Each episode of ‘House of the Dragon’ so far has worked hard to prove the show’s mettle. Whether thru top-tier violence, romantic tensions, dragons, or stellar acting, the all-around talented production team has efforted to redeem the show’s namesake, while proving they can stand on their own.
Episode 4 takes us to a different place than we’ve seen so far – one that feels charged, risky, but oh-so Game of Thrones.
SPOILER ALERT: If you want to avoid spoilers, consider yourself warned. We’re about to dive into episode 4 of House of the Dragon.
A string of suitors leave Rhaenyra wanting more
As Rhaenyra endures an extensive line of prospective husbands at Storm’s End, she cannot believe the abysmal array of suitors she’s receiving. Whether it’s a grandfatherly Dondarrian or a literal child, the whole thing disgusts her. To think that the rest of her life be reduced to marriage, and that marriage reduced to a contract with someone unworthy of her desires.
The first shot of the episode focuses on Rhaenyra fondly fondling the valyrian steel necklace around her neck. It is important to open the episode with a reminder of her connection with Daemon. It seems that he is on her mind prominently throughout, as though she is comparing the potentials of the men before her with the qualities she appreciates in her uncle.
As a meaningless feud turns to bloodshed between members of rival houses Bracken and Blackwood, Rhaenyra concedes to the absurdity of the whole thing and decides to pack it up.
Rhaenyra’s journey home coincides with that of Daemon, the rogue prince, whom we remember dramatically dismembering the Crabfeeder and taking back the Stepstones from the Triarchy in episode 3.
Although previously banished by the King, Daemon returns with a swagger, a bone crown, and a fresh new haircut that serves “King of the Narrow Sea.”
By this point, we all know that Daemon is chaos incarnate, and a provocateur to boot. So everyone is on edge, waiting to see what he’ll do – not least of which is the King himself. But despite any (warranted) trepidations, Daemon sticks the landing and appeases Viserys with court niceties and a bit of bending the knee. Apparently, that little gesture was all the King needed to forgive his brother entirely, and welcome him back into his arms.
Meanwhile, Rhaenyra can hardly contain how excited she is in the proximity of the bad boy prince.
A date with Daemon
It should be of no surprise at all that incest was coming. Next to dragons and fire, it’s one of the more prominent themes of the Targaryen house. They couple with each other mainly to ensure their Valyrian blood be passed down, ensuring their mastery over dragons. But as we saw in ‘Game of Thrones’, sometimes the only one worthy of being with a Targaryen (in their minds anyway) is another Targaryen.
Daemon is George R. R. Martin’s favorite Targ (and quickly becoming a fan favorite as well) for the reason that he is so complicated. A “grey character”, nothing Daemon does is purely good or bad, and all of it is complicated.
So when he takes Rhaenyra into the streets of King’s Landing, it is simultaneously politically self-serving and personally exciting. He also proves that he understands Rhaenyra’s desires for freedom, novelty, and pleasure. And she, in turn, feels seen, and alive.
His attempts to provoke her with his open (and public) sexuality awakens the dragon within her. Whether that is not the response he was after (he, after all, loves to be in control), or he realizes what he is doing with his young niece is wrong, or whether this is another case of his sexual impotence, Daemon cuts things short. But not before Rhaenyra’s carnal appetite has been whetted.
Criston Cole will do
Rhaenyra returns home hungry, and like a dragon needing to be fed, she eyes a tasty meal in the visage of Ser Criston Cole.
Over the course of years the first episodes have spanned, she and Criston have become close. Now, inspired (and left unsated) by Daemon, she pulls him into his chambers.
This should feel very wrong for a number of reasons. Criston’s soft whisper of “stop”, a plea that Rhaenyra in her position of power ignores. Meanwhile, Rhaenyra might now be of age, but is still very young. And of course, there is the danger of the act: between Criston’s vow of celibacy and all of the political intrigue surrounding such an affair, it is essential this remain a secret. (I know one Targaryen prince in particular that may not be pleased to find the man that bested him at the King’s joust those years prior has now satisfied the apple of his eye when he could not.)
Despite these reasons (and maybe actually because of them – what is more exciting than a dangerous love affair), the scene is focused on its sweetness, and in Rhaenyra enjoying the freedom of sexual pleasure.
This is an all-too refreshing moment – not just for “Game of Thrones”, but for film and television in general. As Alicent reminds us in this episode as she goes between caring for her child in isolation to enduring Viserys’ sub-par (but regrettably common) sexual performance, we are reminded that the emphasis in life and entertainment is rarely on female pleasure.
Otto overplays his Hand
We can’t blame Otto Hightower for underestimating the King. Viserys has proven himself time and again to be pliable and naïve. But he is also reactionary. And even if he’s a bottom-tier Targaryen, he is still a Targaryen.
Otto, believing that the information leaked to him from the White Worm will strengthen his grandson’s claim to the throne, reports Daemon and Rhaenyra’s indiscretion. What he doesn’t expect is to become a scapegoat for the King’s rage. Combined with the princess’ savvy estimation of his spying, and how he has overstepped his station in the episodes with suggestions that would directly benefit the Hightowers, Viserys dismisses him as Hand of the King.
“House of the Dragon” continues to layer personal and political drama that will add to the fuel for the dragonfire later in the show. Despite time jumps, each episode has built upon the last, leading to fraught relationships and instability in the Kingdom.
With Rhaenyra now betrothed to Ser Laenor Velaryon, the position of the Hand of the King open, Criston Cole’s vow broken, and Daemon banished once more, we know that peace is fleeting.
As the story progresses, “HotD” has not relented in prioritizing the theme of female inequality. Good! And as the show soars with stunning visuals, uncomfortable eroticism, and nuanced characters played electrically by smart actors, we will see just how far the Targaryens will go before ripping themselves apart.