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House of the Dragon: King of the Narrow Sea

“It's where people come to take what they want.”

Let's get naughty.

While it is somewhat frustrating how much of this season feels like a prologue, I have to admire how well they are doing with expanding on the material and fleshing things out. In some ways, it's even more impressive than Game of Thrones. This episode is probably the best example so far.

Which is great, because so far, this is the episode that had the least action. Aside from the brief shot of Daemon returning to King's Landing on his dragon and the mostly offscreen duel between Blackwood and Bracken, what we mainly get here is intrigue and drama.

Rhaenyra is also returning to King's Landing in the middle of a tour of the realm her father set up to allow her to select a husband of her choosing. This olive branch of agency requires her to travel around and sit and watch various lords or lords' heirs stand in line to tell her about why they would be a good match for her. She was over it pretty quick. Viserys is obviously pissed, but luckily Daemon coming back victorious and apparently humbling himself has the king in a good mood.

Daemon's heroic return and Viserys's joy means the reunion and attention is centered around the boys, leaving Princess Rhaenyra and Queen Alicent feeling rather alone and ignored. Overall, changing things up and making it so that Rhaenyra and Alicent were friends around the same age before becoming the Princess and the Queen was a very good idea. It allows the writers to develop both characters in compelling ways and heightens the tension between them.

That tension starts to really simmer in this episode, as the contrast between these two young women is examined. As a spoiled princess with the blood of the dragon, Rhaenyra is "restless and chaotic." Whereas Alicent is a proper lady, gracious and dutiful. While Alicent endures all kinds of discomfort to please her middle-aged husband, Rhaenyra is out seeing what kind of trouble she can get into with her uncle Daemon. Alicent lays in bed like a dead fish as Viserys — looking quite unappealing with his many infected wounds from the Iron Throne — plows into her. Meanwhile, Rhaenyra gets seduced by Daemon in a pleasure house and then — after Daemon has second thoughts and ditches her — she seduces and loses her virginity to her champion knight, Ser Criston Cole.

They've done such a great job at making everything grey and complex, not settling for painting one set of people good or bad. As icky as arranged marriages and teen girls bearing the children of old men is, Viserys and Alicent's relationship is mostly stable. And though we may be inclined to sympathize with Rhaenyra's girlish craving for excitement, adventure and new experiences, it's hard to look past the consequences of her romantic indiscretions; the first guy she gets it on with is her uncle, and the guy she lets take her virginity is a Kingsguard knight. Daemon's quickly banished again when Otto Hightower finds out and informs the king. So far the affair with Cole is known only to him and the Princess, but even that was risky; getting castrated and spending the rest of his life on the Wall would probably be considered a fair and light sentence for a Kingsguard knight who breaks his vow of celibacy with anyone, let alone his king's daughter.

But let's not neglect what the rumored sex scandal does to the girls as well as the boys. This is where I think we start to see the uglier sides of Rhaenyra and Alicent. Though each desperately wants to hold onto their friendship, we see there is also growing resentment making them more combative with each other. Alicent gets very angry and domineering with Rhaenyra when she learns of her little tryst with Daemon, and while she claims its because Rhaenyra threatened the stability of the court and the realm, I also think it's because Alicent doesn't appreciate Rhaenyra's flagrant selfishness when Alicent has done nothing but what her society has trained her to do. Likewise, to avoid blame, Rhaenyra is willing to repeatedly lie to her family and friends, even gaslighting Alicent into questioning her own judgement. She also favored the dude from House Bracken over the one from House Blackwood earlier; not a good sign.

For as dramatic as it all is, it does thankfully move some things forward. Viserys decides to put an end to Rhaenyra's mischief by having her marry Laenor Velaryon, to secure an alliance with the second most powerful house in the realm. Rhaenyra agrees, but on the condition that Viserys remove Otto Hightower as Hand of the King.

That's not the end of this episode's consequences, though. Alicent probably won't react well when she learns her father is being sent packing, exacerbating the tension between king, queen and princess. Daemon's still a wild card, but it will be interesting to see how Criston Cole processes all of this; he's mostly kept a low profile, but his secret affair with Rhaenyra just made his life a whole lot more complicated. The fact that Criston and Daemon are rival warriors infatuated with the same girl is another issue. And it's left open as to whether or not Rhaenyra took the abortifacient tea delivered to her at her father's request.

We'll be halfway through the season in the next episode, and I think that's where a lot of this drama will really start to boil over.

Blacks and greens:

* We got what I believe is our first instance of Rhaenyra's nervous tic, fiddling with the rings on her fingers when she's impatient or anxious.

