Before Prince Daemon accepts a marriage proposal from his niece, Princess Rhaenyra, in episode 7 of House of the Dragon, he gifts her a bit of wisdom about Targaryen rule: “If the King isn’t feared, he is powerless.” He continues, “If you are to be a strong queen, you must cultivate love and respect, yes, but your subjects must fear you.”
This is central to Daemon’s worldview in Dragon, the explanation for much of his frustration with the late King Viserys I, his older brother and constant childhood companion. In Daemon’s eyes, Viserys was beloved but weak, too fond of dreams to face the reality of the power at his fingertips. When Balerion the Black Dread died, Viserys never mounted another such beast, while Daemon continued to ride the Blood Wyrm Caraxes for decades to follow. Viserys believed in prophecy; Daemon believes in dragons.
And so it comes to pass that, midway through Dragon’s finale, a newly crowned Queen Rhaenyra confronts her husband for preparing for combat against her orders. “I should declare war because I’m angry?” she asks, vexed by him undermining her first few hours as Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms.
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“You know my oath reaches beyond our personal ambitions,” she adds, staring meaningfully into his eyes, where she discovers no flicker of recognition. “A Song of Ice and Fire,” she clarifies, to which the prince replies, “What?”
She and Daemon both realize, then, that King Viserys never opted to share with his brother—and one-time heir—the prophecy of the Song of Ice and Fire, which portends a Targaryen must sit upon the Iron Throne in order to unite the realm against the threat in the north. Daemon sees this omission as a condemnation; Viserys never trusted him. Despite Daemon’s aptitude for depravity, Dragon has roundly established that the younger of the brothers loved the older deeply, and so yearned for the closeness and legitimacy of a place at the king’s right hand. The confirmation that Viserys never considered Daemon worthy of that position? It’s a crushing blow, especially after Daemon has suffered the recent losses of both his brother and child. To see Rhaenyra behave and reason like Viserys adds insult to injury.
Of course, that emotion does little to justify the violence of what happens next. Furious, Daemon grips Rhaenyra’s throat in his hand and squeezes, so tightly she’s forced to claw at his hands for breath. Viserys “was a slave to his omens and portents,” he warns. “Dreams didn’t make us kings. Dragons did.” When finally he releases her, Daemon’s face loses its ferocity—he appears almost startled by what he’s done—but not its gravity. And Rhaenyra, gasping, is not so easily cowed. “He never told you, did he?” she asks, and smiles.
These events serve as essential context for what takes place a few scenes later: Daemon serenades the great dragon Vermithor. Once the mount of the Old King Jaeherys I, Daemon and Viserys’ grandfather, Vermithor is described as “the Bronze Fury” in Fire & Blood, the book from which House of the Dragon is adapted. In the finale, a fresh-from-marital-conflict Daemon approaches this beast within the Dragonmont, where he sings a High Valyrian tune whose translation we don’t know.
Vermithor welcomes the Targaryen prince’s presence with a blast of fire, but Daemon’s exact intentions in the Dragonmont remain unclear. Does he wish to claim Vermithor as his own mount? If so, the move would be unprecedented. Daemon already rides the dragon Caraxes, and in recorded Westerosi history Targaryens have never bonded with more than one dragon at a time. We don’t even know if it’s possible for Daemon to claim another dragon, and if he somehow succeeds, it would be received as a remarkable act of hubris.
What we do know is that Daemon wishes to secure Vermithor’s allegiance to Rhaenyra’s cause (even if he won’t ride the enormous dragon himself). And yet the scene in the Dragonmont seems intended as more of a symbolic development than a narrative one. In Vermithor’s giant, glowing eye, Daemon sees himself reflected. The prince believes that Targaryens are indeed more gods than men, and that is—as both Viserys and Rhaenyra state at different moments during Dragon’s first season—thanks to their dragons. But while Viserys and Rhaenyra treat these dragons with the trepidation of nuclear codes, Daemon views them as allies, perhaps even servants, weapons of a centuries-old marriage steeped in mutual power. An avid reader of Targaryen histories, Daemon is familiar with the dragon wars of yore and recognizes the dragon wars to come. He sees Aegon II’s usurpation for what it is: an invitation to a war that cannot be fought without dragons.
But if Rhaenyra is cautious, Daemon is headstrong. Like Aemond—the Targaryen son so clearly designed in Daemon’s image—he believes his relationship with a dragon is one of strategy. It’s a marriage of equals. A prophecy won’t place a Targaryen upon the Iron Throne; fire and blood will. Caraxes has long proven loyal to his rider, and Vermithor would do the same. Still, they might beg to differ on who’s really in control.
Lauren Puckett-Pope is an associate editor at ELLE, where she covers film, TV, books and fashion.