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House Of The Dragon Episode 8 Recap: We Are Family

The first season of HBO's wildly successful spin-off and prequel to its original fantasy juggernaut, "Game of Thrones," is almost at an end, and now we know for certain that the war over the Iron Throne in "House of the Dragon" will begin in earnest. After eight episodes that explored the reign of King Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine), a new era will begin before long, but the question remains: who will sit on the Iron Throne in Viserys' absence?

Played in their adulthood by Olivia Cooke and Emma D'Arcy, Viserys' queen Alicent Hightower and his headstrong daughter Rhaenyra Targaryen have been locked in a relatively quiet war thus far, each jockeying for the crown; though Rhaenyra is Viserys' named successor and he refuses to hear anything to the contrary, Alicent, furious with her former best friend for a number of reasons, wants to place her son with Viserys onto the throne instead. At this point, it's impossible to say which queen will reign supreme, but episode 8, "The Lord of the Tides," certainly gets things moving.

The Sea Snake has fallen... maybe?

As "The Lord of the Tides" opens, we see Princess Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best) gracing her husband's throne at Driftmark and receiving some extremely difficult news. Flanked by one of her granddaughters and her brother-in-law Ser Vaemond Velaryon (Wil Johnson), Rhaenys is told that her husband Corlys Velaryon (Steve Touissant) was gravely wounded during battle, and he may not pull through. (It's also important to note that Rhaenys mentions six years have passed since the previous episode.)

In the aftermath of "Driftmark," where Rhaenys is forced to mourn her daughter (who died during childbirth) and her son (who faked his own death in order to run away with his lover), it's clear that grieving is taking a toll on the Queen Who Never Was. That said, it's interesting that, despite the fact that there are several discussions about who will take over as the Lord of the Tides in Corlys' absence, we never see him appear onscreen, nor do we see a funeral or a body. The "Game of Thrones" franchise can be quite brutal when it comes to killing off main characters, but it does seem suspect that Corlys is conspicuously absent in an episode that shares his title.

Who's pulling the royal strings?

Meanwhile, Rhaenyra and her husband-uncle Daemon (Matt Smith) have been happily residing at Dragonstone during these six years; Rhaenyra is pregnant once again, and the pair have two other tow-headed Targaryen children which serve as a stark contrast to Rhaenyra's three brunette sons, all of whom were fathered out of wedlock. Naturally, Rhaenyra and Daemon won't admit to anyone that her first three children — Jacaerys (Harry Collett), Lucerys (Elliot Grihault), and Joffrey — are actually the issue of the deceased Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr) and not of Rhaenyra's allegedly deceased husband Laenor Velaryon (John Macmillan), a fact that's been causing friction between the princess and Alicent for years.

Nevertheless, the little family returns to King's Landing to check in on Viserys, whose health is failing even more than usual — the king is now missing an eye in addition to his arm, and is in a full state of decay. So who's running the kingdom while Viserys is laid up in bed? That would be Alicent, dressed in green with a chain across her chest meant to look like armor in one scene (a look eerily reminiscent of Lena Headey's Cersei Lannister, another powerful and conniving queen). Alongside her father, Hand of the King Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), Alicent is pulling every single royal string, which certainly doesn't bode well for Rhaenyra and her clearly illegitimate sons.

A decision about Driftmark

Sure, Corlys is weirdly absent from this episode and supposedly near death, but the question of his castle of Driftmark and title as Lord of the Tides still, apparently, needs to be sorted out. In the previous episode, Corlys was adamant that the title pass to Lucerys — Jacaerys, as Rhaenyra's eldest, should be first in line for the throne, leaving Lucerys to inherit Driftmark — while Rhaenys, clearly aware that neither Lucerys nor Jacaerys is a true Velaryon, wants it to pass to her granddaughters Baela and Rhaena (Bethany Antonia and Phoebe Campbell). In Corlys' absence, the arguments continue, leading to a sort of public royal hearing that decides whether Driftmark will go to Lucerys, Corlys' brother Ser Vaemond, or someone else entirely.

