WE ARE MIDWAY THROUGH HOUSE OF THE DRAGON Y’ALL.
Another (bigger) time jump looms, our dragon forecast is shady as hell; an old proverb about crowns becomes literal, and a marriage celebration goes about as well as one could go here in these Seven Kingdoms. Mind your banners accordingly.
CORLYS AND RHAENYS JOIN THE GAME
We sail to Driftmark for the first time ever in episode 5, “We Light the Way.” Lord Corlys is surprised to find the king’s hand (or what’s left of it) reaching across the aisle. Keeping her word, Rhaenyra will marry Corlys’ son, Laenor – an overdue union between two houses. Gotta use a handicap sigil for Viserys these days; it takes time for him to act, give or take 4 years.
Targaryen cousins meet again, and Rhaenys sees for herself that her nearest relative did all of the aging and then some. A swift gut check. Viserys and Corlys clarify that Rhaenyra and Laenor’s child WILL sit on the Iron Throne – bearing a Targaryen name – and that day is fast approaching. The Velaryons once sat on the small council, rebuked the crown an ep ago, and now have prospects of an heir ruling Westeros one day. Corlys’ own words come to mind: “To elude a storm, you can either sail into it, or around it. But you must never await its coming.”
Husband and wife must sail into the belly of the beast head-on, and it gives flashes of Harrenhal. Corlys’ flexes too much of his pride: “You were robbed of the crown… and I would remedy that small-minded error.” Bro, this about you, not your wife. “I myself have put the business behind me,” Rhaenys says, and it doesn’t feel true. She may be anchored at Driftmark, but she’s still a dragon.
Tyrion’s warning to Shae, “We have come to a dangerous place” hangs over them. This time it’s a husband and wife on equal footing, reminiscent of Eddard Stark and Lady Catelyn’s steel bond. Will this power couple withstand the hurricane coming their way?
I love that we’ve been getting Steve Toussaint’s gravitas here and there, but I’ve sorely missed Eve Best since her one-scene steal in ep 2. Welcome back, Queen Who Should Have Been 😤
RHAENYRA & LAENOR AGREE TO… KEEP THE GOOD TIMES ROLLING
I gotta single out this scene because wow, it is GORGEOUS to look at. On one hand, it almost looks too idyllic, like an overcompensated drug commercial that you half-expect Rhaenyra and Laenor to start listing side effects. On the other hand, I love a walk on the beach! That low-hanging sun and expansive shoreline straight out of a Terrence Malick movie. Well done.
“I prefer roast duck to goose.” Don’t you wish all marriage pacts were this honest? Of course, they’re not talking entrées here so much as palette. Neither Targaryen daughter or Velaryon son (each with their own appetites) didn’t have a choice in this union, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be free in their own ways to pursue their choice of poultry. Bangsgiving—that’s what they’re celebrating in the throne room.
SER CRISTON FOLDS LIKE A LAWN CHAIR
I gotta play poker with this fuckin’ guy. Rhaenyra’s pitch to Laenor went well, but it doesn’t for her, uh, entrée of the week. On the love voyage back to King’s Landing, Ser Criston Cole approaches his princess on deck – armor off, heart wide open – and makes his Disney ass proposal. Man went from Gawain in The Green Knight to Orlando Bloom in Pirates of the Caribbean.
Going back to their night at the Red Keep, you see the choice that Criston makes. He pauses at certain moments – after the first kiss, before they undress, and pausing just before he goes to her bed. He knows what he’s doing and what he’s breaking. A Cole becoming Kingsguard was the highest anyone in his family had ever risen, and he “soiled” that cloak. I believe that he’s conflicted here, but I don’t really buy that he’s in love with her. He’s just, as one character says later, “cunt-struck.” He believes that running away and “saving” Rhaenyra from the burden of the throne is his remaining shot at redemption. Criston might mean well, but he forgot he’s speaking to a dragon.
The heartbreak for Rhaenyra is realizing she misjudged him. She took what she wanted that night and thought he’d be okay with this arrangement, but Criston is a true chivalric knight—who wants a housewife to cook and gather for him in the end. “So you want me to be your whore?” he says, eyes welling up like a wuss. I’m sorry but WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT??? (Also, his pitch to her is much the same, so why’s he mad for?)
Rhaenyra’s sin is fucking around and finding out. Criston’s sin is thinking she was the love interest to his knight-in-shining-armor fairytale. The princess who was promised the throne doesn’t need saving by a man. It’s the other way around, going back to her choosing him as Kingsguard.
Criston, understandably, is compromised. So when Alicent calls him in for questioning, and just barely asks the question, he falls on his sword. Jaime Lannister had a much more flexible idea of what it means to be an honorable knight. Ser Criston believes in the black & white version, and finds himself at a moral low point. He’s desperate to restore his honor, and does something that the lords and ladies playing the game will never do: confess willingly.
A dragon loses an arm piece. But a queen gains a knight.
