House of the Dragon episode four spoilers ahead
Buckle up, it’s that time of the week again. Yes, it’s time to get down and dirty with Westeros’ cunning ruling elite. Last week’s episode finished with Daemon’s explosive fight and had us all believing that an altercation between Queen Alicent and Princess Rhaenyra was imminent. Now we get to find out.
Adieu Adieu, to you and you and you
The episode opened with Princess Rhaenyra (still the younger one, played by Milly Alcock) sitting in a grey stone room, looking at a group of equally drab men. They’ve been chosen as potential suitors by her Dad Viserys and now everyone is taking turns trying to impress her. She’s acerbic in her responses: “The man is older than my father. It’s unseemly for him to put himself forward as a contender for my hand,” she whispers to her advisor in front of one particularly ancient admirer.
Next in the running: a literal child! Oh good, it’s been at least two minutes since child marriage has been on the agenda in the show and it’s as humiliating as you’d expect. When the poor lad says he can offer his protection, one of the other suitors scoffs: “Protection? The princess has a dragon you dumb c**t”. Everyone laughs, except the kid.
Rhaenyra sees the frothing bust-up as the perfect opportunity to abandon the whole malarkey. Though the child, it turns out, is a bit of a David - seconds later his jeering Goliath is smacked to the ground, spluttering blood. The Princess only momentarily looks back.
Then we are on a boat heading back to King’s Landing with Rhaenyra and Ser Criston Cole (aka the hot knight who, er, keeps the Princess company). Rhaenyra is pondering whether her Dad’s going to be angry at her, since she is returning from her trip nearly two months early, and has rejected every single suitor he’d lined up. Though to be honest she does seem only marginally bothered about the consequences awaiting her. A dragon roars through the sky, rocking the boat. Who could be riding it?
At King’s Landing, the court is assembling. Rhaenyra sneaks in and stands with the crowd. Daemon enters wearing some sort of battle armour and a crown that looks like it’s made of tusks or bamboo. Battle looks good on him: his hair is slightly shorter and he looks rougher and slightly less demented than usual. He holds up a sword and says, “Add it to the chair.” It’s really not a brilliant joke, at all, but Rhaenyra stifles a chuckle.
Daemon then kneels to his brother the king, with the words: “I know that there is only one true king, your grace,” which any regular Game of Thrones viewer will know is a massive red flag. Things don’t ever go well. People don’t change for the better; they don’t repent or submit. We’ve been forever ruined by gruesome back stabbings and shocking murders. So as Daemon says these yielding words the tension is unbelievably high. “My crown and the stepstones are yours,” he adds. Otto Hightower and the King look at each other, understandably alarmed by his unlikely submission. The King asks: “Where is Lord Corlys?” He’s gone home, explains Daemon, which definitely doesn’t sound at all dodgy, absolutely not.
But the battle of the Stepstones has been won, we’re told. Daemon puts his head on his brother’s shoulder and they embrace in a stiff hug. “The realm owes you a great debt brother,” says Viserys, cautiously. And that’s that – for now.
A family do
As the royal family gathers in a courtyard garden, the King and Daemon are getting on very well, making jokes about tapestries (royals, eh?) which means that Alicent and Rhaenyra end up on a bench together. “I surmise the tour did not go well,” says Alicent. “I endured it for as long as I could,” replies the Princess.
”Have every young knight and lord in the seven kingdoms fawning over you. What misery,” replies Alicent. She has a point: she is, after all, married to an ageing King with rotting flesh wounds, has already birthed him a child and she’s probably not even 20 years old yet. Perhaps selecting a husband from all the men in the land isn’t so bad.
Smash cut and Daemon and Rhaneyra are having a little chat outside next to the red Weirwood tree (fun fact, Weirwood trees usually aren’t found in King’s Landing – its forested areas, or Godswoods, are typically made of oak – so there’s a question mark around why HBO chose to have one here). There’s also a table of food laid out underneath a sheltered area which is surrounded by pillars.
“You seemed so content on Dragonstone. Why did you come back? There is surely more to your return than simply taunting my father?” asks Rhaneyra. Yes, exactly what we’ve all been thinking since that suspicious performance in the Throne Room. Daemon touches her necklace tenderly and says he just wanted to come home. He seems calmer and she comments on the change in his demeanour. He says she has changed too over the last four years (OK, so we’ve been given a more concrete time frame).
