhaenyra’s faction, for House Targaryen’s black color)? Let’s break it down:
Deep Dive: Carving Up the Seven Kingdoms
House of the Dragon has kept its world small. Outside of a few brief visits to Pentos, the Stepstones, the Vale of Arryn, and Storm’s End, we’ve spent our time bouncing among three locations, all in or on Blackwater Bay: King’s Landing, Driftmark, and Dragonstone. But there have been hints of the wider Westeros out there, and with war seemingly on the horizon, the world is about to get a whole lot bigger.
In Episode 9, some lords bend the knee to Aegon II. Others—like Lady Fell and Allun Caswell—either refuse to do so or don’t do so credibly, and pay with their lives. This song and dance is about to be repeated throughout the realm, as lords far and wide will soon be pressured to pick a side: green or black. Let’s take a look, region by region, at how Westeros could divide itself in the coming civil war:
Outside of the Targaryens, the most important family in the Crownlands (the region located around where Aegon the Conqueror landed in Westeros) is clearly the Velaryons. And as Rhaenys made clear this week, she’s not aligning herself with the greens. But she also had a chance to burn them all at the site of Aegon II’s coronation and didn’t because … reasons. So maybe her heart isn’t fully on the blacks’ side yet, either.
Still, there are many factors that should sway Rhaenys and House Velaryon to join Rhaenyra’s cause. The primary one is that all of Rhaenys and Corlys’s grandchildren are tied to the blacks: Baela and Rhaena through Daemon and Laena, and Jacaerys, Lucerys, and Joffrey through Rhaenyra and Laenor (at least on paper). Plus, whatever squabbles Rhaenys and Corlys may have over whether one’s blood or one’s name counts for more Westerosi legacy points, Baela is betrothed to Jace and Rhaena to Lucerys, which means that the children of those marriages will carry both the blood and name of House Velaryon.
And while Rhaenys doesn’t seem to have much love or respect for Daemon, Corlys does, owing to his and Daemon’s success in the Stepstones many years ago. Corlys is grievously wounded and has been AWOL for the past two episodes. But should he recover, his position on this brewing war seems pretty clear: He’ll support Rhaenyra and his grandsons. Oh yeah, and one final reason for the Velaryons to support the blacks: The greens started their courtship of Rhaenys by having her imprisoned in her chambers. Not the best way to begin an alliance!
That’s the Velaryons, but what of the other houses in the Crownlands?
Most of the other houses in this area haven’t risen to the level of prominence and influence that we see in some of Westeros’s other regions. One notable exception is House Bar Emmon, which supported Rhaenys at the Great Council of 101 AC and therefore would likely follow her (or just generally be more open to a female claimant). House Celtigar (the only other Valyrian-descended house in Westeros) also supported Rhaenys.
Another notable house from the region is House Stokeworth—the same Stokeworths that Bronn marries into in Thrones in order to gain a castle. Fire & Blood tells us that an unnamed “Lord Stokeworth” was one of the lords imprisoned in the Red Keep for being deemed likely to defect to the blacks, as was a Lord Rosby, another noble from the Crownlands. Also in Fire & Blood, Otto reasons that the Masseys and Crabbs are likely to join Rhaenyra. Basically, almost everyone in the Crownlands appears set to support Viserys’s named heir. That could make things tricky for the greens, whose King’s Landing headquarters puts them right in the midst of all these houses.
The Hightowers will stand with the greens; we know that much. House Hightower, which has an overlord in the Tyrells, might be the strongest house in the realm that doesn’t rule over its region. The Hightowers control Oldtown, which was the largest and most powerful city in Westeros prior to Aegon’s Conquest and the rise of King’s Landing, and which still serves as home base for both the Faith of the Seven (at the Starry Sept) and the order of the maesters (at the Citadel). Fire & Blood tells us that the Hightowers are “capable of raising large new armies quickly from the streets of Oldtown, and with their own warships and those of their close kin, the Redwynes of the Arbor, they could float a significant fleet as well.”
