Glass Candle Dialogue: House of the Dragon Season 1, Episode 4 – King of the Narrow Sea

Daemon (Matt Smith), Young Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), Red Keep Godswood 1x04 (4)

In this week’s dialogue, Petra and I focus on Rhaenyra’s fitness to rule and the depiction of sex in “King of the Narrow Sea,” especially in regards to how it highlights issues of gender, what it means for Rhaenyra and Alicent’s future, and just how okay we should be with finding that uncle/niece hookup rousing.

*Fair warning* We avoid explicit Fire and Blood spoilers but tease them often and openly reference future events shown in the trailers.

Petra: We’ve reached the sexy episode.

Luka: Sexy uncle time.

Petra: Fun fact: I watched this one with my parents. When Rhaenyra and Daemon kissed, there was confused silence. Then my Dad said, “That’s her uncle, right?”

Luka: You truly couldn’t have chosen a more perfect episode to watch with your parents.

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Petra: I knew this would be the sexy episode, or at least I guessed correctly, so I was emotionally prepared. Anyway: I really liked it.

Luka: It might’ve been my favorite, especially in terms of Clare Kilner’s direction and Alejandro Martínez’s photography, although Ira Parker’s script was excellent as well, as were the actors and every other artistic and technical department. Just one of those “perfectly executed” episodes, you know?

Petra: The writer and director were clearly interested in showcasing the difference between Rhaenyra and Alicent’s living situations. This was the first episode where I could see the… —not the first signs of coming conflict, as we’ve already seen that, but the framework of it, the shape it will take. This was the first episode that made me think that Rhaenyra’s a really cool person, but won’t make a good queen.

Young Alicent (Emily Carey), Young Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), Red Keep Godswood 1x04 (5)

Luka: I wouldn’t go that far, but she does have a lot to learn. When she publicly mocked the lords and ladies of the realm last week, it was just an instance, but now it’s a pattern. And not a good one, however much they may deserve it. Alicent could probably teach this to Rhaenyra… but I don’t think Rhaenyra’s listening, and more than that I don’t think Alicent’s gonna be willing to teach her anything very soon. That setup was clear, wasn’t it? “I swear on the memory of my mother.” When Alicent learns her good friend she went to bat for with the king was lying after all (to some extent,) I think that’ll be it for them. At this point I believe that’ll be the specific breaking point you said you were waiting for last week.

Petra: Yeah, Rhaenyra’s lie is going to come back. I know Milly Alcock said in the behind the scenes feature that she technically didn’t lie because she didn’t have sex with Daemon, but she said Daemon never touched her, which definitely isn’t true. But what struck me most was how uninterested Rhaenyra is in establishing good relations with others. Borumund Baratheon said her behavior was “unseemly” and … you know, if Rhaenyra needs to enlist the aid of House Baratheon at some point, the seeds have been planted for them to reject her, not merely out of sexism but because of the “unseemly” behavior she displayed on her first visit.

Luka: Oh, I’m sure nothing will come of that. If we know something about the Baratheons, is that they never break any oaths of fealty. Just ask Robert.

Boremund Baratheon (Julian Lewis Jones), Storm's End 1x04

Petra: I appreciate that the questioning of Rhaenyra’s qualification to be queen comes from more than just slut-shaming and Alicent’s jealousy. I certainly think that’s an important part of this episode, and will continue to be a major issue, but it’s also been well-established at this point that Rhaenyra doesn’t have a tactful and diplomatic way of dealing with people.

Luka: And I love that. Rhaenyra could’ve easily been whitewashed somewhat. They’ve added moral dimensions to Alicent—no one who’s read Fire and Blood can fail to see that,— but they’ve also made sure to create a complicated Rhaenyra. Sure, you want to root for her, but she’s also a little shit sometimes and makes pretty terrible decisions. We’ll have to wait and see whether that can be attributed to her young age or if it’ll persist after the big time jump and Emma D’Arcy starting to play Rhaenyra in a few episodes time. But as I said, for now I’m just enjoying the complexity the script and Milly Alcock bring to Rhaenyra.

