House of the Dragon Season 1 Recap: What Happened in the Game of Thrones Prequel?

Forget all the kings, queens, dragons, battles, and betrayals of House of the Dragon season 1? Our recap should help.

Prince Daemon Targaryen and Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen meet Ser Otto Hightower on a bridge in House of the Dragon season 1.
Photo: Ollie Upton | HBO

This article contains spoilers for House of the Dragon season 1.

To put it simply: there was a lot going on in House of the Dragon season 1.

As the first (of likely many) Game of Thrones spinoffs, this prequel had the unenviable task of depicting one of the biggest events in known Westerosi history. The civil war known as the “Dance of the Dragons” was so destructive and ruinous that it dealt the Targaryen dynasty a blow that it never fully recovered from. With its first season, House of the Dragon took an extremely long view of the conflict.

Just as House of the Dragon itself is a prequel to Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon season 1 can almost be considered a prequel to the real story of the Dance of the Dragons that will be depicted in season 2 and beyond. With House of the Dragon season 2 set to dig into the proper Dance, let’s take a moment to remember everything important that happened in House of the Dragon season 1.

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A Prologue: The Great Council of 101 AC

Remember how we said this is a big story? While the majority of House of the Dragon takes place roughly between the years 110 and 130 AC (which designates the number of years “After Aegon’s Conquest”), the story actually has to go back even further to 101 AC to provide important context.

The prologue for House of the Dragon season 1 depicts The Great Council of 101 AC. This was event in which all the nobles of Westeros gathered in Harrenhal to debate the matter of King Jaehaerys I’s succession. King Jaehaerys I was a great ruler (perhaps the most beloved monarch in Westerosi history even) but he had bad luck with his children. Namely: he couldn’t seem to keep them alive. An unsettled succession can lead to violence so Jaehaerys wisely sought the wisdom of the Seven Kingdoms as to who should best succeed him.

Fourteen names were considered but there were two clear frontrunners: Jaehaerys’ grandson Prince Viserys Targaryen and his great grandson Laenor Velaryon. Ultimately Viserys was chosen as heir, which is significant to the story in that Viserys came from a Targaryen patrilineal line and Laenor from a matrilineal one. The lords of Westeros established that primogeniture, or preference for male lines, took precedence in all matters of succession.

The Heir for A Day and Aegon’s Prophecy

After the prologue, House of the Dragon season 1’s first episode moves to the year 110 AC. Jaehaerys’ heir Viserys is now King Viserys I (Paddy Considine) and he faces a similar issue to his grandfather. While he desperately loves his wife Aemma (Sian Brooke), their union has borne only one child, a girl named Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock). As such, the succession plan for the king is once again disturbingly unsettled. The king’s brother Daemon (Matt Smith) would appear to be the natural choice for heir but he is hotheaded and the Small Council agrees he is unfit for The Iron Throne.

In an effort to bear Viserys a male heir, Aemma pushes her body past the breaking point with a dangerous pregnancy. Midway through episode 1 she dies in childhood and the baby born via gruesome C-section, Baelon, dies a day later. When Daemon is overheard joking about Baelon being an “heir for a day,” Viserys angrily casts him out of King’s Landing. He then decides to make Rhaenyra his true heir, laws of primogeniture be damned. He also shares with her an important bit of information.

It turns out that Aegon the Conqueror didn’t invade Westeros solely because it was ripe for the taking. He did so after experiencing a vision that cold and death would one day sweep down from The North. The world of men would come to an end – unless there was a strong Targaryen king uniting the continent to stop it. This is news to not only Rhaenyra but viewers of Game of Thrones and readers of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series as well. It would appear that the details of Aegon’s prophecy were lost to history sometime before Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) rose to prominence.

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Rhaenyra and Alicent’s Friendship Fails

Being the heir to the throne is a heavy burden, but thankfully Rhaenyra has her old friend Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey) to lean on. Alicent is the daughter of Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), who has been King Viserys I’s faithful Hand for years, so the girls have always been close. Unfortunately their relationship begins to fall apart for several reasons.

