House of the Dragon
Season 1, Episode 3: “Second of His Name”
Air Date: 9/4/2022
It has been three years since last week (Feels like I’ve written that sentence a lot in the Covid times). The war against the Crab Feeders and the Triarchy is going poorly. Corlys and Daemon are at a stalemate with Prince Drahar (The head Crab Feeder gets a name! I’m sure he’ll be a good recurring villain now!), just as the pirates sank some ships and tortured some prisoners. Right in time for Daemon and Caraxes to arrive and burn everything to the ground.
While this is a visually stunning sequence, those pesky pirates figured out a weakness to the plan: caves. A network of cliffside caves, where the flame can’t reach them. Their archers pop out to send volleys of flaming arrows at Daemon until he has to fly away.
This has paralyzed the shipping lanes, creating havoc. But back in King’s Landing, King Viserys doesn’t seem to care. After all, it’s his son Aegon’s Name Day! Who has time to worry about pirates when the golden-haired boy that you had with your teenage bride is turning two? Viserys waves away anyone who tries to talk business with him. After all, they started the war three years ago against his wishes, so what’s three more days? They have a hunt to go on!
Viserys has now entered the Robert Baratheon phase of his reign. Lots of wine and hunting and ignoring what’s going on in the kingdom. He’s very keen on this hunt as a family bonding experience, since Rhaenyra has been rather standoffish since he married and impregnated her best friend. (Gee, can’t imagine why! Really, that girl is just SO unreasonable!)
Rhaenyra is in full passive-aggressive sullen teen mode here. She is sitting under her favorite tree, treating her bard like an iPod mashing that repeat button to her favorite sad song over-and-over again. When the extremely pregnant Alicent comes to get her to go on the hunt, she refers to her as “my Queen.” Truly, Rhaenyra would rather stay home and read than get stuck on a three-day road trip with her family (relatable), but Alicent is insistent. The King really wants them all to go! Rhaenyra snottily asks if that’s a Royal Command. It is, and so she heads off to the carriage.
The hunt in the Kingswood is really more like a small festival. There are Bonfires and Luxurious banquet tents like you’d see at a destination wedding! Along with being an ineffectual drunkard, Viserys is inventing glamping. His game wardens report the sighting of a white stag, which is an excellent sign for Prince Aegon’s Name Day. (Before dragons, the stag was the symbol of royalty). Before the hunt, there is some serious business to attend to. Namely, drinking wine and marrying off Rhaenyra.
Yes, Princess Rhaenyra is nearing old maid territory at 17, and Viserys has been fielding marriage proposals from all across the kingdom. When she ducks out of the banquet tent to avoid the catty gossips of the ladies of the realm, she gets macked on by Ser Jason Lannister. (Hey! I recognize that name! <DiCaprioPointing.gif>) Jason Lannister is a handsome dudebro who tries to be charming but just comes off slimy. He brags that he has the resources to build a dragon pit at Casterly Rock, which he would gladly do for his Queen…or his wife. (Wink, wink.)
Rhaenyra is, of course, appalled. She gets into a screaming match with her father in front of all the assembled royalty. Viserys, angrily replies that he had to get remarried, he was engaged to Aemma at 17, and there is no way Rhaenyra is going to escape the customs of the realm. Rhaenyra storms off and rides into the woods, hastily pursued by Ser Christon to keep her safe.
After she leaves, Viserys gets a whole earful of advice from his court about who the princess should marry. Lyonel Strong, Master of Laws, suggests Corlys Valeryon’s son, Laenor, for all the same reasons he suggested the King marry the tween princess Laena. (Repairing the rift between the houses, etc.) Otto Hightower suggests she marry her two-year-old half-brother and honestly, Otto, WTF is wrong with you? I will give Viserys this much. He may be a drunken and dithering leader, but at least he draws the line at child marriage.
It’s now time for the Great Hunt, and I mean hunt in the most technical definition of the term. The king’s men have tracked down a stag, tied it up, and are now patiently waiting for the king to come and kill it. (This is more like the quail hunts Dick Cheney used to go on, where penned quail are released right in front of the hunters and he still managed to shoot his friend in the face.) They couldn’t find the white stag, but they still managed to find a big one for the king to “hunt.” (Omens, what are those, amirite?) The ominous music leading up to this had me convinced the stag was going to break free and gore the king, but instead, Viserys just stabs him in the wrong spot and has to do it again to stop the anguished squealing.
The white stag is spotted, though, by Rhaenyra and Christon. After a night spent in the woods, where a wild boar attacked them and was slain by Christon (with a stabby rage assist from Rhaenyra), they spot the white stag while watching the sunrise on a ridge. Christon moves to kill it, but Rhaenyra stops him, allowing the stag to go back in the woods.
