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The ‘House of the Dragon’ Finale Exit Survey

There’s now a king and a queen. The Dance of Dragons has begun. Let’s talk about what happens next.

HBO/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

After two coronations and our first dragon fight, there’s no going back. House of the Dragon came to a close on Sunday night with Rhaenyra’s steadfast restraint giving way to vengeance. Now, we must discuss the totality of the first season, what happens next, and whether House of the Dragon has resurrected the Game of Thrones brand.

1. What is your tweet-length review of the House of the Dragon finale?

Arjuna Ramgopal: The high ground always wins.

Kai Grady: A solid ending to a solid first season. While a lot of “The Black Queen” still felt like a setup for the Dance to come, the stakes and tensions are really starting to heighten. Can’t wait for Season 2.

Isaac Levy-Rubinett: The House of the Dragon finale, and the season as a whole, was really good, but the most interesting and exciting parts haven’t happened yet—or, worse, they happened off-screen.

Aric Jenkins: It wasn’t quite as explosive as I expected it to be, but I think we’ll look back and say that this finale was appropriately patient with its setup of the impending conflict.

Megan Schuster: So this whole first season was basically a prequel … of a prequel?

Andrew Gruttadaro: The whole continent needs to be torn apart because one guy can’t get over a girl he had sex with and another guy can’t get over a pig/dragon joke that his cousin made, like, a decade ago.

Neil Francisco: I’m no expert in dragon training, but I would think that if you’re going to claim a dragon you should—oh, I don’t know—be able to tame it.

Ben Lindbergh: “The idea that we control the dragons is an illusion. They’re a power man should never have trifled with. One that brought Valyria its doom. If we don’t mind our own histories, it will do the same to us. —Viserys Targaryen” —Ben Lindbergh

2. What was the best moment of the episode?

Grady: Hands down: the moment when Otto and Daemon squared off (again) on the bridge in front of Dragonstone—a callback to Dragon’s second episode, “The Rogue Prince.” Even Rhaenyra swooped down on Syrax and landed in the exact same place as before, only this time she and Daemon were side by side. It was a striking parallel that emphasized how much things had shifted since the beginning of the series. Even the titles of the two episodes are in direct conversation with each other. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Francisco: Matt Smith delivered the coldest line in the episode when he said, “I would rather feed my sons to the dragons than have them carry shields and cups for your drunken, usurper cunt of a king.”

Jenkins: Gotta be poor Lucerys getting Franz Ferdinand’d. The dragon mauling heard around the world!

Ramgopal: The dragon showdown in the rain, while not the greatest CGI I’ve ever seen, was incredibly tense. Lucerys anxiously looking around for Aemond and Vhagar, with the lightning illuminating the sky—just fantastic. (RIP to Lucerys and Arrax.)

Schuster: This honor belongs to Lord Corlys and Princess Rhaenys. Not only was it great to have the Sea Snake back on screen (seriously: we needed some gravitas in this episode), but it was eye-opening to see Rhaenys open up about the qualities she values in a leader: restraint, level-headedness, thought for consequences. Those two have perhaps the most combined experience ruling (or almost ruling) across the show, and to see why they ultimately decided to throw their support behind Rhaenyra was crucial.

Levy-Rubinett: The incredible topographical fire table, and the strategy sessions that took place around it. In particular, the scene when Lord Corlys declares his support of Rhaenyra and shares news of his rout in the Stepstones was reminiscent of Thrones in that it built real momentum through alliances, battle plans, and relationships.

Gruttadaro: Rhaenyra’s coronation was stunning: the score; her father’s crown; Emma D’Arcy’s performance; the subtle transformation she makes from princess to regent; the only words spoken in an otherwise dialogue-less sequence: “My Queen.” There were several wordless scenes in “The Black Queen,” but this one was truly breathtaking.

Lindbergh: Rhaenyra’s coronation had a fraction of the attendance and triple the gravitas of Aegon’s. I also liked Rhaenyra’s restraint as queen, Aemond and Lucerys losing control of their dragons—a significant change from Fire & Blood—and Vhagar lurking in the clouds like Jaws beneath the waves. Who can know the mind of such a beast?

3. What was your least favorite part?

Schuster: Watching Rhaenyra pull her stillborn child out of her own body was beyond tough.

Gruttadaro: I respect House of the Dragon’s commitment to the theme of “the womb is a battlefield,” but I don’t think I need to see another tragic birthing scene to understand it.

