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House of the Dragon: We Light the Way

“Congratulations, stepdaughter. What a blessing this is for you.”

It's a wedding episode. So, naturally, we begin and end with murder.

This is where the setup we've been getting starts to bleed over into the real conflict of the show. Where the ambition and greatness these characters strive for start to fall out of reach as their poor decisions catch up with them.

The New Age of Dragons and Other Fantasies

King Viserys I and Princess Rhaenyra sail to Driftmark, the island home of House Velaryon. To ensure stability, secure the future and remove the headache of Rhaenyra's bachelorette status, Viserys brokers a deal with Corlys and Rhaenys to marry off Rhaenyra to their son and heir, Laenor. As Rhaenys points out later, it underscores how weak and desperate Viserys is becoming, the king personally traveling to seek out a marriage pact while deathly ill.

Although you have to kind of admire the balls on the Velaryons here. They give the king no grand welcome, and when he enters High Tide castle to meet with Corlys, it feels more like Viserys is the one presenting himself before a king and not the other way around. Viserys' feelings of inadequacy are addressed later in the episode, his dismay at not accomplishing very much outside of maintaining the state of peace his predecessor made possible. So walking through the halls of High Tide and seeing all the evidence of Corlys's personal triumphs and glories must have gotten to him.

Humiliation or not, though. The visit goes well. They make the arrangement (with the condition that any of Rhaenyra and Laenor's children will be named Velaryon), Viserys mends his relationship with the Velaryons, and Rhaenyra and Laenor agree to marry each other for duty while pursuing their real passions in private.

This union is supposed to represent the strong future that lies in store for House Targaryen, a new age of dragons. But life has other plans, of course.

A lot of people in this world live their lives according to fantasies they indulge. Hard to blame them, since there's not much else to pin your hopes to. It gets tough, though, when reality rears its head. For all his efforts, we know that Viserys' attempts to secure his family's future is just delaying the inevitable.

That future is, likewise, tainted as a result of spoiled fantasies. After the pact is made, Rhaenyra is approached by Ser Criston Cole, the Kingsguard knight she recently bedded. He offers to take her away from the burdens of the Targaryen dynasty, to run away together across the sea and marry for love. The guy pours his heart out, and he might have convinced her had it been a few episodes earlier. But now Rhaenyra has committed to her destiny as future ruler (and possible future savior) of the Seven Kingdoms. In the worst move possible, she lets Criston know that she will marry Laenor but that they can still get it on behind closed doors. It's another great example of Rhaenyra's selfishness; she liked having Criston as her white knight and secret lover, but didn't really consider his feelings about all this. Realizing he's seen by his beloved Princess as little more than a booty call and feeling as though he sullied his honor, Criston turns bitter.

Betrothals and Betrayals

He's not the only one, though.

The dismissal of her father as Hand and subtle manipulation from Larys Strong gives Queen Alicent cause to doubt Rhaenyra. We get the impression that up until now, she's felt like a stranger at her dad's job. Now Otto is gone, and she's alone as the queen. She begins to steel herself, self-preservation taking priority.

She makes the full transition when she goes to question Ser Criston about the rumors of Rhaenyra's affair with Daemon, only to be shocked when the knight confesses to being seduced by her. Seeing the gears work in Alicent's mind as she realizes that her trusted friend not only lied to her, but that she seduced an honest knight and put him at risk of torture and death; in addition to the fact that she probably also thinks Rhaenyra screwed Daemon as well as Cole.

The bridges Rhaenyra has unwittingly burned come crashing down during the wedding ceremony at the end. Even there, she's still fickle and acting like she can have it all. Daemon shows up unannounced, having just gotten back from staging his lady wife's death by "hunting accident," and gets hot and heavy with Rhaenyra in front of everyone. Which she does not discourage, daring him to take her away and make her his wife. This is the problem with Targaryens and the blood of the dragon: they believe they can do whatever they want because of who they are.

That's just one of the controversies that arises during the ceremony. Alicent interrupts her husband's speech and upstages everyone at the event by intentionally showing up late, wearing a provocative green dress and signaling to everyone that she is a dominant presence at court, not just the king's wife.

And finally things turn to chaos when Laenor Velaryon's lover, Ser Joffrey Lonmouth, gets a little too bold for his own good and approaches Ser Criston Cole after figuring out that he and Rhaenyra have a thing. Unfortunately, he wasn't aware of the circumstances of their thing. Poor Ser Joffrey ends up triggering an enraged Cole, who viciously beats him until half his face is smashed in. This killing and the bloodlust of the crowd of nobles watching, understandably, ruins the event. The seven days of elaborate feasting and tournaments are cancelled, and the wedding is conducted in a private ceremony that very night.

