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House of the Dragon Season 1 Finale Alters This Book Character’s Tragic Big Move

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Full spoilers ahead for House of the Dragon, Season 1!


The first season of House of the Dragon has come to an end and with it so too has the life of one of its most innocent characters, Prince Lucerys “Luke” Velaryon. The final shot of the episode is a close-up of now Queen Rhaenyra’s devastated but determined face upon learning the news of her young son’s death. She is framed by flames behind her, a promise of the fire and blood to come in House of the Dragon Season 2. The Targaryen civil war known as The Dance of the Dragons is on. 

For most of the episode, Rhaenyra is urging caution while the men in the room, including her uncle-husband Daemon Targaryen, are clamoring for war. Daemon says the Blacks’ thirteen dragons to the Greens’ four gives them an advantage they cannot squander. He wants to end this war before it can even begin by striking fast and hard against the traitors who usurped the Iron Throne. He insists that as a monarch, it is Rhaenyra’s duty to crush rebellions. Daemon is imploring Rhaenyra to not be the dithering weakling he believes her father was.

Rhaenyra bristles at this talk of deploying what is essentially the nuclear option right out of the gate. “When dragons flew to war everything burned. I do not wish to rule over a kingdom of ash and bone,” she declares. Alas, any political solution is squashed when Aemond Targaryen’s dragon, Vhaegar, kills Luke and his dragon, Arrax, over Shipbreaker Bay. (This tragedy is foreshadowed here when Daemon recalls that “dragons can kill dragons and have.”)

As with much of this first season, the finale has swaths that stay largely true to the source material, George R.R. Martin’s Fire and Blood, even as the series creates new moments and adds dimension and nuance to characters that the book failed to. However, there is one major change to the sequence depicting Luke’s death that not only reframes Aemond’s intent but also highlights how mercurial the relationship between dragons and their human riders can be. 

As dragons are poised to take center stage in future seasons and will serve as the ultimate weapons in this conflict, who wins this war not only comes down to the number of dragons each side has but whether they can even control these savage beasts once unleashed in battle.

House of the Dragon Season 1 Ending Explained

Upon learning that her half-sibling Aegon II usurped the Iron Throne, Rhaenyra and her Black Council weigh their options. They need allies and three of the great houses who once swore fealty to her are now question marks. The queen, as she points out, must know who her allies are before she can send them off to war. Rather than dispatch ravens, her eldest son and heir, Prince Jacaerys, successfully argues that he and his brother Luke should ride their dragons to those lands as both a show of strength and because dragons are faster than ravens. Time is of the essence, after all. 

Rhaenyra the queen approves of this mission even as Rhaenyra the mother is clearly anxious about her sons’ safety. This is the moment when her boys are asked to become men. However, she makes them swear upon the Seven-Pointed Star to serve only as messengers not warriors. Luke is still an unsure kid who lacks confidence so she tasks him with what is deemed the shorter, safer flight to Storm’s End.

Luke flies Arrax to Storm’s End to deliver his mother’s message to Lord Borros Baratheon, who, unlike what his mother said, is neither happy to welcome him nor respectful of his station. Indeed, Borros berates both Luke and his mother’s message. But that’s not the worst of it. As the baddest of luck would have it, Queen Alicent’s second son, Aemond, is also at Storm’s End seeking to forge an alliance through marriage to one of Borros’ daughters.

It must be remembered that Luke — who is younger than Aemond — took Aemond’s eye out in a fight years before. Aemond – who removes his eyepatch to reveal he now sports a sapphire where his left eye once was – wants payback. He tosses his dagger towards Luke and tells him to cut out his own eye so that he may present it to his mother Alicent. Luke refuses. When it looks like a duel is about to break out, Borros demands that Luke return home as he will have no bloodshed under his roof.

