A Targaryen rides a giant dragon

Here’s What Really Happened During That Unseen Battle in House of the Dragon

And that’s also the title of the episode explained.

The latest episode of House of the Dragon, “The Burning Mill,” begins not in one of the two locations we’ve come to know—either King’s Landing with the Greens or Dragonstone with the Blacks—but rather, takes us to the Riverlands.

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This is one of the most strategic areas in the entire realm when it comes to war, and so also one of the worst places to live when armies are involved.

Spoilers ahead for “The Burning Mill,” the third episode of the second season of House of the Dragon, as well as for events described in Fire & Blood. Be warned.

In that initial scene, we see a group of young noble boys squabbling over what seems to be the border between their respective Houses’ territories. That squabble then turns onto an argument about who should sit the Iron Throne between Rhaenyra and Aegon, and swords are drawn—and that’s always bad, but it’s especially bad when the people drawing the swords are none other than Blackwoods and Brackens, known to have one of the bloodiest and longest-standing feuds in the entire Seven Kingdoms.

So if you take the fact that House Blackwood has declared for Rhaenyra while House Bracken has raised its banners for Aegon and add to it the many historic precedents of Blackwood and Brackens finding any excuse to charge at each other in battle, then the dreadful scenario that appears immediately after this initial argument makes sense.

The show cuts from the boys with their swords drawn to a killing field covered in corpses—some might say “a feast for crows,” and I know that House of the Dragon’s showrunners are among those—in what the Green council later dubs “the Battle of the Burning Mill.”

While it’s true that we don’t see the battle, it doesn’t mean that the impact of it is less striking—in the blink of an eye, what seemed like a petty squabble turned into hundreds of dead men, because violence only generates more violence. It’s a choice that I personally liked very much because, sometimes, the most poignant battles are the ones we don’t see—just think of the emotional impact of the doomed attempt at retaking Osgiliath that Faramir leads in The Return of the King

Still, you might be left wondering what exactly is the Battle of the Burning Mill or why there even is a mill involved. So, let’s take a dive into the show’s source material, Fire & Blood, to answer that.

So what really happened during the Battle of the Burning Mill?

The Battle of the Burning Mill is officially considered—as the Greens say later in the episode—the first proper battle of the Dance of the Dragons, where two opposing armies square off in a field. Sure, there have been deaths before—and terrible ones at that, there’s no argument to be had—but they all happened within House Targaryen instead of spreading out to the wider realm.

In Fire & Blood, the battle is caused by Lord Samwell Blackwood—the current head of the house—declaring for Rhaenyra and sending raiders into Bracken lands, something that prompts the response of Ser Amos Bracken—the son of Lord Humfrey Bracken—whose house has instead declared for Aegon, to march on Blackwood territory. And that’s how the Blackwood host surprises the Brackens camped by a mill near the Red Fork—which, considering its state after the battle ends, to no one’s surprise will be dubbed “the Burning Mill.”

Members of Houses Blackwood and Brackens squaring off in the third episode of the second season of House of the Dragon
While the beginning of the battle is different, the end result remains the same. (HBO)

Several key Riverlands players are present at the battle, which sets the board for who will actually hold power during the rest of the civil war. Ser Amos stains Lord Samwell, for starters, and is immediately shot with a weirwood arrow by the Lord’s young sister Alysanne “Black Aly” Blackwood. Eventually, the remaining Brackens are gathered by Ser Amos’s bastard half-brother Ser Raylon Rivers, who tries to return to their House’s seat at Stone Hedge, only to find it captured by Prince Daemon Targaryen and his dragon Caraxes.

Now, the timeline is a bit rearranged in the show. The Battle of the Burning Mill happens before Daemon conquers the biggest castle in the Riverlands, Harrenhal, for the Blacks, and since we don’t see the battle, we don’t get a chance to see Black Aly or any of the other characters—but then again there’s always next season.

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Benedetta Geddo
Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has been writing about pop culture and entertainment since 2015. She has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading and loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. You’ll find her covering everything genre fiction, especially if it’s fantasy-adjacent and even more especially if it’s about ASOIAF. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.