Petra: She’s a lot like her father and Robert Baratheon: all three avoid doing what they don’t enjoy and overindulge in what they do. I suspect this isn’t just a phase or a byproduct of her age but a legitimate character flaw.

Luka: I suspect you suspect correctly. Mind you, I think she’ll get better at playing the game. But I don’t think she’ll ever abandon these impulses that make a certain ‘proper’ kind of person not like her very much. That won’t help her gain support, especially with her already unorthodox claim on account of her sex. Before the show, having read Fire and Blood, I expected the conflict to boil down to which side had which allies and who could support a woman’s claim to the throne and who would never do so, but it looks like, as well as all that, their personalities will be part of the equation in this choosing of sides. That said, without spoiling much, the other claimant’s not exactly a ray of sunshine himself. Not an ideal ruler, either.

Petra: That’s why I think it’s smart that they’re centering the conflict around Rhaenyra and Alicent, two women who handle power very differently. And it’s a good set-up to have her snub all these people early on and to face the consequences later. Obviously, none of us are our best selves when we’re teenagers, but in Westeros actions start having consequences at a very early age.

Daemon (Matt Smith), Red Keep Godswood 1x04 (1)

Luka: And yet a man in that same high position could get away with it, right? Rhaenyra only has a fraction of Daemon’s devil-may-care attitude, but she suffers more consequences for transgressions much less severe than what the Rogue Prince gets up to as a matter of course. I love the angle that Rhaenyra feels so frustrated at the injustice of what her gender restricts her to. When a man in the street mistakes her for a boy, she couldn’t be more delighted. We’d heard the show would be playing with issues of gender, especially with Rhaenyra, and it’s already clear how. I hope it’s something the show still explores when she’s an adult, especially as the adult Rhaenyra is played by a non-binary actor, Emma D’Arcy.

Petra: I loved that moment too when she says, “he called me ‘boy!’” And the double-standard is addressed explicitly, by both Daemon and Rhaenyra. She’s only shamed for premarital sex because she’s a woman. It’s an injustice that’s usually subtextual, and I like that it’s stated outright in the dialogue.

Luka: Yeah, and it’s kept very much “in-universe,” if that makes sense. When Viserys is confronted about this both times, first by Daemon and then by Rhaenyra, he answers incredulously, as if the answer couldn’t be more self-evident: “She’s just a girl!”, “But you were born a woman.” Even Rhaenyra doesn’t have the most sophisticated language to defend her position—she just knows it’s injust.

Petra: Yeah, Viserys lost some points with me this episode. Fantastic performance from Paddy Considine, and the writing remains top-notch but, boy, “She is just a girl” hurt to hear, and watching that sex scene was tough.

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Luka: Oh, that sex scene. Intercut with what actual sex looks like too, just in case anyone misses the point. Alicent couldn’t look less enthusiastic, very much unlike everyone in the bowels of the pleasure den (god, I love how these people talk.) We started with uncle sexy times, do you want to discuss that and Criston?

Petra: We have to! In the behind the scenes feature, Sapochnik says Daemon rejects Rhaenyra when he can’t get it up, because, on some level, he knows that having sex with Rhaenyra just to get back at his brother is wrong. But Kilner, the director, attributed his behavior to discomfort that Rhaenyra takes control of the situation. I can’t say I understand Daemon’s motivation, here.

Luka: I noticed that discrepancy too. I’m fine with it. It’s open to interpretation, as it should be. When I first saw the scene, I sensed a little bit of all of that in there. I think he likes her, but the reason he’s doing this today and this way is to get back at Viserys, so he ends up feeling guilty, which also means he can’t get hard, so he feels both guilty and emasculated and leaves her as horny as can be.

Petra: The situation between Daemon and Rhaenyra is very, very weird. I had enough time before the show started to sort of get into the Targaryen mindset and accept that this romantic, sexual relationship between an uncle and niece was going to be a big part of the story and sort of get on board with it. But then the power disparity between them is emphasized when he leaves her alone in a part of the city she’s never been to before. Her main takeaway from this seems to be, “Well, I’ll go fuck that knight now.” But it still doesn’t frame the dynamic between her and her uncle as a healthy relationship between equals.

