Welcome back to our House of the Dragon recap.
Last episode, Rhaenyra and Daemon set the internet on fire by almost getting it on - before Rhaenyra went on to sleep with her Kingsguard, Ser Criston Cole, and get the Hand of the King, Otto Hightower, royally fired. This week sets to continue the fallout from her panicked lying: now a royal wedding with Laenor Velaryon is on the cards, while Viserys’s health continues to go downhill faster than a runaway train.
What chaos awaits this week? Let’s get stuck in.
A divorce… of sorts
We open on a windswept heath. A lone horserider appears – somebody we haven’t seen before. It’s Lady Rhea Royce, Daemon Targaryen’s wife, the hated “Bronze Bitch”, and she’s been out hunting.
But wait! A hooded figure appears. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Daemon, and after a waspish exchange Daemon spooks Rhea’s horse, which throws her. There’s a sickening crunch, and it looks like she’s paralysed.
Rhea starts weeping; Daemon walks away. “Craven!” she screams at him – and then he comes at her with a rock.
That’s one way to solve a marital dispute, but it neatly sets the tone for the rest of the episode: aka, bloody.
And a wedding… of sorts
Rejoining the rest of the cast, we find them all at sea. Viserys is throwing up off the side of the ship, while Rhaenyra (still played by Milly Alcock, in her last episode) stares at him pityingly; looks like he has a touch of seasickness.
Or does he? When they alight at their final destination – Driftmark, the home of the Velaryon family – and are met by Corlys’ children and some ginger friend of Laenor rather than Corlys himself (the disrespect!), Viserys doesn’t look to have perked up any.
But he’s here, so he grimaces through the sweat and proposes a marriage between Rhaenyra and Laenor, Rhaenys and Corlys’ eldest son and heir. Corlys practically purrs at the offer, but has questions of his own. Namely, how will this affect the succession: will the children of the resulting union sit on the Iron Throne as Velaryons?
Ever the diplomat, Viserys poses a solution: the heir will be known as a Velaryon until the moment they ascend the Iron Throne, at which point they will become a Targaryen. Bingo: looks like there’s a royal wedding on the cards.
He loves me, he loves me not
As the adults debate, Rhaenyra and Laenor are taking a walk along the sand dunes.
If she’s to be married, she’s glad it’s to him, she tells him, adding: “I know it’s not what you would choose.” What follows is an extremely convoluted metaphor equating being gay with not liking goose for dinner.
“It’s not for lack of trying. There are those who like goose very well,” Laenor protests. Rhaenyra, confusingly, responds that it’s “a bit greasy” for her, then proposes that a solution: “We perform our duties to our fathers and the realm, and when it’s done, each of us dine as we see fit.”
Looks like family dinners in the Velaryon-Targaryen household are going to be a complicated affair.
As they thrash out their trendy open marriage, Corlys and Rhaenys are debating it too. Corlys is all for it – telling Rhaenys that Laenor’s sexuality is “just a phase”, classic – while Rhaenys worries that they’re letting their son enters the lion’s den.
After all, if Viserys dies and the realm doesn’t accept Rhaenyra as Queen, she says, then Rhaenyra and Laenor will be first in the firing line. However, this doesn’t seem to change the end result: despite her protests, the wedding seems to be going ahead.
Alicent all alone
As the King and his heir enjoy a Driftmark staycation, Alicent (Emily Carey, also making her last appearance) is left to bid farewell to her disgraced father Otto in the pouring rain of the Red Keep.
“I do not wish to see you go,” she tells him, before he shoots back that it was her declaration of Rhaenyra’s innocence that ultimately sealed his fate.
Though Alicent protests that his single-mindedness in seeing her son Aegon on the throne is what led them here, Otto is relentless. “If Rhaenyra succeeds him, war will follow, do you understand? The realm will not accept her and to secure her claim she’ll have to put your children to the sword,” he tells her.
“Either you prepare Aegon to rule or you cleave to Rhaenyra and pray for her mercy.” With those ominous words, he’s off, leaving Alicent standing in the gateway looking very lonely indeed.
Later on, she bumps into Lord Larys Strong, the crippled song of Lyonel, the King’s new Hand. He promptly proves himself to be a shit-stirrer par excellence, hinting that Alicent must be in need of allies.
“I’m the queen, I have plenty of allies,” Alicent says – and that includes Rhaenyra, she implies.
Is that so, Larys wonders. “I did wonder if she could be relied upon, now she is unwell.”
A thundering silence. Larys tells Alicent that the same night her father was dismissed, the Grand Maester was seen delivering a tincture to Rhaenyra’s chambers. The penny drops with a clank, and Alicent starts to suspect that Rhaenyra might not be as innocent of hanky-panky as she swore to her friend.
Left out in the Cole
As Rhaenyra and Viserys leave Driftmark, we cut back to Laenor and find out – gasp! – that his ginger friend is actually his ginger lover, Sir Joffrey, and they’re canoodling on some sand dunes, watching the sun go down.
Though Laenor seems downcast about getting married, Joffrey is more sanguine. It’s a good deal, he says: an open marriage. No goose! He’ll be King Consort! The two kiss, before Joffrey raises the point: Rhaenyra must have a lover of her own. Who is it?
On the ship, things are considerably less rosy. A starry-eyed Ser Criston Cole sidles up to Rhaenyra and asks her thoughts on her upcoming marriage.
“Sir Laenor is a good and decent man but you did not choose him. He was chosen for you,” he tells her, before suggesting an alternative future: one where they run away together. “We will be nameless and free,” he proclaims. “A marriage for love, not for the Crown.”
