Do you hear wedding bells? It’s time for Westeros’s dreamiest couple to be forced onto a politically arranged marriage. Yes, Princess Rhaenyra is set to marry her cousin, the lanky and handsome dragonrider Laenor. Both are extremely meh about the whole thing.
But, while the King is puking mightily while sailing the Narrow Sea to Hightide (Has no Maester invented Dramamine yet?), Queen Alicent is saying farewell to her father, Otto. Otto, who of course takes no responsibility for his schemes blowing up in his face, blames his daughter for his misfortunes. If she hadn’t run to Rhaenyra and told her about his accusations of incest, the King would’ve believed him and now Aegon would be the heir. Alicent rolls her eyes at that, but Otto presses her. King Viserys is going to die soon, maybe in a few months, maybe in a few years. When that happens, half the kingdom will not accept Rhaenyra as queen – especially not if royal-born son Aegon is waiting in the wings. And her good friend Rhaenyra will need to kill all the other potential heirs, i.e. Alicent’s kids, in order to strengthen her claim.
The great thing about the way Rhys Ifans is playing Otto is that while he is clearly self-motivated to have his grandson be king, he clearly believes at least some of the bullshit he’s saying. A queen would upset a lot of people (if the bawdy players of last week are at all indicative). There would probably be a war and thousands would die, likely including Otto’s family. So while there is a valid concern, he’s also eager to stay in power, and Ifans does a great job at showing the layers.
At Hightide, King Viserys is greeted by… no one, an appalling breach of etiquette according to the new hand, Lord Lyonel Strong. (You know it’s fantasy because they spell common names with extraneous letters and Ys for vowels like they were auditioning to be Wong’s new sidekick in the MCU) Technically, someone is there. Lord Laener Valeryon is having some combat training with his good friend, Ser Joffery Lonmouth. Ser Joffery’s whole look is best described as Hunky Ron Weasley, so I’m calling him that for the rest of this recap. Lady Laena, the King’s almost fiancee and all grown up now at (I’m guessing) 17, comes out and directs the king to the throne room at driftwood, where Corlys awaits.
This is some big dick swinging by Corlys. He is still annoyed about the whole “Viserys wouldn’t marry my tween” thing, and now the king has come to him seeking Laener’s hand for his daughter so he is dining on the irony. He makes him trudge into his castle and metaphorically bend the knee. Corlys, of course, physically kneels before Viserys, but it’s clear he thinks he has the upper hand. So much so that he requests that the children of this union take the Valeryon name. Only until they take the throne, mind you. His wife, and Viserys’ cousin, Rhaenys, pops in to wish the King well but is shocked at how weak he is, flinching when she takes his hand and coughing all through the meeting. (A not at all subtle reminder of Otto’s warning. This episode is extremely unsubtle all the way through.)
They both express their sadness about the death of Daemon’s wife, Lady Rhea Royce, ruler of Bloodstone in the Vale. This is the first the king has heard of it. (Come on, Lyonel! This is your job!) She was thrown from her horse in a hunting accident and broke her neck and skull. However, we know it was no accident. Daemon, rocking his villainous black cloak, returned to the Vale. After exchanging insults with his wife, he spooks her horse to throw her off, where she lands with a sickening crunch. Paralyzed, she taunts Daemon as a coward who can’t finish anything, until he picks up a rock.
Meanwhile, Rhaenyra and Laenor are getting acquainted on the beach. They both like each other just fine, but Rhaenyra admits that they just aren’t attracted to each other. You know, the way some people like goose, but she prefers roast duck. (Which sounds an awful lot like the “Snails or Oysters?” scene in Spartacus, the one where Olivier comes on to Tony Curtis.) It would seem that the main problem Laenor has with the wedding is not that Rhaenyra is her cousin, it’s that she’s a female cousin. (It’s just a phase, says Corlys!) Rhaenyra proposes an arrangement: they will perform their duty to each other and to the realm, and then they will each “feast” as they like since they both have some tasty snacks on the side.
Hunky Ron Weasley is thrilled! Dude, she gave you a hall pass! I’ll be your sworn protector, and we can still do all the “combat training” you like! Ser Criston much less so. The poor lad had sworn a vow of chastity, which he broke for Rhaenyra. He spent the last couple of years listening to her complain about being forced into an arranged marriage, so he assumes she’d want to run away with him, to Essos, stowing away on a cargo ship full of oranges. They could get rid of their names and titles and just be free from obligation. And Rhaenyra is like, WTF are you talking about? She just wants to keep on having some fun sex, which appalls the suddenly, extremely moralistic Criston. I will not be your whore, he exclaims! Buddy, did you think this was Downton Abbey, where the landed gentry marries the chauffeur? And I don’t know where this side of Criston came from. There has been nothing to indicate anything like this in the past weeks. Maybe there was some scene cut for time, but this is a character turn completely out of left field.
After going to bat for Rhaenyra last week, Alicent has had the poison of doubt poured into her ear by Lord Lerys, Lyonel’s lame son. (That’s a lot of L’s, GRRM.) “I hope the Princess is all right. The Grand Maester himself made her a special tea. Oh, she went on a boat this morning? Odd that.” Less sure of her virtue than before, she summons her guard to her chamber for questioning. Maybe Rhaenyra did get it on with her uncle after all…
And because Alicent is so roundabout in getting to the point (I heard a rumor… about the Princess… that she might have engaged in some… unsavory activities.) and Criston is so wracked with guilt that he immediately confesses to his dalliance with Rhaenyra. She started it, but I should have known better, so please be merciful and give me a quick death for my sins. This is not what Alicent expected, and is so shocked she dismisses him.