We’ve previously seen Hobert Hightower—Otto’s brother—leading this house (he’s the guy who tells Alicent that the Hightowers will stand with her when Alicent wears green to Rhaenyra’s wedding), but that character doesn’t exist in the books and hasn’t been seen in some time. At this point in Fire & Blood, Ormund Hightower, Otto’s nephew, is the lord of House Hightower. We may see him soon. Another character we may see is Prince Daeron, the fourth child of Alicent and Viserys, who’s been off screen this season but who George R.R. Martin recently confirmed exists. He’s in Oldtown squiring for the Hightowers.
But the Hightowers aren’t even the Reach’s ruling house. That would be the Tyrells of Highgarden, whose current lord is an infant, Lyonel Tyrell. His mother has the regency and rules the region in his name. The Tyrells are one of the most powerful houses in the realm, because the Reach is the most fertile region in Westeros and provides much of the food for the continent. As a show of strength, the Tyrells brought 500 men (the most of any house) to the Great Council of 101 AC.
There are a number of other significant houses in the wealthy Reach, including House Caswell (more on Lord Caswell in a minute!), House Oakheart, House Tarly, House Rowan, House Peake, and House Costayne, among others. In Fire & Blood, the greens expect the Tyrells to fall in line with their “over-mighty” bannermen, the Hightowers. If that happens, all of those lesser houses would surely follow, and the greens would have an incredible force at their disposal. The blacks, by contrast, have no real connections to the Reach.
Tyland Lannister has sat on King Viserys’s Small Council as the master of ships for more than a decade now, and as we saw in “The Green Council,” he was an active participant in the scheming to put Aegon II on the throne. His older twin brother, Jason Lannister, is the head of the house and was the one who had so many less-than-pleasant interactions with Rhaenyra when the latter was a teenager. So it’s safe to say that the Lannisters—who after the Velaryons are Westeros’s second-wealthiest house—are breaking for the greens.
The Lannisters’ bannermen are not as notable as those from other regions in Westeros, but one we have seen on-screen is House Westerling. The lord commander of the Kingsguard since Episode 2 of House of the Dragon has been Harrold Westerling. While Harrold, who walks out of the green council’s meeting in protest, clearly doesn’t support the greens, he has also sworn oaths to serve the crown and not take part in the politics of the realm, so he shouldn’t be expected to publicly push his house to any one side. But it’s fair to wonder whether his family will find the greens’ usurpation of the throne as unsavory as he does. (It’s also fair to wonder where Harrold is, considering Criston Cole was named lord commander in this episode.)
The Riverlands are the least unified region in the realm. The Tullys rule the area from Riverrun, but Harrenhal, controlled by Larys Strong, is the larger and arguably more powerful castle. We already saw that the Blackwoods and Brackens have a feud that goes back ages. The Freys of the Crossing also hold considerable power.
Let’s start with the Tullys. The Lord Paramount of the Trident at this time is Grover Tully. He has a notable grandson in Elmo and two notable great grandsons in Kermit and Oscar (yeah, really). Grover is old enough that he attended the Great Council of 101 AC, where he spoke in favor of Viserys. He’s a very old man now, but his support of the male claimant then could mean the Tullys will stick with Aegon II.
Whatever the Tullys decide, it shouldn’t be expected to sway the other houses in the fractured Riverlands. We know the Strongs and Harrenhal will declare allegiance to the greens. But what of the other houses?
The Twins is under the purview of Forrest Frey, who in Fire & Blood asked for Rhaenyra’s hand in marriage back when she was looking for a suitor. Rhaenyra didn’t have very much tact as a teenager, and apparently Forrest earned the name “Fool Frey” after Rhaenyra spurned him. That could push him toward the greens.
In Episode 4 of House of the Dragon, a Blackwood boy slew a Bracken when Rhaenyra was courting suitors at Storm’s End. The Blackwoods also supported Rhaenys at the Great Council of 101 AC. Their previous support of Rhaenys and the perhaps happy memories they have of cutting down a rival in front of Rhaenyra could lead them to supporting the blacks … but of course that would probably just push the Brackens to the greens in response. Whichever way these two houses break, it will almost surely be for opposite sides; let’s call this a wash.