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Luka: I don’t care what people say: I just don’t mind the incest. It’s fine, it’s fiction—and even if it wasn’t, these people regularly do much worst things we applaud them for. But yes, the power imbalance is there. Despite their age gap, it’s not usually a factor, due to Rhaenyra’s station—but in this case, leaving her there alone? That’s just dangerous. It may sound crazy to say of someone like Daemon who’s done so much mad shit already, but this may’ve been the worst thing he’s done so far. Still, though I do believe he planned much of the evening with ulterior motives, I don’t think he planned that part. I believe he did want to fuck her and just couldn’t, so at least leaving her behind at the brothel in the middle of the night wasn’t premeditated shitbaggery, you know? Maybe I’m just grasping at straws, I don’t know. I like their chemistry, I like the characters together and where I know this will lead. Or where I believe I know it will lead—I’m not sure how they’ll depict their relationship going forward. But we’ll get to that another day. For now we have a very horny princess left unsatisfied. No wonder she pounces on Ser Criston! That sounds crass, but honestly that scene was filmed beautifully. It felt romantic.

Petra: It was easily the best sex scene in both House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones. Again, the power disparity between Rhaenyra and Criston gave me pause at first. She seemed far more enthusiastic than he did and I wasn’t sure if he felt he could say no to a princess, but Fabien Frankel said on the official podcast that the scene was intended to be about two people experiencing pleasure together and we had enough shots of him undressing himself and close-ups to sell that idea.

HOTDsex3

Luka: Mind you, he resists at first, and he’s got good reasons. If they’re caught, I’m sure she’ll be punished, but not as much as Criston. As we learn in Fire and Blood, a sworn brother of Jaehaerys I’s Kingsguard was gelded and sent to the Night’s Watch when Ser Ryam Redwyne—the old Lord Commander we briefly met in the premiere—discovered he’d broken his vows by taking a wife and having children. Imagine if they find out Criston has broken his vows with the princess—and not just any princess either, but the king’s heir. Losing his testicles and being sent to the Wall would be the best outcome for poor Criston Cole! So it could be argued Rhaenyra wasn’t being very considerate with Ser Criston; she wasn’t thinking with her head at the moment, clearly. That said, he’s more than willing in the end, as a grown adult making his own choices. So, it’s complicated, but at the end of the day I believe the show makes his consent quite clear. That’s helped by the incredibly slow, complicated process of taking off his armor, which was cute too, in a funny way.

Petra: I’m enjoying how conscientiously consent is being addressed so far. Even if the consent is dubious or debatable, the question seems very much at the forefront. I’m curious how the subject of not only consent but agency and self-determination will be further addressed with Laenor and Rhaenyra next episode.

Luka: Oh, I’m incredibly excited about it. The cat will be out of the bag soon enough, but suffice it to say this will be even more of a marriage of convenience than it already looks like. Honestly, I just hope they talk it out: “We’ll marry, we’ll try to get along as well as we can and we’ll be allies, partners even, but each of us will do whatever they like.” Something like that, you know?

House of the Dragon Young Rhaenyra Milly Alcock Young Laenor Velaryon Theo Nate HOTD 105 1x05

Petra: I’d like a positive example of an arranged political marriage. Something built on mutual respect that stands in contrast to Viserys and Alicent’s situation.

Luka: I don’t want to get too excited—or get you too excited,— but that’s exactly what I expect we’re getting. I’m not saying it’ll be a perfect arrangement, obviously, but I think they’ll talk before the wedding and work it out.

Petra: Well, like Rhaenyra in that brothel, we’ll have to wait a while longer for satisfaction.

