House of the Dragon episode 9 review: "Classic Game of Thrones through and through"

GamesRadar+ Verdict

A season's worth of plotting and planning comes to a head in a stunning episode that's all about the greens, culminating in a dazzling ending that tees up the fire and blood to come

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Warning: Major spoilers ahead for House of the Dragon episode 9! Turn back now if you're not caught up! 

Episode 9 was always going to be the big one. The penultimate installments of many a Game of Thrones season brought the shocks: Ned Stark's execution, the Red Wedding, and the Battle of the Bastards spring to mind. With 'The Green Council,' House of the Dragon proves itself as no different. 

The episode begins in the aftermath of King Viserys' death. The Red Keep is dark, quiet, and melancholic, until a spy scurries past – kicking off a tense and atmospheric episode that's all about scheming, backstabbing, and whose head will wear the crown. 

Thanks to last week's major misunderstanding, Alicent believes Viserys wishes their son Aegon to take the throne. It soon becomes clear, though, that the deathbed mix-up barely matters: Otto has been planning for Aegon to usurp the throne behind Alicent's back anyway. I said last week that the miscommunication between Viserys and Alicent was very frustrating; luckily, this twist turns it into an interesting struggle for the queen. She believes Viserys' dying wish is for Aegon to ascend the throne, but still she worries about Rhaenyra (who we know remains the true heir). 

Otto is all business in his ruthlessly efficient plans to crown Aegon, but Lyman Beesbury (Bill Paterson) is horrified, rightly pointing out that this is a treasonous course of action. If the stakes weren't already high enough, the tension ratchets up even further when Criston Cole violently kills him with one blow. This scene, with its hold-your-breath plotting, deeply dangerous secrets, and sudden, brutal murder, is classic Thrones through and through. 

There's just a few wrinkles in Otto's meticulously crafted plan: Aegon has vanished, and Alicent is firmly against her father's intention to kill Rhaenyra and Daemon. A mini power struggle among the Hightowers breaks out as father and daughter subtly strive to best each other. Alicent sends Criston and her terrifying son Aemond on the hunt for Aegon, while the confusingly named Erryk and Arryk (Elliott and Luke Tittensor) search on Otto's behalf. This is far from a perfunctory game of hide and seek, however. Not only is the mysterious White Worm's true power revealed during the chase, but a schism between identical twins Erryk and Arryk begins to crack open over their opinions on Aegon, while Aemond exposes his simmering resentment at his older brother being the heir when he himself is much better suited to the throne. 

House of the Dragon episode 9

(Image credit: HBO)

The search takes Erryk and Arryk to an underground fighting ring, but it's mere children who are coming to uncomfortably vicious blows. Aegon frequents the fights, and he's even fathered a pale-haired bastard child that lives there – and this isn't the prince's only illegitimate child. He might not be a Joffrey Lannister level monster just yet, but the seeds are clearly being sown.

Tom Glynn-Carney delivers a standout performance as the desperately reluctant heir. When Erryk and Arryk discover him, the prince tries to run from them. He doesn't get very far, and Aemond soon intercepts. Aegon insists he's not suited to the crown and even offers to sail away, letting his brother take the throne instead. It's a lost cause, and later, on the way to his coronation with Alicent, Aegon is utterly miserable. He rightly guesses that Viserys didn't want him to become king. In fact, he's certain his father didn't like him, then asks Alicent if she loves him. "You imbecile," she replies – it's always been clear that Alicent loves her children. 

As good as Carney is, though, it's Olivia Cooke's Alicent who steals the episode. She's seriously conflicted but clearly still intent on her son securing power. The captive Rhaenys, in a particularly moving exchange as Alicent tries to win the Targaryen princess to her cause, points out that Alicent doesn't aim for true freedom but instead wishes to build a window in the wall of her prison – she's still serving the men around her. Later, Alicent subjugates herself for intel from Larys in a very disturbing moment, but she also stands up to Otto, pointing out that she has been continuously manipulated by him. She then lays out her plans for Aegon's ascension to the throne, which Otto, in another masterfully subtle performance from Rhys Ifans, clearly approves of. 

It's when the coronation begins that this already great episode becomes truly excellent. As Aegon walks into the Dragon Pit, the Hightower theme swells behind him; plainly, this is an immense victory for the greens. The coronation is full of pomp and ceremony, with swords drawn and the entirety of King's Landing in attendance. Criston places the crown on Aegon's head, and the former prince looks every inch a striking Targaryen king in all black. When the people cheer for him, he begins to look pleased. Perhaps he's discovered ruling suits him after all. He raises his sword and spreads his arms, playing to the crowd, but it all comes to a startling end very quickly. 

House of the Dragon episode 9

(Image credit: HBO)

Rhaenys, smuggled from the Red Keep earlier by Erryk, manages to slip down to the Dragon Pit amid the coronation's hubbub. In the episode's biggest jaw-dropper, she bursts from the ground atop her dragon Meleys, interrupting Aegon's moment of triumph. For the first time in 'The Green Council,' the Targaryen theme is heard as Rhaenys and Meleys emerge – a rousing reminder that Team Black isn't going to accept the usurpation. It's a chaotic, smoky, powerful scene of pure carnage and panic. Once again, the VFX work here is stunning: Meleys' expression when she looks upon the greens is furious and unforgiving. 

Rhaenys locks eyes with Alicent, and it's at this moment that the entire civil war could be prevented: all the Targaryen princess has to do is say dracarys and it's over. But, as she looks at Alicent, it's clear she can't bring herself to burn the woman to a crisp. After all, Rhaenys was impressed by the queen during their earlier conversation; maybe she also notices that Alicent's immediate reaction, when facing a vengeful dragon, is to protect her children. Instead of unleashing the fire and blood, Rhaenys turns and flies from the Dragon Pit, escaping through the half-closed doors into the open air. As the episode goes to black, the heavy, final sound of the doors closing behind her echoes. So begins the Dance of the Dragons. 

This episode belongs to the greens, which means next week will no doubt revolve around the blacks. It would be easy to position Rhaenyra as the hero and the opposing side as the villains, but 'The Green Council' makes it very clear that nothing is going to be that simple as this bloody civil war unfolds. Each side has their reasons for wanting power and each has their moral complexities. It's impossible not to eagerly anticipate the first clash, family against family and dragon against dragon. Whether that happens in the finale or not is unclear, but House of the Dragon excels just as much at its character driven moments as it does its spectacular action sequences. With a penultimate episode this strong, next week's finale is sure to put the bow on a brilliant first season. 

See our House of the Dragon release schedule to find out when the next episode arrives in your time zone, and check out our roundup of the best Netflix shows streaming now to fill out your watchlist. 

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Molly Edwards
Entertainment Writer

I'm an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering all things film and TV for the site's Total Film and SFX sections. I previously worked on the Disney magazines team at Immediate Media, and also wrote on the CBeebies, MEGA!, and Star Wars Galaxy titles after graduating with a BA in English.