There are a number of other houses in the Riverlands as well, including the Mootons, Pipers, Rootes, Darrys, Mallisters, and Vances. But we know less about them than the other houses we’ve already covered, and they’re surely less powerful and influential. Oh yeah, and lest you think the Muppets Tully have the only silly names in the Riverlands, House Piper is led by a lord named Petyr.
Remember the whole business with Daemon and his wife Rhea Royce? House Royce is one of the most powerful families in the Vale, and I think it’s safe to say that after Gerold Royce’s words to Daemon back at Rhaenyra and Laenor’s wedding, the Royces will break for Team Green. That may have been some 16 years ago, but House Royce’s words are literally “We Remember.”
The Royces are sworn to House Arryn, the lords of the Vale, and the Arryns may follow their bannermen in positioning themselves against the blacks. At Rhaenyra and Laenor’s wedding, Daemon suggests that he’ll make a claim as the heir to Runestone. He actually does this in Fire & Blood, and the Arryns essentially tell him to get lost:
Runestone passed instead to Lady Rhea’s nephew, and when Daemon made appeal to the Eyrie, not only was his claim dismissed, but Lady Jeyne warned him that his presence in the Vale was unwelcome.
However, the Arryns’ loyalties may not be so simple. While the Vale has no love for Daemon, we should not forget who Rhaenyra’s mother is: Aemma Arryn. The fact that Rhaenyra has Arryn blood from her mother could help her sway the Arryns to her cause.
Plus, the Vale is currently ruled by Lady Jeyne Arryn, known as the Maiden of the Vale. She has no husband and rules the Vale in her own name, one of the few examples of a woman leading a region of Westeros. Breaking for Aegon II over Rhaenyra would put Jeyne’s own position at risk.
The Iron Islands
Pyke is currently ruled by Dalton Greyjoy, who is called the Red Kraken on account of his bloodlust and daring nature (so he’s essentially like every other Ironborn). While the Velaryons have the realm’s mightiest navy at this time, the Ironborn are a considerable sea power themselves. The problem is they are all the way on the other side of Westeros—to get to Blackwater Bay and King’s Landing, they’ll need to sail south around Dorne and back up. That’s not impossible (Euron Greyjoy did it in Game of Thrones), but it’ll take some time.
The Ironborn are fickle, though. They like to think of themselves as independent (before Aegon’s Conquest they even controlled the Riverlands) and have a habit of declaring themselves as such whenever there’s unrest in the realm. This is still apparent in the period leading up to and during A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones. Robert Baratheon has to put down Greyjoy’s Rebellion in 289 AC, shortly after winning the crown and ending the Targaryen dynasty. Then, once the War of the Five Kings breaks out, Balon Greyjoy immediately declares himself “King of the Isles and the North,” and Euron Greyjoy calls himself king after Balon dies. Aligning with the Ironborn is kinda like fighting with dragons: You better be ready to get burned.
While Dorne is still an independent kingdom and generally wants little to do with Westeros (outside of occasionally raiding the Stormlands), the Dornish aren’t entirely isolated from the realm. They did send observers to the Great Council of 101 AC to see Viserys get crowned. And while it wasn’t really depicted in the show, the Dornish joined forces with the Triarchy in the war for the Stepstones. Since succession in Dorne draws no distinction between men and women, Dorne may be partial to Rhaenyra’s claim as Viserys’s first-born child and named heir. But the conflict in the Stepstones means that Dorne was fighting directly against Rhaenyra’s husband Daemon in the not-so-distant past, so there may still be some bad blood there.
Might we finally see a Stark on this show for more than one second? Well … maybe. Whoever earns the support of the North will have to wait a while to see it come to fruition. The North is nearly as large as the rest of Westeros combined, so it takes a great deal of time for the Starks to assemble their banners and march south. That’s one of the reasons we so rarely see Starks in King’s Landing.
The North probably prefers the isolation, but if the Starks do get involved, they’d tentatively lean toward the blacks. House Stark was in favor of Rhaenys at the Great Council of 101 AC, as were their bannermen in House Dustin of Barrowton and House Manderly of White Harbor. Another notable house from the North, House Cerwyn, is known to be close to Cregan Stark, the current head of the Starks. That’s four of the most important houses in the North right there, all seemingly leaning toward the blacks.