For starters, Ser Otto convinces King Viserys to marry Alicent after the death of Aemma. Then Alicent becomes scandalized upon learning that Rhaenyra had sex with her bodyguard Ser Criston Cole (Fabian Frankel). That’s not even to mention the fact that Rhaenyra seems weirdly close with her Uncle Daemon. When Alicent gives birth to Viserys’ first son, Aegon, Rhaenyra’s status is officially threatened and the girls’ friendship is strained more than ever.

Daemon and Corlys’ War in the Stepstones

As all of this is going on, Prince Daemon Targaryen is essentially living out a Michael Bay action film. After his brother angrily banished him from court, Daemon teamed up with Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), lord of Driftmark and owner of the most powerful fleet of ships in the world, to go fight a war in the island chain off the southeast coast of Westeros called “The Stepstones.”

A gang of upjumped pirates calling themselves the “Triarchy” are colonizing the Stepstones and jeopardizing trade to the Seven Kingdoms. Daemon and the Velaryons make quick work of them and their grotesque leader known as The Crabfeeder. When Daemon returns to King’s Landing wearing the Crabfeeder’s crown, the court is concerned he might have sights on usurping his brother. Instead, however, Daemon hands the crown over to Viserys and recognizes him as the one true king. From that moment on, Viserys and Daemon enjoy a much happier relationship.

Rhaenyra and Laenor’s Wedding

Viserys convinces the stubborn Rhaenyra that part of being his heir means getting married and having a family, whether she wants to or not. After much arguing, Rhaenyra finally consents to marry Corlys’ son Ser Laenor Velaryon (Theo Nate). He’s a great fit politically due to his success in the Stepstones, his Valyrian blood, and his father’s navy. He’s also a great fit romantically since he has a dedicated male lover named Joffrey Lonmouth (Solly McLeod) and he makes clear that Rhaenyra can continue her dalliances with whomever she chooses.

Of course, weddings rarely go well in the world of Game of Thrones and Rhaenyra and Laenor’s wedding turns out to be another bloodbath. When Joffrey gets a little too familiar with Ser Criston, intimating that he knows he’s one of Rhaenyra’s paramours, Ser Criston lashes out and kills the man. Even before that moment of violence, Alicent makes waves by arriving to the wedding in a brilliant green dress – making her allegiance to her House Hightower clear and upstaging Rhaenyra on her wedding day.

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The First Time Jump

After the wedding, House of the Dragon jumps forward 10 years in the future to roughly 124 AC. Alicent and Rhaenyra are now played by Olivia Cooke and Emma D’Arcy respectively. Alicent has given birth to two more children with Viserys: Prince Aemond and Princess Helaena. Rhaenyra and Laenor (now played by John MacMillan) have three children of their own: Jacaerys, Lucerys, and Joffrey. It’s the darnedest thing though – Rhaenyra’s children look nothing like Laenor. They do, however, look very much like her friend Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr).

Rhaenyra’s kids’ unclear parentage causes further division between her and Alicent. Rhaenyra ultimately enlists the Velaryons as close friends and allies while Alicent adds Harwin’s brother Larys (Matthew Needham) to her roster as a master of whisperers. Larys will later kill his brother and his father, Lyonel (Gavin Spokes), in a fire at their home in Harrenhal.

Laena’s Funeral at Driftmark

Daemon grows up quite a bit in the 10-year time jump. Having been disallowed from marrying Rhaenyra by Viserys, he “settles” for her new sister-in-law Laena Velaryon (Nanna Blondell) and the two actually make a great team. Together with their daughters Rhaena (Eva Ossei-Gerning then Phoebe Campbell) and Baela (Shani Smethurst then Bethany Antonia), Daemon and Laena travel around the Free Cities of Essos, becoming the honored guests of many rich men.

That all changes when Laena becomes the second major character this season to die in childbirth. That leads to pretty much every Targaryen and Velaryon in the world arriving in Driftmark to attend Laena’s funeral. And it’s during the weekend that this funeral is held that a lot happens…like a LOT.

For starters, Rhaenyra’s children and Alicent’s children get into a little squabble that escalates into a big squabble where Aemond (Leo Ashton) loses his left eye. Alicent is so wrathful that she attempts to stab Rhaenyra herself but lands only a glancing blow. After cooler heads prevail and everyone goes to bed, Aemond sneaks out onto the beach to claim Laena’s dragon Vhagar. Now he is the rider of the oldest and biggest dragon in the world.

