As I was settling in to watch this week’s episode, I got a call from my mom. She was letting me know that she and her house were OK after Hurricane Fiona had passed through the region. As we were wrapping up, I mentioned that I was going to watch House of the Dragon and she said something that really clarified an issue I’m having with this series.
“Oh, I like reading your recaps (thanks, Mom!), but I could never watch the show. I really need to have someone I can root for.”
And that really put the finger on it. In Game of Thrones, you had characters who were underdogs and who you could root for. Maybe they weren’t moral or brave or righteous, but they were characters with motivations that you could get behind. Tyrion, the neglected younger brother of Cersei and Jamie, mocked and ridiculed by his family. Daenerys, the last Targaryen, sent off to a foreign land to marry a barbarian in order to secure the fading fortunes of her family. Arya, the tomboy daughter of Ned Stark, who wanted nothing to do with castles and crowns. Jon Snow, the bastard, desperate to prove his worth…
With House of the Dragon, Who are you rooting for?
There aren’t any underdogs. All of the characters are scheming and striving to get power for power’s sake. They’re all in the same family and all rather unpleasant. The leap forward in time has made everyone in House Targaryen jaded and bitter.
Yes, we have leapt forward in time again, a decade this time. We now have new actors playing Princess Rhaenyra, Laenor, and Queen Alicent, plus we meet a whole slew of their kids. There’s barely time to get your bearings, so here we go.
We meet Rhaenyra (now played by Emma D’Arcy) having her third son, Joffrey (oooh, portents!), following Jacerys and Lucerys. There are rumors in court that the father of her kids isn’t Laenor (because, you know, he likes men) but rather Ser Harwin Strong, son of Lyonel, the king’s hand, since they all are his spitting image.
These rumors are fully believed by Alicent (Olivia Cooke), who tries to convince the king of this, but he will not hear it. (And despite Otto’s warnings, the frail king is still hanging in there, barely.) The queen demands to see the newborn babe moments after his birth. Rhaenyra obviously doesn’t trust the queen at all, and rather than let the child out of her sight, she expels her afterbirth, walks across the castle, up a few dozen stairs and presents him to Alicent. That is some level of spiteful mistrust to overcome that much pain. I sometimes drink my Coke Zero at room temperature because I’m too lazy to walk 10 feet to the kitchen and get more ice, so props to Princess Rhaenyra and the motivating power of hate.
Alicent has three kids of her own: Aegon, the oldest (who likes to masturbate on the city while standing in his window, which is a great shorthand to show what a spoiled creep he is), middle daughter Helaena, and youngest Aemond. Unlike Aegon, Aemond doesn’t have a dragon. (The eggs only hatch about half the time.) This makes him extremely jealous of his brother and cousins. After one dragon training session, they tell gullible Aemond that they found him a dragon of his own, then trot out a pig they’ve tied wings to, calling it The Pink Dread. This infuriates Alicent, who interrupts Aegon mid-wank session to tell him to never embarrass his brother in public.
Speaking of dragons, Daemon and his wife Laena are soaring over the skies of Pentos. It seems the couple have been touring throughout the kingdom the last few years, crashing on the couches of various lords. The show doesn’t really get into why. Wasn’t Daemon going to inherit the Vale? Are they not welcome in King’s Landing or Driftmark? Dunno. They have two girls – Baela and Rhaena. Baela has a dragon, while Rhaena has been keeping her egg warm for eight years now and it doesn’t look promising. Laena is also extremely pregnant with a third child.
As they have their farewell feast, their host begs them to stay. The Triarchy (groan) is on the rise again and terrorizing the Step Stones. Daemon can have the castle and all the taxes from the region if his family – and their dragons – stay to protect Pentos from more crabby pirates. Laena wants to keep riding her huge dragon, but Daemon is willing to consider it.
Back in King’s Landing, Criston is training Alicent’s and Rhaenyra’s kids in combat. He’s no longer Rhaenyra’s guard, but is stationed with the Queen. He trains Aegon and Aemond hard, but Harwin notes he’s barely teaching Jacerys and Lucerys. Criston goes, all right, and has the 15 year old Aegon fight 9 year old Jacerys. Harwin protests that that is hardly a fair match. Criston replies that combat is seldom fair, and the cousins go at it.
Aegon starts off well, but is but on his heels by an enraged Jacerys. Criston coaches Aegon until Jacerys is knocked down and tells Aegon not to let him get up. He whacks at him till Harwin steps in. Criston smirks. Wow, that’s kind of love and devotion one usually sees for brothers…or sons. That sets Harwin off and he proceeds to kick his smug ass around the courtyard until four knights pull him off. And good. Criston’s been a real dick the last two episodes. Still, this confirms what he suspected. He believes Harwin to be the father.
