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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Tom Huddleston

House of the Dragon recap: episode eight – physically painful to watch

Of course the boys have to kick off … brothers Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney, foreground) and Aemond (Ewan Mitchell).
Of course the boys have to kick off … brothers Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney, foreground) and Aemond (Ewan Mitchell). Photograph: HBO

Spoiler alert: this recap is for people watching House of the Dragon. Do not read on unless you have watched episode eight.

‘The crown cannot stand strong if the house of the dragon remains divided’

Dinner scenes were always a staple of Game of Thrones, from ale-swilling meat feasts at Winterfell to lavish wedding banquets in King’s Landing, from campfire cookouts on the march to the Hound threatening to “eat every fucking chicken in this room”. But the Red Wedding aside, it’s hard to remember one as momentous, as ominous, as downright lengthy as the scene that occupies much of the second half of this episode of House of the Dragon. If we thought last week was the calm before the storm, this one is somehow even calmer – and what follows could be even stormier.

Aptly named The Lord of the Tides, most of the episode concerns the right to claim that noble title, which has come into question following the possibly fatal wounding of Lord Corlys Velaryon, who has been fighting in the Stepstones against a newly resurgent Triarchy (yes, there has been yet another time shift – six years, or thereabouts). If Corlys dies, the Driftwood Throne of High Tide should by rights pass to his legal heir Prince Lucerys (Elliot Grihault) – but the boy isn’t true-born and everyone knows it, especially Corlys’s younger brother Vaemond (Wil Johnson), who longs to claim it for himself. So it’s off to King’s Landing to put this all before the king – or at least the queen, who of course has her own agenda.

‘Those vipers rule in my father’s name’

Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith), Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) and her sons Jacaerys (Harry Collett) and Lucerys (Elliot Grihault).
On family business … Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith), Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) and her sons Jacaerys (Harry Collett) and Lucerys (Elliot Grihault). Photograph: HBO

The action then moves to Dragonstone, where Prince Consort Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) takes a break from spelunking for dragon eggs to read an urgent missive from the capital informing him of the impending heir-to-Driftmark dilemma. Laying the issue before his pregnant wife Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) and her sons Lucerys and Jacaerys (Harry Collett), the family decide to travel to the Red Keep, to petition Rhaenyra’s father King Viserys (Paddy Considine) to intervene on Lucerys’s behalf.

But within the keep, great changes have been wrought. Somehow still breathing after all this time, Viserys is bedridden, consumed by a hideous computer-generated wasting disease and kept pacified by regular draughts of milk of the poppy. In his absence, Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke) and her father, Hand of the King Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) are firmly in charge – and if they can hand control of the Westerosi navy to their ally Vaemond, their cause will be immeasurably strengthened. Judging from the decor, it also seems that Alicent has begun leaning on her religion: a politically expedient move, given that acolytes of the Seven Gods tend to be suspicious of the Targaryens and their irreverent, incestuous ways.

‘This is a matter of blood, not ambition’

Gives short shrift to Rhaenyra … Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best).
Gives short shrift to Rhaenyra … Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best). Photograph: HBO

That religious streak doesn’t seem to have passed down to her children, however. Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) is still a repulsive creep, raping and impregnating servant girls (off-screen, thankfully), despite his marriage to his progressively weirder and more introspective sister Helaena (Phia Saban). This has cleared the way for lanky, one-eyed younger sibling Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) to emerge as the most promising of the bunch and the most dangerous. They may be brothers, but if I were Aegon I’d start watching my back.

Desperately trying to shore up her son’s claim, Rhaenyra turns to Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best), wife of the ailing Lord Corlys, offering to marry her sons to the daughters of the deceased Lady Laena Velaryon, ensuring that the bloodline isn’t, as Vaemond warns, “snuffed out”. But Rhaenys gives short shrift, refusing to back what would seem to be the losing side. That proves to be a mistake, however, as Rhaenyra’s last-gasp plea to her barely conscious father cuts through, forcing the masked Viserys from his bed and, in an almost physically painful scene of relentless determination, back on to the Iron Throne, where Daemon places the crown on his head and the king once again backs his daughter’s claim. That’s not good enough for Vaemond, who vents his righteous rage before the throne only to have his head sliced in half by Daemon in a truly startling moment of throat-grabbing gore.

‘May the mother smile down on this gathering of love’

Still, it seems everyone has recovered from the shock by the time they reach the banquet room, where Viserys has called the family together for what already feels like the final time. For a while, things go unexpectedly well: the confirmation of the betrothal between Rhaenyra’s sons and Daemon’s daughters is accepted with genuine enthusiasm, while Viserys’s plea for unity is both heartfelt and moving – all hail the great Paddy Considine, going out with a rasp and a groan. Rhaenyra’s speech praising Alicent for her support of the king may be politically motivated, but it also seems at least partly genuine, and is accepted genuinely (Alicent may be trying to turn herself into a monster, but she is not there yet). Her response – under the watchful, doubtful eye of her father – is even more sincere, offering what seems like a true path to peace, if only temporarily.

Because of course the boys have to kick off – and of course it is Aegon who sets the ball rolling. Jacaerys responds to his uncle’s taunts by asking Aegon’s wife Helaena to dance, which draws Aemond into the fray, mocking the boys parentage and practically begging Jacaerys to take a pop at his other eye. Daemon steps in before things get too dark, their smirking face-off offering the delicious prospect of an uncle-nephew smackdown somewhere down the line – this series’s Mountain v Hound, perhaps? After that, all that was left was for Viserys to finally, belatedly, shuffle off his mortal coil. Will Alicent choose to conveniently misconstrue his final words, and take them as a sign that the king wished for their son to mount the throne? All the portents point to yes.

Additional notes

He hasn’t aged a day … Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith).
He hasn’t aged a day … Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith). Photograph: HBO

• What exactly is the age difference supposed to be between Viserys and Daemon? At the start of the series they seemed a few years apart; now one is a doddering wreck while the other is sprinting up cliffs and fathering broods of kids. Yes, Viserys has a terrible disease, but it still seems Daemon hasn’t aged a day.

• Was Harwin Strong really Jacaerys’s father, or was it Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) all along? With the recasting of the prince there’s a definite similarity between the pair – but wouldn’t Criston or Alicent have done the maths by now?

• Just when we were starting to wonder where Daemon’s old squeeze Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno) had got to, up she pops, eliciting castle gossip from one of the Red Keep servants. Did she send the raven to Daemon, warning him of the queen’s plots? Either way, she’s up to something.

Violence count

A spot of courtyard swordplay aside, that blade to the head was the episode’s one real moment of grue – but the funeral preparation scene that followed was even more disturbing, with its long, lingering shots of graphic, tongue-flopping horror.

Nudity count

He may be played by a new actor, but Prince Aegon seems just as willing to get his bum out in front of his angry, disappointed mother.

Random Brit of the week

I’m ashamed to admit that I blinked and missed the mighty Phil “Parklife” Daniels’s brief cameo in last week’s episode – thanks to all those commenters who pointed it out. He was back again, though, as the High Valyrian-speaking Maester Gerardys of Dragonstone – an unusually muted part for an actor best known for playing gobby geezers with soul in the likes of Quadrophenia, Scum and the gloriously berserk Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire.

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