This Week’s Worst Person in Westeros Has to Be the Guy Who Did … Uh … That Khabritak

This Week’s Worst Person in Westeros Has to Be the Guy Who Did … Uh … That Khabritak

House of the Dragon finds a new way to be shocking in its Season 2 premiere.

Welcome back to Worst Person in Westeros! After each episode of House of the Dragon, Slate writers will gather to answer a crucial question: Who is the worst person in Westeros? This week: senior editor Sam Adams and associate writer Nadira Goffe answer the call.

Sam Adams: Well, hello there. A mere 22 months after we convened to choose the worst person on the very first episode of House of the Dragon, here we are again. Even in the streaming era, that’s an awful lot of time to go between seasons, so I chose to do a little experiment and watch the premiere of Season 2 without doing any catch-up. That proved to be a huge mistake. I was immediately confused by the first scene, which takes us back to the familiar courtyard of Winterfell castle and then to the Wall, for a conversation I couldn’t make heads or tails of, between two characters I completely failed to recognize, even with the help of the introductory recap. I subsequently spent enough time with the Dance of the Dragons article on the A Song of Ice and Fire Wiki to suss out what’s going on here, but it does raise a broader issue: How can we pick the worst person in Westeros if we don’t know who any of these people are? So, before we start offering up candidates: Nadira, how was your reintroduction to the world of House of the Dragon?

of the radical abolitionists who gave us the reconstruction amendments.

Nadira Goffe: I attempted to do the same thing and got approximately four minutes in when I realized that I didn’t even remember Young Penn Badgley (aka Harry Collett) was, in fact, Rhaenyra’s son, Jacaerys. So, I did what I always do in these dire situations and navigated to YouTube for a more thorough recap (Man of Recaps, I owe you so much for your years of service to my brain). Now, I’m firmly back—and so is House of the Dragon, which, conveniently, starts right where we left off. It’s been mere days since Aemond accidentally killed Rhaenyra’s youngest son, Lucerys, effectively dashing any chance of avoiding an all-out war of dragonfire and brimstone. Now Rhaenyra is out seeking proof of death while those in her corner make their preparations, and when she finds it, she demands to have Aemond’s head. They already took one eye, what’s one more ( … and the rest of it)? Daemon seeks to fulfill this request while #TeamRhaenyra shores up her allegiances. Meanwhile, at King’s Landing, Alicent is trying to rein in her ne’er-do-well sons who occupy the highest seats of power (great!) while also having some fun with her sidepiece, Ser Criston Cole. Alicent’s father, Otto—who, lest we forget, started this whole beef by setting Alicent and Rhaenyra at odds when they were young—as the Hand to the King, his grandson, is trying to make sure there are no more missteps until the Hightowers are the uncontested rulers of the realm. Aemond is still in denial about his mistake being, well, a huge effing mistake, instead adapting an All’s fair in love and the war that you created, Mom mentality. What I’m saying is: Most everyone in Westeros sucks. I have little to no sympathy for anyone except the grieving Rhaenyra and, most especially, young Jace, who we see find out about his brother’s manslaughter. But the good thing about most everyone sucking is that it leaves plenty of good candidates for worst person in Westeros. I know who I’m thinking, but let’s bat around all of our top suspects for the week. What did you make of Daemon and Aemond this episode? I find them to be two sides of the same coin—it doesn’t help that their names are composed of the same letters—and both exhibited a level of callous dismissal (Daemon, of Rhaenyra’s grief; Aemond, of his past wrongdoings) that was pretty icky, in my opinion.

Adams: Let’s start with Aemond, shall we? He’s the most thoroughly, almost comically, evil of House of the Dragon’s characters, a sneering one-eyed baddie without a single redeeming quality. It’s true that he didn’t mean to kill his nephew, thereby bringing the entire realm to the brink of a terrible conflict; he also doesn’t seem all that broken up about it. But while he might actually be the worst person in Westeros, I don’t think he’s the Worst this week. The worst thing he does is butt into the small council unannounced and make clear that he’s raring to go to war—which is pretty jerky, but nowhere near the truly terrible things he’s obviously capable of. So, thinking strategically, we’d better keep him in reserve until a week where his monstrousness really jumps out.

House of the Dragon Is Finally Starting to Feel Like Its Own Show

I tend to think about Daemon the same way—when someone is so evil all the time, it starts to get a little mundane—although he does hatch a truly terrible plot this week. But before we get to him, let me suggest another candidate from their bloodline: Aemond’s brother, the newly crowned King Aegon. In a way, Aegon is trying his best. The namesake of Aegon the Conqueror, Aegon the second is saddled with the rather less intimidating sobriquet Aegon the Magnanimous, but his generosity is mostly a function of his weakness. (He’s also not the sharpest tool in the shed; he doesn’t even know what “magnanimous” means.) When the commoners approach him with their petitions, his impulse is to give them anything they ask for, but that’s only because he’s more concerned with being liked than being just. His father Viserys may not have been the most imperious of rulers, but he had a moral compass. Aegon seems to take his cues from whoever he’s spoken to last, and we know there’s nothing that King’s Landing’s ambitious climbers love more than an easily swayed monarch. This week, at least, he’s more of a scummy little weasel than an outright terror: All he does is invite a toddler into the small council and humiliate Tyland Lannister when the latter points out that the eve of war is not the best moment for Bring Your Princeling to Work Day. Obnoxious as hell, but I feel like his behavior is mostly a matter of laying the groundwork for future worstness. Where do you come down, Nadira? Who’s your least favorite Targaryen this week?

