The formula: set the episode during a wedding or a funeral or an extravagant bachelor party or a trip to another country or some combination of these. Feature opening act posturing between family members vying for advantage, followed by exchanges of advantage during the next two acts, followed by a fourth act bombshell that totally shifts the balance of power, followed by new alliances and more posturing for the next exchange—the next episode. And repeat.
episode 7 is so obviously within the Succession plot engine we could probably recap the whole thing and substitute some “Roys” for some “Targaryens” and you wouldn’t know the difference. While the power struggle works well in modern New York City—and should translate into fictional medieval throne claims—the dynamic now begins to drag (and drag hard) by episode 7. Too many years have passed since the first episode, making that early season squabbling almost inconsequential now; the power struggles of previous episodes are rendered irrelevant when the action jumps forward. Whereas that other power struggle show takes place in real time, making the episode 1 drama still impactful by episode 10, House of the Dragon has traversed some 15 years of history, during which players we thought important are now dead and actions that seemed consequential are now just remnants of the past. The result: we’re left asking ourselves why we’ve spent so much time building a drama whose outcome was obvious from the start and yet has taken seven hours to develop. We’re talking about the civil war.
Well, we’re at least on the eve of that war by the end of episode 7. The sides are chosen, the dragons are aligned, the Throne can now be fought over. At least, when the King finally dies. Which he hasn’t yet. Big sigh.
Anyway, let’s breakdown what happened Sunday night on Success… —er, we mean—House of the Dragon. Yeah! That’s the show we’re watching.
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episode 7’s primary arc is the furthering division between Rhaenyra and Alicent—with the final scenes all but announcing war between the houses and the selection of future allies for that fight.
It begins at a funeral. Laena Velaryon, who died last episode during childbirth (suicide by dragon) is laid to rest in Driftmark. The entirety of episode 7 takes place here.
It’s worth noting the balance of power at this moment. Three families vie for control. Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy), who is the named heir of the King, and Laenor Velaryon (John Macmillan) have two children, illegitimately; if Rhaenyra’s Throne claim isn’t disputed, her children’s certainly will be. Then there is King Viserys (Paddy Considine) and Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), who have three children, all Targaryen, with the eldest, Aegon, possessing possibly an equal claim to the Throne as Rhaenyra. And then there are Daemon Targaryen’s (Matt Smith) two children by the now deceased Laena Velaryon. Daemon tends to remarry quite soon after the death of his wife, and so his is a powerful house ready to join another.
All three families gather at the funeral with an equal number of meddlers. First, the grandparents. Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), now reinstated as Hand of the King, will try to advance Aegon’s claim. Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), “grandfather” to children in the other two houses, Rhaenyra’s children and Daemon’s children, will try to advance Jacaerys’s claim—since he is Rhaenyra’s firstborn and so successor to the Throne by name through Rhaenyra.
The grandfathers spend the funeral reception talking up their grandkids; however, both sets are without ambition: Aegon gets sad-boy drunk and Jacaerys somberly contemplates what must happen for him to rule (“everybody [must be] already dead.”) So, both grandkids are basically useless.
Another meddler in the family power battle is Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), who has already killed the real father of Rhaenyra’s children (his own brothe) along with his own father, the Hand, helping House Hightower retake more control. And finally, there is Daemon, the eternal meddler who, even at the funeral of his wife, is already making eyes with Rhaenyra. Viserys even asks him to return to King’s Landing, as if begging him to make a Throne claim, but Daemon balks, saying he wants to stay in Pentos. This won’t last long.
As night descends, one member of the family finally makes a grab for power. Aemond, Alicent’s youngest, decides to claim the dragon Vhagar, now ownerless after Laena’s death. His flight of Vhagar wakes the other children and upsets Laena’s twin daughters, Rhaena and Baela, who feel the dragon is theirs to claim. They meet Aemond at a castle entrance alongside Jacaerys and Lucerys.
And then the three families, through the children, do battle.
Rhaena and Baela attack Aemond. Then Jacaerys and Lucerys attack Aemond. After Aemond calls the latter two bastards, they tag team him, with Jacaerys using a knife to slash Aemond’s eye. The adults then show up to break up the fight. Everyone is called to Viserys for explanation.
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While the dragon is in the air, Rhaenyra and Daemon take a nighttime stroll down the beach. Rhaenyra accuses Daemon of leaving her in King’s Landing, weakening her position and making her unhappy. He says she was only a child, to which she says she’s a child no longer, and then the two kiss and finally consummate the weird vibes they’ve been giving off all season.
When they return to the castle, they find chaos. Rhaenyra’s children are both bloody and Alicent’s youngest is now missing an eye. Viserys calls for an explanation, during which Rhaenyra accuses Aemond of slandering her children, calling them “bastards.” Such a claim, she says, is tantamount to treason. Viserys immediately understands the severity of the insult; he is maybe the only one in the Kingdom oblivious to the truth of the “slander.” He asks Aemond to tell him where he heard the rumor. Aemond eyes his mother before blaming his brother. Aegon, who was drunk all night, tells the King everybody knows the rumor; “Just look at them.”
Alicent, taking advantage of what appears to be a changing of power, demands that Jacaerys also lose an eye as penance. This suggestion goes over extremely poorly, and she ends up taking a dagger to the boy herself, though Rhaenyra stops her—getting cut in the process. Alicent, having finally shown her true intentions, drops the knife. Her father, the Hand, later praises her tenacity, seeing her finally as someone ready to fight for the Throne.
As the Hightowers leave with the King, Rhaenyra admits to Daemon her weakness; her boys are indeed bastards, the Hightowers just gained another dragon, and Laenor will not be able to provide support. She and Daemon then conspire to have Laenor killed, allowing Rhaenyra to wed Daemon, uniting House Targaryen, adding more dragons to Rhaenyra’s side, and possibly forcing alliance with the Velaryon’s, given Daemon will be father to their remaining kin.
Corlys and Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best), meanwhile discuss which family to support. Corlys stands by Rhaenyra, regardless of the illegitimacy of the children. Rhaenys argues that Corlys should announce Daemon’s two daughters be given titles, since they are Velaryon blood. Corlys choses name over blood and will have no more of it.
And then Laenor is murdered. Daemon hires Qarl, a soldier who’s been around the Velaryon army all season long, to do the deed in exchange for coin. And everyone, including, initially, the viewers, is led to believe that he’s done just that. But in the closing moments of the episode, we see that Laenor and Qarl have faked his death; the two are rowing off into open waters as the episode closes. Will they figure into things in the future or just live happily ever after? This is a departure from Martin’s source material, so we will have to see.
Corlys and Rhaenys now believe themselves to be without children, and Rhaenyra is conveniently without a husband. She and Daemon marry with the Velaryons, their Throne claims now totally dashed, looking on.
The two sides of the civil war are now set: Daemon and Rhaenyra will square off against the Hightowers—hopefully next week. Oh boy, do we need some battle scenes. Enough of all this Succession imitation. Give us real war.
Joshua St Clair is an editorial assistant at Men’s Health Magazine.