Kids, they grow up so fast. After last week’s discombobulating decade-long time jump on House of the Dragon, the Targaryen and Velaryon broods have gone from mere babes (or glints in the eye) to rambunctious children. Drinking, wanking, fighting. And now that the dust has settled on that quantum leap, it’s time for them to take centre stage.
Bad Heir Days
But first, an olive branch. “It’s time that you came home,” Viserys (Paddy Considine) says to his brother, Daemon (Matt Smith). “I know we’ve had our differences but let them pass with the years.” Perhaps he’s forgotten that Daemon was expelled from court for trying to shag his niece (aka Viserys’s daughter, Rhaenyra, back then played by Millie Alcock; now Emma D’Arcy). The same forgiveness cannot be said to stem from Daemon to Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), now returned as Hand. “No matter how fat the leech grows, it always wants for another meal,” Daemon whispers, with venom, to the impassive Otto.
At the heart of this episode is the question of patrimony, put succinctly by Steve Toussaint’s Lord Corlys. “What is this brief mortal life,” he asks, “if not the pursuit of legacy?” His wife Rhaenys (Eve Best) looks unimpressed. They are, after all, mourning the death of their daughter Laena (who self-immolated in the last episode) and, rightly, fear for the life of their son Laenor (John MacMillan) whose sham marriage to the Princess is the talk of King’s Landing.
His life is put in further jeopardy when Rhaenyra and Daemon finally do what they stopped just short of 10 years earlier, in the controversial fourth episode, and have some sexy, sexy incest on the moonlit deck of a moored boat.
Eye of the storm
When he says “legacy”, what Corlys really means is succession. Ding ding. In the blue corner are the brown-haired bastards: Jacaerys, Lucerys and Joffrey; sons of Rhaenyra and Laenor, though looking an awful lot like the late Harwin Strong. In the red corner, we have the blonde bombshells: Aegon, Aemond and Daeron, repping for the Hightower/Targaryen match-up. For now, you can forget about half of them. The only ones that matter are the cocky eldest Targaryen Aegon (Ty Tennant), creepy middle Targaryen Aemond (Leo Ashton) and Rhaenyra and Laenor’s ill-defined Velaryon blob Jacaerys (Leo Hart). If that’s too much to remember then, honestly, maybe House of the Dragon is not for you.
Unlike his brothers, Aemond has no dragon – but with Laena Velaryon’s death, a mount has freed up. In the dead of night, he sneaks out and claims the dragon (and props here to House of the Dragon’s creature design, which has come on massively since Game of Thrones). When his cousins – including Daemon’s kids with Laena – discover this treachery, a fight breaks out. Jacaerys takes a pasting, before Lucerys stabs Aemond in the eye. “The Kingsguard have never had to defend princes from princes!” wails wet blanket Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) as the fallout from the nocturnal enucleation begins.
The game’s afoot
Aemond may have lost an eye, but the real importance of the skirmish is to set the families firmly, and irreconcilably, against one another. The real crime, bizarrely, is not the stabbing but the repetition of scurrilous rumours about the Velaryon boys’ legitimacy. “Where did you hear such calumnies?” Viserys asks his eldest grandson, Aegon. “Everyone knows,” the fair-haired prince replies. “Just look at them.”
But while Viserys is preoccupied by the insults against his heir’s honour (“Anyone whose tongue dares to question the birth of Princess Rhaenyra’s sons, should have it removed”), his wife Alicent (Olivia Cooke) is, understandably, upset for her newly one-eyed son. She wants an eye for an eye, and when that is denied, draws the knife herself. In the ensuing scuffle, Rhaenyra is cut. “This interminable infighting must cease,” pleads Viserys, “we are a family!” Too late sonny.
“I’ve conducted myself in a manner unbefitting my station, or any other,” laments Alicent to daddy Otto. But the buttoned-up man who never shows a flicker of emotion isn’t having this self-flagellation. “We play an ugly game and now I see, for the first time, that you have the determination to win it,” he tells his increasingly wild-eyed girl. Game on.
And then House of the Dragon does what it seems to do a lot. It devotes the final five minutes of the episode to advancing the plot in leaps and bounds. Rhaenyra and Daemon get all moony. “I need you uncle,” she tells him. “You and I are made of fire.” This might sound like a lyric from an early Noughties euro-pop bop, but it catalyses a devastating chain reaction. Laenor is murdered, under Daemon’s instruction, by his lover, which frees up uncle and niece to tie the knot. Poor Laenor, who felt like a semi-main character, is disposed of in a quick wrap-up montage. “They will fear what else we might be capable of,” Rhaenyra proclaims. She’s right. With Rhaenyra and Daemon united, a quick mid-season death is the most you could hope for.