The king is being attended by the maesters. His arm looks terrible, withered and weak, and he is clearly feeling his mortality. He asks Lyonel if he’ll be remembered as a good king. After all, he fought no wars and made no conquests. Lyonel tells him that many would consider that extremely successful. But will anyone sing songs of me in years to come? If only, he sighs, I had an opportunity to be forged in battle, maybe it would have been different. Lyonel reminds him that many men who are tested like that wish they would have been passed over. This is a nice little scene. Lyonel is being truthful without being hurtful. Viserys would have been terrible in battle, as indecisive as he is. But who doesn’t wish things have turned out a little differently and wonder about what might have been?
At last, it’s time for the Announcement Feast. And after seven days of feasts and tournaments, there will be a royal wedding. (Viserys loves his feasts and tournaments!) However, the Queen is late. She strides into the hall in the middle of the King’s pronouncements wearing a green dress. (As the toady Laerys helpfully points out, green is the color of war in House Hightower. Again, super subtle.)
The feast begins with a courtship dance between Laener and Rhaenyra, and I have to say that this is the absolute dorkiest dance I have ever seen. And I have seen many traditional and folk dances and comedy comic dance scenes. This looks like Elaine Benes performing a mating dance for a peacock. Not since Leslie Neilsen and Pricilla Presley cut a rug in Naked Gun 2 ½ has there been such an awkward pairing. It is hilariously bad. After they finish, the rest of the court takes to the floor as dinner continues.
There is a lot going on. Ser Gerold Royce, Rhea’s cousin, straight up accuses Daemon of murdering her to get her castle. Lady Laena flirts with Daemon since he’s now single and ready to mingle. Daemon makes another play at Rhaenyra, who seems to be over him and taunts him by daring him to steal her away and take her to Dragonstone. Hunky Ron Weasley figures out that Rhaenyra is having an affair with Ser Criston from the way he is staring at her, and suggests to him that they both protect the secrets of their masters. Alicent stares daggers at the King while he gorges himself. The way this scene is cut and paced, it’s trying to make a comparison to the dancing on the floor and the intricate dances of politics and rumors on the sidelines. It would work a lot better if the dancing wasn’t so absolutely terrible.
Suddenly, a scream cuts through the court and the sounds of a fight echo through the air. Because of the crowd on the dance floor and the ensuing chaos, it’s not immediately clear who is fighting. My first thought was that it was Ser Royce, avenging his cousin. But no! The crowd parts to show Ser Criston beating the ever-loving crap out of Hunky Ron Weasley. Apparently, the newly moralistic Criston didn’t relish the idea of keeping secrets with him, so much so that he bludgeons him to death in front of the entire court. Laenor wails in grief and despair.
We immediately cut to the wedding. It’s not seven days later, but more like seven minutes. Nothing like a little murder to hasten things along! I’m sure the haste is due in part to Corlys wanting to get this done before a heartbroken Laenor can change his mind. Instead of a huge, festive celebration, it’s a family-only affair. There is still half-eaten food piled on the tables as the two families gather in front of the head table. Nothing has been cleaned away, and the young couple exchange their vows in front of dirty tables and broken chairs.
As the ceremony goes on, it cuts away to a guilt-ridden Criston about to commit seppuku in the garden, but his hand is stayed by the Queen. I imagine that she thinks a King’s Guard who knows the secrets of the future Queen will be a valuable ally in whatever schemes she has to get Aegon on the throne.
Back at the wedding, just as the High Septon pronounces them husband and wife, Viserys collapses to the ground. And as the small wedding party rushes to his aid, the camera pans over to a pool of Hunky Ron Weasley’s blood still on the floor after all the chaos. A rat scampers onto the screen and starts to lap it up. Scavengers, feasting on the throne. Like I said, not really subtle this week.
This episode really dragged for me this week. So many longing or accusing glances. So many chess pieces being moved in the grand game. And while the feast at the end was supposed to be a grand whirlwind of suspense until it exploded into violence, it just felt rather inept to me. The editing choices felt more like a parody of courtroom etiquette than anything else. It just seemed like a placeholder, despite so many actual important plot points happening.
This is a shame, since the preview for next week showed us that this is the last we see of Milly Alcock as young Rhaenyra, since we are jumping ahead a few more years. She is the heart of the show for me, and I’ll miss her. She brought both innocence and a worldliness to her part, and is a big reason why I’ve enjoyed this show overall.
RATING: 3 out of 5
WHO’S THE WORST? It’s a tough contest this week, with lots of contenders, but I think the edge goes to Daemon again. You know, after two weeks of incest and wife murder, he might just run away with this whole thing. He had a strong challenge from Criston the over-reacting, guilt-ridden, and lovesick knight
LINE OF THE WEEK:
VISERYS: Surely. Lord Corlys, you are not proposing the Targaryen dynasty end with my daughter, simply because she’s a woman?
RHAENYS: (Ironic chuckle)