King Viserys may have been an ineffectual ruler, but he was a man of peace: In his final moments on House of the Dragon, Viserys pleaded for his extended family to set aside their differences. (Spoiler alert: They wouldn’t.) Viserys wanted cooler heads to prevail among the notoriously hot-headed Targaryens—something that’s much easier to accomplish when dragons aren’t part of the equation. “The idea that we control the dragons is an illusion,” he tells his daughter Rhaenyra in the series premiere. “They’re a power man should never have trifled with.”
While Viserys rode Balerion for only a short while before the dragon’s passing, the rest of his family have claimed dragons of their own, Rhaenyra included. Since dragons allowed the Targaryens to conquer Westeros in the first place, it’s no surprise the younger generation is carrying on the tradition. But if there were any doubts that there would be grave consequences to meddling with the realm’s equivalent of nuclear weapons, the Season 1 finale, “The Black Queen,” erased them with a single, devastating chomp. The Dance of the Dragons is now upon us, and as the late Viserys warned, it appears the Targaryens won’t be able to rein in the very creatures that give them their strength.
After Rhaenyra learns of her father’s death and Aegon II’s coronation— one pushed by the Hightowers—she sets about consolidating support for her claim to the Iron Throne. Three houses, in particular, could tip the scales of the impending conflict in her favor: the Baratheons, the Arryns, and the Starks. While ravens could be sent to the respective houses, traveling on dragonback would be faster, and send a stronger message. As a result, Rhaenyra’s sons Jace and Luke Velaryon are dispatched—the former to the Arryns and the Starks farther north, and the latter to the Baratheons. From there, we follow Luke and his dragon Arrax as they arrive at Storm’s End, only to discover the colossal Vhagar lurking outside the main hall. The ferocious dragon’s presence can mean only one thing: Prince Aemond Targaryen has beaten Luke to the punch.
Aemond, who still holds a grudge against Luke over the loss of his eye, has won Borros Baratheon’s fealty for Aegon II by agreeing to marry one of his daughters. (Luke, conversely, is already betrothed.) Without anything to trump Aemond’s offer of marriage, Luke leaves Storm’s End empty-handed—and as if that wasn’t bad enough, his one-eyed adversary wants to use Vhagar’s aerial dominance to terrorize him. It’s hard to call the showdown between Arrax and Vhagar in the middle of a thunderstorm a battle—this is a complete mismatch, like a dinghy going up against a naval destroyer. Most striking, though, is that once Aemond and Luke took to the skies, they were no longer in control of the situation. They became accessories to the whims of two wild animals.
First, Luke can’t stop a fearful Arrax from burning Vhagar with a sneak attack through the clouds; then, in retaliation, Vhagar disobeys Aemond and chomps down on the smaller dragon, killing Luke in the process. (The lead-up to Vhagar’s fateful attack in and out of the storm clouds is like something out of a monster movie.) As the situation escalated, Aemond shouted feverishly at Vhagar, commanding his dragon to stand down. Ultimately, Aemond was a helpless bystander in what is arguably the most crucial moment of the series thus far. The full ramifications of the attack won’t be known until House of the Dragon’s second season, but the implication is clear: After resisting the urge to go to war against the Hightowers, Rhaenyra will want to avenge her son’s death. The final, anguished look on Rhaenyra’s face before the end credits all but confirmed she’s ready to embrace her house’s motto of “fire and blood.”
The tragic irony of House of the Dragon is that much of the hostility between Team Green and Team Black is a matter of miscommunication and ill-fated timing. Even if Otto Hightower always planned to usurp Rhaenyra, his daughter Alicent only pushed for Aegon II’s coronation because she believed it to be Viserys’s dying wish. (That said, I’m not sure how Alicent could think her son is fit to rule when she spends half of her free time doing damage control after he assaults their handmaids.) To that end, the show makes a notable change from George R.R. Martin’s source material by having Aemond lose control of Vhagar instead of choosing to kill Luke himself, setting off a chain of events that begins the Dance of the Dragons in earnest. Without Alicent misinterpreting her husband’s final words, there’s a chance Aegon II wouldn’t be sitting the Iron Throne; similarly, if Aemond was able to stop Vhagar from retaliating, maybe Luke would’ve made it home and Rhaenyra would’ve remained as level-headed as her father.
But therein lies the problem: the hubris of House Targaryen believing they can control something that was never meant to be tamed. And if the dragons are a power that men shouldn’t meddle with, then they’re even more dangerous in the hands of actual children. Sending Aemond and Luke off on fire-breathing dragons would be like leaving a bunch of weapons in the middle of a playground: the question isn’t whether the situation will get out of hand, but when. It’s mostly irrelevant that Aemond didn’t intend to have Luke killed, though the outcome does beg the question: If House of the Dragon is meant to be a more accurate retelling of events from Martin’s Fire & Blood, will this be the last time a dragon commits an atrocity of its own volition?
To be sure, the conflict at the heart of the Dance of the Dragons is driven by the pursuit of both power and revenge. But the sheer scale of the Targaryen civil war is only made possible by the dragons themselves, and the arrogance of a family assuming they can use these creatures to further their own ambitions. “When dragons flew to war, everything burned,” Rhaenyra says in the finale, alluding to the history of Old Valyria. “I do not wish to rule over a kingdom of ash and bone.” What Rhaenyra and the rest of the Targaryens fail to realize is that with dragons still in the picture, that might not be their choice to make.