SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers for all episodes of House of the Dragon season 1 follow.
It seems strange to say it, but season 1 of House of the Dragon is over. After years of speculating and praying to the old gods and the new that the Game of Thrones spinoff would be deserving of its predecessor, it finally came out—and was an overall hit. House of the Dragon’s season 1 finale was the most-watched season finale of any HBO show since the original Game of Thrones ended.
By focusing on a family saga and employing ambitious time jumps and impressive dragon designs, House of the Dragon managed not only to feel like a worthy follow-up to one of the biggest shows of all time, but to differentiate itself enough to stand on its own two legs.
Now that the first season is behind us, the time has come to look back and rank each episode, from worst to best. Because as good as the first season of House of the Dragon was, not all episodes were created equal. Beginning with …
10. “The Rogue Prince” // Episode 2
“The Rogue Prince” goes at the bottom of the list not because it’s bad in any way, but simply because it doesn’t stand out.
The highlight of “The Rogue Prince” is undoubtedly the showdown between Daemon and Otto on the bridge of Dragonstone; Rhaenyra’s entrance on Syrax might just be her best dragon-riding moment of the season. But on the whole, much of the rest of the episode is basically set up for everything else that’s to come.
A large chunk of “The Rogue Prince” centers around King Viserys I Targaryen trying to decide who next to marry after his advisors pressure him to pick a new queen following the death of his wife Aemma Arryn. Viserys’s and Alicent’s conversations are surprisingly heartfelt, but the awkward walk-and-talk date with little Laena Velaryon was a cringeworthy moment if ever there was one. At least Viserys cringed along with us.
9. “We Light The Way” // Episode 5
“We Light The Way” centers around Rhaenyra Targaryen’s betrothal to Ser Laenor Velaryon, and there were a lot of things it did right to make this development work even better than it does in George R.R. Martin’s book Fire & Blood. We got to see the conversations that Rhaenyra and Laenor had in private, Laenor’s relationship with his longtime lover Ser Joffrey Lonmouth, and even the cause of Ser Criston Cole’s grudge against the queen-to-be. It turns out he just wanted her to abandon all her responsibilities and run away with him, and couldn’t handle rejection.
Then there was the murder of Rhea Royce, another moment where the show dispensed with the historical fog of Fire & Blood and showed us that it was in fact Daemon Targaryen who murdered his own wife in cold blood. It was a shocking way to open the episode.
But as good as many aspects of the episode were, things start coming apart once we get to the actual wedding. The sequence itself is gorgeous, with a fantastic score by Ramin Djawadi and tightly focused character moments; a lot is conveyed through subtle looks and quick lines. But several important beats got fumbled in weird ways. Alicent Hightower’s green dress moment is a showstopper … but it also set up the “greens” as a faction while totally sidestepping any setup for the “blacks.” Without an equivalent setup for Rhaenyra’s faction, it left things feeling lopsided. In the novel, both Rhaenyra and Alicent show up to a feast wearing dresses that will later inspire the names of their factions. Instead, we get a Mean Girls moment where Alicent crashes the wedding. It works, but it’s not enough.
But the worst part of the wedding by far is the murder of Ser Joffrey Lonmouth by Kingsguard knight Ser Criston Cole. “We Light The Way” uses the 10-year time jump that happens right after to get out of having to explain how Criston gets away with murdering someone in the middle of a wedding feast and punching the new prince consort in the face, which are pretty big deviations from the source material. We never get a single word of explanation about how Alicent got him absolved of his crimes.
8. “The Princess and the Queen” // Episode 6
“The Princess and the Queen” is by no means a bad episode. We’re now at the point where we’re splitting hairs. And hey, it only took us three episodes to get there. Not bad, House of the Dragon season 1!
Episode 6 picks up after the largest time jump of the season, with 10 years passing since Episode 5. In that time, Rhaenyra and Laenor grow their family and Alicent Hightower cemented her position as queen. The leap forward felt like a big event. We also get introduced to new leads Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke as Rhaenyra and Alicent, respectively.
If “The Princess and the Queen” finds itself lower on the list, it’s once again because it is primarily serves as setup for future events. There is a lot of heavy lifting to be done in this episode, not just because it introduced new actors for Rhaenyra, Alicent, Laenor, and Laena; but also because it introduced us to a slew of new, younger characters: Jacaerys, Lucerys, Joffrey, Aemond, Baela, Rhaena, and teenage versions of Aegon II and Helaena Targaryen.
Despite all that, “The Princess and the Queen” handles the transition fairly adeptly. From its harrowing opening birth scene to our first glimpse of the enormous dragon Vhagar and Laena Velaryon’s tragic end, there is a lot of good stuff in this episode. The complex dynamic between Ser Harwin Strong, Rhaenyra, and Laenor is another highlight.
7. “The Green Council” // Episode 9
Depending on who you ask, there’s a very good chance they’ll tell you that “The Green Council” either deserves to be at the absolute bottom of the list, or much closer to the top. The fact that this episode is as divisive as it is is a pretty clear indicator that something went awry. But it has its fans as well.