They chat about the future, she complains that her Dad wants to marry her off (the subject is clearly weighing heavily on her mind – talk about a stuck record). For women, says Rhaneyra, marriage is a death sentence. When you think back to her Mum in the birthing chamber, bleeding to death, you have to say she’s not completely wrong. “I won’t subject myself to the same fate,” she says.
“You cannot live your life in fear, or you will forsake the best parts of it,” says Daemon, which isn’t awful advice. The vibes between this pair are undeniably excellent. They are just so at ease in each other’s company.
But nobody’s at ease in the darkly-lit council room, where the assembled nobles are talking about the wayward Lord Corlys Velaryon.
Apparently, he plans to marry his daughter Laena – who by now must be around 16 years old at least, practically an old maid – off to the son of the Sealord of Braavos (the ruler of the Free City of Braavos). He’s no king, but he certainly does wield some power – Braavos is after all the wealthiest and most powerful of the Free Cities. If it goes ahead, “we would have to enter our own marriage pact,” says Hand of the King and slippery eel Otto. Rhaenyra, who also has a seat at the table, looks crestfallen as the pressure mounts for her to couple up.
A game of seduction
It’s night, and poor old Alicent is standing by a window bouncing her baby in her arms. She looks overwhelmed and isolated - being a young mum in Westeros can’t be a lot of fun, especially a royal one.
Meanwhile, Rhaenyra heads back to her room (passing the hot knight who is guarding her door), to find a rucksack – what’s it called in Westeros? A sack? A haversack? I think we should be told – containing a change of clothes and a diagram. It says to push on a part of a wall, which she duly does, and it swings open, revealing a hidden bannister. Somehow she knows what she must do: get changed into the clothes, which make her look like a street urchin, and follow the secret route. She slips through the castle’s dark crypt, past a giant dragon head, and who should be waiting for her but uncle Daemon, wearing a hooded cloak, also hiding his royal identity.
He takes her down into the narrow streets to witness the city’s disorderly evening activities: there’s firebreathing, people having sex, tightrope walking, fortune telling, drinking (Rhaenyra has a cup of whatever’s on offer) – it’s all happening in the candlelit carnival that are the streets of King’s Landing. People and dirty and hairy and chaotic. Think Eyes Wide Shut meets a Beowulf feast. “Do you wish to know your death, child?” says a spooky woman with glacial eyes. Rhaenyra looks delighted by the entire spectacle.
Cut to poor old King Viserys in a bath and Alicent is dutifully tending to his sores. It’s very quiet and very boring. You can see why she lacks sympathy for her childhood friend’s plight.
Then back to the disorder of the street, and a performance of street theatre. It’s an all-male theatre company and they are pretending to be royals. As you might imagine, it’s a vulgar affair: one of them pretends to give birth, another pulls out his “cock” – it’s actually a rope. Another, who is giving off powerful Father Jack Hackett vibes, narrates the scene. “Would she make a powerful queen, or would she be feeble?” he asks the crowd about Rhaenyra. “Feeble” shout the crowd back. Ah, poor old Rhaenyra – she’s a good sport, though, jokingly shouting “slander” from the crowd.
“Their wants are of no consequence,” says Rhaenyra to her uncle. “They’re of great consequence if you expect to rule them one day,” replies Daemon. As they’re walking down another narrow street, Rhaenyra picks up a cup of what is surely another alcoholic concoction and runs off with it. Daemon chases her.
Flash cut to Alicent, nodding off in bed. There’s a knock on the door from an embarrassed servant - the King, it seems, wants a late-night visit. Alicent looks dismayed, then it’s back to Rhaenyra and Daemon at some sort of orgy/party. People are naked with some shapes drawn on their bodies and they are dancing - in contrast to poor old Alicent, seen lying flat as a pancake looking bored while the King gets on with it. His lesions – of which there are now dozens – are eye-watering.
As Daemon and Rhaenyra venture deeper into the brothel, it’s less of a party now, and more of a dark room, as it were. Everywhere the Princess looks there are couples, coupling: “What is this place?” she asks her uncle (let’s not forget).
“It’s where people come to take what they want,” replies Daemon. It’s a nice turn of phrase, but one which may later come to haunt her. The pair are getting closer, rubbing against each other as they pass through the space.
“F***ing is a pleasure you see. For the woman as it is for man.” They get even closer. Then, outrageously, they start to kiss.
“Marriage is a duty. It doesn’t stop us from doing what we want. F***ing who we want.” says Daemon. All viewers’ jaws are surely, at this point, on the floor. Things get close - but just as they’re about to get it on, he stops. And walks off. Rhaenyra is left, unrobed, alone. Ouch-arama. She leaves, returning home, forgetting to put her hat back on and as she runs up a narrow candle-lit stair, a small boy, a street urchin, follows. GoT fans already know what this means.