This is where the factions begin to form in what will eventually be known as the Dance of the Dragons. You have Rhaenyra Targaryen, her in-laws the Velaryons and her wild card uncle Daemon, and you have Alicent Hightower, her powerful family, her children and her new ally, Ser Criston Cole, who she narrowly saves from committing suicide after he committed murder. Alicent and Criston are bonded through their shared hatred of Rhaenyra, both betrayed by this girl they loved and admired.

Rhaenyra clearly realizes she messed up at the end, but who knows if she'll actually learn from her mistakes.

In any case, this episode is the halfway point in the season. The next one will see us jumping about ten years ahead in time, making Rhaenyra and Alicent adult women. And exacerbating the tensions with the royal family even further, no doubt.

Blacks and greens:

* This show is doing a great job at making characters who are only briefly mentioned in the histories stand out. In just a very short amount of screentime, they made people like Lady Rhea Royce and Ser Joffrey Lonmouth into fun, interesting characters. Which makes it all the more shocking when they get unceremoniously killed.

* Corlys Velaryon added the Crabfeeder’s mask to his collection in the Hall of Nine.

* Prince Aegon hasn’t been around the last couple of episodes. He is mentioned frequently, though.

* Alicent’s got some very erotic art on the walls of her chambers. Guess there’s a few ways one could take that, but it’s probably just because stuff like that would be considered a unique novelty in a medieval world like this.

* All of the people going to the weirwood tree is kind of odd. It’s more likely that all of these characters would have a stronger connection to the Faith of the Seven. Maybe they just come there because it’s pretty and peaceful. In any case, there’s certainly a Three-Eyed Raven out there enjoying the show along with the rest of us.

* Lyonel Strong's two sons get more attention in this episode. First, Larys "Clubfoot" goes out of his way to make Alicent suspicious of Rhaenyra, revealing his similarities to manipulative power players like Varys or Littlefinger. Later, Harwin "Breakbones" lives up to his name by punching his way through the mob of nobles to rescue Rhaenyra.

* We had another instance of the rats in the Red Keep. Thinking this ties into the theme of decay I mentioned in a previous review. Despite their grand ambitions, House Targaryen is rotting from within.

* Very eager to see how Criston Cole gets away with what he did. In the books, his murder of Laenor's lover is more premeditated, killing him during the tourney events and using that as an excuse. Here, it's a crime of passion that comes out of nowhere from everyone else's perspective. Not only that, he also assaulted Laenor when he tried to intervene. I'd be amazed if he received no punishment for this.


Otto Hightower: “The time is coming, Alicent. Either you prepare Aegon to rule, or you cleave to Rhaenyra and pray for her mercy.”

Larys Strong: “When one is never invited to speak, one learns to… observe. You’re perhaps in need of an ally?”
Alicent Hightower: “I’m the Queen. I have no shortage of allies.”

Ser Criston Cole: “In Essos… you could marry me. A marriage for love, not for the crown.”
Rhaenyra: “… I am the crown, Ser Criston.”

Lyonel Strong: “Is it not better to live in peace than to have songs sung after you are dead?”
Viserys I: “Perhaps. But there is a part of me that wishes I’d been tested. I often think that, in the crucible, I may have been forged a different man.”
Lyonel: “Many that are tested only wish to have been spared it.”
Viserys I: “Another lord might assure me that I would rise like Aegon the Conqueror, given the chance.”
Lionel: “Your Grace, that is—”
Viserys I: “You’re right. You’re right… as always. It is perhaps best not to know.”
Funny, I was thinking about how Lyonel always says the right things as I was watching this scene. Great choice for Hand of the King.

Lord Jason Lannister: “Where is the Queen? I had hoped to pay my respects.”
Viserys I: “I understand the queen is still readying herself for the celebrations.”
Lord Jason Lannister: “This is why men wage war. Because women would never be ready for the battle in time.”
Rhaenyra: “Your presence is always such a pleasure, Lord Jason.”
It's fun seeing the oh-so-haughty Lannisters look so unimpressive with the Targaryens and Velaryons around. Tywin and his kids would be losing their minds.

Larys Strong: “The beacon on the Hightower, do you know what color it glows when Oldtown calls its banners to war?”
Harwin Strong: “Green.”

Ser Gerold Royce: “I am cousin to your late lady wife.”
Daemon: “Ah, yes. Terrible thing. I’m positively bereft. Such a tragic accident.”

Ser Joffrey Lonmouth: “Look at him. The man is fully cunt-struck. I believe Ser Criston has bloodied that white cloak of his with your bride’s maidenhead.”
Rest well, Knight of Kisses.

Rhaenyra: “I am yours and you are mine. Whatever may come.”
Another thing that’s great about this show is the editing. This line combined with the shots of Criston Cole preparing to kill himself was haunting.

Five out of five matrimonial murders.


  1. This episode sold me. I had committed to myself that I would watch the entire first season, but now I’m eagerly awaiting each episode. That wedding scene was just fabulous.

  2. Yeah, they're knocking it out of the park with each episode so far.


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