House Baratheon is the big wild card right now, which is why they’re discussed in this episode. The Stormlands are located just south of the Crownlands, making their support crucial for the early portions of a war that will likely be centered in that area. And they have the ability to rally a considerable host; there’s a reason it’s Robert Baratheon who ends the Targaryen dynasty, and not some other lord.
We’ve previously seen Boremund Baratheon on the show, both when he helped to facilitate Rhaenyra’s search for suitors when she was a teenager and when he received Rhaenys’s favor at the tournament in Episode 1. Boremund is Rhaenys’s cousin (her mother was Jocelyn Baratheon), and he was Rhaenys’s biggest supporter at the Great Council of 101 AC. That’d make the Baratheons shoo-ins for the blacks … except that Boremund is dead.
Now, Boremund’s son Borros rules from Storm’s End. Borros may still follow his father and be partial to Rhaenys and the blacks, but we shouldn’t be so sure. Fire & Blood tells us that Borros is “even more belligerent than his father” and, somewhat conflictingly, that he’s like “stone, hard and strong and unmoving” as well as “the wind that rages and howls and blows this way and that.” So, he’s a Baratheon through and through. Fire & Blood also tells us that “the lesser storm lords would surely follow” where Borros leads them.
Outside of Westeros
I’m doubtful about how willing anyone outside of Westeros would be to get involved in a dragon-fueled war for a foreign continent. But to cover all our bases here, we could think of the Triarchy—which, as previously mentioned on the show, has had a bit of a resurgence—as leaning toward the greens, as they probably don’t want to join up with old foes Daemon and Corlys. The same might be said of Pentos after Daemon declined to join them in fighting the Triarchy. As for everywhere else east of the Narrow Sea … there’s really no telling which side they’d take. The answer is probably no one’s.
The importance of crowns
Viserys is dead, but his crown—which was also the crown of his predecessor, Jaehaerys—remains with his corpse. Instead of assuming his father’s headwear, Viserys’s son dons the crown of his namesake, the Conqueror. And true to the books, this crown is depicted as a simple Valyrian-steel circlet inlaid with red rubies (though the show went a little light on the rubies).
The design of a crown can send a message. For example, when Joffrey ascends the throne in A Game of Thrones, he wears a golden crown encrusted with red rubies and black diamonds, symbolizing both House Lannister (whose colors are red and gold) and House Baratheon (black and yellow). Stannis wears a crown of “red gold with points fashioned in the shape of flames,” a clear homage to Melisandre and her Lord of Light (Melisandre also wears a red-gold choker). Renly wears a crown with gold roses—symbolizing his closeness to the Tyrells—with a jade stag’s head in the center. Robb Stark’s crown is a bronze circlet inscribed with the runes of the First Men, and is said to look much like the crowns the ancient kings of the North wore. You get the idea.
With its bright red rubies and nearly black steel, Aegon the Conqueror’s crown depicts the colors of House Targaryen. It’s a crown for a warrior, seeing as it’s made with the same steel that is typically reserved for the sharpest and most precious blades in Westeros. The crown features neither gold nor intricate detail—it’s meant to show power and strength. In wearing it, Aegon II not only traces his claim to the throne back to the originator of the Targaryen dynasty, but also subtly suggests that he’s ready to take the throne by force—just as Aegon the Conqueror did.
Viserys’s crown sends a different message. It features the Targaryen sigil on its front, with a number of different sigils around its sides. In various shots throughout the series, I’ve identified the sigils of houses Lannister, Arryn, Tully, Martell, Tyrell, and Baratheon. There’s probably at least one more—House Stark?—to represent the Seven Kingdoms, and maybe even another one—House Greyjoy?—depending on how we count “seven” (Westeros actually consists of nine provinces, not seven.) And while it’s funny to include the Martell sigil when Dorne is still independent, the message of this crown is clear: unity. This is a crown of peace. (It’s a little different from the crown that Viserys wears in the books, a simple golden band inset with seven different gemstones, but the message of both crowns is largely the same: The Seven Kingdoms have one king.)
