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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.