House of the Dragon recap: Another bloody wedding
We've heard tell of the "Bronze Bitch," the pet name Daemon (Matt Smith) has given his wife. This week's episode offers a proper introduction for Rhea Royce (Rachel Redford), who is as wary of her husband as he is of her. The two meet in a stony valley in the Vale, Daemon hooded and looking as hungover as he was at the end of last week's episode. Rhea taunts his loss of the Iron Throne to "a little girl," but soon recognizes something sinister in his eyes. She reaches for her bow as her horse rears, giving Daemon the opportunity to push it off balance and send her toppling. Neck presumably broken, she taunts him one last time — "I knew you couldn't finish" — before he scoops up a rock that's just the right size for skull crushing.
Viserys (Paddy Considine), meanwhile, sails to Driftmark with Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) and his new Hand, Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes), who has replaced Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans). Viserys plans to propose a marriage between Rhaenyra and Laenor Velaryon (Theo Nate), son of Corlys (Steve Toussaint) and Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best). He's pale and sick upon arrival, not to mention spurned by Corlys' refusal to meet him at the gate.
Still, Corlys is receptive to the marriage, though he has questions about succession. He'd like Rhaenyra and Laenor's children to bear their father's name, as is tradition. His obvious desire is for a Velaryon to sit on the Iron Throne, but Viserys won't go that far. He'll allow the children to bear the Velaryon name at birth, but any heir that ascends the Iron Throne will do so as a Targaryen. "Dragons will rule the kingdom for the next 100 years, just as they did the last," says Viserys, the Song of Ice and Fire prophecy humming in his mind.
Corlys accepts. Privately, he's thrilled, but Rhaenys has reservations. "We are placing our son in danger," she says, warning that "knives will come out" once Rhaenyra becomes queen. She knows better than anyone how the realm feels about a female ruler.
There's also the matter of Laenor's "true nature." It's an open secret that Laenor prefers the company of men (even Corlys knows, though he hopes his son will "outgrow" it). Rhaenyra also knows and makes a proposition to her future husband: They'll get hitched, make a few babies, and then indulge their other appetites. That's fine with Laenor, who's been secretly romancing a ginger knight with the unfortunate name of Joffrey (Solly McLeod).
Rhaenyra spends the trip back to King's Landing with her own secret lover, Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), who isn't as comfortable with being a secret as Joffrey is. He proposes that they leave Westeros for Essos, where they can be married and live a life free from politics. It's a sweet, naive proposition, one that Rhaenyra can't take seriously. She's in too deep at this point, and there's also the Song of Ice and Fire to think about. She assures Criston of her and Laenor's "understanding," but the arrangement makes him feel like a "whore." He's a man of duty and obedience, and he's tearing himself up over breaking his celibacy oath. Marrying her is the only way he can restore his integrity.
Back at King's Landing, Alicent (Emily Carey) meets with her father as he leaves the castle in shame. He blames her for his dismissal, saying she chose to side with Rhaenyra. Alicent defends her friend: "She swore her innocence and I believe her." But Otto's concern isn't for Rhaenyra's innocence so much as her claim on the Throne. "The realm will not accept her," he spits, saying she'll put Alicent's children "to the sword" in order to stay in power. "Either you prepare Aegon to rule or you cleave to Rhaenyra and pray for her mercy."
Otto isn't the only one whispering in Alicent's ear. Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), the limping, Littlefinger-esque son of Lyonel, returns after a brief appearance in episode 3 to tell the queen about the curious cup of medicinal tea Rhaenyra was served the night Otto was dismissed. He knows that Alicent knows the purpose of such a cup, and this revelation causes her to doubt Rhaenyra's claim to innocence.
She summons Criston once Viserys and Rhaenyra return to King's Landing. There's been rumors of a "lapse of morals," she explains, and Criston starts to spill his guts. This catches Alicent entirely off-guard, as the possibility that Rhaenyra slept with anyone besides Daemon hadn't even crossed her mind. "My oath has been broken, I have dishonored myself, I deserve no consideration," Criston says. Alicent is struck, not by Criston's betrayal but by Rhaenyra's deception. Alicent sold out her father because she wanted to believe her best friend wasn't lying to her. She dismisses Criston with no punishment.
As the kingdom prepares for a welcoming feast ahead of Rhaenyra and Laenor's wedding, Viserys seeks treatment for the various ailments afflicting him. The king's been in various states of medical distress since the series began, and here he looks on the verge of death. As he endures another leech bath, he ponders his legacy with Lyonel. "Hardly makes a good song," he mutters while reflecting on his relatively unremarkable reign. "Is it not better to live in peace than to have songs sung after you've died?" Lyonel asks. It's a good question, but an unromantic one.
Guests at the welcoming feast include the blustering Jason Lannister (Jefferson Hall), Gerald Royce (cousin of Rhea), and Daemon. When Alicent arrives in the middle of Viserys' greeting, her resplendent green dress draws eyes from every corner of the room. As Larys explains, green is the color Hightowers fly when they're going to war. Viserys wraps up his speech by proclaiming Rhaenyra and Laenor's union will herald "a second age of dragons in Westeros." Alicent's chilly demeanor is evident.
Rhaenyra and Laenor entertain with a choreographed dance as the masses mingle. Alicent's uncle commends her leadership, saying that Oldtown, the seat of House Hightower, stands behind her. Gerald, meanwhile, confronts Daemon about Rhea's death. He believes Daemon had something to do with it. Daemon, who doesn't care enough to make a case for his innocence, casually declares that he plans to collect his inheritance. All that was Rhea's, including all of Runestone, will now be his. He leaves Gerald dumbstruck to go dance with Laena Velaryon (Savannah Steyn), who he quickly charms.
As Laena swoons over Daemon, Laenor and Joffrey sense the uneasy energy emanating from Criston. It's clear to Joffrey that Criston longs for Rhaenyra. He approaches Criston, acknowledging their individual places in the lives of Laenor and Rhaenyra. "We should swear to each other to guard them and their secrets," he whispers, much to Criston's discontent.
Daemon, having moved on from Laena, finds himself dancing with Rhaenyra. Their violent, lustful chemistry instantly manifests. "He will bore you senseless," he says of Laenor. She sneers playfully, taunting him with the challenge of cutting through her father's kingsguard in order to take her by force back to Dragonstone.
A fight erupts. It's not Daemon taking Rhaenyra by force, but rather Criston beating Joffrey's face into a bloody pulp. He is a man of honor, after all; deception is not something he takes lightly. He kills Joffrey, exits the castle, unsheathes his dagger, and prepares to end his life. It's Alicent who stops him. He can be of use to her.
Inside the castle, as a rat slurps up Joffrey's blood, Rhaenyra and Laenor are married. Just moments after the union is sealed with an uneasy kiss, Viserys topples to the ground.
It wouldn't be a Westerosi wedding without a bloodbath.
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A Game of Thrones prequel focusing on the dragon-riding Targaryens.