How HOUSE OF THE DRAGON Brought a Major FIRE & BLOOD Battle to Life

House of the Dragon has finally shown why Westeros remembers the first Targaryen civil war as “The Dance of the Dragons.” Season two’s fourth episode brought to life the infamous moment from Fire & Blood when those creatures first fought one another high above the Realm. The Battle at Rook’s Rest was a brutal, terrifying, impressive sequence that was also a mostly faithful adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s in-world history. But the prequel series did make some meaningful changes, and they will have long term ramifications on House of the Dragon.

Spoiler Alert
Criston Cole and Gwayne Hightower in armor and helmets on horseback on House of the Dragon

The Similarities Between House of the Dragon and Fire & Blood‘s “Battle at Rook’s Rest”

House of the Dragon followed the same general story about the “Battle at Rook’s Rest” as told in Fire & Blood. It began when new Hand of the King Criston Cole left behind both King’s Landing and the letter-writing campaign of his predecessor, Otto Hightower, to be Aegon’s “steel fist.”

Cole began by moving his small force swiftly through the Crownlands, the region surrounding King’s Landing, which is also close to Dragonstone. The Lord Commander easily took both the castles Rosby and Stokeworth when their namesake lords swore fealty to King Aegon. Those houses’ forces then joined Cole’s army on the march to Duskendale. There, the “Kingmaker” beheaded Lord Darklyn, who refused to bend the knee. Those at Duskendale who did also joined the new Hand of the King’s army.

Soldiers approaching a castle through the woods on House of the Dragon

Rather than turn his growing army towards the vital Harrenhal, Cole instead marched towards Rook’s Rest, seat of House Staunton. Lord Staunton, a member of Rhaenyra Targaryen’s small council, tried to stay safe inside his castle’s walls. But the attack on Rook’s Rest was nothing more than a ploy. Cole’s real plan was to draw one of Rhaenyra’s dragons into battle. It worked. Princess Rhaenys and her experienced dragon, Meleys, came to the rescue. When she arrived, she bathed many of Cole’s soldiers in dragonflame.

Rhaenys wasn’t alone in the sky for long. She soon found herself facing two dragons, Aegon’s Sunfyre and Aemond’s Vhagar. The brave Rhaenys refused to flee and led Meleys into a fight for their lives. When the civil war’s first dragon dance ended, both Rhaenys and Meleys lay dead, having fallen when Vhagar bit Meleys’ neck.

Vhagar flying above an army on House of the Dragon

It was not a total victory for the Greens. Aegon and Sunfyre also lay greatly wounded on the ground, with both rider and dragon burned and battered.

What House of the Dragon Changed from Fire & Blood‘s “Battle at Rook’s Rest”

King Aegon stands at his table with a Kingsguard knight behind him on House of the Dragon

While not completely inaccurate, Fire & Blood‘s account of the Dance of the Dragon is notoriously unreliable. (Sometimes, in ways we can’t even know that are unknowable or obvious.) That gives House of the Dragon the freedom to tell its own version of the story and fill in gaps without technically “changing” anything. However, the HBO series still made some choices that are clearly different from the history presented in Fire & Blood.

House of the Dragon‘s Aegon Almost Screws Up the Plan

Aegon II riding his golden dragon Sunfyre against a blue sky on House of the Dragon.

One of House of the Dragon‘s biggest changes at Rook’s Rest was Aegon’s role in the battle. The King was not part of Cole’s plan like in Fire & Blood. On the show, the rash, impetuous King, determined to prove his worth to his family and small council, flew off to the invasion alone atop Sunfyre. On House of the Dragon, he forced Cole to call on Aemond and Vhagar much sooner.

This made Cole’s plan on the show less impressive. Having two dragons in hiding is smarter than only one, especially when the Greens had no way of knowing how many dragons Rhaenyra would send. It also changes what we know about Aegon, making him even more of a fool than his book counterpart. But neither of those mean this change was bad or indefensible. It completely fit with the story House of the Dragon is telling about Aegon. He felt weak and unimportant, as his Hand and brother plotted without him. They also had already refused to let him in on their secret plans, as well, lest he interfere needlessly. This scene showed why they were right.

House of the Dragon‘s Aemond Is Not Loyal To His Family

Aemond, who wears an eyepatch, with his hand on his chin sitting on House of the Dragon

Fire & Blood presents the stern, humorless Aemond as ambitious but also fiercely loyal to his family. Book Aemond would seemingly never do anything to harm any member of the Greens, no matter how much he wanted to rule. It’s arguably his best trait and adds immense depth to his character in Fire & Blood.

