(spoilers for episode five)
During the big betrothal celebration towards the end of the hour, Rhaenyra confesses to Laenor that she has little skill when it comes to dancing, who then compares it to the art of combat. “Hm,” she playfully muses. “I shall hope for a different outcome.” Those hopes are dashed well before evening’s end.
As any longtime Game of Thrones fan will tell you, royal weddings in Westeros have a tendency to go horribly awry. The bigger the ceremony, the more perilous they tend to be. It’s to be expected that Rhaenyra’s betrothal to Laenor would be filled with strife, but the swiftness with which it all goes wrong is positively dizzying.
Shame we didn’t get more than a few minutes with Lady Rhea Royce (Rachel Redford) before her untimely demise. One can debate as to whether or not Daemon went to the Vale with the intention of killing his wife, but murder certainly wound up being the order of the day. Bashing her head in with a rock was simply a matter of Daemon’s impetuousness making the most of an opportune moment, but that impetuousness is going to be his destruction one of these days. Especially if Ser Gerold Royce (Owen Oakeshott) gets his chance to avenge the death of his dearly departed cousin, who he knows good and damn well she didn’t merely fall off of her horse (as does everyone else, it seems).
Now that Viserys has fulfilled his part of the bargain with Rhaenyra, i.e. removing Otto from his position as The Hand of the King, the two make a rather torturous trek to Driftmark to propose an offer of marriage between Rhaenyra and Laenor. Between the rude lack of greeting (and obvious powerplay) at the King’s arrival and his general caginess, it seems possible Lord Corlys may not agree to the match, but the opportunity to have a Velaryon eventually seated on the throne, if not in name than at least in blood, is too great to resist.
Rhaenyra has warmed to the idea of this particular match, in part because she knows him well enough to know he’s a generally decent fellow. She knows much more than that, however. As she and Laenor take a leisurely stroll along the beach, she gingerly approaches the topic of his homosexuality (thanks to a metaphor involving food preferences), along with the offer of an open marriage. Truly it’s the best arrangement possible; as the eldest of their respective houses, a politically advantageous marriage isn’t negotiable. For Laenor, the burden would be just as, if not more complicated than Rhaenyra’s situation, because although the matter of her gender binds her in a myriad of ways, Laenor’s sexuality would invite everything from derision to outright hostility from most of the world (even his father refers to him being gay as something he’ll “outgrow”). A wife who accepts this fundamental part of him would make for a valuable ally, something his lover, Ser Joffrey Lonmouth (Solly McLeod), sees quite clearly.
If only Ser Criston Cole could see it the same way. The man may be attractive, but politically he’s a disaster. In a spectacular case of bad timing, he offers Rhaenyra the chance to run away with him and be free of the many burdens and expectations that royal life places upon her. His proposal is as romantic as it is ludicrous. Rhaenyra knows this quite well, but unfortunately her gracelessness, a quality she’s never had an abundance of, kicks into high gear as she turns him down flat:
“I may chafe at my duties, but do you think I would choose infamy in exchange for a bushel of oranges or a ship to Asshai?”
To make matters worse, she proceeds to present him the opportunity to continue being lovers in secret as though it’s the most delicious consolation prize ever put forward, never recognizing that his heart is shattering to pieces at that moment. “So you want me to be your whore?” he asks to her amazement. What gives this a fascinating turn is that his thoughts swing immediately not to the possibility of losing Rhaenyra to another man, but to the fact that he’s brought dishonor to his title. So although Rhaenyra’s royal status makes her inclined to care little about other’s emotions—her reciting of the Targaryen history at that moment is tone deaf in a way only royals and the unbearably rich are capable of—Criston’s desire to marry her stems less from any feelings he may have for her (he cares for her but it falls short of love) and more to do with making his forbidden dalliance worth it. Rhaenyra may be insensitive, but turning him down is the right move here.
Back at the castle, Alicent is now well and truly alone. Otto has taken his leave but not before throwing a heaping pile of guilt in her direction, followed by a chilling warning about the threat to her children’s lives should Rhaenyra take the throne. There’s a touch of his old manipulative ways here, but it’s impossible to deny there’s a measure of truth in his words; while it may be hard to ever imagine Rhaenyra harming her siblings, the coldest of logic would dictate that if it came down to civil war versus the lives of several individuals, the latter would seem a practical sacrifice.
If that weren’t enough, Lord Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), the son of current Hand Lyonel Strong whom we first met back in episode three, is also hard at work filling her head with doubts. His manipulative capabilities aren’t half as skilled as Otto’s (though he seems just as cunning) but his motivations appear far more treacherous. Otto may be slimy, but his aims were rooted in securing a future for his progeny. Larys, on the other hand, is a complete mystery, which automatically makes him more dangerous. When he informs Alicent of the tea brought to Rhaenyra, her already-shaken faith in her friend’s honesty begins to crack, which spurs her to question the one person who knows Rhaenyra’s comings and goings best: Ser Criston Cole.
Criston is many things, but smart isn’t one of them. Once he blabs about his and Rhaenyra’s night of passion, Alicent’s worst fears take hold of her. Now that she knows for certain that Rhaenyra is both dishonest and an exceedingly capable liar who’s beguiling enough to make sworn knights break their vows, protecting herself and her children is now her greatest priority. It’s a watershed moment for Alicent, and when we see her stride into the banquet hall later that evening in a striking green dress (the color used to declare war in Oldtown), it’s clear the tender young lady she once was is gone.
Viserys can’t catch a break. Respect for him is at an all-time low and everyone seems hell bent on ruining his evening (oh, just wait, bud). Between his worsening health, Daemon appearing like the unlucky penny he is, and an unmistakably angry Alicent interrupting his speech, Viserys seems resigned to the fact that nothing will go his way. For a peacetime king, the man’s received little of it.
For a moment, it looks like his greatest concern that evening is going to be Daemon, who’s determined to court disaster at every turn (Laena, run). But as Viserys looks on worryingly at the heated exchange between Daemon and Rhaenyra, a scream rises up from the crowd. While everyone was engaged in either intrigue or merriment, Joffrey, The Knight of
Drama Kisses, figured out that Criston is Rhaenyra’s secret lover and approached him in a bid to ensure both halves of this arranged quartet are aware of one another as a protective measure. It did not go well. In the middle of this grand party, Criston proceeds to mercilessly beat Joffrey to death (while landing a brutal punch to the future king consort’s face). The party is over. Among the hastily abandoned table settings and a congealing pool of blood, Rhaenyra and a grief-stricken Laenor exchange vows. A portentous beginning for married life.
The season is halfway over, and it’s at this point we must say goodbye to Milly Alcock and Emily Carey, as the following episode will take place after a considerable time jump. What I’m most curious about is what’s become of the no-longer-honorable Ser Criston Cole, who was on the verge of taking his own life before Alicent, spotting an ideal opportunity to own a potentially very useful man, stopped him. She would have to spin quite the yarn to sell this major offense against House Velaryon. Of course, the desire to maintain proximity to the throne could be enough to overlook the bloodshed. Still, a bushel of oranges and a ship to Asshai probably seems rather tempting right about now.
Kaleena Rivera is the TV Editor for Pajiba. When she isn’t snickering over Rhaenyra’s withered, “Your presence is always such a pleasure, Lord Jason,” she can be found on Twitter here.
Header Image Source: Ollie Upton / HBO