House of the Dragon recap: Rhaenyra and Daemon honor at least one Targaryen legacy
A theme is emerging. It tells us that the flesh and the realm cannot coexist. All that's human, the wants and lusts that rush from the heart, have no place in the deepest pits of politics. A want, after all, is a weakness; wants will not make you powerful. A good leader chooses what benefits the realm, not himself. As we see in this episode, it's a dehumanizing way to live.
The episode begins with Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) warily seeing contenders for her hand. She's traveling the Seven Kingdoms in search of a husband, but her potential paramours aren't trying to woo so much as impress. The hunched, awkward suitors that approach her, be they boys or men, speak only of how their bloodlines benefit the throne; the desired outcome isn't love, but strength, the true definition of a "power couple." But Rhaenyra is bored by their rehearsed speeches and fragile egos, choosing to bail on this sojourn after one boy kills another out of pride.
Rhaenyra returns to King's Landing to find Daemon (Matt Smith), who wears a rustic crown atop his freshly shorn hair. He is now King of the Narrow Sea, having conquered all but two of the islands. He's not here to taunt Viserys (Paddy Considine), however, but to bend the knee. He offers his brother the Stepstones, a mea culpa.
Later, he and Rhaenyra reconnect and flirtily discuss how life as a royal differs for men and women. For Daemon, marriage is simply a "political arrangement" that doesn't dictate your life outside the castle. That may be true for men, Rhaenyra retorts, but for women marriage is a "death sentence." She prefers solitude. Daemon doesn't like that. In the dead of night, the "hour of the owl," he sneaks Rhaenyra out of the castle and onto the candlelit thoroughfares of the Street of Silk. Disguised, they navigate alleys filled with magicians, tightrope walkers, and eyeless fortune tellers. They drink and watch a bawdy and grotesque bit of theater satirizing the Targaryan dynasty. Rhaenyra learns firsthand how much the common folk would prefer little Aegon, her half-brother, be named heir instead of her. "For one night I wish to be free of the burdens of my inheritance," she says before stealing from a local merchant and sprinting into the night.
When Daemon finds Rhaenyra, who's nearly unmasked by a guard, he indulges her wonder by sweeping her off to a brothel. He encourages his niece to not intertwine the act of sex and childbirth. "Sex is a pleasure for women and men," he says, inching closer to Rhaenyra, who is clearly enraptured by him. Lust overwhelms them, but only briefly. Daemon retreats before they can have sex, leaving Rhaenyra alone and unfulfilled.
Back at the castle, an inflamed Rhaenyra swiftly seduces Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) and the two have sex. She's flirtatious the next morning, but Criston is awkward. She's still his boss, after all, and the king would likely have his head if he knew the truth.
All of this is juxtaposed with the sumptuous but unglamorous day-to-day life of Queen Alicent (Emily Carey). As Rhaenyra's world broadens, Alicent's shrinks. She laments her loss of close friends. She spends her days with servants and crying children. At night, she has passionless sex with Viserys, who has provided her (and her father) with power, but little that stirs the heart.
Daemon and Rhaenyra's semi-public tryst has reached not only Alicent's ears, but also those of the court. Hand of the King Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) tells Viserys that Rhaenyra was "engaged in behaviors unbecoming" of either a maiden or a princess. Viserys is in denial, decrying it as gossip, but Hightower cites numerous witnesses. (It's worth noting that that intel likely came from one of the child spies overseen by Daemon's former flame Mysaria, who is now a whisperer in the bowels of King's Landing.) When Alicent confronts Rhaenyra about her relationship with Daemon, Rhaenyra claims she was simply a "spectator" in the brothel, asserting on the memory of her mother that Daemon never touched her.
Daemon is dragged before Viserys, who accuses his brother of "defiling" and "ruining" his daughter. "Who will wed her now?" he wonders. The answer, Daemon poses, is himself. Together, he says, they will "return the House of the Dragon to its proper glory." Viserys doesn't trust him, accusing him of lusting for the throne, and while Daemon's machinations are clear, his refusal to take Rhaenyra's virginity hints that he may harbor real feelings for her, Jaime-and-Cersei-style.
Alicent, who clearly feels defensive of Rhaenyra, encourages Viserys to go easy on his daughter. She believes Rhaenyra's claim that she's "remained a maiden" and places the blame squarely on Daemon. When Viserys and Rhaenyra meet in his chambers, he speaks the truths of life on the throne as he's come to understand them. Firstly, truth doesn't matter, only perception. Secondly, the responsibilities of leadership eclipse our wants and desires. To demonstrate the latter point, he unsheathes the Valyrian steel dagger that we last saw in the first episode (and, you know, all throughout Game of Thrones). He provides some history for the dagger, explaining that before it belonged to Aegon the Conqueror, it was entrusted to Aenar Targaryan, a dragonlord of Old Valyria. Now, it serves as a physical representation of Aegon's Song of Ice and Fire, his vision of an apocalyptic winter that can only be prevented via Targaryan rule. Viserys shows her that the song has been carved into the blade by Valyrian pyromancers. The weight of this knowledge, he tells his daughter, is larger than her desires.
His history lesson builds to a demand: She is to marry Laenor Velaryon. As we learn earlier in the episode, Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), still incensed at Viserys for not marrying his daughter, is seeking an alliance in Braavos, one of the Free Cities. Viserys needs Corlys on his side, specifically for the power of his fleet, so he's offering up Rhaenyra's hand to his son. She'll do it, she says, but she has a condition of her own. Otto, she believes, is trying to ruin her, to sabotage her path to the throne in order to make his grandson Viserys' heir. She also posits that Otto's scheming may also be behind Alicent's visits to him in the wake of Aemma's death.
Viserys, who has already grown suspect of Otto's motivations, listens to her. He strips Otto of his position as Hand, telling him his interests "no longer align with those of the realm."
The episode ends with Rhaenyra being served moon tea, a medicinal drink used to abort pregnancies, to prevent any "unwanted consequences." So it goes, but the consequences of her night with Daemon (and Criston) are likely to go far beyond what's potentially growing in her belly.
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A Game of Thrones prequel focusing on the dragon-riding Targaryens.