Like so, so many, I was there when this serialized adaptation began on HBO: the pay cable channel began all the way back in 2011, bringing to bold visual life the George R.R. Martin Fantasy saga for television audiences. Over eight fun-filled seasons, viewers got to know a bit about the Seven Kingdoms, serving witness to some of the best battles – both physically and emotionally – brought about by the families and factions within this multi-layered universe. At times, it played the stakes very simply – serving up little more than an old-fashioned good vs evil story (but with a little incestual rape thrown in for discerning watchers) – but I always felt the writers even wanted the little moments to be grander. Such is the nature of mythmaking, and they probably got it right more often than they got it wrong.
“The Black Queen” – the tenth and final episode in House Of The Dragon’s inaugural season (the first in what has been promised to be an almost endless series of sequels and prequels) – has finally aired officially. Yes, I followed some breaking news over the weekend about how it was illegally leaked online early; despite what the official word from HBO has been, I’m inclined to believe that was a media stunt mean to hype up the season finale because that’s exactly the kind of thing companies do to create news from the – ahem – un-newsworthy. (Is that a word?) I don’t think Dragon has had anywhere near the darling press its predecessor received, and I think this likely has its showrunners a bit perplexed.
In any event …
As is my custom, I try to spend very little time rehashing plot points as I think that stuff gets done to death these days. I will say that “The Black Queen” was probably one of the season’s better scripted hours, which is a very good sign for the direction of the series.
Unlike other episodes, this one had a very clear through-line – one that made perfect sense each and every step of the way – and, while one may’ve disagreed with a royal decision here and there, it was still made in the best interest of the crown. Perhaps now that all hell is broken loose, the screenwriters can finally get about the business of crafting more coherent and spirited hours within these Fantasy kingdoms. Given the fact that they also – in unison with the behind-the-scenes technical wizards – delivered as much spectacle as they did substance, maybe audiences can assume the show to finally be about something; so much of this first season (which I’ll likely review in a separate piece later this week) felt like it was either floundering for direction or waiting for some seminal piece of fictional history to occur … and I think we’ve found that with one character’s big demise.
Also, I’d be remiss in my duties as critic if I failed to mention that the undercurrent to “The Black Queen” was easily identified: happy accidents – or ‘unhappy ones’ is a better descriptor – are the true shakers and makers of this whole, regal affair.
Rhaenyra never asked to rule; it was somewhat ‘gifted’ to her by a happy father. Likewise, most other kingly and queenly players in all of Martin’s world never quite sought power; and those who have wanted it continually seem to be repeatedly denied it. (Here’s looking at you, Daemon.) While each person – male or female – ascending to their respective throne might ultimately have a reason to embrace it – for good or bad – it’s very clear that there are weights and consequences to being in the ruling class … and those factors will extract a heavy, heavy toll in exchange for making these tough, life-altering decisions.
Alas, the greatest weakness to this season finale is that we spent time with characters that, sadly, we never quite got to know so well that their demise ends up feeling less meaningful. (No, I won’t spoil it, but I think it was a bit predictable.) Had the writers crafted a bit more for a few of these smilers, then their existence – and the end of it – would’ve had greater impact on audiences. Yet in a world wherein the movers and shakers only appear interested in shifting the various pieces about on their respective chessboards, I guess it’s perfectly appropriate. Don’t get attached to that rook or that pawn or this queen because, inevitably, your opponent is going to snatch it away from you when you’re not looking.
The king is dead.
Long live the Queen.
And she looks pissed.