18 Comments

  1. I think I’ll just paste what I said in the last thread, lol.

    My take on the Rhaenyra/Criston sex scene is that it ultimately was consensual, but at the same time, she WAS taking advantage of him… though not necessarily on purpose. It was definitely short-sighted and careless of her, but I don’t think she was trying to play with his emotions, or anything. I think she simply became very horny after what Daemon showed her (and especially after he left her hanging), and Criston is someone she has a genuine attraction to. She just wasn’t really thinking about the potential consequences.

    HE, however, WAS. What I don’t know if she realizes is that that moment meant a LOT more to him than it did to her. To her, it was just a bit of fun. To him, it was a monumental decision. He can either break his vow as a Kingsguard, or defy his princess (who he is also genuinely attracted to, I think). Ultimately, her pressuring led him to give in to his desires, and break his vow.

    I think this knowledge that he broke his vow is really going to weigh on him, and I don’t think Rhaenyra understands that. I can see this leading to a rift between them.

  2. This episode was so full of micro-moments. I truly loved it. Many of them came from Alicent who was wonderful.

    Her story of the episode is her gilded cage. From the dismissal of her tapestry suggestion by Viserys suggesting her contribution is not valued in public, her conversation with Rhaenyra indicating her loneliness and the nature of her role, as well as her hints of jealously regarding the fact that Rhaenyra gets to choose her husband while she clearly did not, and also later when processing Rhaenyra’s story of her evening out. Alicent is supportive there, but a flash of want comes through for the freedom Rhaenyra was able to experience. When has Alicent been able to go out and drink in a tavern, laugh freely, see a show?

    Alicent has never known sex as pleasure, and as is often the case for such women, when sex is a duty then any woman who rejects that framing truly is « sullied ». The thought of sex fills her with bile, not joy as we can see in her pauses before bathing Viserys and before accepting his summons. If she knew Rhaenyra had sex willingly and not as a duty she truly would see her as unclean.

    As for Rhaenyra, how about the very first moment of the episode where she fingers Daemon’s necklace, while being disinterested in anyone else put before her? Later her little smile after Caraxes’ not so gentle hello and her giddiness as she joined the crowd to witness his audience with Viserys. We know there is an affection for Criston Cole but this has clearly been set up as something different and deeper.

  3. Petra: She’s a lot like her father and Robert Baratheon: all three avoid doing what they don’t enjoy and overindulge in what they do.”

    “Avoid doing what they don’t enjoy and overindulge in what they do.”
    The story of my life in a nutshell, Petra.

  4. I love that the writers have built a case for why someone would support either side. I was worried it would be too one-sided, but they managed to show us why someone would side with Alicent’s camp over Rhaenyra’s.

    Really excited for the wedding next week and whatever Daemon has planned lol.

  5. Luka Nieto,

    I’m curious: I assume you and Petra compose these GCDs via online written exchanges, as opposed to transcribing recordings of oral conversations over the phone or on Zoom.
    I like reading the exchanges, mainly because my hearing isn’t as good as it used to be and my cellphone earbuds suck.

    However, I remember watching a GCD video you two did several years ago. (My memory is hazy. I think you were both outdoors sitting on a bench, with an island, ocean or mountain behind you? ) Since you both enunciate very well, I had no difficult hearing what you were saying. I really enjoyed watching it.

    I am NOT complaining about the GCD in written form. They make for good reading.
    I am NOT presuming you should have to spend extra time and effort. (I’m guessing that preparing for, filming, and editing a recording of a live oral conversation is more time-consuming and less convenient than producing a typewritten GCD.)

    I am just wondering if you might consider doing another GCD video some day.

  6. Ten Bears:
    Luka Nieto,

    I’m curious: I assume you and Petra compose these GCDs via online written exchanges, as opposed to transcribing recordings of oral conversations over the phone or on Zoom.I like reading the exchanges, mainly because my hearing isn’t as good as it used to be and my cellphone earbuds suck.

    However, I remember watching a GCD video you two did several years ago. (My memory is hazy. I think you were both outdoors sitting on a bench, with an island, ocean or mountain behind you? ) Since you both enunciate very well, I had no difficult hearing what you were saying. I really enjoyed watching it.