Viserys, literally crumbling from the inside out, sees fit to attend this contentious gathering and declares that Lucerys, a child he staunchly refuses to admit is illegitimate, will receive the title of Lord of the Tides. Ser Vaemond breaks his silence upon hearing this, screaming that the boys are bastards and going after Rhaenyra in the process — and though Viserys threatens to have the man's tongue for it, Daemon does him one better and chops off Vaemond's head in one clean swing. So, seems like the whole Driftmark thing is settled, at the very least.

Aegon & Aemond: absolutely awful

Unlike Rhaenyra's three older children, Alicent's sons are definitely full-blooded Targaryens, but it doesn't mean either of them seems fit to sit upon the Iron Throne, in that they're both completely horrible. Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney) ends up preventing his mother from greeting Rhaenyra and Daemon in a timely manner by causing problems with a maid, whom he attacks while she's trying to serve him wine. After consoling the maid while also making sure she keeps quiet about the entire incident, Alicent rages at her eldest son, parroting a Lannister line from the original series: "You are no son of mine." Aegon is probably Alicent's son, but that's still an interesting tidbit to keep in a collective back pocket for later.

Meanwhile, Aemond, missing an eye in favor of riding his giant dragon Vhagar, kind of just lurks around throughout the episode... until the very end. At a banquet following the hearing over Driftmark's fate, Aemond decides to make a toast where he calls his nephews "strong," in an obvious reference to their real father. Jacaerys, who just so happens to be the whole reason that Aemond is one-eyed in the first place, and his brother launch themselves at their uncle, but nothing is resolved between the boys, and it seems clear that the tension between Rhaenyra and Alicent's sons will only grow.

Endless toasts

With that said, at that same banquet, it does seem as if Rhaenyra and Alicent might be making nice somehow. Cognizant of the fact that Alicent is in charge now that Viserys' health is crumbling, Rhaenyra makes a toast thanking her former confidante for caring for Viserys throughout the years, which Alicent follows, saying Rhaenyra will be a great queen. From there, every single person at the table feels as if they need to stand up and make some sort of weird toast, giving the entire thing the vibe of a wedding where the maid of honor just goes on for way too long as everyone waits to dig into their overcooked steaks.

There are some highlights, though; Alicent's daughter Princess Helaena (Phia Saban), unhappily married to her own brother Aegon, congratulates Jacaerys and Baela on their recent betrothal, saying that marriage isn't all bad because your husband will mostly ignore you. (Jacaerys, more of a gentleman than his uncle, asks her to dance immediately afterwards.) The point, however, is that all of this playing at being a happy and united family is a total farce, especially considering what happens immediately after the banquet.

King Viserys' final feast

Viserys also drags his decrepit body to the banquet and watches as his family puts on a ridiculous show proving that they all love one another very much, but when he returns to his chambers, it's clear that both this and the hearing have taken a huge toll on the elderly man. Wrapped in his blankets and barely able to breathe, Viserys, who also seems to be on a ton of pain medication, has trouble discerning what's going on after such a long day, and as the episode comes to a close, he draws his last breath.

What will happen with the line of succession now that Viserys, the anti-Ned Stark (Sean Bean) in that he absolutely refused to die until the very last minute, is gone? Well, Rhaenyra is supposed to ascend the throne and become the first female ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, but that certainly doesn't seem likely. To add fuel to the dragonfire, Alicent, who was playing nice with her stepdaughter of the same age earlier in the episode, seems called to action when Viserys' last words stir something within her.

When does episode 9 of House of the Dragon air?

The ninth episode of House of the Dragon will air on Sunday, October 16 at 9PM on both HBO and HBO Max, and we can certainly expect Alicent to be attacking on all fronts based on what a whacked-out Viserys mumbles to her just before he dies. In the series' first episode, a younger Viserys tells Rhaenyra about a prophecy made by Aegon the Conqueror concerning a "song of ice and fire," and he mutters something about this to his wife... while forgetting to mention that it's about his ancestor Aegon the Conqueror and not their son. Alicent exits the room immediately, telling Viserys that she understands, even though she has the completely wrong idea — namely, that Viserys was telling her to install their son onto the throne.

There's only two episodes left in the inaugural season of "House of the Dragon," but it sure seems like the Targaryen civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons is approaching fast; how much of it this freshman season manages to cover will be anyone's guess. In any case, the ninth episode will continue the breakneck pace of this season, and in true "Game of Thrones" tradition, this penultimate episode may well have some serious tricks up its sleeve.