Meanwhile that same weekend, Rhaenyra, Daemon, and Laenor conspire to fake Laenor’s death so he can go live with his lover Qarl Correy (Arty Froushan) in the Free Cities. Then, just days after all this madness, Rhaenyra and Daemon finally just go ahead and elope.

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The Second Time Jump

The second, and final major time jump, for House of the Dragon occurs in episode 8 and fast forwards six years. Daemon and Rhaenyra remain happily married on Dragonstone and have a couple kids of their own now: Aegon (yes another one) and Viserys. But now they are being dragged to King’s Landing to deal with an issue of, what else…succession.

Jacaerys (Harry Collett) has been acknowledged as Rhaenyra’s direct heir and her second son Lucerys (Elliot Grihault) is therefore heir to the Velaryon homestead on Driftmark. Corlys, however, has been grievously injured battle and his brother Vaemond (Wil Johnson) is now petitioning the crown to have Driftmark as his own.

Viserys has been severely ill all season and is now almost visible rotting. Yet he musters up the last bit of his strength to ascend the Iron Throne once again and re-affirm Rhaenyra’s sons as heirs. An enraged Vaemond points out that Jace and Luke are clearly bastards so Daemon slices his head clean off. Later on, the whole family enjoys a dinner with Viserys I and it looks like maybe they’ll be able to look past their differences after all and avert disaster.

King Viserys I Dies

But they don’t. Because King Viserys I finally dies and he does so at a tremendously inopportune time. Rhaenyra has flown back to Dragonstone to get some things in order before returning to King’s Landing. Her absence means that there is no one to sit the Iron Throne. That’s when Otto, Criston, and their co-conspirators reveal to Alicent that they believe her son Aegon should sit the throne anyway as the realm cannot handle a female ruler. Yes, the Great Council of 101 AC has reared its ugly head.

Compounding the confusion is that Alicent has misinterpreted Viserys’ last words. He makes mention of an “Aegon,” referring to the Conqueror so that Rhaenyra will be reminded of the prophecy. But Alicent naturally believes him to be declaring his own son Aegon as his new heir. That’s how Aegon is dragged unwillingly to his own coronation where he is successfully installed on the Iron Throne. Not even Corlys wife Rhaenys a.k.a. The Queen Who Never Was (Eve Best) interrupting the ceremony on dragonback can fully stop it.

The Dance of the Dragons Begins

Naturally, Rhaenyra doesn’t take too kindly to a snot-losed little creep sitting on her throne. And her body doesn’t take too kindly to it either. Upon learning of Alicent and “Team Green’s” treachery, the pregnant Rhaenyra suffers something resembling a miscarriage. We say “resembling” because she does technically give birth but it’s too a gruesome little monster. It’s the third and thankfully final traumatic birth scene of the season.

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Having collected herself, Rhaenyra resolves to take back what is rightfully hers. Her court at Dragonstone, which includes figures like Daemon, Corlys, Rhaenys, their children, and a handful of other lords, recognizes Rhaenyra as the true Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. She gives her two eldest sons important jobs. Jace is to fly on dragonback to the Vale and then The North to recruit the great lords of The Eyrie and Winterfell to their cause. Luke is to fly to Storm’s End to recruit the Baratheons.

Luke’s job is supposed to be the easier of the two as he’s young and untested (and also everyone just loves the lad). But Rhaenyra failed to realize that Team Green would likely send their own envoy as well. Luke and his comically tiny dragon encounters Aemond and his comically huge dragon in The Stormlands. After failing to convince the Storm Lord Borros Baratheon to pick a side, Luke and Aemond have an unfortunate encounter in the sky. Aemond appears to only want to scare Luke but his ancient (and probably very confused dragon) chomps down on him for a snack.

That’s where House of the Dragon season 1 leaves off: with Rhaenyra’s second son dead and the Dance of the Dragons officially begun.

House of the Dragon season 2 premieres Sunday, June 16 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.