After a return to King’s Landing, Otto wants his daughter to get Viserys to name his grandson heir to the throne. The boy would unite the kingdoms instead of dividing them like that stoopid girl, Rhaenyra, would. Alicent is reluctant, saying what message would that send to Aegon if he just robs his sister like that? Otto insists that Aegon is the one being robbed if Rhaenyra “steps over” him. Otto, you are rapidly eclipsing Viserys in the “Who’s the Worst?” sweepstakes.
Alicent does go to the king, but rather than discuss heirs, they talk about Rhaenyra’s marriage prospects. Viserys is frustrated, but Alicent says the Princess will get married, but she needs to think it’s her idea. She sees a letter from Vaemond Velaryon, Corlys’ brother, asking for aid in their losing war. The king is reluctant to help, since he told them not to get into a war with the Free Cities and they did it anyway and now they’re running to him for help. Alicent asks him, putting aside his feelings about his brother, would the realm be better off with the Crab Feeder controlling the shipping lanes or without? (Well, when you put it like that.)
Back at the Step Stones, House Velaryon is running out of provisions and ships and won’t be able to grind it out much longer. They need help from the King, who hasn’t yet responded to their entreaties. As Daemon and Caraxes land, back from another strafing run, they get the idea for a last-ditch attack. They’ll send someone in to surrender which will draw them out of the caves, and then they’ll ambush them. The only question: who gets to be the sacrificial bait?
Look, I don’t pretend to be an expert in medieval battle tactics or anything, but I don’t think that “draw the enemy out if the cave he is hiding in” should’ve taken you three years to figure out. But, sure, give it a whirl.
At this time, the King’s messenger arrives with the good news of reinforcements. Ten ships and 2,000 troops are on the way. Rather than make Daemon happy, it enrages him. If they win because King Viserys sends troops, then Viserys will get the credit for cleaning up Daemon’s mess. He bludgeons the messenger with his helmet until the other generals pull him off.
So, true to Viserys’ words that Daemon would rather die than ask for help, he goes off to the Crab Feeder’s harbor. After crossing through many destroyed ships and countless corpses that were staked out for the crabs, he waves the white flag, bending the knee, and offering his sword. The archers stand on the cliff face, arrows nocked, ready to fire on Daemon. (And kudos to Matt Smith for this episode. He doesn’t have a word of dialogue this week, but his facial acting is superb.)
And as the first of the pirates reach him, the ambush starts! A dragon flies in to save Daemon! Is it Caraxes? No, it’s a white dragon I haven’t seen before. Troops charge over the beach to take the fight to the pirates! And I have to say, the battle choreography is a little confusing. There’s a whole row of archers, and no one saw troop movements or a dragon flying in on a clear, sunny day? No one thought that the surrender might be a ruse? They didn’t run back into the caves at the first sign of a dragon. (Also I had no idea who was flying the dragon.
After hunting through the internet, I believe it is Corlys’ son, Laenor. But it’s never actually said in the episode.) The only one who runs back into the caves is the leader, Drahar. Daemon chases after him, and drags out his torso, with intestines trailing behind him. (GAME OF THRONES, BABY!) So, I guess we aren’t having Drahar as a cool recurring villain after all, huh? Why even bother to give him a name?
And this is the problem with setting each episode months or years apart. Sure, the Crab Feeders have been terrorizing the coast for years in the show, but it’s reduced to 10 minutes of screen time here. Sure, Drahar looks scary and cool, but he gets no motive or backstory and he’s dead only three episodes in. Why was he fighting? We got told some of his assumed motives but never confirmed anything.
The war is going badly for Corlys and Daemon, but we’re only really told that. We’ve only seen one battle that ended in a stalemate. But we sure did get a lot of stag hunting! I realize that even HBO has its budget limits, but it would’ve been more interesting to see more pirate-dragon fighting over a couple of episodes than drunken Viserys arguing with his daughter about marriage multiple times this week.
I like the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, as much as anyone, but a lot of it is retreads this week. Otto doesn’t want Rhaenyra as heir. Rhaenyra is mad at her father. Viserys is ineffective. We get it. You are going to make me miss the sexposition scenes pretty soon.
Next week promises to be all about the fight for the line of succession. Should it be war hero, Daemon? The chosen heir Rhaenyra? Or baby Aegon? Expect a lot of council meetings!
Episode Rating: 3 out of 5
Line of the Week:
Soldier getting eaten by crabs: “My Prince!”
Daemon arrives with Caraxes.
A Preview of Next Week’s Episode