War is coming.
What began as a slow yet satisfying burn in HBO’s “House of the Dragon” series, harking back to the earlier seasons of “Game of Thrones,” has metastasized into a clash of epic proportions between two factions: the Blacks and the Greens, with main characters and their children all involved.
The Dance of the Dragons, the civil war over who will succeed King Viserys I Targaryen and sit upon the Iron Throne, is nigh as we reach the season’s penultimate episode — historically the most action-packed, consequential chapter in the sequel’s eight-season run (recall the Red Wedding, Ned Stark’s beheading, the Battle of the Bastards, etc.).
Viserys, though earnest and loving (let’s ignore his role in the death of his first wife, Aemma, during childbirth), has allowed conflict in the realm to fester. He names his freewheeling firstborn daughter, Rhaenyra, as his heir when she is just 8 years old, putting a tremendous weight on the child in a patriarchal, hostile environment. A bit later, he has no problem taking her best friend, dutiful Alicent Hightower, as his new wife, and having four children with her.
Paddy Considine, who portrays the piteous monarch, turns in a masterful performance across Viserys’ decadeslong decline, from his hellbent desire for a male heir to his ruinous but touching devotion to Rhaenyra. Pair that with his flaccid attempt to appease everyone and his last-ditch effort to set things right about 20 years too late — literally expending the last of his energy — and you have one of the most tragic figures of the Seven Kingdoms. (Hand this man an Emmy already!)
In one of the season’s finest scenes yet, Viserys’ dinner — aka the Last Supper, which served as an inspiration for the showrunners here — we see all the key players sitting together, peacefully, for one last time. There are moments of levity, tension and — a foolish thought for any “Game of Thrones” fan — hope. Yes, there’s a brief moment when we think disaster might be averted.
But nothing is quite that simple in George R.R. Martin’s worlds. “The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself,” the author of “A Song of Ice and Fire” said in an episode of the official “Game of Thrones” podcast, paraphrasing the writer William Faulkner.
Here’s a look at some of those conflicts of the heart, played out on a grander scale, and a breakdown of whether Team Black or Team Green has the edge for the coming war (and the coming seasons).
Note: This article discusses plotlines and characters through the first eight episodes of “House of the Dragon.”
Who are the Greens and the Blacks in the Dance of the Dragons?
The Greens represent the party of Queen Alicent, who grows from a rule-abiding child into an independent and defiant woman, as symbolized by her grand entrance in a green gown at Rhaenyra and Laenor’s wedding feast in the fifth episode.
“Green is the color the Hightower burns when they call their banners to war,” whispers Larys Strong, referencing the seat of House Hightower in Oldtown, whose motto is “We Light the Way,” which also happens to be the name of the episode.
Alicent and her father, Otto Hightower, seek to install Prince Aegon II as king — despite his many deficiencies and lack of ambition — once Viserys dies. Otto conveniently believes, along with many men in the realm, that a man must rule the realm — or at least that’s the only way to maintain stability. Alicent, who by the eighth episode is an ardent follower of the religion called the Faith of the Seven, starts to doubt her conviction for Aegon’s cause. She even tells Rhaenyra she will make a “fine queen” at the last supper until she misinterprets Viserys’ wishes on his deathbed.
The Blacks represent the faction supporting Princess Rhaenyra’s claim to the throne. When Viserys declared her his heir, he had the lords of the great houses swear fealty to her. How many of those men will break their word?
Their name comes in part from House Targaryen’s colors, black and red, as shown on the three-headed dragon sigil (in the book, Rhaenyra also wore the colors black and red at a feast celebrating the fifth wedding anniversary of Viserys and Alicent, resulting in the factions’ names).
Later, Aegon II will choose a gold dragon as his personal sigil, matching the color of his dragon, Sunfyre.
It’s worth paying attention to what colors people are wearing in the show, as it could hint as to which side someone might be leaning toward (though many characters wear black in general). Princess Rhaenys, for example, wore black in the pivotal scene in the Throne Room, where she threw her support behind Rhaenyra and betrothed her granddaughters to Rhaenyra’s sons.
