Three weeks. Three weeks is the time it took to convert even the staunchest of skeptics back into loving fans of George R. R. Martin’s world.
If you had told most ‘Game of Thrones’ fans even a month ago that ‘House of the Dragon’ would re-stoke the fires of our fandom, you would most likely have been met with skepticism. But here we are, and the fires are officially stoked.
SPOILER ALERT: If you want to avoid spoilers, consider yourself warned. We’re about to dive into episode 3 of House of the Dragon.
Growing up and growing apart: Rhaenyra and Viserys
Three years have passed since the events of Episode 2, and King Viserys has gathered a royal party to celebrate the 2nd Nameday of his son.
Showrunners Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik have said that this episode is about growing up. The celebration of the King and Alicent Hightower’s child may be the main event, but it is Viserys, Rhaenyra, and Daemon who undergo great change. By the end of the episode, each of their perspectives has evolved, and their characters are more resolute than ever.
Time has passed, but Rhaenyra has remained stagnant and bitter. Although she took such decisive actions in episode 2, the feelings of jealousy and betrayal elicited from her father’s marriage to Alicent left her stunted, insolent, and isolated. This may be a common description of many teenagers, but it is all the worse if that teenager happens to be a Targaryen, for their blood runs particularly hot.
Rhaenyra and the boar’s blood
Rhaenyra is now 17, and as the realm grapples with its next heir to the throne, so too must she grapple with her own future. From the point of view of those who uphold the patriarchy, that means deciding who she is to wed. But she has no interest in marriage whatsoever.
Targaryens have never been the best at emotional regulation, and Rhaenyra is no different. For now, her aggression is merely passive aggression, but just barely. When a wild boar attacks, she is allowed a catharsis, stabbing into the creature again and again, as blood sprays in a baptismal of self-sufficiency. And when she returns to camp the next day, caked in dried blood, she walks with a swagger that might as well say, “Fuck around and find out.” (Milly Alcock is absolutely killing it.)
The Flawed King
Viserys, meanwhile, may be a full-grown man but has all of the maturity of a child. He wishes for a happy family and a peaceful rule but has inadvertently assured that neither is possible.
King Viserys has spent the past few years doing nothing proactive (except for impregnating Queen Alicent twice). We already know from the first two episodes that his M.O. basically consists of avoidance and self-soothing through distraction. In a state of ignorant bliss, he believes that any problems surrounding him are insubstantial enough that if he ignores them, they will go away. (Of course, in the world of Game of Thrones, as in life, this is never the case.)
But the Nameday celebration of his son has brought too much to the surface to ignore effectively, and as underlings ply him with the self-serving council, he meditates over wine.
If he were of a different station – royalty still, perhaps, but without any authority – Viserys could maybe just be a happy dude and a kind father. But as complications swell and politics abound, Viserys is simply annoyed.
He can’t even do the hunt right. As he plunges Jason Lannister’s spear into a bound brown hart’s neck, we might recall when Theon Greyjoy of GoT so thoroughly failed at a beheading. It highlights how truly ineffectual he is. However, this time, the King has people to gently whisper instructions to him and to fawn and applaud once he’s done the deed (but none of the work). Gross.
For all of his flaws, the character of Viserys is written brilliantly and performed spectacularly by Paddy Considine. This brooding King, who is kind but who continuously fails, is of Shakespearean caliber.
The War of the Stepstones
If there’s one thing there can never, ever be enough of, it’s dragon battles. And luckily, this episode is bookended with two of them.
At the top of the ep, we see not only the devastation of Caraxes’ Dragonfire, but how the war continues to rage on, despite the time that’s passed.
Daemon and Corlys have spent three grueling years at war with the Crabfeeder and the Triarchy, and despite having Velaryon wealth and dragon power to back them up, the enemy has smartly hidden in beach caves where fire cannot harm them.
The men are hungry, starving, and nearly at their breaking point. The Velaryons fight amongst themselves over what to do and whom to blame. Daemon is no fool – he senses these stressors, but it is a letter from the well-intentioned King that pushes him to his limit. He would rather die and lose the war than accept help from his brother. To do so would be essentially admitting that he was not strong enough on his own, so that is absolutely out of the question.
Only one course of action remains.
Each of the Targaryens is strongly written and well-cast. Matt Smith is strange and electric on-screen. Despite having no words of dialogue in this entire episode, he still clearly articulates his rage, cunning, will, and audacity.
In a very old-world show of masculine mettle, Daemon charges in alone after the Crabfeeder, determined to either win or die (as they say you do when you play the game of thrones).
In truth, Daemon would have been defeated were it not for the Velaryon army to back him up, plus a notable new dragon rider, Laenor Velaryon, riding atop Seasmoke and breathing heaps of flame. However, it is his solo defeat of Craghas Dahar (now but a gorgeously gruesome torso) that fortifies his reputation.
Imagery, themes, and broken dreams
As the first two episodes demonstrated clearly, ‘House of the Dragon’ continues to assert: Westeros’ staunch patriarchy may be its own undoing. The entire premise of this prequel is that a worthless King was granted the crown over a capable woman who was a direct descendent of the throne. Now, Rhaenyra, who has shown more decisiveness so far that Viserys and the council, must find a suitor.
To his credit, Viserys sweetly agreed to let Rhaenyra choose her own match and promised that she would remain heir to the throne. But knowing Viserys, he’ll probably botch all of that up as well.
The image of the stag (as well as the King’s Hunt, the wine, and the boar) might all evoke future foretellings of Robert Baratheon, who will one day unseat the Targaryens. But the symbol of the hart as purity of royal worth comes from our own world and medieval legends.
Viserys may have had an audience to watch him awkwardly slaughter a brown deer, but it is Rhaenyra who meets the fabled white hart. And she does not need to kill it or brag about it in order to prove her inherent worth.
Still, with mounting tensions, possible alliances, and evolving ambitions, we’ll have to see what happens next.