Thus far, there have been only three crowns for the now six kings in the Targaryen dynasty: the aforementioned two, plus the crown of King Aenys, a “crown of yellow gold with the faces of the Seven inlaid in jade and pearl.” Jaehaerys initially wore this crown before switching, and it’s not clear what became of it.
At any rate, Rhaenyra will need a crown if she wishes to continue her pursuit of the Iron Throne. Her father’s crown would be a perfect fit for her—it would remind the realm that she was her father’s named heir, as well as signal her desire for unity and peace as opposed to war—but right now it’s stuck in the Red Keep. She may need to have a new one made. Pay attention to what she chooses—it’ll send a message about how she wants others to perceive her.
Other symbols of legitimacy
The Conqueror’s crown isn’t the only salient piece of hardware Aegon II is using to lend legitimacy to his claim. As Alicent says in this episode, “my son will take the crown of his namesake, the Conqueror, and carry Blackfyre, his sword. Let the people remember the ancient strength of House Targaryen.”
We covered Blackfyre, the Valyrian steel sword wielded by the Conqueror, in a previous column. Aegon’s thrusting it into the air at the end of this episode sends much the same message as the crown on his head: He’s ready for a conquest. That likely was also a reason the greens chose the Dragonpit as the location for Aegon II’s coronation. It’s larger than the throne room, so it holds a larger audience and also projects the strength he hopes will help him back his claim.
The symbolism doesn’t end there. As Fire & Blood tells us: “Every visible symbol of legitimacy belonged to Aegon. He sat the Iron Throne. He lived in the Red Keep. He wore the Conqueror’s crown, wielded the Conqueror’s sword, and had been anointed by a septon of the Faith before the eyes of tens of thousands. Grand Maester Orwyle sat in his councils, and the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard had placed the crown upon his princely head. And he was male, which in the eyes of many made him the rightful king, his half-sister the usurper.”
Rhaenyra already faced an uphill climb to control the Seven Kingdoms. Just by virtue of being a woman, a Rhaenyra reign always would have represented a big shift in how monarchy works in Westeros. Now she’s not only been usurped by a man, but one who literally carries the Conqueror’s name and all of his important objects, and who lives at the seat of power while she is on a rock in the Narrow Sea. It’s a tough position to be in.
Who is Allun Caswell?
Let’s return to the Reach for a second. In “The Green Council,” we see a lord bend the knee to Aegon II, then try to escape the Red Keep. Larys catches him, and he’s hanged as a result. Just who is this guy?
He’s Allun Caswell, the head of House Caswell, who is named only as “Lord Caswell” in Fire & Blood. There, he is similarly killed upon Aegon II’s ascension (though it’s by beheading, not hanging). We’ve seen the briefest of glimpses of Allun in the series—he runs into Rhaenyra and Laenor when they are carrying baby Joffrey to Queen Alicent, and he greets Rhaenyra and Daemon when they arrive in King’s Landing in Episode 8—but it’s not really clear why he’s so loyal to Rhaenyra and the blacks. Fire & Blood offers no other info to go on. Perhaps he has some unexplored friendship with Rhaenyra, Daemon, or someone else in their sphere; perhaps he was close to Viserys; perhaps he just has a stubborn understanding of succession.
At any rate, Allun’s death should theoretically push the Caswells toward Team Black. Bitterbridge isn’t a terribly strong castle, but it is very centrally located, lying along the Roseroad between Highgarden and King’s Landing. That could make it an important location—and the Caswells an important house—in a war.
RIP, Lyman Beesbury
The master of coin served on Viserys’s council for at least two decades, if not longer. And while he was a bit of a doddering fool, the fact that the greens begin their rule by just straight-up murdering a loyal (and presumably close?) confidant of Viserys is pretty wild.
Yet the show moves past this rather quickly compared to how it happened in Fire & Blood. Beesbury begins with a similar sort of protest of what the council is planning. But then he turns to leave the chamber, which is something the greens can’t allow, as they need time to put their plan in motion and cannot have Rhaenyra alerted to their intentions. Here’s what happens next:
Grand Maester Orwyle tells us that Lord Beesbury was seized at the door by the command of Ser Otto Hightower and escorted to the dungeons. Confined to a black cell, he would in time perish of a chill whilst awaiting trial.
