In the final episode of the exposition stage, House of the Dragon takes us to an event ‘Game of Thrones’ viewers are all too familiar with: a royal wedding. After years of relative tranquility in the realm and growing tensions among the noble families, the bubble of peace is about to burst.
SPOILER ALERT: If you want to avoid spoilers, consider yourself warned. We’re about to dive into episode 5 of House of the Dragon.
Lady Rhea Royce, we hardly knew ye
Amid some truly beautiful, sweeping shots of the Vale, we are introduced to the woman we’ve heard about all season. Lady Rhea Royce, whom Daemon has avoided and demeaned at every opportunity, despite being married to her.
Rhea is very clearly self-sufficient, a badass woman that doesn’t seem to suffer fools. Daemon probably dislikes her for that reason – he cannot dominate her, and she doesn’t fawn over him.
We gotta love a character that starts out so immediately strong. However, much like the wildling chieftan Karsi from the Game of Thones episode ‘Hardhome’, she’s gone even before she can get started. But not before she fires off a scathing remark to Daemon. “I knew you couldn’t finish.” Even paralyzed from her fall from the horse, and totally at Daemon’s mercy, that withering blow was sure to burn.
The reasons for Daemon’s brief visit are clear when we realize how Rhea’s death benefit’s him. Afterall, he now stands to inherit her land and title. It might not be the most glamorous addition to Daemon’s empire, but it’s still a notable one.
The power couple at High Tide
Sickly King Viserys makes his way through the tempest to High Tide, Lord Corlys Velaryon’s stronghold. He knows that he needs to secure an alliance with the Velaryons if he wants to maintain peace in the realm. (After spurning their daughter and effectively ignoring them during the War of the Stepstones, I guess it’s better late than never?)
From a production design standpoint, High Tide is beautiful and shows the intricate attention to detail that ‘HotD’ is making the new standard. Ramin Djawadi’s music here is different than anything we’ve heard before in Game of Thrones or House of the Dragon. And from the seascape mural of the Sea Snake’s legendary nine voyages to Lord Corlys’ mementos from his explorations, it’s also visually different from anything we’ve seen.
As the King arrives, Lord Corlys makes sure that he is seated precisely where he holds the most power. Sitting on his own Driftwood Throne, he descends and bends the knee, but we can see that this is a proud man who won’t acquiesce to his autonomy or growing political momentum easily.
The ‘Sea Snake’ & the ‘Queen Who Never Was’ are like a match made in the heavens. They easily deduce that King Viserys has little leverage, so it is all too easy to accept the proposal that the children be wed.
Ser Criston Cole, NO
Poor, poor Criston Cole.
After the last episode when Rhaenyra used her power to force him to break his vow of celibacy, Ser Criston has been struggling with his sense of ethics. He comes up with a noble solution: marry the princess. But despite it being the most honorable solution, Rhaenyra declines. Sure, she’s prickled at her royal obligations, but she’s just learning how to have her cake and eat it too.
It is at this moment of frustration and guilt that the Queen summons him for questioning. Having no idea that Alicent is trying to gather information on Daemon, Criston fesses up. Alicent is surprised but decides to hold this set of cards close to her chest. She has finally found some leverage.
This sets him up to be in quite a precarious mental space for the wedding.
“We Light the Way”
After Otto’s departure, Alicent is alone. In truth, she’s been feeling isolated for a long time, and this final betrayal from Rhaenyra is the straw that breaks the camel’s back and pushes her into what might become her “villain era.”
Alicent is correct when she points out that it was her father’s own machinations toward a Hightower on the throne that led him to be dismissed as Hand of the King. But Otto is brutally honest in return: “The time is coming, Alicent. Either you prepare Aegon to rule, or you cleave to Rhaenyra and pray for her mercy.” When Viserys dies, if her son isn’t secured as the heir, Alicent is in great danger indeed.
Meanwhile, Larys Strong attempts to forge an alliance with the Queen, offering very Little Finger-esque nuggets of knowledge.
Ignited by her father and Lary’s news of the Grand Meister’s “tea”, Alicent has only to gain confirmation of Rhaenyra’s deception to decide enough is enough.
Alicent is officially over it: over her feminine obligations, over doting on her sickly husband, over sitting in the background as others make decisions around her. She enters the wedding, intentionally late, and wearing a green dress that says, “I am a Hightower, and I’m going to war.”
Viserys just can’t catch a break. All he wants is peace and to throw a party. He loves throwing royal events so much, but whether it’s a joust, a hunt, or a wedding party, it always gets ruined in some way.
Keeping in the tradition of Game of Thrones, we have a wedding gone afoul. This one might not have the high drama of the Purple Wedding or the hyper-violence of the Red Wedding, but with a room full of nobles with disparate ambitions and motivations, this Westeros soap opera is ripe for high-stakes happenings.
Rhaenyra & Leanor Velaryion may have made a happy arrangement, allowing them both, in theory, to perform their duty to their fathers and the realm while pursuing their own passions, but happiness is fleeting, especially in this world.
Leanor’s lover, Ser Joffrey Lonmouth, is a little too sure of himself when approaching Ser Criston at the wedding party. Trying to assure some political leverage, he pushes Criston just a little too far. And winds up beaten to a bloody pulp.
We hardly knew the character, but though Ser Joffrey didn’t seem particularly revelatory, the worst part is that another queer character has been brutally murdered. Can’t just one gay person be happy in Westeros?
We have never seen King Viserys healthy, but this episode shows him hanging on by a thread. As Rhaenyra & Leanor are wed, Viserys collapses, and we know that the matter of heir and marriage are more important now than ever.
Meanwhile, Ser Criston Cole, for honor and for shame, is ready to end his life. Alicent narrowly stops him, ensuring that he play a part later in the show. But the warm and charming Criston Cole we knew is gone, his ideals broken.
At the same time, Daemon can’t NOT make an entrance and stir up trouble. So, straight from killing his wife, he arrives fashionably late to his niece/lover’s wedding and sees how much drama he can stir up there.
All of the royal Houses are engaged. The Strongs have entered the game, and the Hightowers are poised for war. And now that we have (at least) one more Targaryen-Valeryon alliance, the stakes for everyone are particularly high.
Next episode we will have the most significant time jump of all, bringing us to where the real story of House of the Dragon will unfold.