King Viserys shocks his small council when he decides to marry Alicent Hightower.
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It's been half a year since the events of the first episode and exposition unfolds swiftly in the opening minutes of tonight's outing. Here are the takeaways:

  • Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) is concerned about violent attacks on maritime shipping lanes from the Stepstones, a chain of islands populated by bloodthirsty pirates and sellswords. Four ships have been lost, including one flying his own banner. 
  • Leading these charges is Craghas Crabfeeder, a real piece of work with a penchant for feeding his enemies to, you guessed it, crabs. 
  • Corlys believes Viserys' (Paddy Considine) perceived weakness is partly responsible for Crabfeeder's brazen attacks. 
  • As an example, he says that Daemon (Matt Smith), banished from King's Landing, has seized Dragonstone with his army of Gold Cloaks and that Viserys has made no efforts to reclaim it. "It will be done in time," Viserys promises. 
  • Finally, a member of the King's Guard has died and a replacement is needed. 

Viserys tasks Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) with choosing the replacement, but she finds herself unimpressed by the candidates' lack of combat experience. She chooses Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), who both charmed her and bested Daemon during last week's tournament, due to his actual experience fighting against Dornish incursions. This doesn't please Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), who'd rather she choose a soldier whose family are stronger allies to the crown. 

Rhaenyra is aware she's not being taken seriously. She's still serving the small council drinks, and she's chided after suggesting the use of the kingdom's dragons to drive Daemon from Dragonstone. "It would be a show of force," she says. Later, she shares her discontent with Alicent (Emily Carey), saying she wishes her father would see her "as more than his little girl." She's also aware of the council's efforts to get Viserys remarried, thus granting him another shot at bearing a male heir. 

House of the Dragon
King Viserys (Paddy Considine), Rhaenys (Eve Best), and Corlys (Steve Toussaint) discuss the King's next wife.
| Credit: Ollie Upton/HBO

Corlys and his wife, Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best), are among those with succession in mind. They propose that Viserys marry their pre-teen daughter Laena (Savannah Steyn) to unify the Targaryen and Valyrian houses, which share centuries of history. Targaryen dragons linked up with Valyrian fleets? That's the "show of strength" Viserys' combat-avoidant kingdom needs. 

Despite these efforts, Rhaenyra remains confident that she'll someday be queen. When she's queen, she tells Rhaenys, a "new order" will be created in which women are more readily accepted in power. Rhaenys is disdainful of Rhaenyra's optimism — she is the Queen Who Never Was, after all — telling her that "men would rather put the realm to the torch than see a woman ascend the Iron Throne." 

But Viserys' "date" with Laena makes him uncomfortable. There's her age, obviously, but he can also sense her own ambivalence when she rattles off promises about uniting the houses of Old Valyria and giving him children with pure Valyrian blood. Still, most of the small council approves of the courtship. It's Hightower who expresses reluctance, a reminder that he's the one behind Alicent's quiet visits to Viserys' chambers. His efforts aren't in vain, either: Viserys clearly cherishes the conversations he's been having with Alicent, and she even gifts him a stone dragon for his model of Old Valyria after he shatters one in front of her. Viserys is clearly developing feelings for her. 

Viserys is forced to care about Daemon's occupation of Dragonstone after a dragon's egg is stolen from King's Landing. Daemon leaves behind a note inviting Viserys to his wedding to Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno), who he claims to have impregnated. It's tradition for Targaryen children to share their cradle with a dragon's egg, and the egg Daemon stole was initially chosen for Viserys' late son, Prince Baelon. This infuriates Viserys, and Hightower brings a battalion of soldiers to Dragonstone with the intention of relinquishing it from Daemon's rule and retrieving the egg.

House of the Dragon
Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) causes a headache for his brother.
| Credit: Ollie Upton/HBO

Alas, Hightower's scolding makes no impact on Daemon, who flexes his power with the help of Caraxes' mighty roar. Swords are drawn and bloodshed is imminent when Syrax rises through the fog with Rhaenyra at the wheel (or is it the scale?). As we've seen, Rhaenyra is the only one in the royal circle able to pierce Daemon's sneering exterior, and her appeals to him soften his countenance. She says the only way he'll be restored to heir is if he kills her, which she knows he'd never do. It also appears he's incapable of lying to her, as he implies Mysaria isn't pregnant, after all. Later, Mysaria bucks against Daemon weaving her into his personal game of thrones, saying she's with him not for the crown but for the liberation that comes with knowing she will no longer be traded as property. 

Rhaenyra brings the egg back to King's Landing and, after a brief chiding, reconnects with Viserys over their shared grief of Aemma's death. "I do not wish to make us estranged," he says, referring to the possibility of him marrying another woman. Though she tells him she understands, she's as blindsided as everyone else when he reveals who he's chosen for his bride. It's not Laena, but Alicent. 

House of the Dragon
Emily Carey as Alicent Hightower, King Viserys's new bride and queen, on 'House of the Dragon'
| Credit: Ollie Upton/HBO

Corlys, as you might expect, is furious. He's so furious that he seeks out Daemon, who he likens to himself. They're both men, he says, "who have had to cut our own way through the world." His proposition is this: Since Viserys won't do anything about the Stepstone pirates and the sadistic Crabfeeder, perhaps Daemon can put his Gold Cloaks to good use. 

Crabfeeder, Corlys says, is more than just a pirate. He's backed by "powerful entities" in the autonomous Free Cities that neighbor the Stepstones. They want to see Westeros weakened, and Corlys can't bear to see the shipping lanes fall under their control. Crushing them, he tells Daemon, should "prove worth to any who might doubt it." 

Should Daemon succeed, that will leave Viserys, who has already alienated his daughter by marrying her best friend, with even fewer allies. It will also ensure a key member of his small council will have a vested interest in placing the king's spurned brother on the throne. 

"It was never my brother's strongest trait, being king," Daemon intones. 

Thinking back to the scene of Viserys sinking his hand into a bath of maggots, desperate to save the rotting finger he pricked on the Iron Throne, it's hard to disagree. 

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House of the Dragon

A Game of Thrones prequel focusing on the dragon-riding Targaryens.

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