This week’s dialogue takes Petra and I ten years into the future, as we debate which characters the time jump worked for or didn’t; the introduction of the new generation of Targaryen and Velaryon children; and what’s to come next episode.
Luka: This was essentially a second premiere. It had about as much exposition as “Heirs of the Dragon” did, too. So there’s lots to talk about! First impressions?
Petra: I’m glad that the second generation of characters has been introduced, though the characterization of Alicent and Criston makes me question just what point the first five episodes served; they seem like completely different characters now, and I don’t quite get the sense that the first half of the season served as their villain origin stories so much as total non-sequiturs. What about you?
Luka: It might have been my favorite episode so far, partly because at last things are getting more recognizably “Dance”-y. As for meeting the kids, to me it made it feel more like the early episodes of Game of Thrones, in a good way. But I want to zero in on the other thing you said. My experience was the opposite with the time jump, but I’ve heard a lot of people have taken issue with it, so I’m not shocked or anything of the sort. To me, though, the place we find Alicent and Criston seems like the natural evolution of where we left them in “We Light the Way,” following that same trajectory but with ten years of bitterness poured on top of what was quite a mess already. You didn’t feel they made connection clear enough?
Petra: What feels disjointed to me is that the first five episodes made me sympathize with Alicent and Criston, but in episode six they’re both outright villains. I don’t want to overstate what this new dynamic is, since we’ve only seen it for one episode, but Alicent hates Rhaenyra for her sexual impropriety and for her fear for her children’s safety. Criston is apparently still bitter about that one time he chose to soil his honor for Rhaenyra and regretted it. So, I’m thinking back to Alicent being a self-harming teenager wanting everyone to get along and Criston being a kind, supportive upstart knight and I don’t see how these sympathetic starting points were important to understand their current positions on Team Slut Shame. I get it intellectually, but it doesn’t emotionally resonate with me.
Luka: It worked for me, especially with Ser Criston, perhaps because his issues with Rhaenyra are less complicated than Alicent’s. In the case of the queen, just by reading the source material I’d have expected her characterization in this episode to be her starting point, so I enjoyed seeing that turned into an arc, starting at a very different place but inevitably leading here. You said you don’t feel like their sympathetic starting points were important to understand where they ended up, but I’d argue the opposite: Alicent and Ser Criston may be bitter assholes now, but it’s much more engaging to see how they arrived at this point rather than it being their starting point. I’m aware that’s not what you are suggesting; you’re saying you hoped the adaptation would make them less villainous. I’d argue that, even after everything we saw this episode, they’ve still done that, especially with Alicent, because we understand how she got to feeling the way she does. She’s losing her goddamn mind to frustration, solitude and being surrounded by so many weirdos, including her own children. I don’t think I’d have felt that without the work done the first five episodes. Not just in terms of her own character, but of the erosion of her relationship with Rhaenyra, and how it’s grown into such a bitter rivalry.
Petra: My opinion may evolve over time, but I just didn’t buy Alicent telling Aegon that his and his siblings’ lives will be forfeit once Rhaenyra comes into power. Otto told her that Rhaenyra would kill her children in one conversation (that we saw) and now that is her rationale for making Aegon king. Jealousy over sexual freedom is definitely present, but that’s a secondary force, I feel, to fear for her children’s safety. I would have liked episodes the first half of the season to establish the basis for Alicent’s belief that Rhaenyra is brutal enough to preemptively kill kiddos.
Luka: My question is, then, did you buy it last episode? Because the green dress entrance doesn’t really work, I don’t think, if you don’t buy that Alicent believed her father telling her Rhaenyra will have to off little Aegon.
Petra: Good question. I did buy the green dress entrance last episode, though less because of the danger her children were in than because she believed Rhaenyra saw her as a pawn who could be lied to and manipulated.
