Why it matters when the king is cut from the iron throne in 'House of the Dragon'

Attention: This post contains spoilers for the first episode of Season 1 of The house of the dragon

The Iron Throne was a powerful symbol in Game of Thrones. But The house of the dragon elevates the seat of swords to an even higher level of prominence. Unlike scattered Throneswhich followed the stories of several prominent families in Westeros, The house of the dragon takes place almost entirely in King’s Landing. The more focused series sets its sights on one clan: the Targaryens.

When the show begins, King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) has no heir apparent. His only child is a girl, Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy), and his council doesn’t believe Viserys’ scheming brother Damon (Matt Smith) is fit to rule. Although Viserys’ wife is carrying a baby boy and a potential heir, both baby and mother die in a rather traumatic childbirth at the end of the first episode.

Read more: What you need to know about The house of the dragon Before you watch Game of Thrones Background

Damon upsets the king by toasting the death of the nephew who would have stood in the way of Damon becoming king himself. While reprimanding his brother, Viserys cuts his finger on the Iron Throne. It seems like a small moment, but it carries heavy symbolic meaning: In the mythology of A Song of Fire and Icethe series of books by George RR Martin on which Game of Thrones is based, the Iron Throne can judge character and reject kings it deems unfit.

Here’s what you need to know about the Iron Throne story and why cutting off Viserys’ finger is a major plot point in the series.

How the Iron Throne came to be

Matt Smith as Damon Targaryen and Millie Alcock as Rhaenyra Targaryen in The house of the dragon

Ollie Upton – HBO

When Aegon Targaryen conquered and united the Seven Kingdoms, he built himself a formidable throne made from the weapons of his vanquished enemies. The Iron Throne is not a comfortable seat. It is full of jagged edges and anyone resting on it must be careful not to make sudden movements or risk injury or even death.

That’s the point. Aegon believed that a king “should never sit still”. Like Game of Thrones teach ussitting on the throne is a dangerous proposition.

A Brief History of the Kings Fell from the Iron Throne

The people of Westeros believed that when the throne cut off a king or queen, it was a sign that the seat of power was rejecting the monarch, deeming them unfit to rule.

Targaryen ancestor Maegor the Cruel—a monstrous ruler who killed his own brother Aenys to claim the kingdom—was found bloodied and dead in his throne room, cut by the sharp edges of the Iron Throne. (Or so the legend goes: Some suspect that Maegor was killed.)

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Daenerys Targaryen’s father, Aerys II, known as the Mad King, was cut so many times that he earned another nickname: King Scab. “Yet the blades tormented him, the ones he could never escape, the blades of the Iron Throne,” wrote George RR Martin in Feast of the Crowsbook in his A Song of Fire and Ice books on which Game of Thrones was based. “His hands and feet were always covered in scabs and half-healed cuts.”

Most importantly, the characters in Martin’s stories tend to hurt themselves in the chair in moments of intense emotion. Joffrey sustains an injury to the throne in a moment of rage. “A man calls defiantly, and Joffrey has Ser Illyn lead him away for execution,” Martin writes. “Another man jumps in and calls Joffrey a monster that must be destroyed. Joffrey becomes agitated and calls for the man’s death, cutting himself on the Iron Throne in the process.

Read more: Your ultimate guide to binge watching anyone Game of Thrones Episode

Sitting on the throne requires a certain calm temperament, but it also requires firmness. In the books, Tyrion Lannister worries that Daenerys will take him before he comes into his power. “If Daenerys is nothing more than a sweet young girl,” he says, “the Iron Throne will cut her into sweet young pieces.”

What could Viserys’ injury portend? The house of the dragon

Paddy Considine as King Viserys and Cian Brooke as Queen Aema The house of the dragon

Ollie Upton – HBO

in The house of the dragon Viserys cuts his flesh just as he banishes his brother Damon from King’s Landing. A dejected Viserys, having just lost both his wife and son, responds to his brother’s prodding with emotion rather than rationality, and suffers the consequences.

While Viserys is not as cruel as Maegor or Aerys II or Joffrey, he is indecisive and meek. As his brother Damon is quick to point out, Viserys may not be suited to the responsibilities of ruling. The Iron Throne seems to agree.

Read more: The definitive guide to Game of Thrones Family tree

As various Targaryens vie for a seat on the Iron Throne, watch closely as the seat reacts to its future occupants.

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Write to Eliana Docterman c eliana.dockterman@time.com.

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