House of the Dragon – There and Back Again

How close are you with your uncle?

We’re back in King’s Landing with a reunion of sorts. One Targaryen takes his place on the Iron Throne, another arrives by sea, another comes with some dramatic flair via dragon. For us, it’s been 3 episodes in House of the Dragon, but for them it’s been 4 years since they last saw each other. So why does it feel less like homecoming and more like a bomb about to go off?

DAEMON RETURNS

In ep 4 titled, “King of the Narrow Sea,” everybody’s favorite little shit is back to stir things up, and my, what an entrance. We might see Viserys suiting up as king and resuming his uneasy perch amid the garden of swords. But it’s Daemon whom everyone can’t take their eyes off of—he who controls the room as HotD’s premier wild card.

Last ep, a scroll from dearest big bro sent Daemon into a frenzy. He’s done nothing but bold things so far, so provoking the Kingsguard is hardly a shocker. It comes with being “the rogue prince.” To everyone’s surprise, Daemon kneels before his king – a gesture that if made by anyone else would ease the tension, but with him it only supercharges the moment with his unpredictability.

Daemon offers up his seashell crown and the Crabfeeder’s fallen axe as an apology. Viserys, meanwhile, uses Blackfyre a.k.a. Aegon the Conqueror’s sword (and arguably the most famous sword in the realm) as a walking stick, whereas we last saw Daemon chop foes left and right with Dark Sister in his mad Achilles run. Matt Smith at this point has carved out an indelible swagger, one that recalls Pedro Pascal as Oberyn Martell, with the smugness of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s early days as Jaime Lannister. Two estranged brothers seemingly reconcile. Viserys sees a second chance—or 3rd, or 30th. Rhaenyra sees a fucking rock star.

A NIGHT IN KING’S LANDING

Rhaenyra might’ve been on a touring barge for a suitor these last 6 months, but that hardly meant freedom. She was under guard, under the council of men, and browsing through more litters of men who vie for her name, not her heart. So who better to unshackle with than, uh, your uncle on a freewheeling night on the town?

First, Rhaenyra discovers there are secret passageways through the Red Keep. I’m sure those will come in handy later. Then she finds out that the streets of King’s Landing is where the party’s at. More importantly, she finds out what the commonfolk really think of her.

The very thing she’s trying to escape is on full display to bruise her ego. This Play of Thrones lays bare all of her anxieties of late. “Lies! Slander!” she screams, to no one but herself. Girl, lies and slander are chess pieces in presidential elections the game of thrones. The princess of Dragonstone, quite crucially, does not see the whims of the “lowborn” as her concern. We’ll see how far that takes her.

Daemon, however, takes her all the way into the bowels of a pleasure den. Remember when I said don’t be too fooled by generational rivalries in this House? The sexual tension is laid bare and it’s crazy to even recap. Like, imagine explaining this to a friend, let alone a family member who walks in on this scene in the brothel. They’ll be all “oooooo steamy” then you gotta point out, “yea they’re also uncle and niece.” I still recall the days of Jaime and Cersei, back when incest was meant to make us groan, going all the way to Jon Snow and Daenerys. Fast forward to now and there’s fan art AND FAN CAMS of Daemon and Rhaenyra sitting in a tree, etc. Y’all are weird and sick and beautiful SOBs.

I won’t get lost in the details because it’s very clear what’s happening, nor will I dive into why this is twisted, because that’s obvious too and there are takes for days on that stuff. I’m more interested in the psychology. Daemon makes his lust for Rhaenyra as explicit as anyone can, and it seems like they’ll both go through with the deed. Until Rhaenyra turns around to face him. From her POV, she’s been shopped around these last couple of months, hearing droves of men reciting their titles and memorized speeches, who only lust for the crown her name comes with. Then here is a man who wants her for her—except that man is her uncle who’s known her since she was a baby.

We’ve seen Daemon have technical difficulties before, but it’s almost as if he wasn’t facing Rhaenyra, he could commit to the incest – a thing that’s normal for this House and these Seven Kingdoms for a while now. Face front, however, and having to stare in his niece’s eyes, suddenly he can’t. (Maybe it’s dragon-riding kink thing – both Daemon and Rhaenyra want to pin the other and they can’t have that?) There is something madly complicated going on, not just the crazy sex stuff.

HOUR OF THE HOWL

Rhaenyra’s all hot and bothered with nowhere to go except back to the Red Keep. Daemon left her, but hey look who’s there at her door? Prince Casp– Ser Criston Cole. (I’m sorry, my guy looks like he’s straight outta Narnia.) It reminds me of Dave Chapelle’s set on Bill Clinton and powerful people: “they fuck who’s close to them.” A choice of convenience? Sure. Ser Cole also had asked for her favor in the tournament, so it’s only right she ask one of hers. She chose Ser Cole as her heir guard, and she chooses him on this night through and through.

Another round of psychology here. There is mutual attraction; Ser Cole is exemplifying his devotion to her as any knight-in-shining-armor story goes. But surely there’s a knife to his throat here? If he doesn’t do his duty, who knows what an angry (and unfulfilled) Targaryen might do to him in retaliation? Their clothing might be all on the floor, but the power dynamics are not equal. Rhaenyra is taking what she wants, not knowing what she wants also means a knight breaking his vows, and giving up her own maidenhood that’s supposed to be saved for marriage. (Did a Christian write the marriage laws in Westeros???) They’re exposed and vulnerable; what they are doing is a risk for both of them—which only makes this intimate moment even steamier. Consequences notwithstanding, Rhaenyra and the viewers at home thank you for your service, Ser Criston Cole.