    I am NOT complaining about the GCD in written form. They make for good reading.I am NOT presuming you should have to spend extra time and effort. (I’m guessing that preparing for, filming, and editing a recording of a live oral conversation is more time-consuming and less convenient than producing a typewritten GCD.)

    I am just wondering if you might consider doing another GCD video some day.

    It’s an online chat now, yes. A Google Doc, actually. For previous seasons, we Skyped, then transcribed the audio, and improved upon our original wording, which can only happen with the magic of the written word. We deemed that too much work; it took a LONG time to transcribe everything. Now we just have a live chat in written form, and then improve upon it later in editing, bypasing the transcription part.

    As for the GCD we did together a few years ago, yeah, we filmed it in Gaztelugatxe, the real life place where they film the stone stairs of Dragonstone. We only did it in video because we were together in the same country for once and at a Game of Thrones location. I don’t think that’s happening again anytime soon, sadly. That said, if I ever join a recording of the Night’s Cast and Petra does too, that’ll be sort of like what you’re asking for, I guess.

  7. I really wish there was better discussion on this site. Lately there are a group of people who only respond to each other and ignore posts from the rest of us. Hard to get into any kind of depth about anything that way.

  8. awol:
    I really wish there was better discussion on this site. Lately there are a group of people who only respond to each other and ignore posts from the rest of us. Hard to get into any kind of depth about anything that way.

    You go first. I’ll respond.

  9. I think a lot of people still feel burned (no pun intended) by the last season of GoT, and either aren’t watching HotD yet or are hesitant to participate in the fandom to the same extent as before. And heaven knows all the ways COVID has disjointed our lives (cons being canceled, filming of shows being delayed) has exacerbated that.

    Having said that, I’m very hopeful for the fandom returning in full throttle once viewers acclimate to a Westeros that is simultaneously deeply familiar and fundamentally different. I’m really disappointed—albeit not surprised—about Sapochnik leaving, but everyone else associated with the production has knocked it out of the park, imho.

    I really enjoyed the first three episodes but genuinely loved Ep4. It was genuinely sexy, not just shockingly sexual; maybe, after all the exhaustive discussion of sex in GoT (and Rome and other shows before that), HBO is consciously steering that ship in a different direction. I’m really, really looking forward to Ep5!

  10. awol,

    You are right about that. I’m also a little disappointed that there are so few reactions. But I can also understand not everyone likes House Targaryen. They are all so much entitled in thinking they deserve the throne. Only Jon Snow and Maester Aemon said they didn’t want it.
    Nevertheless I do like to know how this storyline unfolds (even while I read the book, but didn’t like that so never reread it). The show did make me want to know more.

  11. Wolfish,

    ”I think a lot of people still feel burned (no pun intended) by the last season of GoT, and either aren’t watching HotD yet or are hesitant to participate in the fandom to the same extent as before. And heaven knows all the ways COVID has disjointed our lives (cons being canceled, filming of shows being delayed) has exacerbated that.”

    All good points.
    I might add that participation in the site’s comment sections was surely negatively impacted by the months-long period during which nothing would happen when you’d press “Post Comment” – whatever you typed just vanished – or comments would disappear into Alphabet Heaven or remain stuck in Moderation Purgatory.
    (I understand that Sue & Co. had to replace the malfunctioning hosting company (or whatever it’s called), because comments were being indiscriminately intercepted as “spam” and the company couldn’t or wouldn’t fix the problem.)
    After a while, I simply gave up trying, and didn’t visit the site. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
    It could take some time for everyone to migrate back…

  12. awol: I have actually responded to several of your posts in the past year, but been met with ringing silence.

    Then I sincerely apologize. From now on, I’ll be sure to read and reply (if I think I have anything worthwhile to say.)

  13. Wolfish:
    I think a lot of people still feel burned (no pun intended) by the last season of GoT, and either aren’t watching HotD yet or are hesitant to participate in the fandom to the same extent as before. And heaven knows all the ways COVID has disjointed our lives (cons being canceled, filming of shows being delayed) has exacerbated that.

