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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Vicky Jessop

House of the Dragon, episode three recap: Crabs and power grabs

It’s back! House of the Dragon’s third episode has it all: blood, drama and some seriously underhanded political manouevring (not to mention a further couple of incestuous marriage proposals).

But why read a one-sentence synopsis when you could be wading happily through a 2,000-word recap? Without further ado, let us dive back in. As ever, spoilers abound!

We open with a suitably gruesome image: the Crab Feeder, the villain dominating the Stepstone islands, is back, and he’s laying waste to another ship of men.

Some poor sod is getting is hands nailed to a post, and as the crabs crawl up his stomach to his face – the horror! – a rumble sounds in the distance. Daemon, riding his dragon Caraxes, bursts onto the scene, spraying fire.

Needless to say, said sod is thrilled. “Save me!” he screams to Daemon. Then a dragon foot crushes him. If you were looking for an apt metaphor for this series, you’ve found it.

Unfortunately, the raid isn’t even a success: Daemon gets nailed in the shoulder by an arrow, and flies off. Some you win…

Back in King’s Landing, it looks like we’ve jumped forwards in time a few years. Viserys is laughing, for one; also, he has a son, Aegon, who looks to have reached his second nameday (presumably, some variation on his birthday) and the happy family are currently surrounded by cooing courtiers.

It looks like Viserys’s marriage to Alicent Hightower is going swimmingly; in addition to giving him the long-awaited male heir, she’s also heavily pregnant with their second child.

Tyland Lannister interrupts the gathering of sycophants with grim news. The campaign that Corlys Velaryon and Daemon have been waging in the Stepstones (against the Crab Feeder) is going about as well as we gathered in the opening scenes. They’re losing men, and losing morale.

Viserys brushes off Lannister’s concerns; being a King is for people who who aren’t at their son’s second birthday parties. But someone’s missing. “Where’s Rhaenyra?” he asks.

Fallings out

As it turns out, Rhaenyra - still played by Milly Alcock despite the time jump, with Emily Carey as the pregnant Alicent - is lounging under a red-leafed tree, reading a book while some poor minstrel plays the same song over and over again at her command.

As her hunched posture makes clear, she has no interest in playing Happy Families – so when Alicent shows up to request her presence at Aegon’s name-day celebrations, Rhaenyra is unimpressed. Even more so when Alicent orders the minstrel to leave. Rhaenyra demands he stay.

Isolated: Milly Alcock as Rhaenyra (HBO/ Sky)

“Yes, my Queen?” she asks icily. Things have clearly gone downhill since Viserys named her former childhood friend as his bride. Rhaenryra refuses to join the upcoming hunt on the strength of Alicent’s command; when Alicent then confesses the order comes from the King, she marches off.

“None of it needs be this way, in truth, Rhaenyra,” Alicent pleads as the princess leaves.

Oh, but it does – and the ensuing carriage ride to the hunt with Viserys proves to be excruciatingly awkward. Cringe.

When your suitor offers to build you a dragon pit

As miserable and furious as Rhaenyra is, the setting for the hunt is gorgeously opulent: silks hang everywhere, the royal tent is crammed with lounging nobles and you can almost smell the whiff of woodsmoke coming out of the screen.

The princess cuts a strikingly solitary figure, eschewing the ladies corner – where the gossip, incidentally, seems to be about the failing war in the Stepstones – to sit outside, where she is approached by a man who is 80 per cent ginger beard.

But what’s this! He’s a Lannister – in fact, he’s Jason Lannister, the Lord of Casterly Rock (played by Jefferson Hall, who is also very confusingly playing Jason’s twin, Tyland) – and there’s nothing he’d apparently like more than to take Rhaenyra back to his home seat and build her a dragon pit.

“I’d do anything for my Queen,” he tells her slyly, handing her a glass of wine. “Or… lady wife.”

That goes down about as well as a sack of cold sick with Rhaenyra, who promptly hands him back his glass and marches off into the tent to confront her father. In true Viserys style, he seems nonplussed by her anger.

“You’re of age, Rhaenyra,” he tells her. “Jason Lannister is an excellent match.”

When she responds that he’s “arrogant and self-serious”, he’s unmoved: “Well, I thought you might have that in common.”

