After each episode of House of the Dragon, HBO’s prequel to Game of Thrones, Slate writers gather to answer an age-old question: Who is the worst person in Westeros? This week, senior editor Sam Adams and pop critic Jack Hamilton answer the call.
Sam Adams: Hello Jack, and welcome to a very special Worst Person in Westeros. “The Black Queen” marks the end of House of the Dragon’s first season, and the real beginning of the Dance of the Dragons, the civil war that will presumably occupy the rest of the series. Last week’s episode was confined to King’s Landing, and this week’s takes place mostly at Dragonstone, opening with a pregnant Rhaenyra preparing her 13-year-old son Lucerys to assume the duties of Lord of the Tides, assuming Corlys Valaryon doesn’t survive the illness he acquired during his long absence fighting gods-know-where. Then in comes Rhaenys, hot off her dragon’s back, with the latest goss from the capitol: Viserys is dead, and Aegon has been crowned the new king, directly contravening Viserys’ wishes that Rhaenyra succeed him. As we went over last week, Alicent bears less blame for this usurpation than anyone will ever know, believing sincerely, if wrongly, that her father’s dying wish was for her son to wear the crown. But it doesn’t matter now. A false king sits on the Iron Throne, and Daemon assumes the worst—that Viserys was murdered in order to make way for Aegon.
The last time Daemon saw Viserys, he was faring pretty poorly, enough to make him dying of old age at least as likely as his being the victim of a plot, even in a place with a crime rate as high as the Red Keep. And Rhaenys must have known he was at death’s door. So how is it that Daemon leaps to this conclusion, and why does Rhaenys let him? In fact, Rhaenys’ whole account seems a little bit slanted, or at least she does nothing to correct either Daemon or Rhaenyra, who surmises that Alicent must have ordered Rhaenys to go along with her. Granted, asking Rhaenys to help sue for “peace” while holding her and her dragon prisoner isn’t the most robust of olive branches, but it’s also not the kind of backstabbing coercion that the lady and lord of Dragonstone have in mind. Rhaenys must know their conjectures will make a bloody confrontation more likely, and she not only permits but encourages them, stoking a fire she could be helping to put out. Could she be the Worst?
Jack Hamilton: Hey Sam, great to be back on Dragonstone with you. For starters, I would like to hand it to House of the Dragon for improving a lot over the course of its first season. This is now a very good television program and one I’m thoroughly looking forward to continuing watching in the future, which isn’t something I could have said after the first handful of episodes of this inaugural season. In keeping with the tradition of Game of Thrones’ season finales, “The Black Queen” isn’t the most action-packed episode of Season 1, but it does a nice job of setting the table for things to come. Rhaenys is an interesting nominee for this week’s Worst Person in Westeros, and is certainly as ambitious and calculated a schemer as we’ve seen so far in this show: Even after 10 episodes, it’s hard to see where her endgame allegiances truly lie.
This show’s most obvious baddies are absent from this week’s episode, as Larys Strong and King Aegon II both get a well-deserved week off. That said, I might suggest a pretty interesting character who’s been sniffing around this honor for a while now: Aemond Targaryen, the swaggering, eye-patched second son of Queen Alicent Hightower. Aemond has long been established as a worthier heir to the Iron Throne than his ne’er-do-well older brother, but he’s also come off as a sort of brash and uncontrolled well of ambition. In this episode that well finally seems to overflow, as in the closing minutes we see Aemond’s massive dragon, Vhagar, unceremoniously murder Aemond’s younger nephew in a move that seems to even shock Aemond himself. And with that, as you note, the Dance of the Dragons seems to be out of the bag, to mix clichéd metaphors.