Needless to say, Rhaenyra is unimpressed. “I am the Crown, Ser Criston. Or I will be. I may chafe at my duties but do you think I will choose infamy?”
Instead, she offers, the two can carry on in her new open marriage. Criston is appalled, saying that he’s soiled his Kingsguard white cloak – “the only think I have to my f***ing name” – for their dalliance. He then storms off, leaving Rhaenyra alone. Oh dear.
The Cole mole
Back in king’s Landing, all is not well. From her balcony, a stone-faced Alicent watches Viserys collapse on his way out of the carriage. She then summons Ser Criston Cole to her chambers and asks him about the truth behind the Rhaenyra rumours.
It’s a nasty Catch-22 (after all, Criston was also involved in what happened) so naturally he caves and confesses to everything. He asks for a merciful death rather than being castrated; Alicent ends up doing neither and lets him leave.
Viserys is (still) dying
While Alicent fumes, Viserys is suffering. A rather ghastly shade of pale, with an arm that looks like it’s rotting off, he’s lying in a bath while doctors argue about how best to treat him.
When Lord Lyonel Strong appears (in place of Alicent, who, it seems, has refused to come), Viserys asks for his advice.
“Will I be remembered as a good king, Lyonel?” he asks his Hand. “What will they say of me when the histories are written? I have neither fought, nor conquered, nor suffered any great defeat.”
A rather haunted Lyonel answers that “some might call that good fortune.”
Lyonel says he has kept the realm strong and in peace – isn’t that better than having songs sung about you? “Perhaps. But there is a part of me that wishes to have been tested. I often think that in a crucible I may have been forged a different man.” Uh-oh: sounds like a deathbed speech if ever we heard one.
Hooray, a wedding!
After a very brief courtship, it’s time for the wedding celebrations. Viserys and a dressed-to-the-nines Rhaenyra – who is rocking a white dress and red ruby hair accessories – are receiving guests, but the Queen is mysteriously absent.
A sour-faced Jason Lannister enquires why, snarking: “This is why men wage war. Because women would never be ready for the battle in time.”
Fortunately, we don’t get to hear much more of him, because the wedding party has arrived – hot on the heels of Daemon Targaryen, who takes his place to thunderous looks from Viserys. Rhaenyra rises and heads around the table to greet her future husband; the pair swap sly smiles and everybody applauds.
But just as Viserys starts the welcome speech, everything pauses. The crowd looks around: the Queen has finally arrived. Fashionably late, it looks like – and she’s certainly looking very stylish in a gown of emerald green.
But wait, there’s subtext: apparently green is the colour the Hightowers use when calling their bannermen to war. Gulp.
On that worrying note, Viserys stumbles through the rest of the speech and the couple take to the floor for a dance, during which longing glances are cast by everyone at everyone. Rhaenyra is staring at Ser Criston Cole; Laenor at his lover and Alicent daggers at both her step-daughter and husband.
As everybody else joins in with the festivities, Alicent slips away to speak to her uncle, Lord Hightower.
“Know that Oldtown stands with you,” he tells her. Ominous.
Oh no, a wedding
At that point, everything starts to go wrong. Rhea’s uncle, Lord Royce, accosts Daemon, telling him that “in the Vale, men are made to answers for their crimes. Even Targaryens.” Seems like Dameon’s not getting away scot-free here.
However, he’s unfazed. In addition to promptly accusing Lord Royce of slander, Daemon merrily threatens to come up to the Vale to claim his wife’s inheritance – which, given that they have no children, should go directly to him.
With Royce fuming, Daemon then slinks over to Laena Velaryon, telling her that she’s “nearly as pretty” as her brother. Thanks for that – but Laena seems charmed, and the two flirt outrageously as Laenor and Joffrey look on.
Joffrey also finds the time to pay a visit to a ramrod-straight Ser Criston Cole. It looks like he’s figured out who Rhaenyra’s paramour actually is, and proceeds to threaten him: keep schtum about Laenor’s relationship, and in return, Criston himself won’t be outed either.
As things heat up, Daemon then slinks over to Rhaenyra (hello) and asks her if this wedding is what she really wants. “He will bore you senseless,” Daemon spits in Valyrian, before Rhaenyra challenges him to sweep her away past her father’s guards and marry her instead.
It looks like he’s within a hair’s breath of getting what he wants - his niece as his wife – and Viserys watches, ashen faced, as they get closer and closer.
Do they kiss? Do they not? The crowd obscures them and the King is royally ticked off. But before he can do anything, there’s a commotion.
What’s happening? It seems that Ser Criston Cole has snapped: he is attacking Joffrey and proceeds to beat him senseless. Ser Harwin Strong (Lyonel’s other son) spirits away a protesting Rhaenyra for her safety, but too late: Joffrey is dead, and Laenor collapses over his lover’s body, screaming.
What follows is truly harrowing: Rhaenyra and a traumatised Laenor are swiftly wed in the Great Hall, with Joffrey’s blood pooling on the stone behind them.
Criston himself is also traumatised: kneeling in the gardens outside the castle, he prepares to commit suicide with a knife – but is stopped by Alicent. And then the credits roll. Phew!
House of the Dragon rarely pulls its punches, but even so this episode felt particularly brutal: a mid-season finale full of anger, betrayal and death. While the episode flies by, the brutal offing of Ser Joffrey - one half of the only gay couple in House of the Dragon - so early on rankles slightly, espc.
Will Ser Criston ever forgive himself? Is Laenor and Rhaenyra’s wedding the most doomed wedding to ever wed? Will Alicent enact her revenge for her father’s disgrace? We’ll have to wait another week to find out – and we’ll be welcoming Emma D’arcy and Olivia Cooke as older versions of Rhaenyra and Alicent as we do so.