House of the Dragon – A Knives Out Saga

House of the Dragon gets more Greek every week.

Tragic things have transpired all season long, but HotD has unsheathed the knives of betrayal in episode 7 officially that this fantasy series is looking more like Greek theater. Best friends are so not forever, children wage the battles of their parents; a monarch is powerless, and a house is divided. Sophocles would’ve been hooting and hollering this episode.

WELCOME BACK, OTTO

In “Driftmark,” Otto Hightower gets a solemn return at Laena’s funeral. Convenient timing, just as things in House Targaryen are heating up. Although, the badge of the Hand might be heavier than he remembers? There’s “uneasy lies the crown…” But what of the Hand a.k.a. what many liken to the “real” seat of power in the Seven Kingdoms. Prickly pokes the pin… I’ll workshop this some more.

Lyonel Strong was a dutiful and sage Hand; undoubtedly his counsel allowed Westeros to flourish in the time jump, while Viserys withered away and lost a forearm. Consider it a time of stasis for the realm. Lord Lyonel, respectfully, peace time just doesn’t make for compelling television. Otto is back and his schemes are about to make things a thousand leagues more interesting. Rhys Ifans might’ve played a lizard once upon an Amazing Spider-Man, but he is SO MUCH better as a snake.

SILENT WAKE

Yes, they’re at a funeral so of course everybody quiet. But it’s also their sense of duty – and straight up stubborn pride – that’s made statues out of everybody. Big brother Viserys cannot comfort Daemon in his grief—nor niece-all-grown-up Rhaenyra, at least not publicly; the back of Rhaenyra and Alicent’s heads seem to do their own stare down should their eyelines untangle; and though Rhaenyra is a daughter-in-law, Rhaenys is disgusted to utter a single word to her or grandson Lucerys. Speaking of Luke (or is that Jace? I can’t tell) neither he nor Aemond can look at each other like the kids they were scores ago in the dragon pit. The idle flames of the cauldron between them do for their supposed rivalry what they can’t on their own.

Of the spare words exchanged, HotD really upped the diction this ep. Daemon’s line to Otto – “No matter how fat the leech grows, it always wants for another meal” – straight bars of Shakespeare. Overall, this wake is mainly a battle of eyelines (and a sad symphony of longing) that serves as a prelude for a bigger confrontation later when the bad blood runneth over.

ON CHESIL DRIFTMARK BEACH

Rhaenyra and Daemon finally reunite since the time jump. Last we saw Rhaenyra on these shores, it was with Laenor when they agreed to their all-you-can-eat buffet style of marriage. Time offers perspective, and a sobering rumination on their unions. Where before there was some friction, and maybe slight condescension from Daemon towards his little niece, now there’s tenderness and respect. He speaks to Rhaenyra like he genuinely regards her as an equal, an ally.

One grieves the path taken in each other’s absence, another is “free to mourn his losses,” and then… sparks fly????? In the immortal words of Chazz Reinhold from Wedding Crashers: “Grief is nature’s most powerful aphrodisiac.” Those Daemon and Rhaenyra fancams gonna hit a new echelon. And so in the opposite of Ian McEwan’s perfect novel about doomed newlyweds on a beach, Rhaenyra and Daemon set each other free.

On the other side of the beach, an eager and too green Aemond finds his starter Pokemon and boy is it a whopper. I know now why we didn’t see Laena claim Vhagar, so that we get to experience it here. Catastrophic lighting aside, the music and Leo Ashton’s performance of astonishment do the moment justice.

Considering who mounted who, Aemond claimed Vhagar, and Rhaenyra claimed Daemon.

RHAENYS AND CORLYS SAY THE QUIET PART OUT LOUD

Rhaenys and Corlys’ scenes tell us everything we need to know about this power couple. Unburdened from maintaining their appearances at court or on the small council, they’re able to speak in confidence and provide each other support by the fireplace. It’s all the more impactful, then, to see a divide in their dynamic here, and realize that they haven’t been totally forthcoming.

