House of the Dragon: The Qs that need As

If you spent the first episode of House of the Dragon combing wikis for family trees, character guides, and Game of Thrones refreshers, you were surely left with some gaps and several questions.  To prep you for Episode 2, we’ve sifted out six questions that need answers before you dive any deeper:

Who was the tournament knight who sought out Princess Rhaenyra?

A rakishly handsome fighter who topples the King’s brother Daemon from his horse in Episode 1, you’ll want to keep track of the name Criston Cole.  You know he’s significant because 1) he has the looks and hair to rival Jon Snow, and 2) he seeks out an introduction to Princess Rhaenyra as his tournament victory reward…and gets her attention.  But here’s what he’s up against: He may be a knight (in banged up armor), but he is “common born” and Dornish.

Who are the Dornish?

The Dornes fought off Targaryen rule for nine years during the first Dornish War. Aegon Targaryen earned his “Conqueror” title by capturing all the other kingdoms of Westeros, combining them under the name of House Targaryen, but he failed to conquer Dorne, despite burning every castle and town.

What makes this especially important is that women and men are treated equally in their society. Their leader for 27 years?  Princess Nymeria.

Who is Princess Nymeria?

Her name comes up when Princess Rhaenyra’s friend, Alicent, reads aloud from a book about her, and we learn that she led the Rhoynar people to Dorne hundreds of years earlier. Rhaenyra doesn’t seem that interested, but the Rhoynar are important; they’re the reason women and men have equal opportunity to rule in Dorne.

The Rhoynar, including Princess Nymeria, were driven from their homes as the Valyrian Freehold expanded under “the dragonlords.”  The Nymeria legend holds that she commanded 10,000 ships and led her people from island to island to find a place beyond the reach of the dragons, only to lead them through more violence and disease, until she landed in Dorne…where they settled.  She married the lord of House Martell and burned her ships, proving to the Rhoynar that they were done running.

In Dorne, Nymeria continued to command armies in battle, as her in-laws, the Martells, fought with the other houses in the region. When her reign ended, Dorne was controlled by House Martell and the Dornish adopted the laws of the Rhoynar — which included allowing women to rule.

Nymeria remained an inspiration to women across the generations Westeros. In Game of Thones, Arya Stark named her direwolf after the warrior princess.

Where are the Baratheons on all this?  

In the opening scenes of first episode, the Great Council voted to anoint Viserys king. It was an overwhelming majority, we’re told, all to avoid letting a female sit on the throne.

Yet his rival, Rhaenys, had some support on her side.  Her husband Corlys Velaryon, the wealthiest man in the realm outside of the Targaryens, and the Lord of the House Baratheon, Boremund, who is her uncle.

The significance: The Velaryons are already a powerful family in the realm, and the Baratheons are strong allies. So despite the Great Council vote, don’t count out Rhaenys.

The Significance of the Queen’s Death

The women of Westeros have their own bloody battlefield to brave from a young age: childbirth. The gruesome death of the King’s wife, Aemma Arryn, after a doctor slices her open to save “the heir,” lays out the stakes all women faced as they tried to carry on the line.

The Queen of the Seven Kingdoms had already suffered several miscarriages and stillbirths, having delivered only healthy child: Princess Rhaenyra. The King – and the Kingdom — have long been desperate for a male heir, and this birth was set up as the last hope.

“You will lie in this bed soon enough,” the Queen tells her daughter Rhaenyra before her labor. “This discomfort is how we serve the realm.”

The platinum-haired Aemma was a Targaryen, daughter of Daella Targaryen, which makes her the King’s cousin. (While that’s not unusual in Westeros, in the book, Fire & Blood, she was only 11 years old when she married him, though supposedly the marriage wasn’t consummated until she “flowered” at 13.  She died during childbirth in her 20s, like so many other women.  In the series, she is aged up to approach 40 – upping the stakes for the last hope of an heir.)

Aemma’s death, followed soon after by the death of her newborn son, forces Viserys to rethink his succession and name Rhaenyra his heir. And as Viserys tells his daughter, the Iron Throne is the most dangerous seat in the realm. But maybe it will spare the princess death by childbirth?

Viserys cutting himself on the throne

In the beginning of the first episode, we see the King’s servants tending to an open wound on Viserys’s back. Viserys dismisses this as a cut he got from sitting on the Iron Throne. Otto Hightower, the king’s hand, remarks to Maester Mellos that “whatever it is, it needs to be kept quiet.” Towards the end of the first episode, Viserys clearly cuts himself on the throne when he is exiling his brother Daemon. This is a harbinger of bad news. Getting wounded by the throne is a sign that the king is not fit to rule – and the throne itself may be letting him know.

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