After a small council meeting, where Alicent and Rhaenyra contradict everything the other says, Rhaenyra stops everything to make a proposal. She is sorry for the tension between her and Alicent, after all, they were friends long ago! Since her son, Jacerys, will inherit the throne from her, Rhaenyra proposes that he be betrothed to Alicent’s daughter, Helaena. It will unify the family and keep Alicent’s kids on the throne. Viserys is delighted! All his kids and grandkids, one big happy, inbred family! Alicent isn’t, sensing that Rhaenyra is desperate and scared.
After Alicent gets the sickly king back in his room and all snug in his blankie, Lyonel enters the chambers to try and resign. He can no longer serve after the fight in the courtyard and his son has brought shame to the family. There is a dark cloud hanging over his family that he can’t abide. What is this cloud, asks the King. Alicent looks very excited, hoping that the hand will say what everyone in court suspects. However, Lyonel will not. Since he won’t say what the problem is, the King refuses to accept his resignation. Instead, Lyonel asks for leave to take Harwin to Harrenhall, so he can assume his duties there as heir (and also stop fathering royal bastards).
Furious, Alicent storms off to dinner with Lyonel’s other son, Larys. No one is on my side, she complains. Why, if my dad Otto were still hand, he’d make the king listen to my theories about Rhaenyra’s infidelities!
Larys takes note of this, and proceeds to get together his own suicide squad, He gets some death row inmates and commutes their sentences, so long as they agree to have their tongues cut out to keep his secrets.
After Harwin leaves, Rhaenyra decides it’s time for her family to flee as well. It’s no longer safe in court with Queen B. trying to root out her secrets, so she tells Laener to pack up for Dragonstone. He protests, but calms down when Rhaenyra says he can bring his boyfriend, Qarl, along. (Oh ffs, please just spell one name in this series normally. Please. Give me one character named Doug or something.)
In Pentos, Laena is having a difficult birth. The baby refuses to come out. The doctor tells Daemon that they could open the womb, but there’s no guarantee the baby will live, and the mother definitely wouldn’t. And credit to Daemon. Unlike his brother, he isn’t willing to gut his wife like a fish. However, Laena is in such pain that she staggers out onto the beach and shouts Dracarys at her dragon, Vhagar, until he burns her to death. (The Maesters really need to bring in a few OB-GYNs because the state of maternal care is appalling.)
Lyonel and Harwin reach Harrenhall, but their return home doesn’t last long. That night, a fire breaks out in the castle. Both Strongs are trapped in their rooms, and die when the fire causes parts of the building to collapse. In the wreckage, Otto Hightower strides through, and I’ll lay you odds that he had Larys’ very dirty dozen lock them in and start the fire.
Alicent has similar thoughts. After hearing about the disaster she runs to Larys, who basically admits it. My queen wished for something to be done, it is done, Now, contact your father so he can become hand again. And, you know, one day you can do a favor for me. Larys is ice cold, having just orchestrated the deaths of his father and brother, and just wants to be this series’ version of Littlefinger, (How’d things turn out for that guy, anyway?).
I am starting to lose my patience with this series. The time jumps make it almost impossible to get to know the characters. Information gets dumped out as a result, rather than shown through actions. Character beats that could make you empathetic or sympathetic get glassed over. Laena had a ten year marriage to Daemon that barely got ten minutes of screen time, a marriage that was apparently pretty good since they had kids. How did she tame this reprobate, who we last saw killing his wife and fucking his neice? Eh, who knows.
Thus far, I’m not a fan of the older actors playing Rhaenyra and Alicent. Their younger counterparts had some innocence to them that made you hope they could work things out. The new actors are just playing bitter and jaded,
And we’re going to fight the damn Triarchy again? After hyping the crab feeders last time, only to (literally) cut their legs out killing all of that build up, why should we get excited this time around?
This show can be very good, especially when it lets the characters have some room to stretch. Unfortunately, the characters are becoming chained to plot points and it is not as interesting.
Again, who now are you supposed to root for?
RATING 2 out of 5
WHO’S THE WORST?
Everyone? Larys beats out a crowded field by murdering his family. In a shocker, two-time defending champ Daemon is actually the most decent person here because he refused to kill his wife.
LINE OF THE WEEK:
Viserys: I hope the labor was easy.
Rhaenyra: I think I called the midwife a cunt.
Deep breaths, princess.