House Of The Dragon's Awkward Family Dinner Is Everything That Makes The Show So Good

This post contains spoilers for "House of the Dragon" episode 8.

Be they celebrating a wedding or mourning the death of a relative, you can always count on the Targaryens to make an absolute mess of their House's gatherings. That goes double for their family dinners, like the one in the latest episode of "House of the Dragon." It's an extended sequence that encapsulates the pleasures of season 1, combining incredibly nuanced acting with dark comedy, first-rate visual effects, and tension so thick it could sit on the Iron Throne and walk away with nary a scratch. For a fleeting moment, it even sees those silver-haired royals genuinely happy to be drinking wine and breaking bread with their in-laws.

After yet another time jump (this one spanning six years), "House of the Dragon" finds King Viserys (Paddy Considine) on the brink of death. By this point, the model-loving ruler looks less like a person and more like a rotting corpse trying to pass itself off as one of the living. His wife Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke) and her father Otto (Rhys Ifans), the Hand to the King, are one step away from parading the groaning, wheezing Viserys and his emaciated body around "Weekend at Bernie's" style to convince his entourage their king is still the one in charge and not them. It's grimly funny yet deeply tragic.

In spite of all this, his daughter Rhaenyra's (Emma D'Arcy) return to King's Landing is enough to propel Viserys into sitting on the Iron Throne one last time and settling the matter of the most-likely-dying Lord Corlys Velaryon's heir to Driftmark. Some arguing and an impromptu decapitation later (just another day in the Red Keep...), Viserys has his entire family gather for dinner, which is where the fun really begins.

Can't we all just get along?

Viserys, making a last-ditch effort at healing his deeply fractured House, kicks off the feast by begging those closest to him to let go of the grudges and resentment they've been clinging to these past many years (even decades in some cases). As he does, the scene jumps from a close-up of one actor to the next, giving much of the show's cast the chance to say a whole lot with little more than a slight crease of the mouth or narrowing of the eyes. It's not at all clear how his speech will go over at first. The adults in the room are all far too practiced at striking a poker face to betray their true emotions, while the kids (more specifically the boys) are all too immature to appreciate the full gravity of the situation.

There's a lot that might've gone wrong in this scene, starting with the digital effects used to remove one of Considine's eyes and make Viserys look like the Phantom of the Opera (complete with a gold mask that covers the more damaged half of his face). Then there are the performances, all of which have to be understated enough to leave you wondering if everyone's about to leap out of their chairs and begin trying to stab one another or start proclaiming their mea culpas. On top of all that, there's the tone, which has to hit that sweet spot between making you want to laugh at how determined these very privileged, deeply petty people are to destroy each other while also getting you to hope against all hope they may yet find a way to work things out.

And it would've worked, too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!

Shockingly, Viserys' desperate call for unity almost works. Both Rhaenyra and Alicent make heartfelt toasts in recognition of all that the other has sacrificed and suffered for their loved ones, and even take the first steps in years (at least 16, by my count) at actually repairing the tender, intimate relationship they once had. Even Rhaenyra's kids make a valiant effort to keep the peace with their cousins, even as Viserys and Alicent's garbage fire of a son Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) — who adds "rapist" to the list of his terrible monikers this week — does his best to provoke a fight with them. For a few brief moments, the camera cuts from one person to the next carrying on joyfully, as though it, too, is amazed at what's going on.

If it sounds too good to last, that's because it is. No sooner does Aemond (Ewan Mitchell), now bearing a patch over his damaged eye, feign at making his own earnest toast before he not-so-subtly alludes to his cousins' secret heritage, causing a fight to break out and ending the set piece on a foreboding note. But such is "House of the Dragon" at its finest. It offers you a glimpse of the happier future that might've been, had the Targaryens and their kin actually taken the time to work out their issues, before snatching it away and reminding us yet again: House Targaryen has always been and always will be its own worst enemy.

New episodes of "House of the Dragon" air Sunday evenings on HBO.