It’s been an exciting night for the Princess and, still hot and bothered, she starts flirting with the hot knight. She steals his helmet – he doesn’t want to play – but in a matter of minutes they are quietly looking at each other as she starts to remove his armour. He seems slightly reluctant, but it’s difficult to know whether this is because he is scared for his job, doesn’t feel it’s appropriate, doesn’t fancy her, or just isn’t feeling it.
In any case, he doesn’t object for long and seconds later they are undressing. It’s a sweet scene: they are both wearing so many layers it takes quite a while to get to skin level – even their shoes have dozens of laces. Then they have sex, and perhaps it’s the nicest scene we’ve seen since the show began: Passion! Romance! Hoorah!
Oh, but of course, it can’t last. The screen moves to oleaginous Otto who is out and about, getting up to no good. Who should appear to speak to him, but – gasp – the urchin of course. The little rat! We knew it.
Of course Otto can’t wait to share the “discomforting news” with the King of his daughter’s “exploits”.
“She was carrying on with her uncle. They were engaged in behaviours unbecoming of a maiden. Of a princess,” he says. Yikes.
As his own daughter looks on from a hidden spot, Otto informs his sovereign that Daemon and Rhaenyra were seen together “in the bowels of the pleasure den - coupling.” This displeases Viserys in the extreme, but not entirely for the reasons that Otto is hoping. Furious - and even while wearing a Wee Willie Winkie nightie the King looks like a man you would not want to cross – he challenges Otto: why is he having his daughter spied upon, after all? Creep.
“You think yourself a cunning man. Your designs are obvious. Do you wish to have your blood on the Iron Throne so badly that you are willing to destroy mine own?” He’s seething and Otto is sent away.
In the morning hot knight comes into Rhaenyra’s room – he’s looking sheepish, or is it ashamed? Queen Alicent wants to see the princess. They meet by the red tree, and there she reads the princess her rights.
“This is a vile accusation,” says Rhaenyra. “Is it?” replies Alicent. “You Targaryens have queer customs. And Daemon certainly knows no limits.” She’s not wrong.
“To question my virtue is an act of treason,” says Rhaenyra, defiantly. It’s another high-tension moment in this hour-long television equivalent of having a freezing cold shower aka can I breathe out soon, please?
In the end, Rhaenyra spins it by admitting that she did go into the city with Daemon, that they drank, and that she went with him as her escort, that she had no choice. They went to a show together, she explains, but nothing happened. Lying through her teeth, Rhaenyra swears on her mother’s memory that she didn’t do anything untoward.
Gone too far
Daemon doesn’t get away scot-free though. We find him in the Throne Room, on the floor, having been brought there by the guards. His loose white shirt (which suggests he wasn’t given a lot of time to get dressed before being dragged here) contrasts with the King’s structured black outfit that makes him look ready for battle.
The time that has passed since Otto’s revelation has only given the King’s fury time to ferment and he starts kicking his brother. “Won’t you even deny it?” says Viserys, boot in stomach. “You defiled her. You have ruined her. What lord will wed her now in this condition?”
“Who gives a f*** what some lord thinks,” his brother replies. You know things are bad when what Daemon says seems the more reasonable. “You are the dragon, your word is truth and law.” From his foetal position, Daemon suggests that he wed Rhaenyra. So when he spoke in the brothel about “taking what you want” he was, after all talking about the Throne.
Viserys isn’t falling for it. “Of course it’s not my daughter you lust for, it’s my throne,” he says, before banishing his brother once and for all.
It’s daytime and Alicent is standing by a window with her husband (it could very well be the same window that Queen Cersei spent all that time looking out of while plotting). She tries to persuade Viserys of Rhaenyra’s innocence. “It is not in Rhaenyra’s nature to be deceitful,” she says.
“Whatever transpired, Rhaenyra is not innocent,” says the King. He’s really digging his heels in on this one, still absolutely furious. However, his wig seems to have slipped back a little on his head – there is no chance his forehead used to be that extended – and it detracts a little (a lot) from the otherwise dramatic scene.
“Daemon and Rhaenyra share the blood of the dragon. They’re restless and chaotic,” says the King, with reason. But Alicent sticks her neck out for Rhaenyra, saying that she believes the yarn the princess spun by the red tree.
