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How Does The ‘House Of The Dragon’ Finale Handle Whether Riders Can Control Dragons?

(House of the Dragon spoilers will be found below.)

A bit of murder is par for the course when it comes to George R.R. Martin’s fantasy world, but House of the Dragon’s season finale managed to shock both book and show fans alike with how a certain character met their demise … and why.

In episode 10’s “The Black Queen,” a newly-crowned Rhaenyra Targaryen sends her two eldest sons to shore up support for her claim to the Iron Throne after her half-brother usurps her title and the Hightowers take control of Kings Landing. While Jacaerys Velaryon rides north to Winterfell seeking aid from the Starks, Lucerys flies to Storm’s End to treat with the Baratheons. Unfortunately, Aemond Targaryen beats him to the punch, betrothing himself to one of Lord Borros Baratheon’s daughters in exchange for the man’s allegiance to Team Green.

But before Lucerys can return home, his uncle issues a challenge, demanding Lucerys carve out an eye in payment for the loss of his own a decade earlier. Borros Baratheon stops Aemond from following through on his threat, letting Luke leave before blood can be shed, but ever the obsessive psychopath, Aemond follows the boy on dragon’s back. The two chase each other through a gnarly storm before Lucerys’ young dragon, Arrax, disobeys his rider’s commands and hits Aemond’s mount, Vhagar, with a quick blast of fire. But before they can safely escape, Vhagar rears up through the clouds, taking a chunk out of the smaller dragon and his rider while Aemond looks on, horrified.

So, the question is, why did Aemond kill Lucerys?

The answer: it’s complicated. In Martin’s book — which itself is unreliable since it has many different narrators, all with their own personal biases — Aemond is still seething from the loss of his eye and is more intentional in his efforts to kill Luke. The two still fight on the dragon’s back but Aemond deliberately kills his nephew, ordering Vhagar to tear Arrax in half before locating the boy’s corpse and cutting out his eyes. In the show, things are a bit more nuanced. The writers’ callback to an earlier episode in season one when King Viserys explains that dragons, unlike pets, are not governable. Targaryens can ride them and bond with them, but they can’t fully control them. We see that warning come to life when Arrax disobeys Lucerys by spewing flames at Vhagar. He’s a young dragon being chased by an older and bigger animal of his kind and he reacts instinctively, despite his rider’s pleas.

Of course, by directly challenging Vhagar, Arrax incites the elder dragon’s own bloodlust, which becomes apparent when she goes against Aemond’s pleas to stop by tearing the young dragon in two. Both beasts behaved exactly as one would expect them to in that situation so, while Aemond didn’t necessarily mean to kill Lucerys in that fashion, he is responsible for putting both dragon riders and their dragons in that position, to begin with.

And all because he still hadn’t figured out how to successfully rock an eyepatch. Yeesh.