House Of The Dragon Just Suddenly And Tragically Dodged A Happy Ending

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

If fantasy stories involving characters foretelling the future have taught us anything, it's that prophecies are usually bad news. At their best, they inspire tyrants like Lord Voldemort to bring about their own downfall. But most of the time, they spur would-be decent people like Macbeth and Anakin Skywalker to embrace their worst impulses, transforming them into the very kind of oppressors they once put their life on the line to defeat. So of course "House of the Dragon," a show about the collapse of House Targaryen over the 200 years leading up to "Game of Thrones," should miss its best shot at a happy ending thanks to a prophecy.

The series' latest episode kicks off with a "Previously on..." that recaps King Viserys' (Paddy Considine) conversation with a young Rhaenyra about "The Song of Ice and Fire" and the vision Aegon the Conqueror had of the White Walkers bringing about the end of the world unless there's a Targaryen to unite and lead humanity against them. It acts as the Sword of Damocles hanging over the rest of the hour. You just know this scene, which took place two decades prior in the show's timeline, is going to come into play at some point, yet you dread the moment it does, realizing there's no way it will mean anything but trouble for the most dysfunctional family in Westeros.

Sure enough, this tidbit doesn't come up until the episode is winding down after the most awkward family dinner this side of the Roys' Thanksgiving festivities on "Succession" or maybe Leatherface putting on supper in "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" (honestly, it's a close tie). And when it does, the outcome is pretty dang devastating.

A long-awaited mending of the bridge

With death not so much knocking at his door as actively removing the door's hinges, Viserys tries one last time to get his House in order before he passes on, gathering his extended family and lecturing them at a sumptuous feast in the Red Keep. Even after it all goes sideways thanks to Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) and Aemond (Ewan Mitchell), it seems as though the now grown-up Princess Rhaenyra (Emma D'Arcy) and Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke) are, at long last, ready to mend the bridge between them. The pair give each other earnest toasts during dinner and even pause to talk one-on-one after their kids mess things up, vowing to try and work out their differences all the same.

Rhaenyra and Alicent's efforts at rekindling their relationship would risk falling flat if it weren't for D'Arcy and Cooke, both of whom have proven incredibly adept at saying a lot with but a few lines of dialogue. They're also equally skilled at bringing out the hidden meaning of their words. As much as they excel in the scenes where their characters are being quietly spiteful or scornful towards each other, they garner our sympathy in this episode. It makes us believe that Rhaenyra and Alicent not only genuinely yearn to be close once more but are starting to understand just how much the show's patriarchial setting is responsible for the animosity that has festered between them over time.

The downfall that was promised

No sooner have Rhaenyra and Alicent both offered and accepted their respective olive branches than Viserys, well-intentioned as ever, allows himself one final screw-up. While lying on his literal deathbed, the king mistakes Alicent for Rhaenyra and answers the question she posed to him earlier in the episode about Aegon's (the Conqueror, not Viserys and Alicent's utter horror of a kid) prophecy and The Prince That Was Promised. With no context and having little reason to think he means a different Aegon (royal folk, this is why you don't keep using the same names over and over), Alicent assumes he's he talking about their Aegon and that his dying wish is for their son to assume the Iron Throne instead of Rhaenyra.

Once you get past the urge to make a sad trombone sound (like "Succession," morbid humor and gut-wrenching drama often walk hand in hand on "House of the Dragon"), you realize just how brutal and tragic this turn of events truly is. In his last few minutes of life, in what he thinks is an act of love that will save his family, Viserys dooms House Targaryen to civil war by ensuring Alicent will refuse to support Rhaenyra's claim to the throne, believing this is not what her late husband wanted. Alicent's tragic flaw has long been her need to convince herself she is walking the righteous path no matter the cost (and even when some part of her knows this is a lie), and it's about to rear its head in the worst way.

But maybe we all should've seen this coming the instant Viserys told Rhaenyra about "The Song of Ice and Fire." Once again, prophecies mean nothing but trouble.

New episodes of "House of the Dragon" air Sundays on HBO.