There’s an old saying, often attributed to Harold Wilson, that “a week is a long time in politics”. It speaks to how much can change in just a few short days. Well, the third episode of House of the Dragon– titled “Second of His Name” – goes one step further. The week viewers have waited since that pact was struck between Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) and Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) has brought proceedings forward a full three years. Now, Viserys (Paddy Considine) and Alicent (Emily Carey) are happily married with a young son, Aegon, and another nipper on the way. A week truly is a long time.
Three years later…
Since we left them bartering over a backroom deal, Daemon and the Sea Snake have waged full-on war in the Stepstones against the so-called “Crab Feeder”, Craghas Drahar (a truly creepy, non-verbal performance from Daniel Scott-Smith). The fact that the crabs are getting fat on the flesh of Westerosi soldiers is of little concern to the King as he approaches the second name day of his infant son. “Daemon and the Sea Snake started their war without his grace’s leave,” counsels Rhys Ifans’ Otto Hightower. “Were he to intervene now after so long it would make the crown appear weak.” And so Viserys, for now, sets aside fraternal obligations, leaving his brother to his fate as crustacean chow.
More pressing is to head out on a hunting (and drinking) trip to celebrate the little Prince. The King’s daughter and (current) heir, Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), is still sulking about her dad hooking up with her best friend – and while Alicent gamely labours on through her second pregnancy, Rhaenyra regresses into a sullen teenager. Predictably then, she is in no mood to entertain the advances of one Jason Lannister (“I’d do anything for my Queen,” he tells her, “or lady wife…”) preferring to continue her flirtation with low-born swordsman Daario Naharis – sorry, I mean, Ser Criston Cole – with whom she ends up spending a firelit evening in the woods. The question of her impending marriage, however, won’t go away. “The lords of the realm gather like vultures to a carcass hoping to feast on my bones,” she despairs.
Heavy is the head
But this episode is really all about Considine’s troubled king. He is coming into his own in a role that is one of the more ambiguous across the Thrones canon. Viserys is neither strong nor weak, neither fully pragmatic nor wholly sentimental. “I came here to hunt, not to be suffocated by all this f***ing politicking!” he explodes at his hand (and father-in-law), Otto, as the dual questions of Aegon’s succession and Rhaenyra’s marriage begin to eat at him, like the flesh-eating virus that is also, um, eating at him. When, finally, he confesses his feeling that he is “forever doomed to anger one person in the pleasing of another,” he might as well be summing up the entire history of leadership in the Seven Kingdoms.
In the end, it is Alicent who flexes her influence and convinces Viserys to intervene in the Stepstones. Her position of general affability and probity is, at present, uncomplicated. She wants the best for her husband, her son, her childhood chum, and the realm at large. But “Second of His Name” only heightens dynastic concerns: Viserys, in the end, makes a commitment to Rhaenyra that she will be his heir. “I swear to you now – on your mother’s memory – you will not be supplanted,” he says. But the very nature of ascension to the Iron Throne means he cannot live to guarantee that.
Knight in shining plot armour
The episode ends with the show’s first real battle sequence. Game of Thrones was famous for its subversion of the conventions of “plot armour” (the trope in which major characters are protected from harm by their importance to the narrative). It’s a shame then, that Daemon’s assault on the Crab Feeder is the most plot-armoured attack Westeros has ever seen. Going on a single-handed, Rambo-style rampage, archers fire at Daemon with the accuracy of Stormtroopers, while his infantry opponents – very sportingly – line up one at a time to be killed, rather than swarming him all at once. It is a silly sequence, but, at its conclusion, it restores Daemon as a Targaryen hero. In the episode’s final shots, he scuttles out of the caves with the bisected corpse of the Crab Feeder, ending a brutal three-year war and giving him license to return to King’s Landing to stir the pot. Sorry Viserys, I don’t think the politicking is over.