At his own daughter’s funeral, Corlys was already speaking to Lucerys of his inheritance as the future Lord of Driftmark. (And, the way Corlys has regarded his gay son Laenor all this time, it speaks to how a father saw his children as pawns to bolster up his name and stature, not shore up their own.) Rhaenys, though – in actual mourning – wants Driftmark to pass onto Laena’s children, citing reasons that Corlys knows in his marrow but is too full of himself to see: Rhaenyra’s children are not Laenor’s.

Corlys so far has been characterized a lot like Ned Stark – honorable, but slow and stubborn. Ned was rendered a big oaf this way compared to schemers like Littlefinger and Varys, who often needed to give Cliff notes to catch the Warden of the North up to speed. Corlys needs Rhaenys to tell him the truth about his grandsons AND show him the mirror of his own ambition: “I gave up the idea of wearing a crown a generation ago. It is you, lord husband, who refuses to abandon this pursuit.”

The Lord of Driftmark then reveals his underlying motives. “History does not remember blood, it remembers names.” Men, he stops short of saying, but says it loud and clear enough. This was never about redeeming the Queen Who Never Was; it was all about Team Sea Snake. Corlys, you big dumb oaf.

JV DIVISION GOES A FEW FOUNDS

Aemond claimed Vhagar, but Rhaena called dibs. It was her mother’s dragon, after all. The rule of dibs, unfortunately, does not apply in Westeros. Aemond suddenly thinks he’s hot shit, so Rhaena and Baela, together with Jace and Luke, team up to humble the living shit out of him.

The Pink Dread prank was ages ago, so there’s hell to pay there too. Aegon, with Jace and Luke, pulled the stunt on the dragon-less Aemond at the time, citing the biggest dragon in the histories. Now the little shit Aemond gets the last laugh, and will call out his big brother in the next scene.

Where Rhaenyra and Alicent sparred with words and glances in the Red Keep, their sons clash with their mitts up. Feuds are passed on like bedtime stores and made real with their sustained bruises and injuries. The kids literally throw stones at each other, and an actual knife comes out to claim an eye. It’s the Dance of Dragons in miniature – the consequence of parents who consciously or unconsciously bid their children to finish what they start.

Daemon in this ep has begun to leave behind his “little shit” mantle. It appears to have found a successor in Aemond. (Like Daemon, just move a letter.)

SHIT GOES DOWN IN THE HALL

We arrive at the crème de la crème set-piece of the season so far – in the hall of Driftmark, and the knives coming out between Alicent and Rhaenyra. I’m borrowing a ton of phrasing from Rian Johnson’s murder-mystery. Sorry, but “catspaw daggers out” isn’t as catchy.

Reminiscent of the child’s play incident on the Kingsroad in Game of Thrones Season 1, anybody who’s anybody at Driftmark assemble to find out what happened, and it’s a battle of he-said versus he-said. Much like Cersei Lannister, Alicent uses the crime done on Aemond to put Rhaenyra’s children on trial, Judge Judy-style. One incident among children that comes loaded with the sins and grievances that came before.

Alicent resents that Rhaenyra had the freedom that she didn’t. She slept around (got to experience such as a pleasure), broke her marriage vows, gave birth to children who aren’t Velaryon—children who will inherit all that they stand on, and now one of those gremlins took her son’s eye. But she doesn’t lay the accusations herself while in the spotlight of everyone’s gaze; she lets Aegon do it for her. Then we have Rhaenyra, who’s been waiting to call out Alicent since she started inspecting her newborn’s hair color – an accusation she knows is true, but how dare anybody question a dragon. Juicy, meaty, delicious interpretation to go around.

A wife tries to put her husband in a tough spot; Aemond is Viserys’ son, but Viserys defends his first-born daughter resolutely. This would’ve held weight 14 years ago. With Viserys rapidly knocking on death’s door, his allegiance is to Rhaenyra is like a campaign sticker on its last legs. The monarch tries to clear the room and cease the in-fighting, stating “we’re a family!” like Walter White. And nobody moves. It’s who everybody else is allied with – who’s sworn to who – that dictates the room.

