Milly Alcock as Young Rhaenyra, Emily Carey as Young Alicent HBO House of the Dragon
(Ollie Upton/HBO)

Let This ‘House of the Dragon’ Season 1 Recap Help You Choose a Side for Season 2

What Game of Thrones lacked in House Targaryen representation, HBO’s prequel has in spades. Here’s everything you need to know about season 1 of House of the Dragon before Season 2 arrives.

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Like Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon is ultimately about who will sit on Westeros’ Iron Throne. But the story, set over a century before its predecessor, is more of a succession story than Robert’s Rebellion or the events of the original series ever were. All of these characters are related by blood–too much so, if you ask me. The Targaryens take normalizing incest to some pretty extreme places. That said, the relationship at the center of the series is not between blood relatives. It is between two childhood friends and eventual rivals: Lady Alicent Hightower and Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen.

When they were girls, Alicent’s father Otto Hightower was the Hand of the King, Rhaenyra’s father. Through voiceover in the series premiere, we learn that King Viserys I was chosen over his older sister Princess Rhaenys Targaryen. There may be dragons, but patriarchy still reigns in Westeros. Viserys is desperate for a male heir, but when his wife dies giving birth at the beginning of House of the Dragon (a choice he made by giving the go-ahead to the Grand Maester to perform a lethal c-section), he promises Rhaenyra that she will be his heir and the first woman to sit on the Iron Throne instead. He also banishes his unstable younger brother Daemon Targaryen, who’s not too pleased about losing his line to the throne to his niece–even though they do seem to like one another.

However, when King Viserys is persuaded by the Hand of the King to marry his daughter’s BFF a.k.a. Alicent, this complicates things. Not only has Alicent been groomed into a role and a truncated adolescence she didn’t ask for (forced to grow up much faster than her friend), but if she gives birth to a son, that puts Rhaenyra’s position as heir to the Iron Throne in danger.

House of the Dragon then proceeds to do, like, two-and-a-half cast changes and more time jumps than I can count. The ten episodes that make up Season 1 spanned over ten years—much transpires! So for clarity, let’s break down what happens to each of the three main characters, starting with Rhaenyra.

Rhaenyra’s sexual adventure

Rhaenyra Targaryen, played by Emma D'Arcy, is crowned queen in the season one finale of House of the Dragon

When she turns seventeen, Rhaenyra’s father starts to push for her to choose a husband/consort to strengthen alliances in the realm—but does say that she can choose who she wants to marry. That’s nice! The problem is that the only men she’s crushing on are Ser Cristin Cole, her bodyguard, and her uncle Daemon. When rumors spread about her and her uncle having an affair out of wedlock, King Viserys reneges on his promise and orders Rhaenyra to marry Rhaenys’ son, her cousin Laenor Velaryon. Their marriage is unconsummated, because Laenor is gay, which is fine by Rhaenyra. The two of them have a functional, healthy open marriage for several years.

Ten years later, it’s an open secret at court that the biological father of Rhaenyra’s three sons (Jacaerys a.k.a. “Jace,” Lucerys a.k.a. “Luke,” and Joffrey) is Ser Harwin Strong—the rare Good Man™ in Westeros. It’s treasonous to call them bastards in public. However, it does keep Alicent from agreeing to join their families by marrying one of Rhaenyra’s sons to her daughter. Sensing that King’s Landing is not the safest place for her (it rarely is for cool characters in the Game of Thrones stories), Rhaenyra moves her family and her husband’s lover Qarl to Dragonstone.

When tensions rise further, Team Rhaenyra conspires to fake Laenor’s death so that he and Qarl can run away to Pentos together. By this point, Rhaenyra has resumed her incestuous sexual relationship with her uncle Daemon, and the two of them marry to preserve the Targaryen bloodline and unite against the Hightowers. They also consider betrothing their children to preserve the Velaryon bloodline.

However, six more years later, since they are more or less exiled on Dragonstone, they are late to learn of King Viserys’ death, and the Iron Throne is usurped by Alicent’s son Aegon Targaryen before they are able to prevent it. Rhaenyra’s first move is to send her older sons, Jace and Luke, to secure alliances from House Stark(!), House Arryn, and House Baratheon. Luke goes to the Baratheon seat, where he is pursued and killed by Alicent’s son Aemond. The season ends with Rhaenyra learning this tragic news.

