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House of the Dragon: The Rogue Prince

“To elude a storm, you can either sail into it or around it. But you must never await its coming.”

And so it begins.

The real drama of the series unfolds in this episode. And that is the complex, continent-effecting family feud that King Viserys I unwittingly creates when he picks a new wife.

This whole affair plays out kind of like a really weird medieval version of The Bachelor. His most practical choice would be Laena Velaryon. She’s the daughter of Corlys Velaryon, the king’s master of ships and the richest and most prestigious lord in the realm at this time. The match would be extremely beneficial to his reign, but he doesn’t like feeling pressured into marrying a kid.

A feeling stoked by his Hand of the King, Otto Hightower, who already struck at Viserys when he was vulnerable by having his daughter Alicent befriend him in secret. This pays off when the king chooses Alicent over the younger Laena, elevating Otto’s family and scorning House Velaryon.

It’s clear that Otto is very adept at playing his king like a fiddle. However, this episode proves that his skill and eagerness to scheme for power or acclaim is as much his weakness as it is his strength. When Prince Daemon provokes the king by stealing his dead nephew’s dragon egg and taking over Dragonstone with his mistress Mysaria, Viserys is ready to go confront his brother personally. Only to be talked out of it by Hightower, who goes there hoping to put an end to Daemon's ambitions and make a show of his victory.

Either way, he evidently overestimated his own importance, falling to consider that Daemon hates his guts and would have no qualms with killing him or his men, as opposed to how he might have dealt with Viserys. Had Rhaenyra not shown up on Syrax to defuse the situation, Otto probably would have left in humiliation. Or been thrown in a dungeon. Or burned alive.

It might not matter that he’s not up to snuff when it’s time for action, though, since he is good at courtly intrigue and subtle manipulation. Which yields results. Of course, this requires that he use his own daughter as a pawn.

While we might be able to sympathize with Viserys’s decision somewhat — even if it was influenced by slimy Otto — the consequences present themselves right away.

Rhaenyra is not pleased to learn Alicent, her best friend, has been carrying on a secret courtship with her widower father and is now going to be her stepmother. This, after she had just been made to feel as if she and her father were finally connecting again. And after she and Alicent were just bonding over the loss of their own mothers!

The sense of betrayal is enough of a stab in the heart, but there’s also the fact that Rhaenyra’s claim is no longer as secure as it was. As Rhaenys points out, the men of Westeros will never just unanimously accept a woman heir, and the urgency to get the king wedded and bedded again is proof of that. Alicent’s children will be Rhaenyra’s half-siblings, and thus will be rival claimants to the Iron Throne.

Uh oh.

Beyond that, though, there is the sense of coalitions forming against Viserys in response to his errors in judgement. He’s hurt Rhaenyra, obviously. But then there’s the Velaryons.

Corlys Velaryon is sort of like a more benevolent version of Tywin Lannister. A man who fought very hard to attain his power and status, and as such is very proud of the legacy he’s built. The king refusing his daughter’s hand in marriage isn’t just a personal insult, it means Corlys won’t have the backing he needs to combat the Triarchy from the Free Cities. Their enforcer Creghas Drehar, a Myrish prince known as the Crabfeeder, is sabotaging his sea trade monopoly, threatening the stability of the realm as well as House Velaryon.

Ever a practical man, Corlys the Sea Snake decides to deal with one rogue prince by allying with another, Daemon Targaryen. Naturally, he’s game. Has to get the edge on his brother somehow, if only for his own personal sense of satisfaction.

I like how Matt Smith and the writers are handling Daemon so far. He’s a very mercurial sort of guy. Though luckily, it looks as though his bad attitude will be directed at someone who might truly deserve it for a change. The editing in the final scene really sets the stage for Daemon’s showdown with this Crabfeeder guy. The fight doesn't seem like it'll be even, though. Daemon has a ferocious dragon, and now the mighty Velaryon fleet, on his side.

This episode alone perfectly showcases the way this game is constantly escalating, being played across years and generations. The dramas of House Targaryen compounding with every ill-fated move they make.


Blacks and greens:

* This world can be such a tongue-twister sometimes. House Velaryon, allies of House Targaryen, descended from the Old Valyrians.