Luka: Gotcha. I must say, though, Otto framed it quite cleverly: he didn’t say Rhaenyra is chomping at the bit to kill Alicent’s children; I don’t think Alicent would have believed that (back then, anyway.) Otto said Rhaenyra will be forced to do it if she wants to get into power. Which is much more believable, regardless of Rhaenyra’s morality or, more relevantly, what Alicent may think of Rhaenyra’s morality… which isn’t much by that point anyway, considering everything that’d just happened. This may be beside the point, but Alicent could fear a situation not unlike the one she finds herself at the end of the episode; “the queen makes a wish” and that somehow results in Larys killing his own kin. Did Alicent order that hit? No. Would she have? I don’t think so; she’s genuinely horrified (though of course not enough to confess and condemn Larys; it’s pretty clear she’s a moralistic hypocrite, which I’m enjoying.) So, ten years on, Alicent may even believe, on a good day, that Rhaenyra couldn’t kill Alicent’s children herself. But does she believe that, say, Daemon wouldn’t do it, or any other Rhaenyra supporter? I certainly think Daemon would do it. It’s moved on from a purely personal question to one with political ramifications, although though it’s still rooted on their own prejudices and judgements; which is why I still feel we needed that first half of the season.
Petra: The strongest aspect of Alicent’s characterization, in my opinion, is her preoccupation with Rhaenyra’s sex life, because that was the element that was established and developed most thoroughly from the first episode to the fifth. If we’d seen Viserys order someone’s tongue ripped out for calling Rhaenys the Queen Who Never Was, for instance, or heard Rhaenyra talk about how harshly she’d have dealt with Queen Nymeria’s opposition while Alicent was reading her the history book, then Alicent’s fervor would have felt justified, and those first five episodes of backstory would have felt more worthwhile to me. What did you think about other aspects of the time jump? Like saying hi and goodbye to Laena Velaryon so quickly?
Luka: You’re not gonna tell me Laena worked better for you, right? That’d be pretty funny: while Alicent and Ser Criston worked perfectly for me, I believe the scant time we spend with Laena are the biggest misses of the season. Harwin also appeared briefly, but I felt like we got just what we needed from him and he served his function well, especially this episode. As for Laenor, by the end of this episode I feel like I have a full grasp of him; we’ve had time to spend with him and he’s still around, unlike his sister. Nanna Blondell did wonderfully, just as Savannah Steyn did last week, but this is the part of the story where I truly felt we needed to bridge the gap better between “We Light the Way” and “The Princess and the Queen.” That said, I enjoyed their story very much, including her death, and meeting Baela and Rhaena was delightful… but I just wish we’d gotten more of it!
Petra: I liked Laena a lot too, and her death was extremely affecting, especially Vhagar’s hesitancy to kill her. However… *drum roll* I didn’t feel like I needed more time with her! It would have been nice, if they’d moved her death further down the timeline somehow so we got to spend more time with her, but I don’t feel like I needed a full episode of her and Daemon road-tripping across Essos, you know? It was interesting to see Daemon as a family man, though.
Luka: Oh, disagreeing is fun! I knew Laena couldn’t be a character going forward—a lot of events to come hinge on her death, so I can understand why we didn’t see that much of her. And yet: part of me clings to the little we knew about her from Fire and Blood, you know? We got some of it; although I wanted to see her claim Vhagar, having Blondell’s Laena speak proudly of it to her daughter and then telling Daemon she wants to die like a dragonrider worked wonderfully as a salve for that absence. Still, it’s a shame we’ll never get to see her do anything but flirt with Daemon before jumping forward to being his wife with two kids; it’s even more abrupt than if we had jumped to this episode’s Alicent directly from “The Rogue Prince,” when she’s betrothed to Viserys. But, honestly, what I’ll miss most of all is Rhaenyra and Laena becoming “friends and more”, as it’s put in Fire and Blood. However they would have decided to interpret that, platonically or romantically, I wanted to see it. As I say this, I realize none of this would’ve been remotely crucial for the future, but still: although it’s not a particularly serious crticism, it IS my largest criticism of the season so far. It doesn’t look like they’re planning on doing flashbacks at this point, at least according to Condal in one of his latest interviews (“It’s not a flashback kind of show”), but if they change their mind and eventually do some I’d love to see more of Laena with Daemon, Rhaenyra and her brother Laenor. Seeing the couples together would’ve been nice—”The Princess and the Queen” makes it clear that they were close and still in contact.
