House of the Dragon
Season 1, Episode 2: “The Rogue Prince”
Air Date: 8/28/2022
Welcome back! When we left King’s Landing last week, King Viserys had just anointed Princess Rhaenyra as his heir and banished his brother (and the former heir) Daemon back to the Vale of Arryn. Daemon flew away on his dragon, Caraxes, with his favorite brothel worker, Mysaria.
First off, though, the theme song is back! Woo-hoo! Let’s all sing along. Dahhh, dah, da-da-daaaa, dah… The main difference here, instead of the credit sequence showing us the far-flung locales the episode will take place in, these titles show rivers of blood rushing through the streets and touching all the seals of the great houses. This show really loves the foreshadowing.
It is now six months later. Daemon and his army of Gold Cloaks have seized Dragonstone. Pirates known as the Crab Feeders, and supported by the Free Cities, are attacking the shopping lanes near the Step Stones, (Why are they called the Crab Feeders? Well, the cut-away shots of crabs crawling out of the empty eye socket of a corpse and feasting on the toes of not-quite-dead sailors will answer that.) Lord Corlys Velaryon is furious. He’s lost four ships while the small council dithers. He demands the king take action. The Hand, Otto Hightower, advises against it since open war with the Free Cities will weaken Westeros. At that point, Princess Rhaenyra – the cupbearer to the small council – suggests sending some dragons as a show of force.
I assume Rhaenyra is the cupbearer, even after she was named heir, so she can learn council protocol and procedures. You know, like the intern going out to get lattes and hanging out at board meetings. And just like the CEO who insists that he’s eager to hear from anyone (but actually, not literally anyone), King Viserys is shocked when Rhaenyra suggests dragons. And I do see his point. Dragons are the equivalent of nuclear weapons here, and using them cavalierly against the citizenry would create a lot of pushback. Viserys and Otto shoo her away, telling her to pick the new member of the King’s Guard.
The head of the guard has selected a number of fine candidates from the various houses who have all performed well in tournaments, but Rhaenrya is unimpressed. Have any of these knights seen actual combat, she asks? (Aside from catching the odd poacher, that is.) The only one is Ser Christon Cole, the champion of the Heir’s Tournament. (What a coincidence!) Otto tries to talk her out of it, saying it would be more politic to pick someone from one of the more established houses, but Rhaenyra isn’t having it. After all, Christon is to guard her father, and she’s not trusting his life to some dandy who did well in a jousting tournament.
Meanwhile, Alicent is still visiting the King while he plays with his model city of old Valerya. (He doesn’t actually build it. He just researches the plans and has stonemasons do it. Come on, man. If you’re going to have a middle-aged Dad hobby like model trains, then commit to it.) He is sad because he and his daughter have barely spoken since he killed Aemma – oops, I mean since Aemma died in childbirth because Viserys wanted a male heir more than a wife. Alicent takes this information, then goes to Rhaenyra to let her know that dads can be obtuse, and maybe she should be the one to start a conversation with him. Rhaenyra thanks her best friend for her totally neutral and selfless advice.
And because it’s been a whole six months since the death of the queen, it’s of course time for Viserys to remarry. Lord Corlys and Princess Rhaenys (The Queen Who Never Was, the one the High Council passed over for Viserys) propose marriage to their daughter, Lady Laena. On paper, this is a great match. It would unite the two oldest houses – Targaryen and Valeryon – on the throne. It would help patch up the wounds caused by passing over Rhaenys. It would secure Corlys’ navy and money, pretty important in a fight against those pirates. The downside? Laena is twelve. (Her mom tells her she wouldn’t have to go to bed with him until she’s 14, so that’s cool.) This is a world where marriage is a way to build alliances and heirs, and not at all about love or romance, but it’s a point in Viserys’s favor that this is just too icky for him. Still, kings are expected to have queens, so he goes on a “date” with Laena. The date is mostly them walking through the garden while she asks him questions about dragons. And good for her. Honestly, if I ever went on a date with a Targaryen, I would also ask a lot of dragon-related questions. (Mostly, if I could ride one.)
This courtship is cut short by the arrival of news that Daemon has stolen a dragon egg from King’s Landing. He announces that in the tradition of old Valerya, he is going to take a second wife (Mysaria, naturally) and he took the egg to place in the crib of the baby she is about to bear him, as is Targaryen custom. And the marriage is in two days, brother, and of COURSE, you’re invited! The council is appalled that Daemon has impregnated a whore and is going to present her as his wife. Rhaenyra is appalled that he stole the egg she had picked out for the crib of her baby brother. Viserys is furious and is about to lead the charge himself before Otto intervenes. He’ll go, since it may be a trap, and retrieve the egg. (Before leaving, Otto reminds his daughter Alicent to tend to the king. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge)
The King’s Guard marches to Dragonstone, approaching on a narrow passage on top of a wall. The ominous fortress rises from the mist and it is a great-looking scene. Daemon, along with his Gold Cloaks and Mysaria at his side, sneers his greetings. Otto demands the egg back and tells him to stop this treasonous nonsense. Daemon says, you want the egg? Come and get it. Swords are drawn, and it looks like blood is about to be spilled when Caraxes lands behind the prince. Knowing they’re outgunned, Otto orders his men to sheathe their steel. It looks like they’ll have to head home empty-handed, but then Rhaenyra appears on top of Syrax and lands behind Otto. Otto asks what she’s doing here as she strides over to confront Daemon. She ignores him, telling the guard to mind her dragon since he tends to be very protective of her.