Septon Eustace tells it elsewise. In his account, Ser Criston Cole forced Lord Beesbury back into his seat and opened his throat with a dagger. Mushroom charges Ser Criston with his lordship’s death as well, but in his version Cole grasped the old man by the back of his collar and flung him out a window, to die impaled upon the iron spikes in the dry moat below.
In House of the Dragon, Beesbury’s death seems almost accidental, and his was the only blood shed at the green council, which isn’t the case in the book. Check out this passage:
Lord Larys Strong, master of whisperers, then spoke for the first and only time. “Let us be the first to swear,” he said, “lest there be traitors here amongst us.” Drawing his dagger, the Clubfoot drew it across his palm. “A blood oath,” he urged, “to bind us all together, brothers unto death.” And so each of the conspirators slashed their palms and clasped hands with one another, swearing brotherhood. Queen Alicent alone amongst them was excused from the oath, on account of her womanhood.
So the green council was a bit more intentional and violent in the book. But one way or another, the first blood in the Dance of the Dragons has been shed. RIP, Lyman Beesbury.
What does Helaena know?
After the green council, Alicent and Otto burst into Helaena’s chambers looking for Aegon. When Otto realizes Aegon isn’t there, he leaves—presumably to look for Aegon elsewhere. Helaena asks her mother what’s happened, and just as Alicent starts to tell her about Viserys, Helaena blurts out: “There is a beast beneath the boards.”
This quote almost exactly mirrors something Helaena said last episode, when she muttered, “Beware the beast beneath the boards” under her breath at the dinner between the greens and the blacks. As previously detailed in this column, House of the Dragon has made Helaena one of the Targaryens who experiences prophetic dreams. Her vision that Aemond would have to “close an eye” to claim a dragon came true almost immediately. But the significance of this latest prophecy is less clear.
A search of Fire & Blood shows that the word “beast” is almost always used in connection to dragons. Perhaps she meant this as a reference to Rhaenys’s dragon Meleys, who burst through the floor of the Dragonpit this episode … but that floor was made of stone, not wooden boards, and Meleys’s big moment had no real effect on any major characters.
There are plenty of other beasts that live underneath floorboards: rats, worms, beetles, etc. Helaena could be referring to anything here; only time will tell exactly what. At any rate, as a dreamer, virtually everything she says is worth listening to closely.
Aegon’s line of succession
When Aemond is searching for Aegon in this episode, he tells Criston, “I’m next in line. If they look for me, I intend to be found.” Initially I was confused by this, as Aegon has a male heir in his son Jaehaerys (and in the books he has a second son in Maelor, though this character may be getting cut from the show). Just as Daemon fell behind Rhaenyra when she was originally named, Aemond surely comes after Aegon II’s male children; that shouldn’t be up for debate.
But Aemond says this before Aegon is crowned, which brings up an interesting question: If Aegon had done more to refuse the throne, would the greens have crowned Aemond? Aemond himself clearly would have accepted the nomination, and I think we can see that characters like Otto would have had no issue anointing a different grandson in order to secure his house’s place on the Iron Throne. But Alicent’s entire justification for crowning Aegon is that she thinks it was Viserys’s dying wish. Viserys didn’t say anything about Aemond.
Alas, something that Otto said in Episode 1 proves prescient in this episode: “The gods have yet to make a man who lacks the patience for absolute power.” Aegon accepts the crown, and now his son is surely next in line for the throne, with Aemond coming after.
Family Tree Watch
We had no new births or marriages this week, but we did have Martin confirming the existence of Daeron, the fourth child of Alicent and Viserys. That means Daeron gets a spot on the family tree, even if we won’t see him until Season 2.
We also got a glimpse of Aegon and Helaena’s children, Jaehaerys and Jaehaera. Only Maelor, their youngest child, was nowhere to be found, so I’m removing him from the family tree for now:
Next Time On …
Next week is the finale, and the preview promises we’ll get answers to a lot of questions, including:
- What will Rhaenyra do?
- Who will side with whom?
- How will the dragons be deployed?
And most importantly:
- What is under Aemond’s eyepatch?