Deadly ‘House of the Dragon’ War Finally Lets Aemond Be a True Villain

Theo Whiteman/HBO
Theo Whiteman/HBO

It’s taken four episodes, but this week’s House of the Dragon fires on two major fronts: Its dragons dance and its diversions from the source material finally, unambiguously let one of the characters be evil.

As House Targaryen descends into a bloody civil war, the death toll has risen and the battlefields run red. Two children have been brutally murdered. At this point, it should be easy to point to clear villains on both sides. Yet every time House of the Dragon has deviated from George R. R. Martin’s Fire and Blood so far, it’s to put major character decisions down to accidents and misunderstandings, effectively letting characters off the hook for their choices: Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) didn’t mean to kill Lucerys (Elliot Grihault)! Alicent (Olivia Cooke) only backed her son usurping the throne because she got her Aegons mixed up!

In Episode 2, when Daemon’s (Matt Smith) hired assassins asked what they should do if they couldn’t find Aemond, the scene cut away before we could hear his answer, a narrative cop-out meant to shield the character from the weight of his decision. If we didn’t explicitly hear Daemon name an alternative target, we couldn’t blame him for the murder of a child.

The show can’t let Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) break bad either. So far, she’s been presented as a pacifist, putting the good of the kingdom above her personal ambition, continually seeking peace even as her birthright is stolen and her throne usurped. How much can you really endure before you snap? But there’s that Song of Ice and Fire prophecy again to explain away the sanded edges of Rhaenyra’s characterisation—she’s been brought up to believe she’s meant to unite the realm against a common enemy, even as her own family rips itself apart. The closest she comes to vengeful rage is during Episode 2 when she demands Aemond suffer for killing her son. Horrified, however, after her words result in the murder of a child instead, she quickly reverts to her more pragmatic posturing.

A photo still of Eve Best in 'House of the Dragon'

Eve Best


Even when various plot misunderstandings are folded into the fabric of the show itself and the characters forced to confront them, as in last week’s episode, the consequences are minimal. Alicent realizes that she’s misinterpreted her late husband’s last words but clings to denial even in the face of that knowledge—the machinery of war has already been set into motion and she knows that she’s powerless to stop the men around her from marching on.

It’s understandable why the show would want to make its female characters more sympathetic. Fire and Blood is written as an in-universe account, cobbled together from unreliable sources and their uncharitable, misogynistic views of the women around them. But in hitching the women’s narratives to forces of circumstance instead of choice, the show now robs them of any real agency.

We Need to Talk About Aegon on ‘House of the Dragon’

In “The Red Dragon And The Gold”, which aired earlier this week, however, House of the Dragon does the unexpected: it finally embraces villainy.

Unlike in the book, in which Team Green’s King Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) and Aemond team up to take down Team Black’s Rhaenys (Eve Best) in a battle fought on dragonback over Rook’s Rest, it’s Aemond alone who’s meant to ambush her in an attack he’s plotted with Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel).

Simmering with petulance and inadequacy, stinging from being humiliated by his brother and mother in quick succession, and a little drunk, Aegon decides to battle her instead. Rather than fly to his aid immediately, Aemond hangs back. It’s a clear set-up—of the three dragons in this fight, he knows Aegon’s is the smallest and least battle-tested. And, as expected, Sunfyre is ripped to shreds by Rhaenys’ dragon Meleys. When Aemond does eventually swoop in, it’s to deliver the death blow. As he unleashes dragonfire on the hapless king, the initial relief on Aegon’s face at seeing his brother turns to horror. Aemond is no longer the man who lost control of Vhagar and accidentally killed Lucerys. This is intentional.

This Shocking ‘House of the Dragon’ Death Changed the Show Completely

Aemond’s resentment of Aegon has been building for some time. In the previous episode, the king bursts in on him at the local brothel, mocking him at his most vulnerable. As Aemond exits the venue, it’s like a switch has been flipped. Even naked, his hardened self-possession is in contrast to Aegon, wearing the armor of his namesake, The Conqueror, but bearing little other resemblance to him.

Aemond holds a grudge, but he also nurses ambitions. He desires the throne so fiercely, he can barely bring himself to articulate it. “‘Tis I, the younger brother, who studies history and philosophy, it is I who trains with the sword, who rides the largest dragon in the world. It is I who should be…” he tells Criston in Season 1 Episode 9, before trailing off.

A photo still of Ewan Mitchell in 'House of the Dragon'

Ewan Mitchell

Theo Whiteman/HBO

He has no such qualms expressing himself in “The Red Dragon and The Gold”, in which he first wounds Aegon with his words before ever unsheathing his weaponry. At a Green Council meeting, he delivers cutting insults to his brother in fluent High Valyrian, putting him in his place with just his command of the language. Some of his word choices: “sobriquet”, “imbecilic lickspittle,” can’t possibly be common parlance, which speaks to just how studied he is. A faltering “I can…have to…make a…war?” is all Aegon can manage in response before giving up and reverting to English. None of the other members of the council can understand High Valyrian, but Aegon’s fumbling hesitance in the face of Aemond’s authoritative poise establishes who’s really in charge here.

By the end of the episode, a gravely wounded Aegon and his dragon have plummeted out of the sky. When Aemond approaches, sword unsheathed, is he contemplating a mercy killing? Or is he thinking of how he’s next in line to the throne? When he points out Aegon’s unmoving body to Criston, the knight stares on in horror. Aemond, however, simply turns around and leaves. Amid the burning flames and smoke, it’s the sheer coldness of his abandonment that lingers.

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