It’s the inevitable showdown for Rhaenyra with her old Pa, and she’s not looking forward to it. As she enters his room she spots a dagger in flames. Her father speaks about its past owners and pulls it out from the fire – it’s turned molten. “Before Aegon’s death, [Aegon was the first king of the Targaryen dynasty] the last of the Valyrian pyromancers hid his song in the steel,” says the King.
“From my blood come the prince that was promised. And his will be the Song of Ice and Fire,” reads Rhaenyra. The King explains that this responsibility that he handed to her, the burden of this knowledge, is “larger than the Throne, the King”. Oh good, she thinks, so she isn’t going to be horrifically rebuked after all.
“It is larger than you, and your DESIRES,” he spits. Ah, there it is. He explains that truth does not matter, only perception. That she is exposed and that now they must both suffer the consequences. If she were a man she could do what she liked, she protests. “You’re right,” says the King. “But you were born a woman.” Candlelight flickers across their faces, tears fill Rhaenyra’s eyes.
She won’t lose her titles, her father tells her, but only because it’s more important to hold the realm together. “Your courtship is at an end,” he says. She is to wed Ser Laenor Velaryon, Lord Corlys Velaryon and Princess Rhaenys Targaryen’s only son.
“The son of the Sea Snake? So I can be a remedy for your political headaches,” scoffs Rhaenyra. “You are my political headache,” her father shouts back. The match will unite the two most powerful families, cementing their future.
“And what will you do about the vulture that perches upon your throne?” asks the Princess. It’s a seriously punchy move, given how much trouble she’s currently in. Surely her defiance alone means she is going to make a formidable Queen? “Your Hand,” she adds.
She warns her father that Otto is spying on her to bring about her ruin and that his intentions are not good: he wants Aegon to sit on the Throne. The King says that every person has self-interest, that it’s unavoidable. Rhaenyra says she will do her duty and marry, but she encourages her father to step up as King.
Who should then walk in but Mr Hightower himself? Talk about timing.
“Five days,” says the King.
We’re in for one of those kingly performance moments - it must be nice to have people who have to stand and listen to your monologue. To Hightower (Rhaenyra seems to have exited the room at this point), Viserys recounts a story about his father dying “from a burst belly”.
“Gods have a dark wit,” says the King, then walks towards his Hand. “It was a good day for you,” he adds. “Jaehaerys named you Hand in Balon’s stead.”
Otto looks concerned, as well he might. The King, who hasn’t stopped frothing at the mouth since he heard about Rhaenyra’s escapades, is slowly pacing the room now. There’s a dark shadow over the scene that has been caused by the lighting, but you could cut the tension between the two men with a historic knife.
“You are the man who taught me to be king,” says Viserys, smoothly. It feels like nails are being dragged down a chalkboard: Otto is clearly bricking it. “Just five days. You went from being just another man in Jaehaerys’s court to the second most powerful man in the realm. I wonder, how long did it take you to choose yourself over your king?”
Otto’s face is pinched now, his eyes not blinking for even a second. The King says that Alicent was a calculated distraction while he went through the worst of his grief after his wife died.
“I only now realise how well calculated it was.” If you’ve been thinking, crikey this scene is going on for a long time, you’re not alone. Somehow, this minutes-long exchange is stretching into infinity as the King’s accusations come crashing down on Otto, who feebly tries to defend himself. “The Queen loves you...” he says, weakly.
But the King is raging. “Your interests no longer align with those of the realm.”
“A loyal hand must tell his King a discomforting truth from time to time, your grace,” replies Otto. But his time is up and he knows it.
“You were a faithful servant, Otto,” says the King, then he plucks the Hand of the King’s brooch from Otto’s chest: the decision has been made. The King cannot trust him. It’s over. Otto looks devastated, melancholic music starts playing, even though most of us are cheering.
In the end, the King chose his daughter, which in this bleak and vicious land certainly means something. It doesn’t bode well for Viserys, though – those with consciences usually meet a sticky end in Westeros. The last scene is of the Meister – he brings Princess Rhaenyra a specially concocted tea, apparently ordered by the King.
It will rid her of any “unwanted consequences” from her actions. Ugh. Rhaenyra stares at it, tears forming. The episode ends.
Although there was less action in episode four, the tension has never been higher. Relationships become ever more complicated, characters become more twisted and sinister and pressure builds. Everything is set up for disaster: What will Alicent make of her husband’s decision? What will happen to Rhaenyra when she drinks the special tea (if she drinks it - and what will happen if she doesn’t)? What is the banished Daemon plotting? What will Otto do to get revenge? A week is far too long to have to find out what happens next.