‘House Of The Dragon’ Contenders Vs. Pretenders: All Hail ‘The Black Queen’

House of the Dragon’s final episode carried on the tradition its predecessor started, arriving in Game of Thrones style with a much-publicized leak and a ton of controversy. But, it’s Scorpio season, what did we expect?

“The Black Queen” sees the fallout of Viserys’ death and Aegon’s coronation from Dragonstone’s point of view as Rhaenyra and Daemon Targaryen mourn their family member, suffer even more devastating losses, and eventually unite in common cause. That cause? Burning all of Westeros to the ground.

Before that happens, let’s recap the line of succession one last time to see who is really poised to take the Iron Throne.

The Pretenders

House of the Dragon

Aemond Targaryen

Have we referenced Taylor Swift’s Midnights album too much when it comes to House of the Dragon? Probably, but after the complete pandemonium of its season one finale, you can’t listen to Swift sing, “Hi, it’s me. I am the problem,” and not imagine she write that in reference to Aemond Targaryen. This one-eyed Becky with the good hair made an absolute mess of things by turning a routine political envoy assignment into an opportunity to commit war crimes. What’s worse, the show wants us to believe slaying a child and his dragon was just a prank gone wrong in Aemond’s eyes eye. He wanted retribution sure. He was borderline obsessed about evening the score between him and his cousin – despite claiming the trade of claiming Vhagar was more than worth it a decade ago – and when Lucerys refused to engage, he chased him down on dragon’s back. What did he think was going to happen? Despite trying to humanize Aemond a bit by changing such a fundamental aspect of his character – in the book he’s a psychopath who fully intends on murdering Luke – the end result is the same. Aemond had a temper tantrum and because of it, thousands of people (and too many dragons) are going to die.

Otto Hightower

Otto Hightower may have been riding high after successfully usurping the throne and placing his grandson on its sharply pointed seat but he was brought back down to size this episode with just a single visit to Dragon Stone. Well that, and a well-worded insult from one Daemon Targaryen. Otto likely knew his daughter’s offer of peace wouldn’t be accepted by Rhaenyra and her King consort – he probably hoped it wouldn’t – but we can’t imagine he welcomed a standoff with two of Westeros’ most ferocious dragons and their riders. He’s clever and cunning and a threat to Rhaenyra’s claim, but he just doesn’t seem as dangerous as the show would like us to believe.

Jacaerys Velaryon

Jace is a cute kid and it’s clear he’s trying hard to fill the role expected of him but, as of now, this Jon Snow stand-in hasn’t really done anything applause-worthy save offering his cousin a turn on the dancefloor. In fact, and look we don’t say this lightly, but some might look at his brother’s death and think, “If only.” If only Jace hadn’t suggested he and his siblings ride out on dragon’s back to gather support instead of, we don’t know, sending a damn raven like everyone else without flying beasts has to do, we might not be down one dragon, and up one Targaryen Civil War. Again, this is what some people might be saying. We’re above such gossip.

The Contenders

House of the Dragon

Rhaenys Targaryen

Rhaenys Targaryen has always been the kind of HOTD character we can get behind. Patient, observant, happy to sit back and sip her wine while men cut each other’s throats for a chance at more power. But, despite her reluctance for war, she proved to be a valuable asset to Rhaenyra’s claim – and she read her ailing husband for filth while he was still recovering on his deathbed. Basically, Rhaenys was living this episode and we’d be okay with her taking the Iron Throne – if that option is still there.

Rhaenyra Targaryen

House of the Dragon’s finale aired on Emilia Clarke’s birthday and yet the show’s writers still decided to treat her predecessor like this? Look, Rhaenyra has made some mistakes. She was complacent. She allowed the Hightowers to gain power over her father. She gave birth to multiple children who looked nothing like their father, giving Alicent and Otto even more grounds to call her inheritance into question while doing nothing to quell the rumors. She played nice for over a decade and now that her children are dying and her throne has been stolen, she’s finally realized what it takes to wear her crown. But, despite her losses this episode, we’d rather be an enemy of Alicent’s, of any Hightower, than of Rhaenyra Targaryen. She’s motivated, determined, backed by some powerful allies and ruthless in a way few have yet to see. (We also wouldn’t want to be up against Emma D’Arcy in the Best Acting category at next year’s Emmys, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Daemon Targaryen

Ignoring the screams of his wife while she delivered their stillborn baby. Leaving her to grieve the deaths of both her father and their child while he sad-boy-stared into the ocean. Trying to ignite a war early by threatening Otto Hightower’s life. Choking the queen he recently crowned after she refused to turn her kingdom to bone and ash. Daemon Targaryen was a straight-up villain in this episode. We hated it, but we have to admit, he’d make a terrifying king if Rhaenyra ever lets him near the throne after this episode.

‘House of the Dragon’ is currently streaming on HBO Max.