“The Burning Mill” focuses on how the women of Westeros adapt and lead

War is on the horizon.

One constant about Game of Thrones (and House of the Dragon) is how they are very clear about how much life sucks if you aren’t a high born, if you’re one of the people referred to rather condescendingly as the “small folk.” One day, you’re minding your own business, crawling through the muck of the basement of the Red Keep to keep the royals safe from rats, and then suddenly, you’re getting hung off the wall of the palace because some rat catcher of the twenty or so in the employ of the king was involved in his son’s murder. You’re a simple farmer, trying to raise livestock and feed your family, when the crown takes half your flock because the dragons are hungry. You just want to have the child fighting pits closed, and the next thing you know, the Hand of the King is burning your house down.

And the shows have been even clearer how much more of a burden it is if you’re a woman. Even if you are a high-born woman, with all the attendant luxuries and status that entails, you can still suffer many indignities and traumas. Witness the marriage of Sansa Stark to Ramsay Bolton, for one nauseating example. And in House, we have seen from Episode One how the women are disregarded and passed over. The King’s daughter, Rhaenys, was passed over as heir in favor of Viserys. Viserys wanted a male heir so badly, he basically murdered his wife in the birthing bed to get the baby out of her. Viserys wanted his daughter to inherit the throne, but was thwarted by Otto who installed his grandson Aegon. It’s also why so many of the female characters — like Arya and Daenerys — were fan favorites, as they strove to break out of the narrow paths they had been born to. (And also why so many people were furious at how Daenerys’s arc ended, but that is a rant for another time.)

It’s the crux of the episode this week. The women of Westeros are trying their best to guide their families and their kingdoms to a cooler path. It’s tricky, as the men — especially the younger generation — seem set on a path to war.

That determination plays out in miniature in the opening scene, when two small, rival houses in the Riverlands — the Blackwoods and the Brackens — let a dispute over the boundary of grazing lands blow up into a full-blown battle because the Brackens back Aegon and the Blackwoods back Rhaenyra. It starts with a shoving match and ends with a field and stream just choked with dead bodies.

Aegon is overjoyed, since this is the first “official” battle in the war and they won… technically. The losses on both sides were enormous, practically wiping out both houses, but a win’s a win, right?

Alicent can see this is a preview of what’s to come should all-out war come to Westeros, and is roundly ignored. It’s a consistent theme. The women try their best to find a solution, but are sidelined. Alicent doesn’t want her son to fly off to the Riverlands with Criston the Hand, but he’s going to do it anyway because he thinks he’s hot shit in Aegon the Conqueror’s old armor. It’s a stupid idea because, as the council explains, a giant dragon will eliminate the element of stealth that they are counting on to rally their bannermen. It will also be a focal point for his enemies. It’s only when Larys explains this to him (telling him that his mom really wants him to go so she can rule in his place) that he actually listens.

Alicent is realizing she can’t control her children any longer, seeing Aegon eager to sprint into war. And she practically calls Aemond a sociopath. Rhaenyra realized last week that she can no longer trust her uncle-husband (huncle?), Daemon, after he went and had a baby murdered in her name, and her council is urging her to go to war and use their dragons to burn everything. Rhaenys isn’t able to get her husband, Corlys, to pick an heir to be the next Sea Snake. All across the Seven Kingdoms, men are loudly overstepping and ignoring advice.

Men like Daemon, who has flown off to a decaying Harrenhall to claim it for Rhaenyra. He gets little resistance from its steward, Ser Simon Strong (played with aplomb by Sir Simon Russell Beale — a Sir for a Ser as it were), who is quite happy to betray Larys. (Simon found it quite suspicious that Lionel Strong died in a fire, since Harrenhall is so damp, it’s hard to light a torch in the summer.) Men like Aegon, who takes time out from playing at war to go to the brothels and sneer at his brother for lying with the madam. Men like Rhaenyra’s council, who are absolutely chomping at the bit to unleash the dragons.

It all comes to a head when Rhaenyra decides that she needs to talk to Alicent, face to face. She knows Alicent will ignore her ravens (much the same way she ignored hers), so with the help of Mysaria (again, I remain amazed that a good deed didn’t come back to bite someone in Westeros), she sneaks into the Sept disguised as a member of the order, where she can intercept Alicent at her weekly candle lighting and prayers.

Now, it is a huge dramatic contrivance to do this. Even though Mysaria comments that no one pays attention to a women if they aren’t in fancy clothes or wearing make-up, it is still a stretch that no guard would recognize Public Enemy #1 of King’s Landing. But, no matter, the scene is great and dramatically satisfying.

Rhaenyra and Alicent finally have it out. Rhaenyra asks why she stole her throne; Alicent says that she stole nothing — Viserys simply changed his mind, and Rhaenyra has to accept that. It’s when Alicent mentions that Viserys thought that Aegon was “the Prince That Was Promised” that Rhaenyra realizes that her dad was referring to the Song of Ice and Fire, and not to Aegon II, and tells her so. I think on some level, Alicent knows that Rhaenyra is telling the truth, but what of it? What is to be done? Aegon and Criston and Rhaenyra’s court are all determined and eager to start a war, and no amount of apologies can change that now. Aegon is certainly not going to step down because Alicent misheard a dream. Alicent leaves Rhaenyra in the Sept to ponder her next move on the road to war.

There is a lot of tension and build-up this week as the houses plot and scheme. And while it is all great drama, I am also eager to get to the dragon fights. (Yes, I know, war is going to suck for the small folk, but I am paying $9.99 a month for the crappy MAX app, and I would like to see some dragons fight. Stop edging me.) And after this last-ditch attempt at diplomacy has failed, it looks like we will be starting the war in earnest.

Episode Rating: 4 out of 5

Who’s the worst? Aegon is a prat, and I hope he flies boldly into battle and falls off his  dragon and lands in a pile of shit. Way to snuff out any sympathy I had for you last week, when you were crying over the death of your son.

Victor Catano
Victor Catano
Victor Catano lives in New York City with his adorable pughuaua, Danerys. When not writing, he works in live theater as a stage manager, production manager, and chaos coordinator. His hobbies include coffee, Broadway musicals, and complaining about the NY Mets and Philadelphia Eagles. Follow him on BlueSky and Instagram at @vgcatano and find his books on Amazon

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One constant about Game of Thrones (and House of the Dragon) is how they are very clear about how much life sucks if you aren't a high born, if you're one of the people referred to rather condescendingly as the "small folk." One day,..."The Burning Mill" focuses on how the women of Westeros adapt and lead