Goffe: God, if incompetence and annoyance of the sniveling variety are enough to make someone the worst, Aegon would truly win it. Though watching Tyland Lannister become increasingly beset by a toddler with a 613 lace-front 18-inch wig is entertaining, and Aegon is my least favorite Targaryen this week, him simply being the world’s biggest pushover in the world’s biggest seat isn’t enough to make him the “worst.” So that leaves us scrounging for another Westerosi baddie to crown. I’m inclined to vote Otto, but most of his treachery, at this point, is residual. Alicent, hilariously enough, comes off like an exhausted mother just trying to do her best—who among us? I have my eyes on a few characters in the sidelines: To me, the most entertaining schemer is Larys Strong, who proved he was the most indiscriminately vicious by setting up the deaths of his own father and brother last season, but he is barely in this episode. Which brings me to my actual grievance about this show: Plenty of the villains are bad, but barely any of the villains are badass! It’s perhaps in our best interest to get into Daemon’s terrible plot that you spoke of, and consider that maybe this week’s worst person isn’t a Targaryen at all. To satisfy his niece-wife, Daemon plots to kill Aemond by contracting two randos—the quintessential duo of infiltration: the muscle and the navigator—to sneak into the palace and kill the prince. And, well, things don’t go as planned. What do you make of the episode’s big snafu?

Adams: Gotta be honest: I kind of loved it. If memory serves, Daemon has historically been among the more competent, less obviously inbred Targaryens. But he makes a pretty catastrophic error in judgement by assigning an extremely sensitive task to two miscellaneous guttersnipes. (According to the Wiki, they are known in the histories as Blood and Cheese, but here they’re just guys.) Although she’s the one grieving the loss of a son, Rhaenyra has the wisdom and/or restraint to hold back for a minute, gathering both her wits and her forces before deciding on her next move. But Daemon is intent on getting an eye for an eye—or rather, as the episode’s title puts it, “A Son for a Son.” (I guess when Aemond Targaryen is around, best to avoid the subject of eyes altogether.) So he puts on his sneakiest cloak, grabs a bag of gold, and slithers his way into King’s Landing, where he gives Blood, who’s essentially a disgraced ex-cop, and Cheese, a professional rat catcher, what seems like a simple enough task: Sneak into the palace, find the blond guy with an eyepatch, and kill him.

Simple and, as vengeance goes, pretty direct. But you get what you pay for, and a fistful of coins is not enough for a royal assassination done right. Daemon’s new hires are sharp enough to sneak into the palace undetected, but not to keep track of who it is they’re supposed to be murdering. Stumbling into the room occupied by Helaena, Aegon’s wife (and, lest we forget, also his sister), they come upon his young children, and, remembering only that the blond guy with the bag of gold said something about a son, proceed to decapitate 6-year-old Jaehaerys as proof of a job well done.

I love both the viciousness and the randomness of this act. Game of Thrones was a show about schemers, elaborate plots and counterplots that revealed themselves only in the moment just before a poor unfortunate got his throat slit or his dead sons served up in a piping-hot pie. But House of the Dragon is more about unintended consequences, the terrible things that happen when you put weapons of mass destruction in the hands of people with a bottomless sense of entitlement and insufficient genetic diversity. Daemon’s scheme is a crude and rash one, but it’s enough to deprive the king of his male heir and push the realm that much closer to all-out war. (The fact that a kingdom on high alert doesn’t have a single guard stationed outside the queen’s bedroom is a plot convenience on the level of “Dany kind of forgot about the Iron Fleet,” but we’ll let it slide.) Not since Tywin Lannister got crossbowed on the commode has a royal suffered such an ignominious end. Royal blood is all well and good, but it won’t protect you from getting your throat slit by the lowest of the low.

I feel like we’ve narrowed it down to a two-way contest. So, what say you, Nadira? Is the worst Blood, or is it Cheese? 

Goffe: I’m right there with you, Sam. I found the final moments of the episode really so stupid—but after I thought about it some more, I realized how narratively delicious of a moment it is. The most torturous thing about the ending, besides the gruesome nature of the acts themselves, is that it locked me in to keep watching a show I have been on the fence about since it began. When Daemon hires the two sneaks to kill Aemond, Cheese asks him point blank: “Well, what if we can’t find him?” Daemon gives a pointed look that is up to our interpretation, but reads, to me, as “Find him or else.” With that bit of foreshadowing, it was almost funny watching those two bicker about who they’re supposed to kill (until it became decidedly not funny). However, Daemon possibly made a mistake offscreen (well, beyond trusting these two), which is uttering the words “a son for a son.” If Daemon did say that to Blood and Cheese—which are hilarious names when compared to the havoc they will wreak—then Daemon gets docked another point for not making it clear that the deal is for a specific son, and that son only.

I love your distinction between the two shows, a distinction that, in House of the Dragon’s case, is proven by the fact that the show seems to reach new heights with its “d’oh!” moments. What is also interesting to me about this specific violence is it points at the underlying commonality between nearly all of House’s players: their childish nature. The rift between Rhaenyra and Alicent started and persisted because of childish grudges, Daemon and Aemond can’t help but act brashly on impulse, Aegon has all of the motivations of a spoiled brat, and all of the children vying for claim to the throne are acting on feuds that literally started on their version of the schoolyard playground—but have since, of course, grown fatal. Every move they strive to make is undermined by the naïveté of themselves or of whomever they trust to do the dirty work for them, and the shirking of duty itself does not bode well for maturity. At the end of the day, this is a group of people who cannot, for the life of them, get their shit together, but they want so much more and much more fiercely than any of Game of Thrones’ players did at the start. So of course the ball gets fumbled at the most crucial moment. Now, it’s not a war of loyalty and duty, of rules and dying wishes and prophecies, but one purely of revenge—which is even more destructive, as vengeance across generations has no clear end. But you asked a good question: Which of the two dastardly infiltrators who beheaded a toddler is the worst one? I think we have to go with Blood, who is the one of the two that actually carried out the horrific act.

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