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


(Warning: This article contains spoilers for House of the Dragon Season 2, Episode 4.)

House of the Dragon has shown remarkable restraint with its looming Targaryen civil war. Season 1’s barbs between the Greens and the Blacks were largely verbal and political, not physical. Even after a usurped throne and the deaths that followed escalated matters, the two warring factions resisted the call to pull out their biggest weapon in the arsenal for anything more than patrol duty.

That changed in Episode 4 at Rook’s Rest, a minor but strategic castle in the Crownlands. Criston Cole’s (Fabien Frankel) campaign to capture the castle and cut Dragonstone off from the mainland drew in Princess Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best) and her dragon Meleys. Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) was waiting in the woods to attack with Vhagar, and an insecure King Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) rode in with Sunfyre to prove himself. The ensuing “Dance of the Dragons,” which saw three dragons fight in the sky to the death, ended in absolute carnage: Countless bodies of nameless soldiers burnt to ash, with Rhaenys and Meleys both dead in the wreckage.

As for Aegon and Sunfyre, we’ll have to wait to find out what happened to them. But the death of Rhaenys, The Queen Who Never Was, and her dragon will fundamentally alter the course of the war.

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

Eve Best


House of the Dragon tried to warn us. Rhaenyra was long hesitant to unleash the dragons onto her enemies to the ire of her council. “If dragons begin fighting dragons, we invite our own destruction,” Rhaenyra replied in Episode 3 when one member of her council suggested sending them out to “burn those who resist.” It’s not until Rhaenyra told Jacaerys (Harry Collett), her eldest son and heir, about the Song of Ice and Fire prophecy in Episode 4 that she considered sending the dragons out to be a last resort, fully aware of what would happen next. “The horrors I have just loosed cannot be for a crown alone,” she explained.

It’s not a coincidence that this scene is intercut with the dragons at their most pet-like: Rhaenys offering Meleys some assurance, the duo having flown together for decades; Sunfyre lightly headbutting Aegon, who looks calmer and happier than we’ve ever seen him, like a cat. In mere minutes, the lives of both dragon and rider pairings would be forever changed.

But, as Rhaenys put it to Rhaenyra in Episode 3, hotter minds than Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) have prevailed in forming the Greens’ battle plans, bringing the civil war to an inevitability in dragon warfare. A brutal showcase of flame and claw, three dragons—two who have seen action and one green (and not only because of his rider’s allegiance)—faced off in the air. A single attack on a dragon’s hide harms dragons and risks the lives of its rider. But every foot soldier on both sides of the conflict could die if any smoking dragon blood falls on them, so hot that it instantly kills whoever it touches.

Criston might’ve technically won this battle, but it came at a level of violence even the veteran knight wasn’t prepared for. It’ll only get worse as more dragons fly out to meet their fellows in battle. But Rhaenys’s death also marks something House of the Dragon has struggled with: Making this war have actual stakes.

House of the Dragon has killed off characters we’ve been invested in before, like King Viserys (Paddy Considine), who we spent eight episodes getting to know, seeing his relationships with his family grow and sour, and watching his faults on display. But that never came as a true shock because it seemed like his being alive was the only thing keeping the various Targaryen factions at bay. Plus, the minute his body started falling apart, death was an inevitability, so the question of Viserys’s demise wasn’t if, but when.

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

Eve Best


The show has also given us shocking deaths, but its pacing issues barely gave us time to know or care about those characters before tossing them aside. It relied on seeing other characters in despair and grief or using shock value to inform our own feelings at watching those horrors unfold. That garnered mixed results at best. Those deaths propelled the plot forward, but we barely knew who these people were, so what would make us care?

Rhaenys Targaryen might’ve been the first character so far whose sudden death was a shock and whose fate we’ve been invested in from the start. Gaining the moniker “The Queen Who Never Was” after her claim was passed over in favor of Viserys at the Great Council, she was the cautionary tale of how, when the world was given the choice, it would never allow a woman to rule. Rhaenys got over it, but her husband, Corlys Velaryon (Steve Touissant), never did and would make snarky comments whenever he could get away with it. Until recently, it was one of the more stable relationships on the show.

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She may have had complicated feelings toward Rhaenyra and her inheritance, but she was loyal and respected Viserys’s decree. Rhaenys was the Blacks’ version of Otto Hightower, a shrewd advisor who supported and advocated for Rhaenyra’s plans to search for nonviolent options to end the war. While criticized at the time for her restraint, she exercised caution when she could’ve burned it down and set a precedent. She even advised her to reach out to Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), although maybe not how Rhaenyra went about it.

Now that Rhaenys is gone, hotter heads will prevail on Team Black, too. “We teeter now at the point where none of it will matter,” she said in Episode 3. “And the desire to kill and burn takes hold, and reason is forgotten.”

Rhaenys and Meleys will likely only be the first casualties in a bloody war. But even if they are only the first in a long line of Targaryens and dragons who will meet a violent end, her death, more than any other factor that came before it, marks the point of no return.

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