* Fans of the books will almost certainly love the Blackwood-Bracken blood feud getting featured at the start of the episode.

* Some major foreshadowing in this episode. Particularly the scenes where Daemon and Rhaenyra are walking the streets of King's Landing.

* Along with being selfish, reckless and deceitful, Rhaenyra also shows off her elitist attitude here. When Daemon points out that most of the smallfolk are culturally predisposed to believe Rhaenyra, being a woman, is unfit to rule, she smugly declares that "their wants are of no consequence."

* Daemon's aborted seduction of Rhaenyra was intriguing. Sort of highlights the complexities of this character. I do think he's really into Rhaenyra, but I also think he sees her as a political rival and did intend to "defile" and discredit her as the king's heir. Likewise, he resents his brother, but loves him enough that he won't go through with screwing his virginal niece. That's my read of it, anyway.

* Another character detail I found interesting was with Otto Hightower. He seemed very nervous when informing Viserys of what Rhaenyra and Daemon were seen doing. My takeaway is that Otto realized how the news would be received and how it would look coming from him, but was compelled to deliver it anyway because a) it would hurt his enemy Daemon, and b) it would potentially increase grandson Aegon's chances of being named heir over Rhaenyra. Like, he probably knew he was going to get canned for it, but couldn't pass up the opportunity to further his family's ambitions. This show really highlights how much of a harder time guys like Tywin Lannister and Petyr Baelish would have had if they ever dealt with a king who was somewhat competent or perceptive.

* Otto finds out about Daemon and Rhaenyra’s tryst through Mysaria, Daemon’s paramour who has now become King’s Landing’s leading spymaster. They call her the White Worm.

* Viserys and Alicent's infant daughter Haelaena is here now. And it's possible that they conceived their next child in this episode.

* Towards the end, Rhaenyra is pointedly not wearing the Valyrian steel amulet Daemon gifted to her. She tells Alicent that she regrets going with him, but it's unclear if that part is true or another lie to save face.

* Someone on reddit pointed out that the container for the tea brought to Rhaenyra in the end looks a lot like the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Wouldn't be the first reference to that movie in this franchise.

Quotes:

Lord Boremund Baratheon: “Sheathe that steel, you twats!”

Viserys I: “Who holds the Stepstones?”
Daemon: “The tides. The crabs. And 2,000 dead Triarchy corsairs, staked to the sand to warn those who might follow.”

Alicent: “I find I have... few friends, lately. I like to believe I’m still the Lady Alicent, but... all anyone sees when they look at me now is ‘The Queen.’”
Rhaenyra: “I’ve missed you, too.”

Rhaenyra: "My father seems content to sell me off to whichever lord has the biggest castle."
Daemon: "There are worse things to be sold for."

Mysaria: “Hard lessons are not welcomed but suffered.”

Alicent: “So you did not?”
Rhaenyra: “Must I truly refute that? Daemon never touched me. I swear this to you upon the memory of my mother.”
Damn, girl.

Viserys I: "You have ruined her! What lord will wed her now? In this condition?”
Daemon: “Who gives a fuck what some lord thinks? You are the dragon. Your word is truth and law.”
Viserys I: “I have spent a lifetime defending you. But your heart is even blacker than I thought.”

Alicent: “It is not in Rhaenyra’s nature to be deceitful. I cannot say the same for your brother.”
Viserys I: “You believe he lied?”
Alicent: “How often does he speak the pure truth?”
Viserys I: “How does confessing to such things serve him?”
Alicent: “By reducing you.”

Rhaenyra: (reading Aegon’s dagger) “‘From my blood... come the Prince That Was Promised… and his will be the Song of Ice and Fire.’”
Viserys I: “The responsibility I have handed to you, the burden of this knowledge... it is larger than the throne, the king. It is larger than you... and your desires. Jaehaerys would have disinherited you.”
Rhaenyra: “For a lie? You’ve yet to ask me for the truth of what happened.”
Viserys I: “The truth does not matter, Rhaenyra. Only perception.”

Five out of five sex scandals.

2 comments:

  1. I like this episode a lot. Daemon and Rhaenyras little tryst was pretty steamy. I should have seen it coming all things considering. I wasn’t sure why he pulled away but assumed he had second thoughts. On the behind the scenes commentary the actors said it was because he was unable to “perform”. Like you though I’m also ready for the the slow building war drama to start. Maybe it’ll be once we have the 10 year time jump I hear is coming when they switch actresses (which I assume is coming soon).

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  2. Haha, I'd forgotten about his performance issues in the premiere; that makes sense. That's actually a fun problem to give to someone as powerful as Daemon. I need to watch the BTS segments.

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