Which side has the dragon advantage?
Dragons are the ultimate weapons in this war. So it’s no surprise that Daemon, ever strategizing, is collecting dragon eggs from one of Syrax’s clutches at the start of the eighth episode. More dragons and dragonriders mean a greater chance for success.
Team Black has the advantage not only in terms of dragon numbers but also their base, Dragonstone, is a volcanic island that provides a hot environment preferred by the creatures (and their eggs).
Still, don’t count the Greens out. Vhagar is the largest living dragon, and she’s under the control of Aemond, one of the show’s most unpredictable, aggressive characters. While size matters, it’s not everything when it comes to dragon battles. As demonstrated in Aemond’s first flight, Vhagar is so huge that taking off is an awkward endeavor. But once in the air, she’s pretty much a tank with wings. The younger dragons are smaller and nimbler, which can become a strategic advantage.
Here’s the dragon lineup.
- Syrax (Rhaenrya), Caraxes (Daemon), Meleys (Rhaenys), Vermax (Jacaerys), Arrax (Lucerys), Tyraxes (Joffrey), Moondancer (Baela)
- TBD/unclaimed: Seasmoke, Laenor’s dragon, is unclaimed now that he has lost his rider. Is he hanging around Dragonstone? Rhaena is still in search of a dragon.
Who are the Blacks’ and Greens’ key allies?
Both sides appear to have a shadowy figure taking care of some underhanded business. For the Greens, we’ve already seen Larys Strong’s dirty work, killing his own father and brother. Daemon’s former lover, Mysaria, aka the White Worm, seems to have eyes and ears in the castle. Talya, one of the queen’s attendants, is seen visiting her late at night.
On the small council, divisions have emerged. Lord Beesbury, the aging master of coin, is often shown in black. He speaks for Lucerys’ claim for the Driftwood Throne in the eighth episode. Meanwhile, the new master of laws, Jasper Wylde, has shown his leanings, declaring that Corlys Velaryon never officially named Luke his heir. Perhaps he’ll show up at the next meeting — the ninth episode is named “The Green Council,” after all — wearing his true colors, or color.
The show also focuses on Lord Caswell at key moments; he’s the man sent to greet Rhaenyra and Daemon upon their return to King’s Landing (a welcome that befits their station, per Otto Hightower’s order). In an earlier episode, he also congratulates Rhaenyra upon the birth of Joffrey. Let’s put him on Team Black’s side.
The show recently introduced a new set of twins, Ser Erryk and Ser Arryk Cargyll, in an offhand way, with Alicent mistaking one for the other. (The other twins are Jason and Tyland Lannister.) The brothers, both members of the Kingsguard, are indeed meant to be almost indistinguishable, physically. If these brothers end up on opposite sides, we can only imagine the level of deception in store.
The thing about alliances, though? They’re never set in stone.
Which side has more resources and manpower?
Strategically, the Greens are better placed in King’s Landing. They’re the first to know of Viserys’ death, and their central location means they can influence others more readily with face-to-face contact with the lords of the realm. They can also sway the hearts and minds of the masses, whether with carrots or sticks. And the Greens, at the seat of power, have the power of the purse and control over other resources.
However, Rhaerya’s alliance with Rhaenys means the Blacks have Driftmark’s tremendous sea power and wealth at their disposal. And from the earlier part of the season, we know that Daemon created the gold cloaks, the City Watch of King’s Landing, who were devoted to him. It’s been some years, but his influence and charisma are key assets for the Blacks.
What key players for the Blacks and Greens have died so far?
Greens: Vaemond Velaryon
Blacks: Lyonel Strong, Harwin Strong, Laena Targaryen, Laenor Velaryon (he’s alive but likely in Essos; could he come back?)
Wounded: Corlys VelaryonAs for which side will have the edge after Episode Nine? It’s game on.
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