Apparently, Viserys has been drowning in suitors since she came of age at seventeen, and he tells her that one way or the other, she will have to wed.

Time for the hunt

Because there’s nothing this series loves more than an overstretched metaphor, Otto Hightower sidles up with the perfect distraction for the beleaguered King. As luck would have it, a white hart (stag) has been spotted in the woods nearby.

As Otto slyly reminds Viserys, a stag was traditionally the sign of royalty in Westeros before the Targaryens arrived. Arriving as it does on Aegon’s nameday, surely it’s a convenient sign that the gods favour his grandson… perhaps even as heir, dare he say?

As the king heads out for the hunt, Rhaenyra has her own plans: she hijacks a horse and makes off into the woods, with Ser Criston Cole in hot pursuit.

Though Criston catches up with her, it seems that Rhaenyra is determined to have some alone time, confessing that she’s angry that she’s being sold off as a bride rather than being treated as the rightful heir to the Seven Kingdoms.

“How lucky you are to have a say in your own life,” she tells Cole.

He reminds her that she raised him to the position of Kingsguard. “I would hardly call that toothless,” he tells her. You can practically feel the pheromones oozing off him.

How do you solve a problem like Rhaenyra?

While the two of them make eyes at each other, Viserys (who in all fairness is the kind of person who’d probably be more at home at a model train convention rather than on a throne) is wrestling with the problem of what to do with his errant daughter. Though Paddy Considine obviously hasn’t aged as much as Viserys between episodes 2 and 3, he looks physically more stooped and lined: hats off to the hair and makeup department.

On the hunt: Rhaenyra and Ser Criston (HBO/ Sky)

Several people come in with their own bright ideas. Jason Lannister gives the King a rather phallic spear and tells him that Casterly Rock would be an adequate compensation for Rhaenyra’s loss of station.

Oops. Viserys is stone faced. What loss of station?

Jason, perhaps realising he’s put his foot in it, suggests that when she’s married, the princess would be no longer be heir.

“I did not decide to name Rhaenyra my heir on a whim,” Viserys snaps back. “All the lords of my kingdom would do well to remember that.”

Otto Hightower then slinks in with a suggestion of his own: marry Rhaenyra to Aegon, her two-year-old half-brother; Rhy Ifans plays him as lizard-like as possible, here, and is clearly having a great time doing it.

Tumbleweed. Viserys’ eyes flash; Otto realises he’s overstepped the mark (you think?) and beats a hasty retreat.

Last to come is Lord Lyonel Strong, whom Viserys receives with the weary air of someone who’s heard it all before. Has he come to offer his own son, Harwin, as yet another suitor?

No. Strong in fact suggests Princess Rhaenys’ child Laenor as a suitable match. It solves all the same problems that Viserys’ aborted marriage to the 12-year-old Laena would have done; it shows unity between the two Houses and would heal the rift between Corlys and Viserys.

Bingo. The king looks thoughtful – perhaps he’d be less so, knowing that at this moment Rhaenyra is camping out in the forest with Criston.

As they do, a boar attacks their makeshift camp and throws the princess sideways. Criston gets the first stab; Rhaenyra then goes hell for leather on its twitching body, ramming her dagger repeatedly into its side.

Heir we go

Unfortunately for Viserys, his moment of angst isn’t over: later on we see him drowning his sorrows in front of a massive roaring fire.

“I named her to protect the realm from Daemon. She was my only child, the realm’s delight,” he drunkenly tells Alicent.

He tells her that his relentless quest for a son killed his first wife, Aemma, and that naming Rhaenyra as heir was his way to make things right, but: “What if I was wrong?”

Alicent has no answers, and come the next day, there’s no feted white stag either. Instead, they have to make do with an ordinary one – and the King must do the honours and kill it.

Poor Viserys. All he wants to do is be left alone to tinker on his model palace. Instead he has to spear a deer in the chest (twice, no less) while heavily hungover.

A very bloodstained Rhaenyra, meanwhile, seems to have spent the night in the forest, and as the sunrises over a glorious vista of Westerosi forest, she and Criston see the White Stag appear.

Hallelujah! Our sign from the heavens is back. Does its appearance in fact mean Rhaenyra is the destined heir?

