By Kaleena Rivera | TV | August 31, 2022 |
By Kaleena Rivera | TV | August 31, 2022 |
(spoilers for episode two)
While the series premiere of House of the Dragon set up the many players residing in this increasingly tremulous phase of the Targaryen dynasty last week, this week saw the cracks begin to form in what has, until now, been Viserys’ relatively untroubled reign. Though he’s prone to some bad decision making (much more on that later), it’s hard not to feel sympathetic for this reserved man who would greatly prefer quiet evenings working on models than ruling a kingdom.
But as the newly debuted opening credit sequence shows, the line of blood running from Old Valyria must continue (side note: it’s a damn shame we didn’t get a new original piece of music from composer Ramin Djawadi as it would have been a rich way to differentiate this series from its predecessor). The episode opens with a meeting of the Small Council, who are discussing such matters as appointing a new Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. However, with the continuing hostile advancement of the pirate known only as “The Crabfeeder” at the Stepstones, Lord Corlys has grown increasingly agitated at the lack of force being used. But all of that takes a backseat to the precious matter of the bloodline. Six months after the death of Queen Aemma, and the subject of Viserys taking on a new bride is of foremost importance for the Small Council. One lone heir isn’t enough of a guarantee, especially in a world filled with as many dangers as the one they inhabit.
Being heir to the throne isn’t cracking up to be everything that it should be for Princess Rhaenyra. She’s still filling the men’s cups at council meetings (never mind her being heir, how is a princess assigned such a menial task in the first place?), and when she does try to contribute ideas to council proceedings, she’s sent away under the charge of choosing a new Lord Commander, much like a child whose parent is trying to distract them with a piece of cake. To her credit, she does take her new assignment seriously, thoughtfully evaluating each candidate from the step stool that allows her to see above them. What should have been a simple task for Otto, sent with Rhaenyra to provide an advisory role, soon becomes complicated when she appoints the young Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) to the position despite the lack of political advantage it provides. Rhaenyra is less concerned about the potential hurt feelings of the other royal houses, as Criston is the only knight to have firsthand experience in the battlefield. His prettiness doesn’t hurt much either, and I’m utterly certain this man is going to A Problem in the future.
Age, if not wisdom, has made Viserys much more aware of the fragility of politics, which is how he’s able to maintain a straight face when Corlys proposes he wed his daughter, Lady Laena Velaryon (Nova Foueillis-Mose), in what would be a powerful display of their political alliance. On one hand, Corlys and Rhaenys are correct when they say that it’s the strongest match that he could possibly hope for. On the other hand, she is an actual, LITERAL child, and the thought of looking at her in any way otherwise clearly discomforts him.
Unsurprisingly, Rhaenyra isn’t fond of the situation either, and as she watches her father take an obligatory garden stroll with Laena—whose ability to recite her father’s carefully worded script regarding her worth as a wife is heartbreaking to witness; the world’s willingness to use women and girls as pawns is horrific—Rhaenys takes the moment to exchange a few words with her. Among the multiple storylines House of The Dragon is currently focused on, I dearly wish for more insight on Rhaenys. There are so many fascinating takes to be had from an older woman who has not only been denied what was rightfully hers due solely to gender bias but she’s also had to continue attending court all those years afterward. She presents a grand opportunity to critique the patriarchal systems that strongly resonate with our own, though I’m admittedly not optimistic that showrunners Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik have anything more than a passing desire to investigate the hardening bitterness these experiences can have on women.
Rhaenys warns Rhaenyra that her time as heir apparent will likely be short, since the odds are good that the King’s new marriage will produce a son, a more ‘suitable’ heir that will quickly supplant her. Rhaenyra’s refusal to believe such a thing would not be possible (that “They denied you, Princess Rhaenys,” had some real teeth to it) is a classic symptom of that period of youth when one not only believes they can be the one to single-handedly create change on a massive scale, but that they’re CLEARLY smarter than all the adults in the room. Honestly, if the rest of the series focused solely on the dynamic between these two, I would be a happy reviewer indeed.
There are other story threads to attend to, however, that being Daemon, who’s still causing chaos despite his practical exile. He’s taken over Dragonstone and, even worse, he’s stolen a dragon egg. It’s an insult Viserys would have borne were it not for the fact that particular egg was intended to be the one granted to Baby Baelon, had he lived. Otto’s admonishments and small show of force do little to alarm Daemon, whose giant dragon Caraxes makes a well-timed appearance to remind everyone that although he may no longer still inherit the throne, he’s still a formidable foe.
Of course, it’s the perfect time for Rhaenyra to appear astride her own dragon in a very snazzy appearance. But it’s not force that makes Daemon relent, as much as it’s his lingering fondness for his niece. She believes herself to be “the object of his ire,” but it’s too simple of a reading of the situation. He’s angry over being denied what he perceives as what’s rightfully his, but even though he has a keen eye for other people—many of his assessments, from his low opinion of Otto to Viserys’ weakness as a king have been spot on—he’s not very good at understanding that he has few skills aside from fighting. Taking his position on Dragonstone is him essentially flailing for a place in this world, and part of him knows it.
Viserys is understandably infuriated when Rhaenyra returns, but it’s not long before the tables turn. There’s no way to prepare oneself to hear that your recently widowed father has decided to marry your childhood best friend, especially when neither of you have fully emerged from said childhood. Otto, who’s been quietly organizing this from the shadows, is thrilled (that tiny smirk on his face during the announcement is slapworthy), though few feel similarly. Even Alicent doesn’t seem too thrilled by this, especially while she stares into the eyes of her best friend, who’s currently mired in feelings of shock and betrayal. There’s a number of people who give Alicent more credit than she deserves as far as her eagerness for this turn of events goes, when in truth she had little choice in the matter. She may have done a fair enough job to beguile Viserys—not that it took much effort; he’s sad and lonely, she’s pretty and listens, the rest writes itself—it’s wrong to believe this teenager was eager to wed and bed her best friend’s middle-aged father.
I’m sure I’m not the only person to remember the last time a marriage for love happened and wound up with horrific consequences (the Red Wedding, anyone?). With Corlys fully angered and throwing his full support with Daemon, things are about to become a sh*tshow. It may be that symbolic river of blood shown throughout the opening sequence is a harbinger of what’s to come.
Kaleena Rivera is the TV Editor for Pajiba. When she isn’t squirming at the multiple depictions of tiny animals munching on human beings, she can be found on Twitter here.