The creators of House Of The Dragon really beefed it when they didn’t name this show Game Of Dads. Because so far, that’s what it is: everyone’s dads (and some potential future dads) making dicey choices that their sons and daughters—but mostly daughters—are forced to live with. (As the poet Philip Larkin once wrote, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad.”)
But first: crabs! (The ocean kind, not the sex kind.) Greg Yaitanes’ camera pans across a beach littered with waterlogged bodies. A plague of crabs swarms across the living and the dead, clawing at flesh, feasting like piranhas. I’m pretty sure real-life crustaceans can’t do this, but, y’know, Westeros. It’s the remnants of an invasion from a Myrish pirate simply referred to as “the Crabfeeder.” This is part of the slow conquest of the Stepstones, a chain of islands off the coast of Dorne, that Lord Corlys warned the Small Council about last week, though it fell on deaf ears.
The Master of Ships tells the council the dire news, but King Viserys and his other lords are more concerned with matters closer to home: the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard has died, and they need to find a new recruit. It’s been half a year since Viserys named his daughter Rhaenyra his heir, but she’s still only a cupbearer at the Small Council meetings. I’m pretty sure a male heir to the Iron Throne wouldn’t be forced to serve as a glorified waiter, but, again, Westeros gonna Westeros.
Viserys isn’t interested in going to war, but his daughter sees the threat her father can’t: The princess proposes sending dragon riders—led, of course, by her—to push back the marauders. The king is basically like, “Oh, honey. Maybe you can go help Otto go pick a new member of the Kingsguard, K?”
Meanwhile, the rowdy Prince Daemon has been allowed to run roughshod since he lost his heirhood, taking the Targaryen seat of Dragonstone for himself in the company of the Goldcloaks of the City Watch, who he’s brought along with him. As his brother will say later, Viserys is kind of bad at this whole king thing!
Rhaenyra goes off to choose a new member of the Kingsguard, passing over sons of houses that Otto Hightower whispers they need to forge alliances with in favor of Ser Criston Cole. He’s the only one with any experience in battle, and he’s a stone-cold babe to boot.
Dear old dad is gravely tackling important matters of state, by which I mean that he is playing with his Legos. He’s showing Alicent Hightower his model of the capital of Old Valyria, telling her all about the history of the ruined island where the Targaryens hail from. Along the way, he slips and accidentally breaks his favorite dragon action figure. Later, she’ll return it to him as a gift, newly mended, a gesture that may have ultimately solidified the king’s decision at the end of the episode.
There’s a palpable tension between Viserys and Alicent, who has probably been sleeping with the king in the six months since the queen died and who, I cannot emphasize enough, is 15 years old. It’s one thing for the show to acknowledge that this kind of thing was commonplace in the medieval times Martin’s series is based on; it’s quite another for it to focus on the flirtation between a teenager and a man in his mid-50s. Game Of Thrones walked a fine line between showing and mentioning the ickiest parts of the Westerosi world, with mixed results. But the writers of House Of The Dragon are doing something extremely gross: trying to have their cake and eat it too by portraying this relationship that is, frankly, grooming in a way that makes it seem almost appealing.
Alicent is no fool: She plays her cards with both the king and her BFF Rhaenyra with Margaery Tyrell-esque cunning. At Viserys’ urging, she convinces the princess to talk to her father, as the two have been distant ever since Aemma’s death. Her continuing role as Rhaenyra’s confidante will make Rhaenyra feel even more betrayed later on.
But this is all to come. First, Lord Corlys and his wife, the could-have-been-queen Rhaenys, have a proposition for the king: That he should marry their daughter Laena Velaryon and unite the two most powerful houses of Old Valyria. On one hand, it would be a canny political match; on the other, Laena is a literal child, and is also Viserys’ niece—not that this kind of thing has ever bothered a Targaryen before. He takes a walk with her through the gardens while she asks about dragons, who she’s into in the way a modern kid might love My Little Ponies. It’s a skin-crawling display, the old man and the small child considering marriage; but fortunately, Viserys thinks so too.
It’s not Rhaenys’ only machination this episode. She finds her niece Rhaenyra and drops some hard truths: Her father will remarry, he will eventually have a male heir, and he’ll rescind his promise to name her as his successor. “That is the order of things,” Rhaenys hisses. This proto-Cersei isn’t wrong, and it spurs Rhaenyra to action. No more cup-bearing for her.