Whatever the reason, Rhaenyra lets it run free – and then drags the boar carcass all the way back to a camp and parades it in front of the gobsmacked nobles. Now that’s a hunt.

Heir we go again

Back in the palace, things are no less tense. Alicent gets a visit from her father, Otto, who lays out his pitch: Aegon is the rightful Targaryen ruler.

Though she’s reluctant to agree with him, Otto is relentless.

Another heir? A pregnant Alicent (HBO/ Sky)

Aegon is being robbed, he tells her, and if Rhaenyra becomes Queen the kingdom will tear itself apart. “To deny he is heir is to assail the laws of gods and men. Aegon will be king,” he says, then: “You must guide Viserys towards reason.”

Great, thanks dad. When she finally does see her husband, he’s still suffering from the mother of all hangovers and seems unwilling to talk about much more than the letter he has received from Laenor (aka Rhaenyra’s potential husband). The war at the Stepstones is going badly, but Viserys is unwilling to send aid because of the tension between himself, Daemon and Corlys.

Fortunately – because what else is a wife for – Alicent talks him around, saying that defeating the Crab Feeder would be good for the kingdom.

She doesn’t broach the subject of the succession, which might be wise, since the next scene shows us the inevitable showdown between her husband and stepdaughter.

“What possible use could you have for me now you have an heir?” Rhaenyra demands of her father. She then goes further, asking: why not sell me to the highest bidder now you no longer need me?

“You have misjudged me, Rhaenyra.” Viserys protests. Every heir and royal needs to get married, he says, and he was no different.

He wants to see her contented and happy – and offers her a deal. Though she needs to marry, she can choose whom she weds. And even better for Rhaenyra (and perhaps surprisingly, given the way she’s been acting this episode): Viserys confirms that she is his heir.

“I swear to you on your mother’s memory, you will not be supplanted,” he tells her. All together now: aww.

Daemon’s feeling crabby

As the nobles back in King’s Landing play politics, Corlys Velaryon is debating the best way to take on the Crab Feeder with his family. The campaign is going badly, son Laenor says, because the pirates are holed up in some very well-defended caves with no plans to leave them. What they need is a way to break the stalemate and lure them out.

Show me one man mad enough to act as bait for the Crab, Corlys challenges. Right on cue, Daemon arrives, bloody and dusty from fighting.

Shortly after, a message from Viserys follows. Daemon reads it and we get a good close up of his face. Is he happy? Is he sad? Well, he hands the scroll back, then proceeds to cheerfully beat the messenger into a pulp.

As he rows off into the sea a few seconds later, we hear what Viserys has told him: he’s sending help, he hopes they can mend the rift between them and wishes him best of success in vanquishing the pirates.

Daemon – who apparently has brother issues rather than daddy issues – appears to have snapped, because we next see him approaching the Crab Feeder and waving a white flag. The pirates poke their heads out of the cave. Archers ready their arrows as a couple approach Daemon. Is it a trap?

Of course it is.

War council: The Velaryons (HBO/ Sky)

What follows is pure Game of Thrones: a vicious, thrilling battle where Daemon takes on the entire pirate force solo with only his sword. It’s top-tier stuff and bloody glorious (as well as gloriously bloody). Matt Smith is clearly having the time of his life; he slashes and hacks with abandon and sells us completely on Daemon’s recklessness and viciousness.

Just when he’s about to go down, surrounded by the enemy and with three arrows in him, help arrives: his dragon obliterates a large swathe of pirates, then the Velaryon army follows suit.

Not contented with what he’s already done, an injured Daemon heads into the caves and comes out dragging the top half of the Crab Feeder’s body. As the music soars, we get a close-up shot of his blood-streaked face and armour. Show us where to pledge our allegiance.

The verdict

The episode ends with one hell of a bang that left me staring at my screen in abject delight. We’ve got more political posturing, Otto Hightower’s true colours are finally showing and it looks like the fight for the Throne is inching towards a confrontation between a somewhat reluctant Alicent and a defiant Rhaenyra. Daemon’s victory most likely means he’ll be back at court soon, too, causing yet more mayhem, and the prospect of more royal children can surely only cause more drama.

How much drama? We’ll have to wait until episode four to find out...

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