Lindbergh: This sequence had symbolic significance, lent greater tragedy to the episode’s events, and brought the season full circle, but between Aemma’s death and Rhaenyra’s miscarriage, I think I’m maxed out on graphic birth scenes.

Jenkins: Yeah, as much as I respect House of the Dragon being forthright with its depictions of childbirth, I’m sure that was many viewers’ least favorite scene.

Grady: Daemon choking Rhaenyra. I understand that it’s meant to underscore Daemon’s ruthlessness and bloodlust, but it just felt a bit out of place. That moment felt rushed to me.

Ramgopal: From ignoring Rhaenyra while she was in labor to later choking her and then just leaving when he was needed most, a lot of Ls for the hot-headed brother of King Viserys. I’ve enjoyed Daemon’s character for large stretches of the season, but I questioned a lot of his actions at this pivotal point. I’m fully Team Black, but Daemon’s actions could be the downfall of that faction.

Levy-Rubinett: Rhaenyra remained offscreen for all of Episode 9, as her father died and the greens usurped the Iron Throne. We waited a week for the other shoe to drop, and considering where we left off, the early focus on Rhaenyra’s brutal childbirth and lack of command in the war room felt like a disservice. Relatedly, I can appreciate Rhaenyra’s restraint and caution in deciding how to proceed, but given that we already know civil war is imminent, it felt more like a delay than a build-up of dramatic tension.

Francisco: If I were Lucerys and I saw Vhagar hanging out when I landed in Storm’s End, I would have been on the next flight back to Dragonstone.

4. The Dance of Dragons has begun. What is your biggest question heading into Season 2?

Gruttadaro: So, these blond weirdos actually can’t control their massive fire-breathing monsters? Everyone’s about to die, aren’t they?

Jenkins: Is Daemon truly riding for Rhaenyra or does he want the crown for himself?

Ramgopal: Who is going to win, and at what cost? Rhaenyra lost two children in the finale, and more losses will follow. The blacks are going to strike back at the greens. I’m terrified to see who will be left standing by the end of this Dance.

Schuster: If we’re talking specifically about the dragons here, it’s: Who was that dragon Daemon snuck off to see in the middle of the episode? I’m not an expert here, but it didn’t look like one we’d been previously introduced to, and its coloring has me excited that maybe there’s some relation to Balerion the Black Dread? A dragon who could compete with Vhagar for aerial supremacy, perhaps?

Francisco: How am I supposed to hold in my excitement for the epic battle between Prince Daemon and Prince Aemond?!

Lindbergh: Where can I purchase a life-size replica of the lit-up Painted Table? Also, what else from Fire & Blood will Season 2 reveal to have been an unreliable narrator’s misunderstanding (or misrepresentation) of historical events?

Grady: Why the hell is the Triarchy so significant to this story and will we ever actually see it on screen? I’m starting to think that it doesn’t even really exist.

5. Who was the sneaky MVP of the first season?

Gruttadaro: Jealousy, turning saints into the (narrow) sea.

Grady: Rhaenys Targaryen. Eve Best’s performance was consistently excellent and her character took center stage during both the penultimate episode and the finale. If I was a betting man, I’d bet the house on Rhaenys being a crucial part of the series in subsequent seasons.

Lindbergh: Matt Smith’s Daemon and Paddy Considine’s Viserys got a lot of laurels, and deservedly so, but Rhaenys was always a welcome presence on-screen, and a very regal—but not ruling—reminder of the challenge facing Rhaenyra as she attempts to become the first woman to sit the Iron Throne.

Levy-Rubinett: Near the beginning of the season, the “Queen Who Never Was” loomed more as a presence and precedent. But as the season progressed, she and her husband, Lord Corlys, moved toward center stage. They’re closely linked to the central characters, but they have their own motivations, considerations, and choices to make. They’re interesting characters with a compelling relationship and a major role to play now that they are allied with Rhaenyra and Co. heading into Season 2.

Jenkins: In honor of his return, I’m going with Steve Toussaint as Corlys Velaryon. I would wager a decent portion of the audience still isn’t entirely sure what Corlys will direct his fleet to do, and much of that comes down to Toussaint’s nuanced performance of a complicated character. Despite his absence in the latter half of the season, Corlys’s initial conflict in the Stepstones gave the first several episodes tension and stakes as the larger dynamics were still being established.

Ramgopal: Both versions of Rhaenyra! Both Milly Alcock and Emma D’Arcy dominated every scene they were in, and were the clear lead of the show. There was nuance and power with every line and in every scene. Rhaenyra is the main character of this show, and I’m rooting for her and the blacks.