Then comes the episode’s main event, which of course concerns Daemon. He’s stolen a precious dragon egg out from under Viserys’ nose to put in the cradle of his child—one he claims he’s having with Mysaria, the low-born paramour he announces that he intends to take as his second wife. Adding insult to injury, this was the egg that was intended for Baelon, Viserys’ stillborn would-be heir.
This act of defiance finally spurs the king into action. He intends to go to Dragonstone to take back the egg, reclaim the castle, and disband Daemon’s men. Otto steps up and says he’ll go instead, because he fears for the king’s life if he got that close to his bellicose little brother. Rhaenyra says she’s going too, but Viserys shoots her down.
All of this culminates in a very talky episode’s most thrilling set piece: a fog-shrouded standoff between Otto and Daemon, their respective retinue behind them, on the bridge leading to Dragonstone. The scene is gorgeously lit and tense as hell, as Daemon casually tosses the egg in his hand as if it were nothing more than a football. Mysaria’s pregnancy was a bluff, of course—one Daemon didn’t even bother to tell her about. After she walks off, swords are drawn and the prince pulls out his trump card: his giant red dragon, oozing over the battlements. But then Rhaenyra breaks through the fog astride her own dragon, doing a loop around the bridge before landing and approaching her uncle with all the proud gravitas of Daenerys.
The two speak in Valyrian, a testament to the pride each takes in their roots—the thing they have most in common. “I’m right here, uncle,” she says, “the object of your ire.” She calls his bluff: Kill her now and claim the throne he so desperately wants. But it’s obvious in Daemon’s eyes that Rhaenyra may be the only person in the world that he loves and admires. So he hands her the dragon egg and wordlessly returns to his keep. Matt Smith and Milly Alcock both do a stellar job here, matching each other ego for ego, having whole conversations with only their eyes. House Of The Dragon desperately needs more scenes like this, because right now it’s 85-percent courtly machinations, and it’s getting boring.
Viserys finally has a heart-to-heart with his daughter, admitting that he loved and misses her mother desperately. Her dad doing the most basic fathering possible endears Rhaenyra to him. He adds that he must name a wife, but that no matter what, she’ll always be his heir. Thinking he means Laena, she gives her his blessing. So everything will be chill, right?
After a private consultation with Master of Laws Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes), whom Viserys considers to be a neutral party in his choice of wife, the king calls a Small Council meeting—approximately the 90th of this episode—to announce his choice. As viewers could easily guess, it’s Alicent and not Laena. Corlys is thunderously angry, Otto is quietly pleased, and Rhaenyra walks out in tears. I guess it’s better that he marries a teenager instead of a full child? But either way, ugh.
It turns out to be, unsurprisingly, a disastrous political move for Viserys—because back in his castle on Driftmark, Lord Corlys is holding his own private meeting and reminding us why his nickname is the Sea Snake. It’s Daemon, of course, the only noble we’ve seen who’s even more into war than Corlys. As the two of them sit in high armchairs in the firelight, the Sea Snake proposes a plan: Daemon should ally with him to take down the raiders from the Free Cities, the king’s permission be damned. He says they’re both powerful men and second sons who have been passed over too many times. “Our worth is not given,” the commander of half of the battleships in Westeros tells his co-conspirator. “It must be made.” The episode ends on a spooky shot of one of the pirates in question, who has a terrifying patchwork face worthy of a serial killer. Cool, cool, cool!
- Could the creepy-faced pirates have a connection to the Faceless Men, the visage-stealing assassins’ guild from Game Of Thrones whose HQ is located in the Free City of Braavos?
- Corlys’ chambers are decorated with weird animal skulls and an eerie bust of a face half-overtaken by coral and dead sea creatures. Honestly, it’s my favorite décor scheme in House Of The Dragon to date.
- Speaking of Corlys, he, his daughter Laena, and Mysaria are the only nonwhite actors in the entire series so far. Elf-pale Targaryens aside, this show had every opportunity to make its cast more diverse, especially considering how much (justified!) flack Game Of Thrones got for its homogenous central cast.
- The wounds Viserys has sustained from the pointy edges of the Iron Throne continue not to heal. Half the skin on his pinky finger has turned necrotic, and to treat it, Grand Maester Mellos prescribes putting his hand in a bowlful of maggots who will eat away the dead flesh. Medieval medicine, amiright?
- House Of The Dragon continues to suffer from its complete lack of humor. Not that Game Of Thrones was a laugh riot, but it had a handful of wry, witty characters who helped vary the mood.