We’ve finally reached the pivotal ten-year time jump that brings us that much closer to the core of our story: namely, massive bloodshed and draconic infighting.
Episode 6, “The Princess and the Queen”, also brings us new actors for the (up to now) youngest characters, including Emma D’Aarcy taking over the role of Rhaenyra from fan-favorite Milly Alcock, as well as Olivia Cooke taking over for Emily Carey.
But how do they hold up, especially after joining the series so late? After all, we’ve had five episodes to bond with the younger performers. So, how do they rate?
SPOILER ALERT: If you want to avoid spoilers, consider yourself warned. We’re about to dive into episode 6 of House of the Dragon.
Like another pilot
It’s difficult to say at this stage how successful the time jumps in House of the Dragon have been. Because everything in the show up until now has been expository, it makes sense that the showrunners wanted to get to the meat of the story as fast as possible. Still, it feels like we missed so many opportunities along the way to see these characters grow into who they are now. But perhaps the urge to take more time would have been a pitfall itself, and drawing out the story even longer would have ruined forward momentum.
Regardless, we’re here now: ten years after the events of episode 5 and almost 15 years after the very first episode. And what better way to get reacquainted with a character than to witness them deliver a child?
Rhaenyra, all grown up and hating it
For all of her youthful vitriol and rebelliousness, Rhaenyra was not able to avoid the life she so utterly despises: marrying for purely political reasons, staying cooped up in a castle surrounded by insincere (and dangerous) people, not to mention the obligation to keep popping out babies (and they’d better be boys).
Our first introduction to adult Rhaenyra is while she is in labor. As she gives birth to her third son, we are reminded of her mother’s words to her in the first episode: that the childbed is a women’s battlefield.
Without so much as a sip of water or a power nap, Queen Alicent “requests” to see the new baby. And Rhaenyra would surely visit the seven hells before allowing someone to take her son to Alicent without her supervision, especially so soon after birth. Any trust that once was seems to have completely eroded away.
This first scene shows, rather than tells, us so much about these two characters. Alicent has become cruel, and Rhaenyra is alarmingly strong – Leanor, for one, simply cannot fathom how difficult childbirth is, yet she climbs the excruciating steps to see the Queen.
So far, Emma D’Arcy (they/them) is a powerful, grounded actor who seems well suited for regality and for shouldering emotional burdens with an otherworldly fire about them. They have impressed so far, but it will be good to see them do even more with their character. (Just wait until they face off with Matt Smith!)
Alicent, the Westerosi version of a Karen
Grownup Alicent Hightower – who presumedly has been wearing green and marching around the Red Keep pissed off for the past ten years – is a harder pill to swallow.
All four performers who play Rhaenyra and Alicent were directed to play their characters uninfluenced by their counterparts. Which is interesting artistically, but now makes clear a lack of cohesion.
While both Rhaenyras possess a common majesty and haughtiness (and maybe naughtiness?), the Alicents vary incredibly. Olivia Cooke’s performance is so different from Emily Carey’s it really does feel like they are two different characters. Carey’s acting style is unique, focusing on reactive eye work, whereas so far Olivia Cooke is chewing up the scenery with some Shakespearean lividity.
Perhaps the character will smooth out over time, but maybe not. Young Alicent was so passive. Now, as an adult, she holds a frustratingly potent entitlement. She is walking passive aggression. (Cooke was directed to play her character like a Trump supporter.)
Only the Strong survive
The Strongs have been an important part of the story so far, but we’ve only just gotten to know them better. Too bad, because Larys is a psychopath, like if Little Finger and Ramsay Bolton had a baby. So, although Lyonel Strong has been doing his best as Hand of the King to King Viserys for the past decade, we didn’t have the fortune to see him in action. We can assume that he was loyal and measured, at least.
The same for Harwin Strong, whom we can infer has kept Rhaenyra company through the difficulties and isolation of her position and marriage.
Both Lyonel and Harwin were good men. But Lyonel was too ignorant of his son, and Harwin was too brash and easily provoked. For the latter, Criston Cole found the perfect opportunity to force him to reveal himself. Larys then did the unthinkable – and in so doing, secured himself the title of Lord of Harrenhal, as well as the entrapment of Queen Alicent’s favor.
The Rogue Prince settled, and Laena’s final flight
The past ten years seem to have settled Daemon Targaryen. Rather than engaging in his old, chaotic exploits, he hopes to stay as far away from Westorosi political affairs as possible. He reads books, teaches his children High Valyrian, and maintains a stable (if unfulfilling) marriage with Leana Velaryon.
We may remember her from episode two when she was way too young to marry King Viserys. In episode 5, we witnessed the flirtation between Daemon and Leana. Although we aren’t given details of their relationship, Daemon does seem to have had more success in consummation than with his previous matches.
This is all well and good for the man once called ‘King of the Narrow Sea.’ But Laena is not content. She wants to raise her children in Driftmark and to die a dragon rider’s death.
To the latter point: be careful what you wish for.
As fate would have it, Laena’s third pregnancy did not go as planned. When faced with the same critical choice that King Viserys’ first wife faced in episode 1, Laena refuses to die a grizzly death of feminine submission. (Kudos to her for refusing to give birth on her back in the first place – a patriarchal standard position.)
Maybe the most badass form of suicide possible, Laena makes her way, barefoot and bloody, to her beloved dragon Vhagar. An old dragon, and the largest currently in existence, Vhagar does not want to follow the order to immolate her human. But seeing the pain Laena is in, at last fire erupts, and Lady Laena’s life is cut short. Another beautiful death.
Where does this leave Daemon? His bad luck with women aside, now Daemon is a single father of two daughters, looking for a place in the world.
Time moves swiftly, and now we have a whole new generation of Targaryens, Hightowers, Velaryons, and Strongs.
So far, all of the children at King’s Landing seem like entitled brats without much to differentiate or redeem their characters so far. True, one boy doesn’t have a dragon, and one girl likes bugs and shows signs of being a dreamer. But apart from that (and the ‘Succession’-esque self-loving in the window), the kids, for now, seem only to be pawns in their parents’ games. But we know they’ll be important further down the road.
Even though so much has happened already, we’re still only just heating up. We’re now more than halfway through the first season of HotD, and the success of this season’s ending will impact the Game of Thrones franchise, so stakes and hopes remain high.