House of the Dragon‘s “Battle at Rook’s Rest” changed what we thought we knew about Aemond. At best, he was completely reckless with his brother’s life and, at worst, actively tried to kill Aegon. Rather than come to his King’s rescue when Meleys had Sunfyre in her grasp, Aemond had Vhagar shoot fire without worry, endangering Aegon’s life. (The nature of Aegon’s role in this sequence also changed that Fire & Blood says all three dragons fought at once.)

Vhagar flying with his mouth open on House of the Dragon

If there was any doubt Aemond wasn’t worried about saving his brother’s life, it looked as though Aemond was about to finish off either Aegon, Sunfyre, or both on the ground before Cole showed up an stopped him.

Aemond hates his brother (with good reason), and that hatred, combined with his ambition, seemed to push Aemond to a place we didn’t know he could go. He’s still a fascinating, dynamic character, just a different version than Fire & Blood‘s.

Gwayne Hightower Fights at the “Battle at Rook’s Rest”

A bloodied Gwayne Hightower atop his horse on House of the Dragon

House of the Dragon has already greatly changed Ser Gwayne Hightower’s story from Fire & Blood. Alicent’s brother was not at Rook’s Rest that faithful day because he was serving as second-in-command of King’s Landings City Watch at the time. His father installed him in that role at the start of the Dance because the Greens feared the City Watch was still loyal to its former Commander, Daemon Targaryen. Gwayne had also already lived at King’s Landing for many years with his family and new Criston Cole for a long time.

A Quick Attack on Rook’s Rest Instead of a Siege

A green soldier blows a horn on House of the Dragon

Fire & Blood tells us that Criston Cole surrounded Rook’s Rest and burned its nearby fields. Lord Staunton then sent ravens to Dragonstone begging for help. Nine days later Rhaenys arrived alone.

House of the Dragon changed this by having Cole attack the castle immediately. Rhaenyra instead preemptively sent Rhaenys atop Meleys to help her sworn bannerman after her other allies had already falle. However, Rhaenyra sensed something about Cole’s movement didn’t make sense, as Rook’s Rest had little obvious value. Despite her sixth sense, Rhaenyra fell for Cole’s trap, losing the Black’s most valuable dragon.

Rhaenyra Keeps Jace Behind to Tell Him About Aegon the Conqueror’s Dream

Rhaenyra sits while speaking to her son Jace in shadows on House of the Dragon

In Fire & Blood, Rhaenyra prevented her sons Jace and Joffrey (no longer at Dragonstone on the HBO show) from joining Rhaenys out of fear for their lives. The history stresses that the death of Luke and the recent loss of her unborn child made Rhaenyra scared to send her other children into battle.

On House of the Dragon, Rhaenyra kept Jace behind (at least in part) so she could finally tell her heir about Aegon’s prophetic “A Song of Ice and Fire” dream about the inevitable White Walker invasion. She also cited that responsibility as part of her reason for finally unleashing dragons on her enemies, but no one else knows that but her son.

What the “Battle at Rook’s Rest” Means for House of the Dragon

Alicent speaks to a seated Aegon in shadows on House of the Dragon

No matter his reason for being there, Aegon is either dead or badly wounded. That calls into question how many people supporting his claim will still back the Greens now. Alicent’s callousness towards her son also contributed to him flying off into battle, another tragedy she will now have to live with. How much guilt and pain can she withstand?

Meanwhile, Aemond might have just tried to steal the crown (and possibly did), showing he’s not the loyal family member history remembers him as. With little Prince Jaehaerys dead (and the show omitting Aegon’s youngest son Maelor entirely) Aemond would likely be named King if Aegon died. What other treachery is Aemond One-Eye capable of? What might he do to rule? Can anyone trust him if he would willingly maim his own brother and king?

Weeks ahead house of the dragon season two trailer Aemond targaryen

Things are even more dire for Rhaenyra. She lost her wisest adviser and biggest advocate. She also lost her best, most experienced fighting dragon and her allies in the crownlands. Rhaenyra also allowed Rhaenys to go off to battle alone while keeping her son and his dragon safely on Dragonstone. How will Lord Corlys and the rest of the (already frustrated) small council react to this disaster? How much will they trust Rhaenyra’s judgement both as a leader and a person? Where do her loyalties lie? To her sons or to her kingdom?

Rhaenys and Corlys stand before Rhaenyra's small council on House of the Dragon

Who Won the “Battle at Rook’s Rest?”

The Blacks lost the “Battle at Rook’s Rest” in more ways than one. But the Greens did not win that day. Each side suffered losses that will shape the future of the Targaryen civil war on House of the Dragon. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely either faction will learn the one lesson they should have when dragons met high above the Realm, because the dancing has only just begun.

Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist and the world’s leading Criston Cole hater. You can follow him on Twitter and  Bluesky at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.

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