King Viserys is ill on the ship on the way to Driftmark, the ancestral home of the Velaryons, with plans to propose the unification of their two houses with Rhaenyra and Laenor. The question I previously posed on who was going to be the new Hand of the King is answered in the form of Lord Lyonel Strong. Rhaenyra and Ser Criston remain close to each other upon the same boat. Otto is leaving King’s Landing, and Alicent and him have a heart-to-heart before he goes. But the most exciting part of this opening section takes place in the mountains.
This episode opens with Rhea Royce, Daemon’s wife, in the Vale hunting. All is calm until she sees his hooded figure lurking. Daemon remains silent as she taunts him until she comes to the realization that the one person holding him back from achieving his goals is herself. He toys with her, raising his arms as if to touch the horse, but in the end, her jumpiness causes the horse to fall backward on her, paralyzing her. His silence keeps us from knowing his true motives. Did he specifically come back to kill her? Was it a happy accident? Daemon’s silence is a stroke of writing brilliance because it perfectly walks the line between good and evil.
King Viserys, Lord Corlys, and Princess Rhaenys come up with an agreement in the halls of High Tide at the same time that Rhaenyra and Laenor do upon the beach. She is aware that he prefers relations with men, so they agree to keep their relationship open as long as they do their duty to the realm and their fathers. This is a very modern approach, which is commendable, but it also means that she listened to Daemon’s words of wisdom in the brothel.
In a Petyr Baelish-esque moment of manipulation, Lord Strong’s son Larys tells the Queen in her lowest moment of the “tea” that was sent to Rhaenyra’s room, pretending to be concerned for the Princess’s health. Sending her into a spiral, Alicent accidentally learns that it was actually Ser Criston who took her maidenhood, straight from the horse’s mouth. Even though it confirms that Rhaenyra did not lie to her, she is angry, which says a lot about her character. She has never felt the excitement and pleasure that Rhaenyra has; she has been forced to pop out children and be a body for Viserys to use at his leisure. The green dress symbolism is two-fold. It is the official “calling of arms” color for house Hightower, but it is also the color of jealousy. House of the Dragon is about a woman fighting for herself in a man’s world, but it is clear Alicent will be the type of woman who feels that the patriarchy needs to be reinforced because that is what she had to experience, which is a toxic, but soon-to-be entertaining, point-of-view.
Criston’s character was the one that made the biggest splash in this episode. When they are heading back to Westeros, he comes to Rhaenyra, full Fabio, white shirt billowing in the wind, hair long and flowing. He begins to use her own words of her issues with her role to manipulate her into getting something he wants, a telltale sign of a dangerous man. When he feels he is insulted, his true feelings come through. All he had was his honor and he broke his oath, but he thinks if he can marry her it will somehow repair the damage done. While Criston might not have instigated it, he was an equal partner, and certainly enjoyed himself. After this moment, he becomes volatile, unable to handle his emotions. He confesses that he took Rhaenyra’s maidenhood to Alicent, which is an absolute betrayal because he did it to feel less guilty.
Daemon, surprisingly, was the least problematic of all the drama. He merely pulled Rhaenyra to the side and spoke to her in Valyrian, the way that they do when they want to create intimacy between themselves. She challenges him again, daring him to take her to Dragonstone and make her his wife, but this time he is prepared for the heat, and Viserys sees them get close between the bodies of the crowd. Who knows what might have happened had Ser Criston not attacked Ser Joffrey, Laenor’s paramour.
During the dancing Joffrey comes over to Criston and tells him he knows he is Rhaenyra’s lover, and that it is in both of their best interests to protect this union. While it might have been bad, what made it worse was Joffrey slapping his butt and touching him. At first, I thought his public attack on Joffrey was the first writing hiccup of the season because it felt so random, and not as big of a deal as it was, but his beauty hid his red flags well. He has been assaulted and insulted, and instead of removing himself from the situation, he cannot control his emotions and lets loose his fury. While Daemon wears his problematic behavior on his sleeve, Ser Criston is the example of a “nice guy” who is not as nice as he thinks. Any sort of love I thought Criston had for Rhaenyra immediately vanished after he selfishly killed Joffrey at her wedding celebration.
In the tradition of a Game of Thrones wedding, it is a bloody and unhappy event. The two families have a shotgun wedding, passing over the tournaments and the big glorious affair. What will be the repercussions of this night? How will Ser Harwin Strong play into Rhaenyra’s future after that heroic rescue? Will there be any relationship between Daemon and Laena Velaryon after she declared her interest? Will Alicent and Ser Criston be allies now that she has saved his life? It is time to flash forward a decade into the future and see how all the drama has played out.