Adams: Oh Aemond, you one-eyed dirtbag, you. Trying to intimidate your little nephew into gouging out his own eye and then letting your out-of-control dragon bite him in half seems like a pretty strong case for the Worst. But looking back over the first season’s WPiW winners, I wonder if we’ve been a little too hard on the Greens. Alicent and her father have been crowned the Worst (the latter twice), as has her eldest son and two of her closest (and creepiest) advisors. Rhaenyra may be really Going Through It—among other things, the shock of Aegon’s ascension to the throne causes her to have a miscarriage, resulting in yet another of the traumatic birth scenes that this series loves so much, this one producing what looks like the mutated fetus of her incestuous union. But that doesn’t excuse the others around her, especially Daemon, who shows his concern for her recent trauma by wrapping his hand around her throat and choking her until she’s short of breath. Rhaenyra, who seems the closest of anyone on the show to possessing the character of a good ruler, wants to shore up her allegiances with the houses of Westeros before plunging headlong into battle. Daemon, it’s increasingly clear, just wants to fight, whether that means securing his wife’s claim to the throne or just watching it all go up in flames. We’ve never gotten around to awarding Daemon the Worst. Is this his moment to shine?
Hamilton: Daemon really is an evergreen candidate for this award, and Matt Smith’s performance might be the high-water mark of what’s reliably been a marvelously well-acted show. I agree that this week his raw ambition seems even more bloodthirsty and nihilistic than usual, as evidenced by his rather galling lack of compassion for his own wife and their doomed offspring. And I agree that this year’s WPiW honorees have skewed Green. But while we’re thinking about their rival Blacks, what about tonight’s most notable death, young Lucerys Targaryen? Both of Rhaenyra’s two oldest (and, uh, Strongest) sons have frankly been pretty annoying this season, and “Luke” is pretty obviously out over his skis from the moment he departs for Storm’s End. I’m not necessarily saying he deserves his fate of becoming dragon kibble for Vhagar, but neither he nor his older brother Jacaerys have really made a compelling case for Rhaenyra’s line holding the Iron Throne, at least not past their obviously impressive mother. That said, I’m not sure either of them is even old enough to go to a junior prom, so maybe I should cut them some slack. Do you have any other potential dark horses for this week’s honor?
Adams: Lucerys, we hardly knew ye (let alone which actor was playing you this week). I think the little tyke acquits himself pretty well, all things considered. If there’s any fault, it lies with his mother, who acts like she’s sending him on a milk run based on two terrible calculations: One, that all it will take to get House Baratheon in line is a reminder of the vow they swore to Rhaenyra delivered via dragon, and two, that no one else will have thought of this first. The first badly estimates what we know of the Baratheon temperament from the late King Robert, and the second, well, they only just finished going over how many dragons the other side has, with a special mention of the ginormous Vhagar. Maybe today’s parents are a little overprotective but it does seem like the boy could at least have done with an escort.
That said, Rhaenyra’s having a pretty bad week, and I don’t want to pile on. I do think it was pretty lousy of Corlys to leave his whole family in the lurch for years, but it turns out he actually accomplished what even Daemon could not: securing control of the Stepstones, and with them most of the sea routes to King’s Landing. (Get ready for some siege warfare next season!) Which brings us back to Aemond again. He’s well within his rights to be pissed at Lucerys for taking out his eye, and while technically Lucerys lost control of his dragon first, it’s Aemond’s that strikes a fatal blow, and demolishes with it any hope of a peaceful resolution. That makes him the Worst Person in Westeros, but it also gives us a banger of a second season to look forward to.
Hamilton: I completely agree on all counts; Aemond is this week’s Worst Person in Westeros, and his dastardly actions have also set the stage for a very promising second season. One of the biggest obstacles that House of the Dragon had to navigate in its early going was how geographically confined the show was: I’d venture 80-90 percent of this season took place in King’s Landing, whereas Game of Thrones had always been so sprawling from the very beginning. With the Stepstones and Dragonstone finally emerging as critical locales near the end of this season, it feels like House of the Dragon is really opening outward. Can’t wait to check back in with you next season, Sam!