* The Lord Commander of the Kingsguard passes away, so Viserys gives Rhaenyra the task of selecting a new knight as a replacement. She chooses the dashing but lesser known Ser Criston Cole, who impressed her and Alicent so well during the tourney previously.

* I like that there’s complexity even in the Kingsguard selection scene. Otto is a shameless mansplainer and overly political minded, but he’s not wrong about honoring certain houses who are key to maintaining a stable realm. And Rhaenyra’s decision is clearly motivated by her fancying Criston Cole, but she’s not wrong that a Kingsguard should be a skilled warrior.

* I really appreciate the dimensions they're giving Alicent. How she projects the image of a proper lady, but is struggling with anxiety that has her nervously clawing at her own fingernails. Desperate enough for her father's love and approval that she will even help him manipulate Viserys and wound Rhaenyra.

* The cut on the king’s finger gets infected, so the maesters soak his hand in maggots to consume the decaying flesh. Another ill omen. Also, gross.

* They include the detail that Viserys was the last one to ride Balerion, Aegon the Conqueror’s legendary dragon.

* Really love how they’re portraying Daemon’s dragon, Caraxes. He’s called the Blood Wyrm in the books, so maybe that’s why his design is different. That high-pitched shriek is unnerving. The way they teased a showdown between him and Syrax was epic, though.

* Some pretty horrific cinematography during the Crabfeeder scenes. I'm thinking one of the themes of this show is decay. Fitting.

Quotes: Loving the dialogue.

Viserys I: “The Stepstones will be settled… in time.”
Rhaenyra: “You have dragon riders, father. Send us.”
Viserys I: “It isn’t that simple, Rhaenyra.”
Rhaenyra: “It would be a show of force.”
Corlys Velaryon: “At least the Princess has a plan.”

Alicent: “Do you believe that Westeros can be another Valyria, Your Grace?”
Viserys I: “That depends, whether you speak of the Freehold at its height or at its fall. Over a thousand dragons, a navy large enough to span the seas of the world. The glory of Old Valyria will never be seen again.”

Alicent: “Your father loves you. He chose you for his heir.”
Rhaenyra: “He didn’t choose me. He spurns Daemon.”

Viserys I: “We should be free to speak our minds to one another.”
Rhaenyra: “You can say whatever you’d like. You are the King.”

Rhaenys: “But the men of the realm already had their opportunity to appoint a ruling queen at the Great Council and they denied it.”
Rhaenyra: “They denied you, Princess Rhaenys. 'The Queen Who Never Was.' But they bent the knee to me and called me the heir to the throne.”
Rhaenys: “Do you remind your father’s men of that as you carry their cups?”
Burn!

Otto Hightower: (to Alicent) “You’re the most comely girl at court. Why do you destroy yourself? Hm…? Will you see the King tonight?”
Alicent: “If you wish it.”

Otto: (when Caraxes shows up) “All of you… sheathe the fucking steel.”

Mysaria: “You announced that we were to be wed?”
Daemon: “On the morrow.”
Mysaria: “And that I was with child. Your child.”
Daemon: “Well, perhaps when we are wed, we can make that true.”
Mysaria: “I ensured long ago that I would never be threatened by childbirth.”
Daemon: “Good. Children can be such irritating creatures.”

Lord Lyonel Strong: “You sit upon the highest seat in the realm, Your Grace. Proud men don’t like having to look up.”

Daemon: “It was never my brother’s strongest trait.”
Corlys: “What?”
Daemon: “Being king.”

Corlys: “Waiting in the Stepstones is a chance for you to prove your worth to any who might yet doubt it. We are the realm’s second sons, Daemon. Our worth is not given. It must be made.”

This episode was mostly set-up for things to come, but it is the juicy and engaging kind of set-up that I enjoy. Four out of five stolen dragon eggs.

2 comments:

  1. I liked this one too. They are setting up the future conflict well. I hear we will be getting even larger time jumps in the future. I guess to have some of the characters grow up a little quickly.

    ReplyDelete
  2. They're handling the material very well so far. Very refreshing.

    ReplyDelete

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