This is probably the episode you sat down to watch with your parents and for that I am sorry but also deeply amused.
Spoiler Note: This recap and the comments section may contain mild spoilers from George R.R. Martin’s novels and Westeros histories, whether or not that material has appeared on the show yet. If you have not read the books and wish to remain completely Unsullied, we encourage you to check out our non-book-reader recap by Oz of Thrones!
This week, Rhaenyra’s parade of marriage misery continues with a tour through Storm’s End and a sea of proposals, each one progressively worse. It climaxes with a proposal from a kid, though we’ll give the young Lord Blackwood points for style, straight up murdering the Bracken jerk who mocks him. A fed-up Rhaenyra hightails is out of there, with her ever-present Kingsguard Criston Cole at her side. As they arrive back at King’s Landing, Daemon’s dragon Caraxes says hello a little too excitedly, swooping in to practically kiss their boat. Looks like her uncle is back in town!
King Viserys gives his younger brother a formal greeting before the court, and Daemon swaggers in with a new do and a new crown (which frankly looks like a child’s toy). He claims others have dubbed him King of the Narrow Sea, but Daemon cedes the title and his rinky-dink crown to his brother in a show of false humility. The brothers embrace warmly, and the afterparty commences.
As usual, Otto Hightower lurks and gathers info like a big creeper. Queen Alicent lurks in a more gentle, welcome manner on the edges of her husband’s conversations. Rhaenyra feels left out of the jubilation and sulks, still mulling over the marriage business.
Spying Rhaenyra’s alienation, Alicent joins her old friend and gets her to open up about her fears. Alicent is able to bring some perspective to the situation- Rhaenyra gets a choice in her marriage, unlike most noble women. The women’s friendship begins to truly reconcile.
Daemon joins Rhaenyra in the godswood and you can see this is becoming the place where she can truly be honest, where her heart is exposed and open. And once again, these two speak Valyrian as though it is their secret love language, flowing in and out, so they can be free with one another. He speaks cruelly of his wife, and she admits her valid fears of birthing. He encourages her to live, nonetheless.
In a Small Council meeting, the leaders fret over the Sea Snake’s plans. Corlys Velaryon is still holding a grudge and now he’s planning a marital alliance with Braavos. Otto once again hints that a marriage alliance of their own with Corlys’s family could mend that old wound.
Rhaenyra receives a secret delivery of a map that helps her escape the Red Keep disguised as a boy. She meet with Daemon and they go on an adventure in the filthy streets of King’s Landing, watching an unflattering play about her family. Rhaenyra runs into Harwin Strong who recognizes her, but lets her go, disguise intact. Daemon brings her to someplace even more scandalous…
Meanwhile Viserys engages in intimate time with Alicent, taking a bath and then slipping into bed together. Alicent is not that into it.
Daemon uses the brothel to demonstrate to Rhaenyra that sex isn’t just about marriage and birthing and death; it can be about pleasure, and something had outside of marriage. The two of them begin to kiss and go beyond; Rhaenyra wants even more but Daemon finally pulls back.
Rhaenyra flees the brothel and returns to the Red Keep, not realizing a boy of the city has recognized and followed her home.
Rhaenyra is all hot, bothered and unfulfilled by her antics with Daemon. She playfully seduces Ser Criston Cole into her bed, getting him to lay down his cloak and his vows for a night with his princess. He’s conflicted but in the end, gives in to his feelings completely.
The young boy who followed Rhaenyra reports what he saw to Otto Hightower, and one of the men mentions the messenger comes from “The White Worm.”
Daemon wakes up in a city hovel with Mysaria looking after him. Boy, he’s rude when he’s hungover. She leaves his ass there, like he deserves.
Otto snitches to Viserys that Rhaenyra was seen “carrying on with her uncle” in a pleasure house. Viserys doesn’t want to hear it and rightly suspects Otto of machinations relating to baby Aegon. Still…you can’t unring that bell.
The morning after, Rhaenyra is glowing and Ser Criston awkwardly is the one who brings her a summons from the queen.