Daemon and Rhaenyra meet mid-passage, where they talk in High Valerian. She reminds him that she is the rightful heir and that Daemon is currently squatting in her castle at Dragonstone. Daemon huffily says it’s not her house until she’s of age. Besides, he is to be wed! Rhaenyra reminds him he has a wife, and he grumbles that it wasn’t one he picked. And besides, he should have a dragon egg to place in his child’s crib, just like Rhaenyra had. Rhaenyra asks if he’s having a baby, and he replies sure one day…
And then it becomes clear that this whole stunt was a ruse to provoke the king into a confrontation. He’s not getting married, Mysaria isn’t pregnant. Rhaenyra reminds him that she is the new heir. If he wants to be heir again, he’ll have to kill her. So do it now if you want to be the heir that badly. After a long and tense moment, Daemon retreats to his castle, hurling the egg at Rhaenyra like a no-look basketball pass. This is a great scene, and it shows the princess using her power as a dragon rider and a politician effectively. Both actors are in top form here.
Inside the palace of Dragonstone, Mysaria is upset. She had no idea Daemon had concocted the whole scheme of marriage and pregnancy. She tells him that she has bought and sold countless times and she has no desire for titles or wealth. All she wants from Daemon is to be free of fear. And I’m very happy to see that we are giving Mysaria some more character development here, beyond simply “Daemon’s Whore.” I hope it continues.
Back in King’s Landing, Viserys is angered that the princess flew off to the battlefront. She’s the heir! She could’ve been killed. She replies calmly that she defused the situation without bloodshed, something that Otto likely couldn’t have done. Rhaenyra and Viserys finally have the heart-to-heart talk they needed. Viserys says she’s just like her mother, a force of nature. He will always feel the grief of her loss. Rhaenyra is relieved to hear him finally say that. She knows that he has to remarry. He tells her their line of succession is perilous and they need more heirs, but he’ll never replace her mother and he’ll never replace her as the primary heir.
The next day, Viserys is ready to announce to the small council that he’s selected a new bride. Corlys is smiling expectantly. Rhaenyra is nodding her approval. After much consideration, he has decided to marry…
Lady Alicent Hightower!
If records were around in Westeros, this would be the time for a record scratch. Corlys is furious and storms out of the council room. Rhaenyra is speechless and shoots a deathly look at Alicent, her (I’m guessing now former) BFF.
The episode ends with Corlys back home, talking to an unseen person offscreen, telling them how he had to struggle to get where he is and he will not see it taken away from him by pirates while a feckless king and council waste time on balls and tournaments. It is revealed that he’s talking to Daemon, who agrees to help him fight the Crab Feeders in the Step Stones to secure the shipping lines. And in return, well, we’ll see in the weeks ahead, but I would guess it might involve helping to remove a weakened king.
Even though this episode was a little slow to get going, I liked it quite a lot more than last week. The machinations of the various houses to gain power are really starting to pick up, and the standoff between Rhaenyra and Daemon was fantastic. Viserys has fucked up royally and made an enemy of the man who controls the navies. Otto has shown himself adept at playing a subtle long game, and I am sure he’ll be making moves against Rhaenyra in future episodes, both for showing him up in Dragonstone and to get her out of the way so his grandson can be king. And the Crab Feeder pirates are extremely creepy.
There were a lot fewer boobs and orgies this week – none, in fact! Also, much less violence and castration, and women killed through horrific childbirth. (We did get a hand dunked in maggots, though, but that was strictly for medicinal purposes, honest.) It almost seems like HBO wanted to remind you last week that they’re still Game of Thrones, dammit!, and now that they’ve gotten it out of their system we can settle into a more moderate level of violence and nudity.
The time jump takes a moment to register and based on the preview for next week that is going to be a consistent thing. (It looks like episode 3 takes place a year to 18 months after this one.) And it looks like we’ll be jumping right into a battle full of crabby pirates and dragons. The show may have found its footing, and I’m eager to see where it goes next.
Episode rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Line of the Week:
Daemon: “Ser Crispin, wasn’t it?”
Christon: “Ser Christon Cole, my prince.”
Daemon: “Ah yes, apologies. I couldn’t recall.”
Christon: “Perhaps my prince recalls when I knocked him off his horse.”