During Game of Thrones’ run, the penultimate episode of each season often felt more memorable than its finale. We can’t say if history will repeat itself with House of the Dragon but we can tell you that episode nine’s “Green Council” is a thrilling hour of television that more than delivers on the promise this show started with. We’re talking about war or at least the build-up to it.
While members of House Targaryen and House Hightower have been flirting with the idea for most of the season, this week, they’re putting a ring on it. Or, more aptly, a crown. With Viserys dead and Rhaenyra clueless, the Hightowers stay busy, racing through the city in search of their would-be king and tying up the messier ends that come with this whole usurping business.
Here’s where everyone stands relative to the Iron Throne after the “Green Council.”
Ser Criston Cole
Ser Criston Cole is the definition of failing upwards and we hate to say it, but Milly Alcock made a real mistake early in Rhaenyra’s reign by giving him a promotion. He is, as Shakespeare would say, a plague on someone’s house. Whose house, we’re still not sure. At the moment, Criston is playing errand boy for Queen Alicent — who he’s so devoted to that it’s quickly becoming a workplace harassment issue — and throwing yet another temper tantrum that ends in a man’s untimely death. (R.I.P. Lord Beesbury. You were a real one.) Despite being one head-bashing closer to meeting the FBI’s criteria of a serial killer, Cole moves up the ranks to Commander of the King’s Guard, crowning Aegon himself and looking mighty smug while doing so. The reason we can’t rank him as a contender for any semblance of real power is two-fold. First, he’s a gormless incel, and we just don’t like him. But, more importantly, aside from his rage-fueled blackouts, Cole doesn’t make any moves without permission from the Hightowers. He’s their manservant, not a realm-conquering rival.
We wanted to cheer for Rhaenys in this episode. We did cheer for Rhaenys in this episode. But her inability to torch her enemies to a crisp in the final minutes of the “Green Council” has us questioning her ride-or-die status just a bit. After spending an undisclosed amount of time locked in her rooms fielding thinly-veiled threats from Alicent, she escapes with the help of one of the Kings Guard twins – but she’s quickly lost in the crowd sweeping its way through the streets to witness Aegon’s coronation at the Dragon Pit. This works out because Rhaenys makes it clear she won’t be leaving without her dragon. And as gleefully as we all cackled when that intimidating winged-beast rose from the depths of King’s Landing to terrorize a few peasants and leave Otto Hightower peeing himself if she had just “Dracarys-ed” a usurper or two on her way out, we might have avoided the Dance of Dragons altogether. Talk about a missed opportunity.
It’d be ridiculous to say we sympathized with Aegon this week — the guy just raped a servant girl last episode, he’s a walking garbage can of a human being — but we did recognize the impossible nature of his plight. This is a long-wished-for son and heir who was never favored by his father and abused by his mother. Add to that the privilege of his royal status and the sense of power that comes with riding a dragon and what did the realm expect him to become besides a drunken lecher who dreams of abandoning his family and pissing right off to Essos? He only comes around to the idea of ruling when Alicent spews her idiotic claim that his dad really wanted that for him, and he only enjoys the crown when he realizes it brings the kind of love and acceptance from total strangers that he never got from his own family. He might be continuing the cycle of generational trauma, but he sure didn’t start it.
For someone who was so quick to challenge his uncle’s alpha status last week, Aemond is a bit more lily-livered than we expected when sh*t hits the fan in “Green Council”. Sure, he’s still doing his “skulking in the background” routine and putting off some threatening BDE vibes, but we’re not sure he’s packing anything of note to back that up. Why? Because while he can’t help but parade his animosity towards his older brother all along Silk Street, he never seizes the opportunity to get rid of the only obstacle standing in his way to the Iron Throne. He hints to Ser Criston that he’d make a better — though likely crueler — king, and he’s probably right, but he never shows the initiative to change his circumstances or the spine to carry out the necessary act of fratricide. If this is the great Kinslayer that’s supposed to be a worthy rival of Daemon Targaryen, we need him to step things up a bit.
As much as it displeases us to admit, Otto Hightower is winning this episode. The rotting corpse he once called friend is safely locked away so that he can do a bit of scheming to get his grandson on the throne. In fact, even if Alicent hadn’t imagined Visery’s last-minute succession change, Otto would’ve still made a play to usurp Rhaenyra’s claim. He’s been working the Small Council over for years unbeknownst to his daughter and he likely would’ve gone against her had she refused his plan. Despite having his assassination plot rejected, he’s still pulling the strings of House Hightower. For now …
Larys Strong is nasty. Just plain nasty. And it’s not just the foot fetish and the way he’s convinced Alicent to prostitute her dainty toes for information. It’s how pleased with himself he is, how readily he’ll sacrifice anyone to gain a debt from someone with more power. He works over both The Hand and his daughter, playing them against one another to see who might be the more formidable opponent and who is the easily-manipulated ally. For what, we’re still not sure. But knowing his sick a**, it’s probably just for fun.
Say what you will of Alicent Hightower but, if God is real, Olivia Cooke will be nominated for an Emmy for her performance this season. She’s somehow given a character who seemed like a two-dimensional amalgam of greed and jealousy in the books the nuance and complexity of a woman desperately trying to get ahead by playing a man’s game. In “Green Council,” she falters before finding steady footing, first seeming appalled that her father has been secretly orchestrating the very thing she’s suggesting before making moves of her own. She’s amassed some helpful allies in Larys Strong, Criston Cole, and her son Aemond, which means she gets to Aegon first and is able to sway him to her side of thinking. Why she believes that Viserys would actually want this coddled milksop to wear his crown when just hours before his death he reaffirmed Rhaenyra’s claim is still mind-boggling because we all know Alicent Hightower is not that dumb. Then again, if she thinks Rhaenyra will just happily accept peace terms instead of letting Syrax chew on her bones, maybe she is that dumb.
‘House of the Dragon’ airs on Sunday nights at 9:00pm EST.