Sep 23, 2022
By Stephen Danay
Photography by Ollie Upton / HBO
The motto of House Hightower of Oldtown is the title of the fifth episode, the last before the ten-year time jump that will bring us into the back half of Season One, and the precipice of the Dance of the Dragons. “We Light the Way” isn’t one of the better house mottos in A Game of Thrones. It’s not as badass as the Baratheons’ “Ours is the Fury” or the Greyjoys’ “We Do Not Sow,” and it’s not as ominous as “Winter is Coming” or “Fire and Blood.”
The Hightowers’ years-long ascendency seems to have stalled at the start of this episode. Ser Otto has been relieved of his duties as Hand of the King and returns to Oldtown. His daughter Alicent may be Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, but she has few allies at court and the status and safety of her children by King Viserys remain in serious jeopardy. As Otto reminds her, so long as her children exist, they threaten Rhaenyra’s claim to the Iron Throne.
I spent some time last week praising Milly Alcock’s work as Rhaenyra. With both actresses giving their swan song this week, it’s worth discussing Emily Carey’s delicate work as Alicent is given the most focus in this episode. As mentioned in previous reviews, George R. R. Martin’s histories show Alicent as little more than an ambitious schemer. Carey and the show’s writers have done an excellent job of complicating her, showing a very different Alicent in her youth who could still plausibly become the woman we know from the source material. Although Alicent has proven herself to be shrewder than her husband, she still fundamentally wants everything to work out and everybody to get along. That is, until this episode, where her heart finally hardens against her former best friend Rhaenyra.
The turning point comes via a pair of conversations with possible future allies that Alicent so desperately needs in King’s Landing. The first is in the weirwood garden, where she encounters Larys Strong, the club-footed son of her husband’s new hand, Lord Lyonel Strong. Soft-spoken and polite like his father, Larys hints that Rhaenyra may be pregnant, only deepening Alicent’s reservations about her former friend. Things come to a head later in the episode when Alicent summons Criston Cole to tell her the truth of the night Rhaenyra snuck out with Daemon. Criston, earnest doofus that he is, and still smarting from Rhaenyra turning down his heartfelt plea to elope with him to Essos, assumes Alicent knows about him and Rhaenyra sleeping together and confesses straight away. Alicent’s shock silently gives way to hurt and anger as she realized Rhaenyra lied to her. This is just one of the reasons I’ll miss Carey on the show.
The centerpiece of this episode was the wedding between Rhaenyra and Laenor Velaryon, the son of the Sea Snake and Princess Rhaenys. As we all know, weddings in Westeros can be fraught affairs, so the fact that this one ends in a fatal brawl rather than a poisoning or a massacre is an improvement. Arranged marriages are frequently unhappy, but Rhaenyra and Laenor immediately come to an understanding regarding Laenor’s sexuality, whose paramour is the Knight of Kisses, Ser Joffrey Lonmouth. They agree to tolerate each other’s extra-marital affairs. This doesn’t sit as well with Ser Criston who, after being told by Ser Joffrey that they more or less need to be content being sidepieces, savagely beats him to death in front of Prince Laenor and the assembled court. His subsequent attempt at honorable suicide is interrupted by Alicent who has found a companion in those spurned by Rhaenyra.
Further complicating matters is the reappearance of Daemon, who crashes the wedding after “annulling” his own marriage to Lady Rhea Royce with a well-placed rock to the head. His desire for Rhaenyra has not abated, but he has diverted some of his passion to Laenor’s sister Laena. With so many relationships and characters teetering on emotional precipices, to say nothing of Viserys’s increasingly deteriorating health, it’ll be very interesting to see where things stand following the next episode’s decade-spanning time jump.
Connections and Foreshadowing:
– The show-stopping green dress that Alicent wears to the wedding foreshadows the two factions that develop at court as the rivalry between Rhaenyra and Alicent deepens. Alicent’s supporters are called “the greens,” Rhaenyra’s “the blacks.”
– With one look from his father, Ser Harwin ‘the Breakbones’ Strong barrels through the wedding brawl and fireman-carries Rhaenyra to safety. That’s twice in two episodes he’s saved her. Between that and Larys cozying up to Alicent, it seems Lord Lyonel the Hand might want a foot–or a son–in each camp.
– Rhea Royce appears only in several lines of Fire & Blood before dying in a riding mishap. Daemon is never raised as a suspect. Her cutting final words to him about never being able to finish the job seems to confirm fan suspicions that he suffers from impotence. It would explain his suddenly bolting from his romantic encounter with Rhaenyra.
– Although Viserys’s condition is steadily worsening, Grand Maester Mellos is sticking to his previous treatments against the advice of his assistant, Orwyle. While Mellos could potentially be up to no good, keep an eye on Orwyle, who grows into a much more prominent character in the source material.
Author rating: 8/10
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