Alicent is giving her old bestie in giving her a head’s up about the shitstorm to come, courtesy of her dad the Hand. But hilariously, Rhaenyra did so much last night she’s not sure what Alicent is talking about at first. When she figures THAT out, she denies it hotly (because Daemon backed off and she fucked someone else, natch). She swears on the memory of her mother that she didn’t do the deed with Daemon, which isn’t technically a lie, but do you want to rely on technicalities when you’re swearing on your mom in a godswood, before the heart’s tree? I wouldn’t. But Rhaenyra is 18, and all Targaryen guts.
Daemon is brought to the king, and questioned about the night before, with the Catspaw dagger helpfully threatening him. Daemon graciously offers to wed Rhaenyra, despite already being married. There’s another ballsy fucker, right there. They really are a well-matched pair, but then they are related. Daemon is not successful in winning over his brother and he is exiled again.
Alicent stands by Rhaenyra, but Viserys is forced to admit Rhaenyra probably did something.
Summoned to him to discuss her shenanigans, Viserys gives Rhaenyra a history lesson on the Catspaw dagger – the prophecy of the prince that was promised and the song of ice and fire is laid into the dagger itself. Viserys is done playing nice about marriage: Rhaenyra must marry Laenor Velaryon.
But Otto is a problem too. He may have been a value employee and wife-supplier once but now he’s a liability. Otto Hightower has overplayed his hand, and now he is fired.
Viserys sends Rhaenyra a nice cuppa moon tea to make sure she doesn’t get pregnant. No worries, Rhae. Dad thought of everything. (We don’t see her drink it, buuuuuut….I’m guessing she will.
Rhaenyra and Criston: I’m so glad a woman directed- well the whole episode but especially this scene. There’s something achingly sad about it. Criston is tormented with a hundred decisions and he loves her, meanwhile Rhaenyra’s playing and giggling. The way it’s filmed through the grates and the reflection as though we’re watching something forbidden (I suppose we are) gives it a beautiful secretive touch. I love Milly Alcock and Fabien Frankel’s performances in the scene, their faces say so much.
Rhaenyra and Daemon: People will get hung up on the incest, but whatever, they’re Targaryens. And they’re canon. So accept it (or don’t watch, I guess). Anyway, I appreciated that Alcock and Matt Smith were able to keep the pleasure house scene so firmly centered on the emotional in a clean way, when they are surrounded by an orgy. Yeah, they want to fuck, but it’s based in feelings and character. That’s what’s interesting.
The Female Gaze: It’s present throughout the episode, not just in the Rhaenyra/Criston sex scene. The pleasure house scene is directed well, and it doesn’t feel exploitative. The journey is all through Rhaenyra’s eyes. The scene with Alicent and Viserys is very much focused on Alicent’s experience and lack of enjoyment.
The White Worm: So, Mysaria is working with Otto Hightower. She’s a woman of many skills and secrets, and we’re only beginning to learn. Daemon was a fool to insult her. And Otto may be temporarily down but is he out? C’mon, you know better. Her and Otto working together promises to be very interesting.
Music on point: It’s overstating it at this point to compliment Ramin Djawadi but the music was noticeably gorgeous to me tonight, from the piano in the opening scene (rarely used on GoT, too soon to tell about HOTD) to the beautifully complex scoring that accompanied the Rhaenyra-Criston sex scene.
Daemon’s new look: Oof, that wig hairline…it’s rough, buddy. Like Sean Bean GOT Season 1 wig rough. Thank goodness everyone was more occupied with all the incest and boning business tonight, it distracted from whatever that was.
In Summation: This was probably my favorite episode to date. Not because of the name-dropping of the Prince/Ice & Fire prophecy or any other fan-servicey bit but because of the way the characters and scenes all felt like they came together and gelled. (I suppose I might have liked to see Corlys, instead of just hearing about him, but he was the only piece I missed.) I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Ira Parker as a writer (never saw any of his other shows), but I did have high hopes for Clare Kilner after her directing work on The Alienist and I wasn’t let down by them at all. House of the Dragon has somewhat suffered from a problem GoT had which is that having great individual scenes doesn’t necessarily create a unified great episode, but I felt like this was a great episode altogether. The characters were well-served and I want to know what happens next to them all. (Even when I kinda know already.)
The dumb Bracken jock: watch out for skinny kids, dude- they’re fast and they know what to do with the pointy end