Game of Thrones prequel series House of The Dragon has recently completed it's first season, and boy, was it a doozy to watch. While Game of Thrones had a few tragic moments in it's opening season, most of the true tragedies were saved for later in the series. House of The Dragon, however, begins with a tragic event, and plenty more follow over the course of the show's first season, eventually leading to the events that begin the bloody Targaryen Civil War known as the Dance of Dragons.
Let's take a look back at the most tragic moments of House of The Dragon's first season.
1. The Deaths of Queen Aemma and Prince Baelon
House of The Dragon's first episode opens with King Viserys I Targaryen eagerly awaiting the birth of a new child with his beloved Queen Aemma. While Aemma had not carried a pregnancy to term since the birth of their teenage daughter, Princess Rhaenyra, Viserys is confident that Aemma will deliver a healthy male heir, silencing the whispers of a new succession crisis that have begun to plague the Seven Kingdoms. Queen Aemma goes into a labour during a Tourney to celebrate the longed-for Prince's imminent birth, but complications arise, forcing Viserys to make the heartbreaking choice to sacrifice Aemma for a chance at saving the child, or lose them both. Adding to the tragedy, the baby, Prince Baelon, dies just a day after his birth, rendering Viserys's choice pointless.
Had baby Baelon lived, Viserys's line of succession would have been settled, and he would not have needed to name Rhaenyra as heir, nor be pressured to remarry again so soon. The course of Targaryen history would change, and the Dance of Dragons would never have happened.
2. Ser Criston Cole Murders Joffrey Lonmouth
With cruel rumours about the status of her maidenhood beginning to swirl, Rhaenyra is pushed into a marriage with her cousin, Ser Laenor Velaryon. Both Rhaenyra and Laenor are romantically entangled with others, Rhaenyra with Ser Criston Cole, and Laenor his sworn Shield, Joffrey Lonmouth. Rhaenyra suggests to Laenor that they marry for appearances sake, while privately continuing to persue their own interests.
Laenor and Joffrey happily accept Rhaenyra's terms, but Ser Criston balks at the thought of a secret relationship with Rhaenyra, becoming angry when she refuses to run away and marry him instead. When Joffrey, not knowing Criston rejected the plan, brings it up to him at Laenor and Rhaenyra's engagement feast, Criston fears he is being blackmailed, and brutally beats Joffrey to death. The feast attendees are left in shock, while Laenor is devastated at the death of his first love.
3. Lord Lyonel Strong and his son, Ser Harwin, burn to death
During the time-jump that marks the series half way point, Rhaenyra gives birth to three sons, Princes Jacaerys, Lucerys, and Joffrey Velaryon. While Laenor claims the three boys as his own trueborn sons, they do not possess any obvious Velaryon features, leading to rumours around Court of their true parentage. While simply a rumour in Fire and Blood, the Targaryen history book on which the series is based, House of The Dragon more explicitly reveals that Rhaenyra's first three sons were fathered by Ser Harwin Strong, her personal guard.
Harwin fuels the rumours to a dangerous degree when he defends Jacaerys against bullying from Criston Cole during a training session. This leads to Harwin's removal from the City Watch, and his Father, Hand of the King Lord Lyonel Strong, decides to escort him back to their seat at Harrenhal. Soon after their arrival, both Lyonel and Harwin are killed in a fire. Many attribute the tragedy to the Curse of Harrenhal, but in a shocking twist, it was lit on the orders of Lyonel's younger son, Larys, to clear the way for Otto Hightower's return as Hand.
4. Lady Laena Velaryon dies a Dragon Rider's death
For the first half of House of The Dragon's first season, Prince Daemon Targaryen, the younger brother of King Viserys is the clear black sheep of the family, often causing trouble, or going against the King's instructions. The first true sign of a more positive side to Daemon comes in the portrayal of his relationship with his second wife, Lady Laena Velaryon. Post-time jump, we find Daemon and Laena staying in the free city of Pentos. They have twin daughters, Baela and Rhaena, with a third child on the way.