What follows is the first dragon battle in the Dance of the Dragons, although book readers will note major differences between how Fire and Blood portrays the moments leading up to Lucerys Velaryon’s death and alterations made by the show in how complicit Aemond Targaryen intended to be in it …

How the House of the Dragon Finale Is Different From the Book

In the novel Fire and Blood, Borros’ reaction to Luke’s overture is debatable, with varied responses provided. Not so in this episode, which definitively depicts Borros’ response. Also in the book, Aemond has his manhood questioned by his newly betrothed, Borros’ daughter Lady Maris, and that’s what eggs him on to pursue and kill Luke. That doesn’t happen in House of the Dragon, as none of the Baratheon daughters utter a single word throughout this pivotal sequence.

Luke heads back outside where there is now a full-on tempest raging over Storm’s End. Arrax is visibly anxious as Luke approaches. He pleads with his steed in Valyrian: “Focus! Pay attention, Arrax! Be calm! Listen! Obey! Fly, Arrax!” This is the first sign that Luke does not have full control over his dragon.

Once they ascend into the storm clouds, fantasy turns to horror as the giant form of Vhaegar is discerned lurking in the clouds above Luke and Arrax. Aemond and Vhaegar swoop down on them, giving chase as Luke desperately tries to outrun the bigger and deadlier dragon. 

But in a notable change from Fire and Blood, we see that Aemond is not out to kill Luke despite him screaming, “You owe a debt, boy!” He’s trying to scare the hell out of the kid. However, it soon becomes tragically clear that neither Aemond nor Luke are in control of their respective dragons.

“No, Arrax! Serve me,” Luke pleads but the beast, rattled by the pursuit, breathes fire on Vhaegar. This only serves to enrage the bigger, badder dragon. Luke and Arrax escape the storm and make it to clear skies but that tranquil moment is short-lived.

Vhaegar swoops into frame and devours Luke and Arrax in mid-air. Aemond, however, pleads with his steed not to do it: “No, Vhaegar, no! Serve me, Vhaegar! No!” But the older, fiercer dragon defies its master and slays its smaller rival and its young rider.

Aemond is shaken by this as he sees what’s left of Arrax fall through the clouds into Shipbreaker Bay. He is now Aemond the Kinslayer, though not by choice as it was in the book. But who will believe that he lost control of his dragon given his reputation and the confrontation in front of Borros Baratheon? We’ll have to wait to see how that plays out next season.

In the meantime, showrunner Ryan Condal disputes that Aemond’s actions here were the result of an accident. M(aybe a savvy lawyer could knock Aemond’s charges down from murder to manslaughter?) Per Condal’s chat with Variety:

“Aemond got on his giant dragon and chased his nephew on his much smaller dragon through the clouds screaming and yelling at him, incensing his dragon and starting a fight. He didn’t know how Arrax or Luke were going to respond, and it ended in tragedy. I don’t think that was what Aemond intended when he threw his leg over the saddle, but he did a horrible, dangerous thing. That is the point: This is a war of many cuts that lead to a really, really bloody wound. It adds complexity and nuance to the character that’s potentially interesting. There’s lots of runway to go on with Aemond as a character and the story of the Dance. This is his first act as a dragon rider and a warrior and it’s gone very wrong. Now what happens as a result, and how does he respond? Those are the questions I’m interested in as dramatist.”

“Dreams Didn’t Make Us Kings. Dragons Did.”

King Viserys warned Rhaenyra right before he named her his heir in the series premiere, “The idea that we control the dragons is an illusion. They are power men 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. A Targaryen must understand this to be king – or queen.“ We see Viserys’ warning from the season opener that dragon control is an illusion pays off in the season finale with the death of Lucerys. \

“I think you should always assume that dragons have minds of their own. They’re living, breathing creatures that have a level of sentience to them,” showrunner Ryan Condal explained in a post-release interview to Deadline. “That’s one of the cautionary tales that we’re setting up, the stance of the dragons. When you go to war with a bunch of nuclear weapons that have their own sentient thoughts and feelings to a degree, unexpected things can happen.”

