On last night’s premiere of House of the Dragon, we met young Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock), watched the horrifying death of Sian Brooke‘s noble Aemma Arryn, and found out why George R.R. Martin calls Game of Thrones “A Song of Ice and Fire.” It was a bracing return to Westeros, full of dragons soaring and drama unfolding. And it’s just the beginning! HBO has already dropped a full-length teaser trailer for the rest of the season that’s full of fire, blood, and spoilers.
While a lot of House of the Dragon probably felt familiar — from the Weirwood tree to the shot of Cersei’s Map Room pre-map — this is a whole new world. The Targaryens are at their apex. Coffers are full, the mood is happy, and magic still exists in the realm. So it’s possible that even the most studious Game of Thrones fans might have found themselves scratching their chins wondering what’s up with that dude with a tower for a helmet. Or what the big deal about that hot knight Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) was. Or why Alicent’s (Emily Carey) obsession with books is kind of a hilarious double Easter egg.
Don’t fret! We here at Decider are here to help you catch every Easter egg you missed in House of the Dragon Episode 1 “Heirs of the Dragon” and all the weird, unspoken connections these new characters have to the lore of Game of Thrones. From the “Queen Who Never Was” being a Baratheon to the names of the dragons in the Targaryen family tree…here are five things you may have missed in House of the Dragon Episode 1 on HBO…
Alicent Hightower, Seductive Book Worm?
After Aemma Arryn dies, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) asks his teenaged daughter Alicent to “comfort” King Viserys (Paddy Considine). She does so by reading to the nerdy king while he works on his full scale diorama of Old Valyria. This is a fascinating callback to the first time we meet Alicent in the pages of George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood. In Martin’s in-universe history book, a tween Alicent supposedly read to the dying king Jaehaerys. Jaehaerys is the wise old king in House of the Dragon‘s cold open. There are also scurrilous rumors that a 13-year-old Alicent was Jaehaerys’s lover. (The senile king actually confused her for a long-lost daughter.) So Alicent showing up with a book — and fretting over a book in an earlier scene — is a nice Easter egg for book readers.
But wait, there’s more. The book that Alicent is quizzing Rhaenyra over in an earlier scene is telling the story of the legendary Nymeria’s exodus from the banks of the Rhoyne in Essos to Dorne. Nymeria is the queen that Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) named her direwolf for, but she’s also the subject of yet another Game of Thrones spin-off HBO is developing. The tentatively titled 10,000 Ships is supposedly still in the running for an HBO greenlight and this little shout out to the story feels like HBO testing the waters with Nymeria as an IP-leading character.
Rhaenys Targaryen…Also a Baratheon?
During the tourney for Baelon Targaryen’s birth, Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best) is asked by a Baratheon jouster for her favor. He makes a big deal about her being the “Queen Who Never Was, which is a sobriquet she earned when the realm passed her over in favor of Viserys for the Iron Throne. While you might have caught that the implication is that House Baratheon would have preferred Queen Rhaenys to King Viserys, you might have missed why. Rhaenys is a Baratheon.
Rhaenys Targaryen was the child of Aemon Targaryen and Jocelyn Baratheon. Now, if you are wondering why she’s not “black of hair” as Jon Arryn’s lineage book in Game of Thrones pointed out all Baratheons are…well…that’s a good question! In the books, Rhaenys did have black hair. House of the Dragon reimagines her as a silver-haired Targaryen probably for aesthetic reasons.
But the ties between House Targaryen and House Baratheon go back all the way to Aegon the Conqueror. Aegon’s best friend (and possible bastard brother) Orys Baratheon was his right hand man in battle. Over the centuries, the families would intermarry a lot. So while Game of Thrones positions Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) as a wronged lord nobly rebelling against a mad king and the prince who stole his one true love, the truth is…Robert did have a claim to the Iron Throne. The Baratheons all have Targaryen blood!
As for why this dude wants Rhaenys’s favor, it’s a sign of courtly respect. Knights can ask for a lady’s favor as a means of flirtation or, as we see, political maneuvering. Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) puts Alicent Hightower in the awkward position of awarding her favor to the knight facing her brother while this Baratheon is showing his preference for Rhaenys. As for Criston Cole wanting the princess’s favor…that’s a bit more complicated…
New ‘GoT’ Hottie Just Dropped: Meet Ser Criston Cole
Even though the show attempts to position Matt Smith’s Prince Daemon as the most badass knight in the realm, he is beaten by an upstart from the Dornish marshes named Ser Criston Cole.
Ser Criston Cole arrives at the tourney without a lot of heraldry or friends. He is a poor son of a steward, meaning he’s a self-starter trying to elbow his way into this extremely classist world. You note that when he takes off his helmet, Alicent says, “Gods, he’s Dornish.” At this point in Westerosi history, Dorne was still independent. Meaning he’s got some sexy rebel blood in him to boot. (The Dornish are canonically sexy, after all.)
Ser Criston Cole begs for Princess Rhaenyra’s favor clearly in a combination of flirtation and power-playing. Since he’s won the tourney, having the princess’s favor only solidifies him as a knight to watch. And trust us, you’re going to want to keep your eyes on him. Ser Criston Cole and Rhaenyra’s relationship, and its epic deterioration, is a key moment in the rising tensions that lead to the eventual Targaryen civil war.
What’s the Deal With House Hightower?
While Game of Thrones fans might have recognized family names like Targaryen, Stark, and Baratheon being bandied about in House of the Dragon’s premiere, the Hightowers might have been new to them.
House Hightower doesn’t have a huge part to play in Game of Thrones, but it’s actually one of the most important families in the realm. The Hightowers are one of the oldest families in Westeros, meaning they have been powerful for thousands of years. They live in Oldtown — the city Sam (John Bradley) and Gilly (Hannah Murray) travel to in later seasons — and are closely associated with the maesters.
Ser Otto Hightower is the Hand of the King, making him an incredibly powerful player in the proverbial Game of Thrones. However, he’s not the most powerful person in his family. His older brother rules House Hightower and you’ll note that he sent a raven to Oldtown in this episode. What message Otto sent, we can’t be sure. However there is a prevailing fan theory that House Hightower and the maesters actually conspired together to weaken the Targaryen dynasty. I won’t go into the nitty gritty, but you should definitely keep your eyes on Otto and how he’s maneuvering his daughter closer and closer to the king.
Meet the Dragons: Syrax and Caraxes
One of the most tragic moments in the House of the Dragon premiere is when Rhaenyra has to order her dragon Syrax to burn the funeral pyres of her mother and brother. She gives the command, “Dracarys,” which in Valyrian means, “Light them up, my dragon homie!” So the dragon is not named Dracarys; it was an order for Syrax.
Syrax isn’t the only dragon we meet in the premiere. Prince Daemon flees King’s Landing with his lover Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno) on the back of his great red dragon Caraxes. Fun fact: Caraxes is known as the Bloodwyrm and has little baby legs.
We’ll meet more dragons in the weeks to come, but you might be wondering where Viserys’s dragon is. Well, he’s dead! Viserys was the last Targaryen to bond with Balerion the Dread, the dragon Aegon the Conqueror rode. Balerion’s skull is the one he and Rhaenyra are speaking in front of in the show. Viserys only rode Balerion once before the dragon died and never claimed another dragon. So while he had the honor of riding the biggest, baddest dragon there ever was, it was a short-lived one.
We’ll meet more dragons in the week’s ahead and learn more about how the Targaryens do or don’t bond with their magical beasts.