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House of the Dragon’s hilarious decapitation punctuated one of the show’s most intense scenes

Heads rolled in King’s Landing this week. Literally

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Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen standing with his hands folded atop a cane in House of the Dragon Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO
Pete Volk (he/they) is Polygon’s Senior Curation Editor, with a particular love for action and martial arts movies.

Sunday’s House of the Dragon was a standout episode for HBO’s new Thrones show, turning the dial of court intrigue all the way to 11. There was the usual succession drama, old rivals facing off for the first time in years, and an unexpectedly funny decapitation.

You know, the usual.

[Ed. note: Major spoilers follow for episode 8 of House of the Dragon.]

In the episode a petition has been called for who will inherit Driftmark from Corlys Velaryon, who apparently suffered a nasty wound in the Stepstones. This petition was organized by Queen Alicent and her father, Hand of the King Ser Otto Hightower, and quite a few potential heirs were ready to have their case made.

One of those heirs was Corlys’ younger brother, Vaemond. Vaemond, played with scene-stealing intensity by Wil Johnson, has a particularly inflammatory case, since it relies upon the illegitimacy of Princess Rhaenyra’s children, a hot-button topic for the show and the court.

Vaemond, like others, was expecting to make his case before Queen Alicent and Ser Otto. He did, but shortly after, King Viserys, sporting a sick gold face mask, makes a surprise appearance on the Iron Throne. When he instantly shuts down the proceedings, pointing out that this is a decided issue and he has already decreed Rhaenyra his heir (and her children the heir to Driftmark), this enrages Vaemond.

Vaemond not only challenges the king’s right to make such decisions, he out-and-out calls Rhaenyra’s children bastards and the princess herself a “whore.” Viserys responds, “I will have his tongue for that!” and, sure enough, his brother Daemon (now Rhaenyra’s consort, who had practically begged Vaemond for the opportunity to kill him) lops off Vaemond’s head from behind.

Vaemond’s body collapses on the ground, and the camera is angled in such a way that we see the open top of his now exposed neck hole — showing his still-wagging tongue and not much else. Daemon, in typical wisecracking fashion, retorts, “He can keep his tongue.”

It’s a brutally hilarious action beat that efficiently breaks the edge-of-your-seat tension of the scene with a visual punchline sandwiched by jokes in the dialogue. And the fact that the show was bold enough to pair the decapitation with a punchline shot from the camera took it from vicious to transcendently funny. The guy is wagging his tongue at the king and is reduced to simply a wagging tongue. That’s gold, folks.

The humor of the moment is also significantly aided by Daemon’s whole deal. Matt Smith is at his best as an imp. We’ve seen it in House of the Dragon, and we even saw it in Morbius when he dances in his apartment. Here, he’s able to bring that energy to the darker world of Thrones, goading a potential enemy into saying just the right thing to allow him to commit murder without any blowback, all with a wicked smile on his face as he practically begs Vaemond to Go There. Thank the gods he did, because it delivered one of the most memorable moments of the show’s run thus far.

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