    Having said that, I’m very hopeful for the fandom returning in full throttle once viewers acclimate to a Westeros that is simultaneously deeply familiar and fundamentally different. I’m really disappointed—albeit not surprised—about Sapochnik leaving, but everyone else associated with the production has knocked it out of the park, imho.

    I am someone who loved (and still love) GoT all way through and I pretty much “knew” in advance I would love HotD and it is very much everything I hoped for, making me re-live the highschool days from 2011 (onwards) when I was so hyped to watch GoT every Monday evening. That said, GoT dividing the fandom is definitely a reason why I pulled back from interactions on sites (with some exceptions here)… I’ll be honest that since its end, I wouldn’t want to discuss anything GoT-related with anyone who disliked the ending. And I really mean anyone, no matter if that person may be close to me in life and I really mean anything a.k.a not brining GoT ever up again in such case and immediately ending conversation if that person brought it up. And it applies to the rest to my favorite TV shows… disliking the ending for one of my favorite TV shows is a complete dealbreaker for me when it comes to ever interacting about that TV show again because my enjoyment of those TV shows means too much to me to “taint” it. Yes, there may have been exceptions here for me as I did occassionally pop up in interactions but honestly, it hasn’t been the same vibe for me and I’m way more pulling back with my interactions… recently, I’ve been trying to focus anything GoT related to Quora because there I can just write my own thoughts and block anyone I want, with no need to interact with anyone I don’t want to.

    So yes, I did pull back after GoT end… but it’s more than that. I came to terms in recent years that I simply enjoy the show the most if I watch it in my own bubble with very little knowledge of “public opinion” on it. WIth exceptions of “The Leftovers”, pretty much any TV show I felt I’ll get invested in, I ended up invested in and loved it after I watched it. And I realized if I go on fansites, I don’t really “enjoy” there… while fansites don’t change my opinion, they do affect my “enjoyment” because I end up not being able to get rid of these “different thoughts” while I’m (re)watching one of my favorite TV shows… remembering how people don’t love it, how they criticise it etc. AGain, I’m not speaking solely for GoT. In fact, I even started thinking how much better might have been if I watched GoT completely in my own bubble too, unoccupied with thoughts from other people, not knowing what’s “popular” and “unpopular” opinion, what characters are liked or disliked… But yeah, I didn’t think about that during my highschool years when GoT was in its early seasons.

    I’m trying to do it with House of the Dragon. Yes, I do come here and read posts, but I’m trying to avoid getting into discussions and I scroll over review comments and such, especially “critical” ones. ANd last but not least, I’ve always been prone to anxiety and it worsened a lot in 2020 and to some extent 2021, to the point I haven’t been the same since then and I honestly worry if I’ll ever recover. Everything I said above about already being affected by fansites in general, it’s only worse with my anxiety problems. So I don’t think I’ll ever be able to “return” in full extent on fansites. I’m still “kind of” here, reading stuff and such but I end up “running away” and “putting walls around me” when it comes to discussions. I’m not ready and “strong enough” for discussions and who knows if I’ll ever be…

    End of my ramble

  14. Joy C: I’m also a little disappointed that there are so few reactions. But I can also understand not everyone likes House Targaryen. They are all so much entitled in thinking they deserve the throne.

    I’m one of those. HotD hasn’t yet engaged me to anywhere near the point that GoT did, where I wanted to dig in and dissect every little nuance and come up with harebrained theories; and it’s mainly because I just don’t like these people very much. I dislike them in the same ways that I disliked Dany and Stannis: for the entitled aristocrat attitude. I love grey characters, and I’m not looking for white-hatted heroes; but I’m still searching for people I can root for despite their flaws. There’s no Tyrion or Olenna here with a sense of humor, no Starks whose rigid ethics are their undoing, no Theon or Jaime or Sandor who’s making a game effort to transcend being an arsehole. I hope that the cast of players will expand enough as the series goes on that I can find some characters whose fates will matter to me.

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