Guess I’ll be doin one of these a week after all.
House of the Dragon is off to a strong start. Much like a certain confrontation on Dragonstone, it ain’t backing down. Characters have been established, houses and alliances are teetering, and, after a funeral late last ep, a wedding is already in order!
In the second ep dubbed “The Rogue Prince,” six months have passed since Rhaenyra was proclaimed heir and not much has changed. She’s back to pouring wine at the small council with a boldness in her step. When she suggests unleashing dragons on a seafaring threat in the South known as the “Crab Feeder,” it catches the attention of the master of ships, Corlys Velaryon, but gets the cold shoulder from her father—who can’t be bothered to look up from his damn King’s Landing lego set. Even when Daemon throws a Targaryen tantrum by stealing a dragon egg, Viserys is too easily coaxed by Otto Hightower into doing nothing at all.
If King of the Seven Kingdoms is like being President, then unleashing dragons is like launching the nuclear arsenal. We’ve seen this council handwringing over dragons in Game of Thrones and all it did was wind up Daenerys to the point of madness. Viserys follows in his grandfather Jaehaerys’ footsteps, who ushered in the realm’s longest era of peace. (Which is why he was named the Old King.) Viserys seems obligated to maintain that to the point of never leaving the Red Keep. His dragon has tamed, while Rhaenyra’s is starting to come out in recent months.
This acknowledgement of time passing feels like a godsend. GoT’s final stretch blazed past the notion entirely, time traveling (and straight up barreling) toward its endgame. HotD, then, is patiently churning toward another doom altogether.
Rhaenyra knows why she’s been named heir—that her father didn’t choose her so much as he chose to spite Daemon. She confides in Alicent Hightower in the Sept, at the heels of the Mother – an on-the-nose symbolism of the roles women are expected to fulfill in this world, and how serene any of this shit is supposed to sound. The scene is doubly cunning, but more on that later.
Where Viserys stays because his Hand bids him to, Rhaenyra puts those nuclear codes to the test. Fire & Blood, as I’ll keep mentioning, is not so much a thrilling page-turner as it is a self-indulgent record of fantasy history. This confrontation at Dragonstone amounts to a few sentences, so the fact that the show can draw something SO gorgeous (and so richly dramatic) out of one line in a dry history scroll is impressive, and proving to be HotD’s strength so far.
It’s uncle versus niece at the OG seat of House Targaryen, two dragonriders and outcasts who have more in common than they think. Daemon’s bluff, in the end, is called. He didn’t get his brother’s attention, but he got Rhaenyra’s. (Reminding y’all again, don’t be too fooled by generational rivalries; in this House, such conflicts register as sexual tension.)
A niece’s renewed fortitude gets a gut check too. Aunt Rhaenys a.k.a. the queen who never was has some excellent verbal sparring with the queen to be. You’d think with their namesakes they’d get along just fine… Rhaenyra believes she’s been bestowed her destiny, while Rhaenys sees a ghost of Harrenhal. As mentioned before, this is where GoT shined resolutely – in the passive insults and parries, and royal side-eyeing of conversation. Rhaenys is pulling some Cersei Lannister action here, having the last word while barely raising her voice.
It’s easy to assume there’s lingering resentment towards Viserys and the council of Harrenhal all those years ago, but it’s so much more complicated than that. Perhaps Rhaenys is dividing a daughter from her father, or she sees the engine that may burn up the patriarchy once and for all. Or both! Call that Westeros multi-tasking.
As Viserys regales Alicent with his King’s Landing miniature, he accidentally breaks Balerion’s figure. I love me some foreshadowing.
Viserys is so concerned about the Doom of Valyria repeating itself—which he’s right but about 200 years too early. He’s too mindful of the histories, where inaction is his only course. He’s grown feeble, deteriorating from scabs endured on the Iron Throne while his Hand grows bolder every day. While Corlys Velaryon across the aisle demands the dragon to act.
And so we arrive at the BIG YIKES part of this episode. Corlys proposes the king marry his *checks notes, double and triple checks notes* 12-year-old daughter, Laena. Characters like Cersei have been blunt about gender expectations – often with a chalice of wine to temper the blow – but that doesn’t make this walk across the courtyard any less cringe. Corlys looks on, less out of concern for his own child and more concerned that his king will jump ship. Viserys, at least, has the good conscience to decline the proposal. Instead, he takes 15-year-old Alicent Hightower, so… never mind anything about conscience. (He mistakes a girl’s undivided attention for undying affection. Classic doofus.)
The scene at the Sept reads as a great big lie to Rhaenyra. She confided in Alicent, but Alicent in turn failed to disclose that she was having, uh, daily conversations with her father these last six months. Alicent’s plea for Rhaenyra to talk to her father makes her seem like a mouthpiece for the king than a dear friend checking in.
Viserys has made two huge decisions now that have alienated his daughter. He chose the C-section on Queen Aemma that killed her and baby Baelon, and he chooses to wed Alicent thus splintering them as BFFs. (Earlier in the ep, he asks Alicent if she tells Rhaenyra about their talks, so he knows what he’s doing will wreck his daughter and does it anyway.) It’s a choice, too, that makes Viserys look all the weaker in choosing his “heart” over duty in uniting the great houses of Old Valyria. Hate to agree with Corlys but he’s right, shit is abusrd.
Of course, Alicent isn’t the sole agent at play here. She is merely doing what her father tells her. But like all things in this show, it’s 50x complicated. She IS Rhaenyra’s friend, which is itself a shakeup from Fire & Blood and a welcome one as it mines more dramatic potential out of the betrayal. Actress Emily Carey’s eyes betray something a little more heartbreaking than a two-faced friend – that she has no choice in a world where powerful men have control of the chessboard. My girl is ANXIOUS. Remember her nails???
Otto Hightower, as it turns out, has been slyly pulling a Littlefinger behind the scenes – protecting the king’s interests while securing his own. Using his dead wife as a manipulation tactic, no less! He lied to Daemon at Dragonstone claiming his brother “couldn’t be bothered” thereby furthering the rift, and plays wedding planner without uttering a word. It came out of the king’s own mouth, and how satisfying must that have been for Otto. The Hightowers are in prime position to inherit the throne, leaving Rhaenyra’s succession, shall we say, up in the heir.
It’s not just Rhaenyra who’s been spurned. Corlys got burned twice in one ep, and quickly goes from one dragon to another. A big battle is on the horizon with House Velaryon teaming up with Daemon to fight the Crabfeeder – a promise of “The Spoils of War 2.0.”
It seems Caraxes doesn’t need to be unleashed to set the realm on fire. Turns out a marriage proposal can do that all on its own.