Schuster: I’m not necessarily happy about this, but the person who was most effective at advancing his or her own agenda this season was undoubtedly Larys Strong. Our man got in with the queen, helped her rise to power and vanquish her enemies (RIP, rest of the Strong family), and even got her to essentially become his own personal WikiFeet. Will he last long in the series? Who knows. But Larys was one of the only real movers and shakers of Season 1.

Francisco: Ewan Mitchell’s Prince Aemond made me feel conflicted during every scene. I’ve always been Team Black, but Prince Aemond’s ruthlessness makes me question my loyalty. I have a strong distaste for Aemond, he’s pretentious and cocky, yet I am absolutely obsessed with him.

6. Did House of the Dragon successfully rehabilitate the Game of Thrones universe? Are you excited to be back in Westeros?

Levy-Rubinett: Rehabilitate? It’s on the right track, at least. Excited to be back in Westeros? Absolutely.

Grady: Dragon seamlessly picked right back up where Game of Thrones left off in terms of cultural relevance and appointment viewing. And although this season never reached the highs of Thrones’ Season 1 standout “Baelor,” it was both a fantastic start and a drastic improvement in comparison to the final seasons of the original series. It revived the weekly discourse, the awe-inspiring spectacle, and it even came with a healthy dose of Thrones-inspired depravity. I miss Westeros already and I can’t wait to dive back. As far as I’m concerned, the woes of Season 8 are but a distant memory.

Gruttadaro: Considering where the original show had left us—in complete shambles, with absurdity and a lack of care becoming the lasting legacy—I’d say this show was absolutely successful. It was far from perfect, but it was a reminder of better days in the Seven Kingdoms.

Schuster: I have different answers for each of these questions. Yes, I am excited to be back in Westeros, and I’m excited for Season 2, which I hope will have a more conventional timeline and be better-equipped to give us more of what we loved from Thrones. But to this point, no, I don’t feel that HotD has rehabilitated Thrones—namely because, after a somewhat uneventful first season, you probably have to have already been a Thrones fan to be looking forward to HotD’s return.

Lindbergh: Before the season started, I considered what winning would look like for a successor series—and prequel—to Game of Thrones. Now that victory is complete. Season 1 of House of the Dragon wasn’t quite as consistently great as early Thrones, but it came close enough to draw huge audiences, generate constant coverage and discussion, and generally rehabilitate the brand. HBO’s ambition to build a Westeros TV empire just got a big boost.

Jenkins: It absolutely did. Fair play to HBO, I think the series roped us back in within the first episode or two. It’s still debatable whether House of the Dragon is the best show on TV, but it certainly feels like the only one qualified as appointment viewing.

7. What are you most looking forward to in Season 2?

Jenkins: War! War! War! The political backstabbing has been great, but the time has come for invading armies, the siege of cities, and dragons going nuclear. Just look at Aemond’s expression in the aftermath of Vhagar’s attack: He knows we’ve reached the point of no return.

Grady: MORE DRAGON FIGHTING. I’m hoping the back-and-forth between Vhagar and Arrax is just a taste (pun intended) of what’s on the horizon.

Oh, and no more time jumps please.

Schuster: Umm … action! I’m all for people talking in rooms, seeing the inner machinations of ruling, and hearing random philosophical rants about what it means to be a king/queen and hold the realm together. But the most promising sign for me coming out of “The Black Queen” is that it doesn’t feel like HotD can avoid showing some actual consequences next season, which it did so frustratingly across Season 1.

Lindbergh: More clever deviations from Fire & Blood—and the show expanding its scope beyond King’s Landing, Dragonstone, and Driftmark.

Francisco: I’m interested to see how differently House Stark will be viewed in the second season. The beloved first family of Westeros is surely set to play a bigger role in the second season.

Gruttadaro: Surprisingly I find myself drawn to Jace—both in the sense of what glory he may achieve and what devastating end he may meet. The show seems to be setting him up; unfortunately, he also kinda has Robb Stark vibes.

Levy-Rubinett: I’m half expecting a time jump to the end of the Dance of the Dragons, so mostly I’m just hoping to pick up where we left off on Sunday. I also look forward to seeing more of the realm and meeting other great houses as both factions vie for support throughout the Seven Kingdoms.

Ramgopal: Season 1 was all about setting the pieces in place for an epic war. I have no doubts HBO chose this particular time frame to highlight the dragon fights that everyone has wanted since the early days of Game of Thrones. Bring it on!