Episode 1 ‘Heirs Of the Dragon’

It’s been three years since Game of Thrones aired its uneven and divisive final season. For some, the hiatus from Westeros – with its bloodshed and ice zombies and unfulfilling character arcs – could’ve lasted a bit longer. But time, and a multinational tech company in need of a hit after unloading a roster of original streaming series for undisclosed financial reasons, waits for no one. So, here we are. Back in a still-standing King’s Landing, nearly 200 years before Daenerys Targaryen will burn it to the ground.

House of The Dragon follows her ancestors’ story, one that’s just as brutal and nuanced and clouded by the hubris that comes with owning mythical fire-breathing reptiles as house pets as hers was. But, instead of conquering the Seven Kingdoms, the Targaryen dynasty is tasked with ruling them, which might be even more difficult.

So yes, this show is like Succession with dragons. I don’t care how HBO wants to spin it, that’s the vibe. And because the goal is to sit atop a sword-clad that regularly sticks you with its pointy ends — just ask Paddy Considine — we’re going to do a weekly heat-check of where the major players rank in terms of inheritance. We’ve categorized them as Contenders and Pretenders and they can switch labels as quickly as they switch allegiances at court. As a bonus, we’re also holding a weekly (or semi-weekly) Wound Watch devoted to King Viserys because, well, you’ll see why!

Here’s where everyone sits after the show’s first episode.

The Pretenders

HBO

Corlys Velaryon aka The Sea Snake

Corlys Velaryon has a lot going for him. A recognizable hairdo. An iconic moniker. Vaults-full of gold. A fleet of ships that would make a Greyjoy bend the knee in respect. But Corlys wants more. He wants the Iron Throne, if not for himself and his wife then for his children, and he’s too aggressive in his campaign style to be taken seriously by anyone. He spends most of the episode b*tching about shipping lanes being clogged by pirates and supporting Prince Daemon Targaryen’s public limb-ripping tantrums simply to spite the King and his Hand, Otto Hightower. He’s wound so tightly that he even refuses free booze at council meetings. This is a man who cannot be trusted.

King Viserys

Is Viserys Targaryen the Kendall Roy of Westeros? Yes, yes he is. Despite being named king, it’s hard to view this guy as a leader. He was chosen by a High Council because the thought of a woman ruling the realm made a bunch of lords’ cajones shrivel up in fear. He spends most of the show’s first episode pathetically whining for his wife to birth him a male heir, despite having a dragon-riding daughter filling his royal cup. And his biggest accomplishment isn’t staving off the Free Cities – who are invading the Step Stones and feeding men to the crabs – but planning a name-day tourney that ends in violence and the death of his wife. In other words, he is, as the capitalist industrial complex would say, “quiet quitting.”

Princess Rhaenys Targaryen

Known as The Queen Who Never Was – which, rude – Princess Rhaenys was the former king’s eldest living heir but her gender meant that her cousin Viserys was chosen over her to rule. And she is not bitter about that. At all … jk, Rhaenys is quietly fuming throughout the episode and cackling with glee into her wine glass anytime someone who references her rejected claim is unhorsed in front of the commonfolk of King’s Landing. She’ll likely never wear a crown, but she’ll enjoy watching her family burn itself to the damn ground to decide who should.

Alicent Hightower

Westeros’ resident “pick-me” girl, Alicent Hightower is the best friend of Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen and the only daughter of Otto Hightower. She’s young and eager to please, but she’s smart too – someone capable of playing the game for the throne should she decide to. Unfortunately, her father seems to make that decision for her, quite literally pimping the girl out to his best friend after the death of the Queen in childbirth. So, in case you were wondering, yeah, this show is just as “ick” as GoT was.

Prince Baelon Targaryen

Look, I don’t wish to speak ill of a dead baby, but Baelon really f*cked things up for his House. He was “king for a day” and he managed to drive a wedge between his father and his uncle, muddle the line of succession, paint the Targaryen line as weak, thrust his sister in an unenviable position of scrutiny, and cost the crown a ton of money for a name-day tourney that all felt a bit pointless in the end. We won’t be seeing him again and, honestly, that might be for the best.

The Contenders

House of the Dragon
HBO

Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen

The parallels between Rhaenyra and Daenerys Targaryen are obvious. Glaringly so. Like, should we even bother liking this girl if she’s just going to grow up to be a murderous Mad Queen who gets knifed by her limp biscuit of a lover, obvious? It’s too soon to know for sure, but Rhaenyra has some things going for her that Daenerys didn’t. Familial support. A nearly full-grown dragon she’s tamed to behave like an overgrown house cat. Experience navigating the complexities of court life. A non-existent savior complex. Rhaenyra seems less interested in ruling than in simply earning her father’s approval but that ambition is likely lurking deep beneath the surface so we’ll see how long it takes for her to torch her enemies with a bit of dragon fire.

Prince Daemon Targaryen

Matt Smith is doing his best Lord of the Rings cosplay in House of the Dragon. That’s a compliment, truly. Prince Daemon Targaryen is his brother’s apparent heir, but he’s just hot-headed and impulsive enough to cause the king’s council to doubt his ability to lead. (And Daemon doesn’t help matters by calling Otto Hightower a c*nt every chance he gets.) He’s a rascal. A scoundrel. A maker of mischief. And he’s so desperate to prove himself of worth to his king that he cloaks his army in gold and castrates criminals and piles their body parts in horse-drawn carts to instill fear in his subjects. At one point, he shows up to a council meeting after a night of butchering with blood staining his face. This guy is pure chaos. We almost want to see him end up on the throne, just for the hell of it.

Otto Hightower, The Hand of the King

No Hand of the King can really be trusted – unless they’re named Eddard Stark – but Otto Hightower puts even Tywin Lannister to shame with his political maneuvering in House of the Dragon’s premiere. He’s got a personal vendetta against the prince, he views Viserys’ daughter unworthy of sitting on the Iron Throne, he silences the concerns of the king’s most powerful allies, and he pressures his friend to remarry the same day he torches the corpses of his dead wife and child. He’s a real piece of work. But, he’s got a young and beautiful daughter to wield against a weak-minded, grief-stricken ruler so the chance that he’ll amass even more power than he already has looks good. Too good.

Wound Watch

*Alexa, play Sheryl Crow’s ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’*

For as long as King Viserys reigns, we’ll be keeping inventory of the many cuts he accumulates while sitting on the Iron Throne. It’s a metaphor, you see. A sign that even an inorganic object made of sharp steel can sense he’s not fit to perch his ass upon it. But it’s also just a fun reminder that human beings really suffered before the age of modern medicine. In this episode, Viserys must attend to two separate injuries. The first, a puncture wound to his back that’s festered and become infected. Leeches haven’t worked so, naturally, he ops to cauterize the wound. The second, a tiny slice to his pinky while casting his brother Daemon out of King’s Landing ends with the King submersing his hand in a bowl full of maggots. You can decide which is less stomach-churning.