What a perfect little shit. Daemon has been banished two times now and has left that shit unread twice. In his defense, how’s he gonna miss his niece’s wedding? She’s also marrying a man he fought alongside the Stepstones via dragons. Surely, House Velaryon was stoked to see him. (Laena, in particular.) Everyone else in the room, especially House Royce, not so much.
Daemon has just returned from killing his wife in the Vale, leaving himself a mighty inheritance in her wake. Sitting at the dinner table, he denies an accusation here, stirs some shit up over there, etc. My guy is BACK and he didn’t even touch the appetizers. Matt Smith does this thing where he says little to no words and is still so dramatically compelling. (Best Supporting Eyebrows winner, right here.) But maybe the rogue prince is losing his touch. He’s not the one who ends the party early this time.
QUEEN ALICENT RISES
At the start of the ep, Alicent is barely holding on—played beautifully by Emily Carey. Her father’s been ousted as Hand, he blames her for his dismissal, and has but one friend in Rhaenyra in all of the Seven Kingdoms. Otto leaves with a warning to “prepare Aegon to rule” and Alicent might’ve wiped her ass in the privy with that. Until she hears word about some tea. And then meets with Ser Criston.
Maybe she suspected something was afoot with Criston that night. He had asked for Rhaenyra’s favor in the tournament; these are LOADED gestures in medieval settings. Or Alicent had no idea and was merely asking about Rhaenyra and Daemon, whether he saw anything—only for Criston to spew the piping hot tea. Nonetheless, it’s a moment – and a lie – that snaps everything into place.
Rhaenyra lied on her mother’s name. Alicent lost a mother too, and she’d never stoop so low by swearing on her deceased mom just to wriggle her way from the truth. And Rhaenyra did it as easily as riding a dragon. Alicent has been in freefall since becoming queen, only existing to carry out her father’s schemes, or being used as a womb for House Targaryen and push out heirs, etc. Alicent made it very clear that her relationship with Rhaenyra is the one thing tethering her in this lonely tower. And now she doesn’t have that. She is without friends in a place where people lie and deceive all the time, and here in her lap is a knight who tells her the truth. A man who begs to her as queen. In those few seconds when Criston pleads for mercy, you can see Alicent hardening, finally finding her posture. Her voice often quivered in any scene. But as she dismisses Ser Criston, she’s as steady as she’s ever been.
She cocoons herself in the middle of the ep, declining to meet Viserys at his request – something she’s never done. Then, like Sandra Bullock’s fabulous walk in Miss Congeniality, like Rachel Chu’s dress in Crazy Rich Asians, Alicent struts herself as Queen. In the middle of the king’s speech, no less. Throughout the season, Alicent wore neutral blue dresses, then appealed to Targaryen red fabrics for a time. Here, she’s wearing Fuck-It Green. The ep’s title “We Light the Way,” is the motto of House Hightower. The beacon has been lit.
“Congratulations, stepdaughter. What a blessing this is for you,” Alicent says coldly. What’s that they say about revenge dishes? This is the first time Alicent addresses Rhaenyra as stepdaughter—as in someone beneath her. People may speak in thinly-veiled insults or heavy-handed riddles in King’s Landing, but even our little Rhaenyra heard that statement loud and clear.
Making Rhaenyra and Alicent childhood friends was perhaps the biggest change the show has done so far. There was nothing of the sort in Fire & Blood. They really twisted the knife in these 5 eps, and have set the stage for something more heartbreaking and tragic to come. Bravo.
We’ve had a Dothraki wedding, a Red and Purple wedding. Would this be a Wedding Faceoff?
There’s one final and crucial layer to this extravagant feast. Rhaenyra and Laenor are tearing up the dance floor, Viserys’ fingers are doing battle with a chicken, and everyone else is vibing while Ser Criston is WORKING. At his former paramour’s wedding celebration. Coupled with the rejection, and his soiled cloak and conscience, my man should’ve called in today of all days—or at least swapped columns facing the other way. Adding to insult, there’s Joffrey (always a Joffrey), Laenor’s current paramour, who thinks they’re allies. But Ser Criston Cole does not observe Pride Month, sadly.
So he does a little hate crime, smashing Joff’s face into oblivion. Kinda what happens when two people are having two different conversations; it often ends badly. Maybe Joffrey’s words sounded like blackmail to Ser Criston, maybe his mind was under siege wondering who else knows about him and Rhaenyra, or perhaps he was fed up being a bodyguard for all these coastal elites who can’t dance for shit. He puts the bloody finisher (and omen) on a Targaryen future that will only get bloodier from here.
And so Targaryen and Velaryon pull a shotgun wedding before more people start losing faces, before either can change their minds. Before King Viserys falls for the final time. Two houses of Old Valyria are joined in marriage, a crown weighs too heavily on a monarch, and a rat cleans up after everybody.
I count one casualty after all that commotion. A dull affair, by Dothraki standards.