With the exception of Criston Cole’s wedding murder in Episode 5, “The Green Council” is the only episode of the season that really wrote itself into a corner, plotwise, opening up loose ends and inconsistencies that the rest of the show largely avoids. Whether it’s Otto’s half-baked plan to smuggle Aegon out of King’s Landing (where was he even taking him?) or the fact that no one seems upset that Rhaenys murdered hundreds of innocents at the Dragonpit, it’s fair to say that this episode is simply not as airtight as the rest of the season.
All that said, there were absolutely highlights. The aforementioned Dragonpit scene is a big one, although depending on who you ask it may either be one of the coolest scenes of the season or the one of the most reviled. Whatever your feelings about Meleys the Red Queen crashing the party, Aegon’s coronation was a fantastic moment, and both Tom Glynn-Carney (Aegon II) and Olivia Cooke (Alicent Hightower) gave some of their best performances of the season.
6. “Heirs of the Dragon” // Episode 1
House of the Dragon came out of the gates swinging with its season premiere, “Heirs of the Dragon.” From its opening prologue at the Great Council of 101 AC to Rhaenyra swooping into King’s Landing on her dragon Syrax, it immediately let viewers know we were back in Westeros and should prepare for an epic journey.
This episode is just an all-around solid hour of television, with a razor sharp script that covers a lot of ground without overwhelming us with the sheer enormity of getting to know lots of new characters.
Of course, there was one thing that everyone was talking about after the season premiere, and that was the horrific forced C-section death of Aemma Arryn. It’s an awful moment that previews the kind of high-stakes drama that lay ahead, and it’s executed in an absolutely stunning way. It’s one of the hardest scenes of the entire season to watch.
The episode cross-cuts the birth scene with a joust, which is easily the best onscreen depiction of such an event on either House of the Dragon or Game of Thrones. Those sporting events are a huge part of Martin’s worldbuilding, and “Heirs of the Dragon” depicted this one with a level of fidelity it had not previously received.
5. “Second Of His Name” // Episode 3
If the first two episodes of House of the Dragon felt largely like a runway into a greater story, Episode 3 is where the conflict really starts to heat up. “Second Of His Name” is a very focused episode, split entirely between a royal hunt in the Kingswood and the war in the Stepstones.
As with the tourney in Episode 1, the hunt is another element of Martin’s works that has never received a proper screen treatment. It does here, although the sequence is compelling beyond the pageantry. The interpersonal drama begins to really hit its stride in this episode, with Rhaenyra struggling in her position as heir after her best friend Alicent gives birth to the king’s first living son, Aegon. Rhaenyra grapples with the expectations placed upon her, all while suspecting that her father will supplant her as heir as soon as it’s convenient.
Speaking of Viserys: “Second Of His Name” is also the episode where Paddy Considine really starts to flex his Emmy-worthy acting chops. King Viserys just wants to have a relaxing time out in the forest, but is beset by sycophants and graspers from every side. Just as Rhaenyra chafes at her situation, so too does Viserys as he gets progressively drunker while shrugging off Otto, Rhaenyra, and newcomer Jason Lannister. It’s a messy, fun episode that does a lot of legwork to get us more invested in the characters.
Then there’s the conflict in the Stepstones, the only actual battle scene of the season. As with the royal hunt, this scene dials into our characters, giving Daemon a great moment where he freaks out and beats up a messenger after getting news that his older brother will be sending soldiers to bail him and Corlys Velaryon out of their failed campaign. Rather than accept that help, Daemon single-handedly draws out the Crabfeeder while Laenor Velaryon soars overhead on his dragon Seasmoke.
4. “The Black Queen” // Episode 10
Next we come to the season finale of House of the Dragon. “The Black Queen” had a lot of ground to cover because the penultimate episode was focused entirely on the greens, and it pulls it off spectacularly. Gone are the sticking points and divisive debates, and in their place a drama that slowly unfolds as Rhaenyra Targaryen realized her birthright had been stolen at the worst possible moment.
There are a lot of great things about “The Black Queen,” but the two that stand out the most are Rhaenyra’s graphic miscarriage (which, despite being horrifying, is filmed and handled extremely well), and the climactic clash over Storm’s End, where Rhaenyra’s son Lucerys and his dragon meet their demise between the jaws of Vhagar. The sequence at Storm’s End is among the best of the season, with Luke arriving to meet with Lord Borros Baratheon only to realize his childhood enemy Aemond Targaryen is already there. What unfolds is one of the absolute best dragon sequences in either series to date, and possibly one of the best ever on television. It may also be the sequence with the highest stakes so far. When Vhagar goes out of control and claims Luke and Arrax’s lives, it signals the true start of the Dance of the Dragons civil war.
Even beyond those two big moments, there’s a lot to love about “The Black Queen.” Emma D’Arcy’s performance as Rhaenyra can’t be understated, and Matt Smith brings back Daemon Targaryen’s dark side for one last run at the end of the season. Eve Best also turns in a killer performance as Rhaenys, who informs Rhaenyra of the greens’ betrayal and convinces her husband Corlys Velaryon to support Rhaenyra’s claim to the throne.
