Oct 06, 2022
By Stephen Danay
Photography by Ollie Upton/HBO
Following last week’s overstuffed catchup after a 10-year time skip, House of the Dragon slows down a bit. The latest episode is confined to a few days in a single location, specifically Driftmark, the titular island home of House Velaryon. There, the court gathers for the funeral of Laena Velaryon, last seen immolating herself via her dragon Vhagar. Simmering conflicts come to a boil and rash decisions are made that will decide the future of the Seven Kingdoms.
In last week’s foreshadowing and connections, I noted that this, and the previous episode, seem to be adapting “The Year of the Red Spring”, in which four tragedies in quick succession set the stage for the Dance of the Dragons. Last week, we had the aforementioned death of Laena Velaryon, as well as the deaths of Lyonel and Harwin Strong at Harrenhal. This week’s episode features the final two tragedies: the blinding of Aemond Targaryen by his half-nephew Lucerys Velaryon, and the death of Laenor Velaryon. Of course, “death” should be in quotation marks, but we’ll get to that.
Amid the time skips and plot levers of the last episode, I didn’t have much chance to talk about the new generation of characters that were introduced. All of them will be played by new actors following the series’ final time skip next week, but the cast of kid actors who have laid the groundwork over these past two episodes have done an excellent job. I’ve particularly enjoyed Ty Tennant’s work as Prince Aegon, who plays the character as a spoiled brat in the vein of Jack Gleason’s Joffrey Baratheon from the original series, but without the overt sociopathy. His boredom at the funeral where he makes fun of his sister, ogles serving girls and gets too drunk feels like the timeless behavior of any teen at a family function they really don’t want to be at. In Westeros, people who have power but don’t want it are often depicted as noble heroes burdened by responsibility (see Jon Snow, Robb Stark, Ned Stark–any of the Starks really) so it’s refreshing to get a more comedic take on that archetype in the form of someone being forced toward the throne who’d rather just be a trust fund failson.
The most prominent of Alicent’s children in this episode is her second son, Aemond. Sullen and introverted, Aemond seems to show several hints of compassion this episode when compared to his older brother. He sticks up for his sister Helaena when Aegon mocks her and seems to want to console Rhaenyra’s sons regarding the death of Harwin Strong, before thinking better of it. Later that night, while his aunt and uncle are “reconnecting” on a moonlit beach, Aemond embarks on a dangerous quest of his own, claiming Vhagar for his mount, the former dragon of Lady Laena and the oldest living dragon in the world. While the show plays his first dragon ride as a joyous thrill ride, it becomes obvious as soon as he lands that being given great power has altered Aemond immediately. Confronted by Rhaenyra and Daemon’s children, a vicious fight ensues–some of the most brutal child-on-child violence I’ve ever seen–and Aemond loses an eye to a knife-wielding Lucerys Velaryon, earning the first of his sobriquets, Aemond the One-Eye.
The emotional crescendo of the episode spins out of that moment, with Rhaenyra and Alicent nearly coming to blows over the conflict between their sons. Although she’s been catching hell from viewers–if Twitter is anything to go by, Olivia Cooke is doing amazing work as Alicent, with exhibit A being this scene. The dynamic between Alicent and Rhaenyra has been fascinating to watch, and Cooke drives that home in this episode. Alicent has spent her whole life trying to do the right thing by the standards of the patriarchal society in which she exists. She was a dutiful daughter and a dutiful wife and is trying to be a dutiful mother to her three deeply weird children. And for the past 10 years she’s watched Rhaenyra do none of that and still remain both beloved by Viserys and heir to the Iron Throne. All those picked cuticles were for naught. It’s hard not to sympathize with her, even as she impotently orders Criston Cole to cut out Lucerys’ eye as vengeance for Aemond. The pride her scheming father takes in her during their final scene together is all you need to know that she’s a good person who’s been corrupted by the game of thrones.
Last but not least is the death of Laenor Velaryon, which constitutes one of the biggest changes that the otherwise very faithful show has made from the source material. In Fire & Blood, Laenor argues with his lover Qarl Corry in a market square on Driftmark before Qarl stabs him to death and then disappears, never to be seen again. The book puts forth multiple suspects behind the murder – most prominently Daemon – but never reaches a conclusion beyond Laenor being definitively dead. In the show, Laenor and Qarl flee across the narrow sea together after faking Laenor’s death with help from Rhaenyra and Daemon. As someone who read the source material, the scene in which Laenor reaffirmed his commitment to Rhaenyra and their “children” seemed like it was gearing up to make Rhaenyra particularly cruel, but the alteration gives an added dimension to both Rhaenyra and Daemon, who are seeking happiness with each other but apparently not at the expense of others. Although that’s probably more thanks to Rhaenyra than Daemon, who has proven himself more than capable of murdering people to secure advantageous marriages.
And so more pieces move into place thanks to the tragedies of the last two episodes. Daemon and Rhaenyra are free to marry each other, uniting two branches of House Targaryen, while Otto Hightower has been restored as Hand of the King and Aemond has secured the largest dragon in the known world. Join us next week after the final timeskip to see where it all leads.
Connections and Foreshadowing:
– Last week Alicent told Aemond he’d have a dragon someday and Helaena said “He’ll have to close his eyes first.” Keep an eye on her and her dragon dreams for more predictions of the future. She also said of the millipede she was holding “The last ring has no legs.” Not sure about that one yet, although I have some theories.
– In the source material, Viserys and Alicent have a third son named Daeron, who spends most of his youth as a squire in Oldtown with House Hightower. Daeron has yet to be seen or mentioned but the opening credits depict Alicent with four bloodlines descending from her sigil, so he’ll likely be introduced next season.
– The maester standing with the kids at Daemon and Rhaenyra’s shotgun wedding is Gerardys. The maester assigned to Dragonstone and a close confidant of Rhaenyra’s. Look for him to play a substantial supporting role going forward.
– Aemond has been interestingly interpreted by the show thus far. This episode more or less functions as his supervillain origin story, but the show is also much more sympathetic to him than the source material, digging into his sensitivities and perspectives. I’m curious to see how that characterization carries forward, particularly when it comes to his relationships with his older brother Aegon, and with Criston Cole.
– Myriad theories abound on Twitter and Reddit regarding what role Laenor Velaryon will play going forward now that he’s escaped his canonical death. I’ll hold back for now out of spoiler discretion, but keep an eye out for future characters bearing the name Velaryon.
– There was an enormous amount of online discourse regarding the lighting in the two major nighttime scenes of this episode – specifically Rhaenyra and Daemon’s moonlit beach tryst and Aemond claiming Vhagar. Many people – myself included – could barely make out anything in those scenes, while others found that the day-for-night shooting gave the scenes a cool otherworldly glow. HBO has since said that the lighting was a creative choice.
Author rating: 6.5/10
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