Dragons have been used at several points this season as shows of force, from Rhaenys’ attack on Aegon’s coronation to, in this episode, Rhaenyra swooping down to meet Otto Hightower’s entourage or Daemon using his steed Caraxes to ensure that two knights renew their oaths of allegiance to Rhaenyra. 

Targaryens may think they have power because of their bond with dragons but, as this season finale tragically shows, the Targaryens have only barely tamed these deadly creatures. Dragons are not necessarily mindless beasts but they are nature in its most brutal form and are the most dangerous force in the world of Game of Thrones before the arrival of the White Walkers.

The youth and relative inexperience of Aemond and Luke is certainly a factor in the ensuing tragedy. As we have seen, elders like Rhaenys can control her steed Meleys during the penultimate episode’s controversial Dragonpit attack. Likewise, we see later in the finale how in sync Daemon is with the dragon Vermithor, but even then there’s a sense of danger. Daemon knows the Blacks will need every dragon possible on their side so he dares the risk. 

Daemon enters the dragon’s lair singing a soothing Valyrian song. He moves gingerly, almost deferentially, in the shadows as he lays down his torch. That’s when Vermithor lights up the giant room with a blaze of fire. Daemon keeps singing. It’s like he’s serenading it. Vermithor huge face lingers right before Daemon’s, each reflected in the other’s eye. (It echoes what young Rhaenyra said in the series premiere when Viserys asks her what she sees when she looks at a dragon and she replies, “I suppose I see us.”) 

While it may not be clear to most viewers, Vermithor has been a riderless dragon for a very long time when Daemon enters its lair on Dragonstone. That he must tread so carefully around such is a beast is a knowledge perhaps lost on younger riders such as Luke and Aemond.

The mirror images of Daemon and Vermithor portray the Rogue Prince as almost a dragon himself. This is evident in the shocking scene where he chokes Rhaenyra. Like a dragon, Daemon may be bonded to her and serve as her protector and weapon, but he can also turn and threaten in an instant. Once again, Daemon reveals the impulsive violence he’s capable of (a Targaryen trait, to be sure). Rhaenyra doesn’t say “serve me, Daemon!” but, like both Luke and Aemond trying to reassert mastery over their dragons, the queen sees how quickly and easily Daemon can snap if he feels provoked. Perhaps like a dragon, the idea that she can control Daemon is an illusion.

Daemon is clearly trying to assert his dominance throughout the finale, and then at the conclusion of this particular scene, we learn his brother Viserys never shared Aegon the Conqueror’s prophecy with him, a secret knowledge meant to be shared with Targaryen heirs. Daemon may be trying to act like a king but the brother whose approval he sought never truly thought of him as his heir since he never told him of Aegon’s dream. After all, Viserys told Rhaenyra when he named her his heir that “Daemon was not made to wear the crown.”

Rhaenyra’s reticence toward civil war is because, as her father instructed her, she knows that a united Westeros with a Targaryen ruler is the only way humanity can survive come the arrival of the White Walkers. The knowledge of Aegon’s Song of Ice and Fire, as Viserys scolds her in Episode 4, “is larger than you and your desires.” 

But now with her son Luke dead and Aegon II on the Iron Throne, Queen Rhaenyra may come to believe that, like her ancestor Aegon the Conqueror, the only way to keep the realm united is not through diplomacy but with fire and blood. She may have to finally unleash her own inner dragon.

In his post-release interview with Variety, showrunner Ryan Condal aimed to strike a more delicate balance:

“You see her weighing her decisions — weighing her responsibility that she took with the Song of Ice and Fire, the thing she promised her father, that she would hold the realm united and at peace as he tried to do. But at the same time, her birthright has been stolen. Those things are diametrically opposed to one another. ‘How do I serve both? I can’t. It’s paradox. What do I do?’ She’s just not going to rush headlong into anything. You’re seeing what Viserys probably saw in her, that she’s capable of nuanced thought and the ability to think through problems.”

What did you think of the House of the Dragon Season 1 finale of House of the Dragon? Let us know in the comments.

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