And let’s not forget the guest appearance by Vermithor the Bronze Fury, dragon of the former king Jaehaerys the Conciliator. Daemon’s High Valyrian dragon lullaby moment is breathtaking and sets the stage for even more dragons in season 2.
3. “Driftmark” // Episode 7
There’s a reason that House of the Dragon’s seventh episode, “Driftmark,” featured prominently in the show’s marketing. This episode gathers all of our lead characters in one place to witness a brutal showdown between Alicent and Rhaenyra involving a Valyrian steel dagger. (It was also one of the first episodes filmed, so that probably also had something to do with it.)
“Driftmark” is the final episode of House of the Dragon directed by season 1 showrunner Miguel Sapochnik, and the visionary filmmaker brings all his talents to bear for his last outing. If “The Princess and the Queen” introduced the next generation of Targaryen children, “Driftmark” makes it clear that the grudges of their parents had trickled down to poison them. The long sequence where Aemond dukes it out with his nephews and cousins, has his eye accidentally slashed out, and then everyone tensely debates what to do about it in the great hall of Driftmark is one of the standout moments of the season. This is family drama dialed up to 11.
Then there is Aemond’s first flight on the dragon Vhagar. While we’d be remiss not to mention that many viewers had difficulty watching the sequence due to how dark it looked, it’s still exhilarating. Aemond may have become a villain by the end of the season, but his first time riding a dragon taps into the magic of a young boy riding a giant beast for the first time. It’s helped along by a fantastic performance from Leo Ashton, who literally dangles from the saddle while alternating between screams of terror and elated whooping once he finally gets the hang of things.
“Driftmark” is also a big turning point for Daemon and Rhaenyra’s relationship. After losing both of their lovers, the two consummate their long-simmering attraction in the ruin of a beached ship. But it’s not all roses; it happens on literally the same day as Laena Velaryon’s funeral and it marks the beginning of the end of Rhaenyra’s marriage to Laenor. (And it’s incest, but that’s House of the Dragon.)
Speaking of Laenor, he introduces a complication into the episode. Unlike in Fire & Blood, where he’s killed outright, House of the Dragon allows him to row off into the sunset with his lover Ser Qarl Correy. It’s a nice way to end Laenor’s story, but also felt a little like the show pulling a punch by making Daemon and Rhaenyra out to be sympathetic instead of ambitious murderers.
2. “King of the Narrow Sea” // Episode 4
The fourth episode of the series is both the high point for the younger echelon of actors, as well as one of the most morally complex installments of the season. While later episodes of House of the Dragon tended to absolve some of our main characters of guilt for their actions, painting them as victims of misunderstandings or mistakes, “King of the Narrow Sea” leaned into the moral grayness. Daemon seduces his niece Rhaenyra, taking her out for a night on the town in King’s Landing that ends with a trip to a brothel.
Things only get more complicated when Rhaenyra goes home after being abandoned by her uncle and sleeps with her sworn Kingsguard protector Ser Criston Cole, who we now know is The Worst. She also lies to Alicent about her adventures, taking things a step farther even than she needed to to convince her friend of her innocence, and at the end gets Alicent’s father Otto fired as Hand of the King.
All in all, this is easily one of the juiciest episodes of House of the Dragon season 1. The political intrigue and complex character dynamics are thick here, and Milly Alcock, Emily Carey, Smith, Considine, and all the rest turn in stellar performances.
On top of that, Rhaenyra’s trip into King’s Landing serves as one of our only good looks at the lives of the smallfolk during the show to date. That goes a long way in terms of expanding our understanding of this time period in Westeros, and even though it only lasted a short while, it added a lot.
1. “The Lord of the Tides” // Episode 8
“The Lord of the Tides” may not be the most action-heavy episode of House of the Dragon, but it’s the most impactful. While many shows mount epic set pieces for their biggest moments, “The Lord of the Tides” somehow makes an old man walking across a room and an awkward family dinner into edge-of-your-seat television. It’s magnificent.
“The Lord of the Tides” centers around a dispute over who will be the next heir of Driftmark. It also covers the final day of King Viserys I Targaryen’s life. The king’s decaying visage is shocking to behold; Considine gives an acting masterclass as a man whose body has been eaten away by years of brutal disease. If only one performer on House of the Dragon can get an Emmy for this season, it should be Considine for this episode.
The throne room scene where the greens assemble to try to strip Rhaenyra’s son Lucerys of his birthright, only to have their plans undermined by the sudden appearance of Viserys, is iconic. Then there’s the execution of Vaemond Velaryon, who goes off the deep end shouting about how Rhaenyra’s children are bastards.
Of course, one scene does not an episode make. “The Lord of the Tides” also introduces us to young adult versions of Aegon II, Aemond, Helaena, Jacerys, Lucerys, Baela, and Rhaena. Each have their own moments to shine; in particular, Ewan Mitchell makes an imposing entrance as Aemond Targaryen, letting us know that he will be a force to be reckoned with in the war to come.