Alicent’s homefront adventure

Queen Alicent Hightower, played by Olivia Cooke, on the way to her son Aegon's coronation in season 1 of House of the Dragon

Alicent’s relationship with Rhaenyra starts to deteriorate the second she marries King Viserys. It’s a fairly awkward position for both of them, so it’s not surprising. Was Alicent jealous of her friend’s ability to have a slut era, so to speak? We may never know. Either way, Rhaenyra lied to her about hooking up with Daemon and Cristin–and that’s a good way to end a teenage friendship. Plus, her father, Otto Hightower, makes it very clear that she and Rhaenyra cannot be friends because her very existence is a threat to her son’s lives. (Why are men so dramatic? Alicent could just agree not to challenge Rhaenyra’s claim, and Rhaenyra could agree not to have anyone murder their sons. Give them a chance! But noooo!) So Alicent finds her power in prayer and by putting House Hightower first.

Ten years later, she too has three children: Aegon, Aemond, and Heleana. She tells Aegon that he must prepare to take the throne from Rhaenyra. Her allies are Ser Cristin Cole and Larys Strong, a Littlefinger-esque creeper who basically gets his own brother Harwin killed.

King Viserys continues to stand up for Rhaenyra, even when he can barely stand. But then tensions between the two former friends get worse. Their young children start fighting over who gets to claim which dragons at the funeral of their great aunt Laena Velaryon, Laenor’s sister. (They’re really not here for a good time or a long time.) During the scrap, little Luke stabs little Aemond in the eye. Six years later, Alicent makes one last attempt to join their families and bring peace, but the grown-up, one-eyed Aemond is not ready to forgive Luke and starts another fight.

Then, on King Viserys’ deathbed, Alicent makes a crucial misunderstanding that changes everything. She hears him talking about Aegon the Conquerer’s dream, something he only ever shared with his daughter. The near-dead Viserys thought that Rhaenyra was in the room with him instead of Alicent. Since Alicent does not know the story, she thinks he’s talking about their son Aegon and expressing a last wish for him to ascend the Iron Throne instead of Rhaenyra. So when Alicent’s advisors sequester her and scheme away in the moments following the King’s passing, she really believes that they’re doing the right thing by installing Aegon instead of Rhaenyra.

Daemon Targaryen’s crabby adventure

Daemon with a dragon egg in House of the Dragon

After Viserys removed him from the City Watch and the city, Daemon did some soul-searching. Just kidding! He stole a dragon egg, illegally seized Dragonstone, teamed up with Corlys Velaryon and went to war against a dude called the Crabfeeder in a place called the Stepstones. Nobody asked him to fight this dude, BTW. He also has a mistress named Mysaria who he was planning to marry despite already having a wife … and then didn’t do that. Years later, she became an informant for Alicent.

But when Daemon conquers the Stepstones and returns to King’s Landing as “King of the Narrow Sea,” he surrenders his crown to Viserys. (Aww, brudders!) It’s also at this time that he seduces his niece, after taking her to a brothel in King’s Landing, as a way to show her that sex doesn’t have to be all about marital duty. When this scandal breaks, Viserys orders him to go to the Vale where the wife he’s been avoiding this whole time happens to live. That doesn’t last long. Daemon gets there, murders his wife, and turns right back around.

Ten years later, Daemon has fathered two daughters with his second wife Laena Velaryon: Baela and Rhaena Targaryen. They seem to be a happy family, too, until Laena senses that she is about to die in childbirth and orders her dragon to incinerate her. Daemon and Rhaenyra privately marry soon after. He defends Luke’s claim to Driftmark, the seat of House Velaryon, even going so far as to behead Corlys’ brother Vaemond when he questions Luke, Jace, and Joffrey’s legitimacy in court. When Viserys dies and the war between the Greens (House Hightower and House Targaryen) and the Blacks (House Targaryen and House Velaryon) begins, he’s unsurprisingly ready to go all out.

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Leah Marilla Thomas
Leah Marilla Thomas (she/her) is a contributor at The Mary Sue. She has been working in digital entertainment journalism since 2013, covering primarily television as well as film and live theatre. She's been on the Marvel beat professionally since Daredevil was a Netflix series. (You might recognize her voice from the Newcomers: Marvel podcast). Outside of journalism, she is 50% Southerner, 50% New Englander, and 100% fangirl over everything from Lord of the Rings to stage lighting and comics about teenagers. She lives in New York City and can often be found in a park. She used to test toys for Hasbro. True story!