Dreams didn’t make us kings. Dragons did.Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith), House of the Dragon
In this post, we will analyze House of the Dragon finale, ‘The Black Queen’, from the point of view of its structure. As a television show, one episode has many storylines (A, B, C, D) so we’ll only consider the central one. Again, which character is attached to that storyline/plot? Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, or should I say… Queen Rhaenyra, a.k.a. The Black Queen.
Possibly, one of the questions that stops screenwriters from actual writing is “Where do I start?” As you may have heard, every writer is different. However, every story starts with a character and, in Scott Myers’ words (We highly recommend The Protagonist’s Journey. An Introduction to Character-Driven Screenwriting and Storytelling or his blog), “Character drives plot.”
Consequently, we’ll breakdown the episode in Rhaenyra’s journey from Princess to a Queen that is willing to go to war after her son Lucerys’ murder.
You can watch a recap of the episode with the structure points marked here:
House of the Dragon Structure Analysis: ‘The Black Queen’
Unlike other TV series, House of the Dragon doesn’t include a teaser before the opening credits, except for the introduction done in ‘The Heirs of the Dragon’ (episode 01). Executive producer Ryan Condal justifies that opening teaser as a way to let the audience into the prequel.
In the opening scene from the finale, Rhaenyra convinces Lucerys of his duty as the future Lord of Driftmark. While Lucerys is in a state of refusal, the audience understands Rhaenyra’s full acceptance of her duty.
This scene is critical for both of them:
- Lucerys’ character introduction in the episode as young, inexperienced and self-doubt.
- Luke is a mirror of Rhaenyra’s past self. In this way, the audience becomes aware of her character arc throughout the season.
For that reason, this opening scene will have an impact a payoff at the end of the episode and it’s not just exposition, as Lajos Egri wrote in The Art of Dramatic Writing: “Exposition itself is part of the whole play, and not simply a fixture to be used at the beginning and then discarded.”
Princes Rhaenys arrives at Dragonstone and tells Princess Rhaenyra and Daemon about Viserys’ death and Aegon II’s coronation. The news provokes Rhaenyra’s miscarriage.
This important event sets the episode in motion and every character must react in a different way:
- Rhaenyra: she feels fear, sadness and fury; note that this information means the death of his father and the betrayal of who she thought to be a friend once, Queen Alicent. All those feelings combined provokes the miscarriage, the turning point of the scene.
- Daemon: he feels fury and he takes it out with Rhaenys as she has safely returned from King’s Landing without yielding to Aegon II.
- Rhaenys: she wants to be seen as impartial in this matter, but later on we will come to understand that she wants to see Rhaenyra’s reaction so that she will finally support her claim.
Plot Point I
After the baby’s funeral, Erik Cargill arrives at Dragonstone and gives Princess Rhaenyra Jaehaerys’ crown. Then, she’s crowned as the Black Queen in front of all the funeral’s attendees.
Scott Myers describe four stages in a character’s journey: Disunity, Deconstruction, Reconstruction and Unity. In this scene, Rhaenyra is at the lowest point of her journey and being crowned enables her true nature to emerge; as Emma D’Arcy puts it, she’s stepping into the shoes of a leader.
While Rhaenyra and her court are discussing their plans, Otto Hightower arrives to offer her a deal. Rhaenyra wants to take it into consideration, showing restraint, but Daemon strangles her after hearing about Aegon the Conqueror’s Dream, a prophecy which Viserys didn’t tell him while being named heir to the Iron Throne.
Both of these event are raising the stakes in Rhaenyra’s path:
- Otto’s offer translates into a dilemma, a sort of way out: Should she trust him and obey Aegon II or should she consider the Hightowers traitors and start a civil war?
- Daemon’s violence against her a core aspect of his psyche. However, she seems to understand his anger and she has finally realized that she was the true heir for her father as King Viserys didn’t pass the prophecy to Daemon.
The midpoint is essential to the structure as it creates more conflict.
Plot Point II
A recovered Lord Corlys attends the Council and shows Rhaenyra his support. Rhaenyra wants to know who her allies are before sending them to war, so she sends her sons on dragonback to be quicker.
This event prepares the audience for the climax and reveals some major aspects of the characters:
- Rhaenyra’s way of ruling with restraint (against Daemon’s thinking), but will it be effective?
- Jacaerys and Lucerys’ willpower and commitment to their mother’s claim, but will they achieve what they want?
Again, it raises the stakes and creates questions for the audience about what’s going to happen next.
The Plot Points at the end of Acts I and II are there to hook in the action and spin it around in another direction. (…) move [the story] to its dramatic resolution.Syd Field (Screenplay. The Foundations of Screenwriting)
After Lucerys’ failure to convince the Lord of Storm’s because his uncle Aemond’s better conditions, he is chased by Vhagar/Aemond and killed by them.
This scene shows us several dynamics at work in the series:
- In House of the Dragon, we are dealing with a family drama in essence (a self-destruction of family), so what seems to be an uncle-nephew game (in the context of Westeros) ends up with a dragon killing one of them.
- The characters can’t control their dragons. They are animals and our guess is this dynamic will have major impact in the coming seasons.
- A turning point in Aemond’s journey which leaves the audience with questions such as: how will he deal with it? Will he confess it proudly or not? Will he embrace his inner darker self after this?
Daemon tells Rhaenyra the sad news and she seems to have decided to go to war.
This final turning point in the scene in which the audience is able to see Rhaenyra’s season arc (from a Princess who doesn’t want the crown to a ruling Queen) is solved with an effective technique: breaking the fourth wall. Rhaenyra looks straight to the camera, to us, and cut to black. The audience understands that stare as her choice of going to war.
Useful tips from House of the Dragon
What have we learned from this analysis and how can it improve our own writing?
- Think of this structure, does it work? How can you drive the plot in order to express your story to its fullest?
- The mirror dynamic of Lucerys-Rhaenyra could be very interesting in your own writing.
- If you’re writing a TV script, consider a character board before structuring your episode:
- Place all the characters that appear in the episode in both vertical and horizontal axis of the table.
- Fill each cell according to their actions towards the other character.
|Rhaenyra||X||Talks him into thinking first before going to war.|
Discovers that Viserys didn’t tell him about Aegon’s Dream.
|Daemon||Tries to convince her to act quickly by using all their dragons, also the ones without riders.|
Hears about Aegon’s Dream and strangles Rhaenyra