Then the shit turns Jerry Springer. Alicent becomes the words of House Lannister, demanding a debt to be paid and calling on Criston Cole to do it. Ser Criston is both powered and torn by duty here. He might be sworn to her, but he is Kingsguard, not Alicent-guard. And then we have Daemon leaning in the shadows, watching the very thing he’s been warning to his brother what will happen for ages, now delighting in the spectacle with a bucket of popcorn.

It HAD to be the Valyrian dagger, the fucking thing that started all of this. The same dagger that will end up in an assassin’s hands to murder Bran Stark at Littlefinger’s bidding. A MacGuffin for a prophecy of ice and fire becomes a symbol of war. Again, we are treated to some banger Shakespearean bars:

Alicent: “What have I done but what was expected of me, forever upholding the kingdom, the family, the law, while you flout it all to do as you please…”

Rhaenyra: “Exhausting, wasn’t it? Hiding beneath the cloak of your own righteousness.”

What homegirl Alicent doesn’t realize is that she’s wielding Rhaenyra’s own destiny against her. Her birthright, as Rhaenyra has been bolstered to see it as heir. That’s why she doesn’t back down. Not only has she been waiting for this moment, but Alicent has just reminded her of her father’s ace in the hole. Alicent can betroth her own children to strengthen their bloodlines in keeping with Targaryen tradition, but Rhaenyra is the only one with knowledge of Aegon the Conqueror’s dream. She will forever have Viserys’ word no matter what Otto whispers to sway him. (It’s why the Hightowers will have to fraud the results usurp their way through.)

Once a burden, now the ultimate entitlement card with full use of bragging rights. Alicent draws ire and blood – a stab heard round the Seven Kingdoms. Rhaenyra underestimated her ex-BFF in conversation with Daemon, now she sees what Alicent is capable of. (Father Otto, too.) The way the silence falls over the room and two uneasy sides form up as the fireplace crackles in the background. Magnificent.

Television – sorry, HBO – at its finest hour. Impeccable blocking and staging, and powerful stuff from Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke. If they do not get Emmy noms, we riot.

A MONOLOGUE OF SEA AND FIRE

Laenor lives – a surprising book change that had the forums ablaze in the past week. It’s been interesting to see the interpretations, whether Laenor’s paramour Qarl schemed on top of Rhaenyra and Daemon’s scheme, etc. I think there’s only one way to read this—they’re all in cahoots.

“The sea offers an escape,” Rhaenyra says. Followed later by Daemon’s, “Then grant him this kindness. Set him free.” A far bigger change has been made here in that HotD appears to be positioning Rhaenyra as the heroic alternative to the more devious and scheming Hightowers. Of course, it’s just a contrast. We are only beginning to see the ploys between the two sides. None of this is not without devastating consequences either. Daemon does kill some poor Velaryon servant to fulfill their Laenor fakeout (a con that means making Rhaenys and Corlys believe their son is dead), and Alicent unwittingly sees Larys Strong destroy his own house so that she can maneuver hers on the chessboard. Maybe it’s not heroic, perhaps it’s just epic monologuing.

Daemon finds his place and calling, finally, at Rhaenyra’s side. Say what you will about the incest, they know their math. Two dragonriders are single and available, now united against a common enemy. Still, I’m not totally sold on this ep being a full victory for Team Rhaenyra.

In my halftime report, I scored this Greens vs. Blacks game at 3 – 1. I have them now at 3 – 3 even. The Greens nabbed Vhagar, yes. If you’ve seen this Fenty ad, they also have Rihanna.

2 thoughts on “House of the Dragon – A Knives Out Saga

  1. Gemma says:

    It’s been great to get more Rhaenys the past two weeks. She’s always been a favorite character from the story which is strange I know because she’s barely a character in the book 🙂

    But darn it I swore I wouldn’t get sucked into Westeros again and here I am!

    • Adrian Manuel says:

      Yes! Shame we haven’t gotten more Rhaenys. I was so sure after her scene-stealing turn in ep 2 that she’d be a constant presence throughout. Though her character’s been used sporadically, Eve Best has really been eating it up!

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