Across the Red Keep, something less steamy is happening in the King’s chambers. Viserys bids a servant to basically do a “u up?” knock to the queen, and she’s forced to do her own duty. Both Targaryen monarchs are on top this ep. One is to more pleasurable ends, the other is brutally reminded of her place and purpose.

BENEATH THE WEIRWOOD TREE

Earlier in the ep, Rhaenyra and Alicent (and a nosy Bran, I imagine) finally made up after 3 years of royal side-eyeing across the court, at the very place where it seemed like nothing could come between them. They speak honestly, openly, finally. Maybe too open. “How romantic it is to be locked in a tower and be made to squeeze out heirs,” Rhaenyra said, followed by a hard cut to Alicent and the colors draining from her face. Moments later, we see Alicent cradling baby Helaena in front of the Red Keep’s grand windows that look like a cage, with the knowledge, too, that this same burden will pass onto her baby girl in due time.

When she talks to Rhaenyra again under the weirwood, she’s disgusted about the rumors. (And maybe a little hurt that she didn’t get an invite.) For Alicent, sex is pain and childbirth and I don’t know what the fuck I’m supposed to be doing. She cannot fathom it being pleasurable. She’s also never been to a brothel and is very well-read on Targaryen history, so of course she’s judge-y. And it’s here where their relationship takes on a new wrinkle. Rhaenyra actually addresses Alicent as queen and sister in the same breath. She confides in her friend the same as before, but not enough to tell her the whole truth. Rhaenyra gets cornered, then corners herself in a lie—swearing on her mother’s name, no less.

The tragedy of Rhaenyra and Alicent is that if they were common folk, they might’ve been best friends forever. The higher on the ladder you are, it seems, the less friends you have, which Alicent admits heart-wrenchingly. “I’m trying to help you,” she says here. Rhaenyra ought to be forthcoming to her friend in return, but she can’t anymore. Things have changed. Alicent is queen, stepmom, the sis she never had, all in one. And Alicent’s son is her challenger to the throne. It’s not the same anymore.

DAEMON LEAVES, AGAIN

The second chance was nice while it lasted. Viserys confronts little brother about what he’s done, and it’s important to note that he’s not mad about the incest per se (Queen Aemma was his cousin), more so that Daemon “deflowered” her. Or that it was just Daemon. The whole appeal of Game of Thrones for me is characters making hard choices. You can almost see the dialogue options in real-time like an RPG. They could tell the truth, play neutral, or go rogue. Protagonists in this world always seem to make the choice that will complicate things 50x more going forward—none more so than Daemon.

If Rhaenyra lies to Alicent that he “never touched her,” then Daemon lies to Viserys about sleeping with her. Truth doesn’t matter to Daemon so much as function. If lying about last night makes Rhaenyra tainted in Viserys’ eyes, then maybe that makes it easier to propose a marriage. But it doesn’t work that way because Viserys – for all of his weakness and blind spots – is still a father. Daemon could’ve asked for literally anything else and he’d get it. His seat on the small council, wear the crown for an afternoon, or time in the chair to be heir for a day. But Rhaenyra’s hand? Gtfo.

Just as quickly as he arrives, he gets booted. My man can’t last a full 24 hours in King’s Landing without starting shit. Legend of chaos right there.

THE DAY VISERYS FINALLY BECAME KING

There’s a delayed reaction to Viserys that I find both hilarious and compelling. It takes him 4 years to realize he’s been played. I suppose better late than getting your head chopped off.

When Otto Hightower informs him of his daughter’s escapades, Viserys flares at his Hand in full force. Knowing how the ep ends, it’s clear Viserys believes something happened, yet the dragon comes out to defend his daughter nonetheless. These are characters who step in to defend each other, even the likes of Daemon, but have no idea how to relate personally within their own House.

When Viserys finally confronts Rhaenyra, neither can speak tenderly as before, only brashly. Father is still pissed that his daughter ended the tour early. Daughter is still pissed that he married her best friend, has been trying to wed her off, didn’t take her advice seriously, and so on. They’re family; they’d be stronger together. But these slights in between, heightened by the deception of others, compound on their conscience and separates them further. Much like a family, they might forgive, but they never forget.

Both then issue an ultimatum for the other. Get rid of a Hand. Marry a Velaryon. Viserys finally takes council from his own blood and Otto’s moral hightower comes crumbling. Though they worked for a time, his schemes weren’t as well-oiled as he thought. His ambition was his own undoing. Last ep’s proposal for the princess to marry a darn baby comes back with a vengeance. But more overtly, it was the placement of daughter Alicent as an operative who was too burdened with expectation to keep doing this for long. Only question is what will become of her now that she’s the only Hightower in the Red Keep?

This is my favorite episode so far. (It kicks off with a grown man calling a kid a c*nt to his face, what a show.) Ep 4 harkens back to the “people talking in rooms” mode of early GoT that made it feel like a fantasy sibling to The Sopranos or The Wire. I’m sincerely wishing for more “day in the life” or “night out in the town” eps going forward.

My personal pick? A graveyard shift with the Kingsguard. They really gotta stand outside them doors 24/7. What are the rotations like, I wonder?

(NOTE: Truly apologize for the lateness of this recap. The only free time I have is Friday nights and Saturday, meaning that’s my time frame to write, get my thoughts together, edit, screenshot, and publish. Going forward, I’ll be moving away from general recaps and focus more on key decisions and moments in each episode. Future thoughts on current episodes of HOTD will post on Wednesdays or Thursdays, gods willing. Stay tuned!)

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