Petra: I mourn the fact that we’ll never have a threesome between Daemon, Laena and Rhaenyra. I was also hoping the show would expand upon Rhaenyra becoming “fond and more” of Laena. Before the season started, I remember telling you that I thought they’d consolidate Rhaenyra and Daemon’s lovers, because including all of them would spread our emotional investment thin, as viewers. Obviously I was wrong about character consolidation, but I must say, I think I was right about spreading the characters thin. Mysaria, Rhea, Laena, Daemon, Criston and Harwin are a lot of relationship partners to go through in six episodes. That said, the show is expanding on other characters in a really interesting way. Like Aemond.
Luka: How have we talked this much without mentioning Aemond? He’s your guy! I couldn’t be happier by his introduction. A vague spoiler alert, I guess, but they certainly could have characterized him as a psycho from the start and many book readers wouldn’t have batted an eye, I don’t think. Instead we got an awkward bullied kid, and I kinda loved that. In fact, I enjoyed Alicent’s three kids much more than I thought I would. Helaena now has, you know, a personality, which is an improvement over the source material; but, more than that, she may be a prophetic dreamer as well as a bug nerd? And Aegon’s an entitled prick but, you know what, he’s funny to watch. And poor Aemond… I imagine you must have loved him too?
Petra: I preemptively chose my favorite character well. All we get about Aemond’s personality as a child in Fire and Blood is that he’s half the size of Aegon but twice as fierce, but then later on he acts like a guy with a huge chip on his shoulder. I like that House of the Dragon is establishing the sense of inferiority that he’s overcompensating for later on. It’ll also make the emotional pay off next episode (#NoSpoilers!) all the more satisfying. Aegon is an enjoyable son of a bitch who’s entitled, as you say, but doesn’t seem to want to hurt anyone. And I’m very glad they gave Helaena a personality. I’ll wait and see how, or if, her character develops further, but neurodivergent, possibly prophetic bug girl is good enough for now.
Luka: We’ll get young adult actors for them soon enough, but certain statements from the showrunners have made me optimistic about all these kids. Apparently they’ll have their own scenes and we’ll get to know them better in a similar way we did with Rhaenyra and Alicent as children the first few episodes. So I’m excited for that. Especially with what we know’s coming next episode. I don’t want to give much away, but… yeah! Are you looking forward to the thing?
Petra: I really am. Going from the preview, we’re finally getting the catspaw dagger kerfuffle, which has been hinted at since the teaser trailer, and, of course, Aemond’s story should be great, especially after the build up we got this episode. You?
Luka: Aemond got the most character development and setup out of the five kids (I’m excluding Joffrey, who’s only a baby so we can’t ask that much of him; and Daeron, who hasn’t even been introduced yet, and should be away in Oldtown at this point anyway.) So, yes, I’m excited to see Aemond’s story continue. There are two back-to-back scenes I really need the show to do well next episode, and they are two of the few moments in Fire and Blood that switch from a traditional history book to an almost novelistic approach, with tons of dialogue and moment-to-moment action; one is Aemond’s big moment and the other is the immediate consequences of that, which they’re really playing up for drama, judging by trailers.
Petra: Ah yes, a scene reminiscent of Cersei’s line, “We have a wolf.”
Luka: That one. There are other things I’m less sure of how they’re gonna addapt or if there’s even a way to do it well, but we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves too much. I’m eager to talk about all of it more but that’ll have to be next week! I don’t want to spoil too much. Any parting thoughts on “The Princess and the Queen?
Petra: The tension’s thick and it’s about to get thicker.
Luka: Thicker than the Pink Dread.