In a tragic mirroring of the series first episode, Laena suffers complications during labour. When offered the same choice as Viserys, Daemon chooses not to sacrifice Laena for the baby. However, wishing to die on her own terms, the weakened Laena flees the castle and orders her dragon, Vhagar, to burn her alive. Daemon, in what was his most vulnerable moment of the series at that point, is clearly saddened by her loss.
5. Alicent misunderstands Viserys's wishes
After a long battle with a degenerative disease, described by actor Paddy Considine as a form of Leprosy, King Viserys I finally passes away in the final moments of episode eight, 'The Lord of the Tides'. Before his death, a slightly delirious Viserys mutters about the dream of Aegon the Conqueror, and his prophecy of the Prince that was Promised, in response to a question asked by Rhaenyra earlier in the episode. Unfortunately, Rhaenyra has already departed King's Landing. Alicent, unaware of the question or the prophecy, mistakes Viserys's final words as a wish that their son, Prince Aegon, should become King.
The real tragedy here is that just a few hours earlier, things between the Greens and Blacks were better than they had ever been. Viserys's family
had shared a mostly pleasant dinner together, and Alicent had more or less accepted that Rhaenyra was to become Queen. Instead, a case of mistaken identity plunges everything into turmoil.
6. Alicent realises she was a pawn
Following the news of King Viserys's death, Alicent informs the Small Council of what she believes was the King's final wish to seat Aegon on the Iron Throne, only to discover that her Father, Ser Otto Hightower, and the rest of the Council, had been secretly plotting to crown Aegon anyway, regardless of the King's wishes. In a twist on the book, which portrays Alicent as equally complicit in the plans to crown her son, House of the Dragon depicts her as unaware of Otto's plot. The reveal that she had been unaware of the plan leads Alicent to realise that she and her Father were never the team she'd believed them to be. She was always just a pawn in Otto's plot to gain greater power and influence for House Hightower.
Upset at the revelation, Alicent resolves to handle Aegon's ascension in her own way, hoping to find Aegon first and convince him that Rhaenyra and her children should be spared. Unfortunately, the events of the finale mean Alicent's efforts at securing a peaceful resolution are unlikely to be recognised.
7. Rhaenyra delivers a stillborn baby girl
In the opening scenes of House of The Dragon's first season finale, the news of her Father's death, followed by her half-brother usurping the throne, drives Rhaenyra, pregnant with her sixth child, into an early labour. In harrowing scenes, Rhaenyra delivers a still born, malformed baby girl.. her first and only daughter.
In the book, Rhaenyra and Daemon name the lost child after the first Targaryen Queen, Visenya, before cremating her body. The loss of her only daughter becomes as much of a driving force in Rhaenyra's quest for revenge against the Greens as the later death of her son, Prince Lucerys.
8. The Death of Lucerys Velaryon
Towards the end of the finale, Prince Jacaerys Velaryon and his younger brother, Prince Lucerys, depart aboard their dragons to act as messengers for their Mother's cause. Unfortunately, young Luke's mission immediately runs into complications when he arrives at Storm's End, the seat of Lord Boros Baratheon, to find his Uncle, Prince Aemond Targaryen, having already arrived hoping to secure Boros's support for King Aegon. Aemond wishes to take Luke's eye in return for the loss of his own eye when they were children. Luke flees on his dragon, Arrax, but Aemond pursues on his own, the monstrous Vhagar. After a thrilling chase, both Princes lose control of their dragons, and to Aemond's horror, Vhagar devours Luke and Arrax. With Luke's death, any hope for peaceful terms between the Blacks and Greens is shattered.
That the show portrays Aemond's murder of Lucerys as unintentional adds an extra layer of tragedy to the situation, and confirms a statement made by Viserys at the beginning of the series:
"The idea that we control the dragons is an illusion."
Now, the Dance of Dragons has begun, and there will be more tragedy to come.