It is very evident that House of the Dragon is not Game of Thrones. This new series lacks the geographic extent and broad narrative sweep of its predecessors, as well as their boisterous sense of adventure and crude humour.
It has a small cast of characters—all noble, at least in the courtly sense—and a small geographic range. But it does have an unsettling, plodding intensity that gives off the impression that terrible things are coming, not because anyone wants them to, but because they must. It’s not exactly a barrel of fun, but it’s getting more and more interesting.
We Light the Way, a depressing episode, stumbles a little after its powerful predecessor, but there’s still a lot to think about. A rolling hillside, a swooping camera, and a woman riding a horse are the film’s opening scenes, which are a breath of new air. She’s flirtatious and sassy, with a little of Yara Greyjoy about her.
Maybe a new heroine? Avoid being absurd. She is soon flat on her back, her spine broken by her own horse at the whim of her estranged husband Prince Daemon (Matt Smith), who completes the killing with a bloody large boulder. Just one more offence to add to this monster’s long list of prior offences.
‘Is This how House Velaryon greets its King?’
Next, we’re at sea, where King Viserys (Paddy Considine) is feeling more than a little physically uncomfortable due to the turbulent waves. The similarities of in-your-face oceanic vomiting are eerie, although it is doubtful that the writers saw Triangle of Sadness, the contentious Cannes film festival Palme d’Or winner this year, before writing this episode.
However, the King and his daughter Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) are visiting Driftmark, the island home of those lords of the Narrow Sea, the Velaryon clan, on a marriage-related expedition. The reception they get, however, is really cold; you wouldn’t meet the king or queen in this manner, much less the tax inspector.
When Viserys agrees to a marriage arrangement with Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) and his Targaryen wife, Lady Rhaenys (Eve Best), both of whom are excited about the possibility of witnessing their future grandson take the throne, the atmosphere begins to loosen up a bit.
Even the upcoming bride and groom, Rhaenyra and Laenor (Theo Nate), who were childhood friends but have since parted ways, share a certain tenderness. She can continue to flirt with Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) at the moment when they come to an “understanding” about their marriage commitments, and Laenor can continue to visit Joffrey Lonmouth, his frizzy-haired secret lover (Solly McLeod).
The scene is set for a spectacular wedding where everything goes according to plan, everyone has a great time, and nobody is viciously punched in the face in front of the assembled guests. Of course.
‘Let Us Leave It All Behind and See the World Together!’
Given how frequently they appear to end in murder, you have to wonder why Westeros even bothers to hold weddings. The issue here is Ser Criston, who is less than delighted about the idea of serving as the next monarch’s glorified fuck-buddy, especially because it would be a serious breach of his oaths.
The completion of Rhaenyra and Criston’s flirtations put the Kingsguard knight in a bind and left him powerless to resist the whims of his mistress, as several commenters noted last week.
Well, he made more frantic attempts to retake control this week, from begging with Rhaenyra to abdicate the throne and flee to Essos to sort of accidentally telling Queen Alicent (Emily Carey) about their tryst, who shrewdly stashed this information aside for later.
Following a dire warning from her father, the departing Hand of the King Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), that Rhaenyra’s ascension to the throne would leave the Queen and her children exposed, Alicent was busy making steps of her own to recover some sense of agency.
The devious Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), operating with or without the knowledge of his own father, Lord Lyonel Strong, the recently appointed Hand (Gavin Spokes), only made Alicent feel more uneasy. However, she now has Ser Criston’s admission of guilt and perhaps even Ser Criston himself in her back pocket in case things become ugly.
‘Marriage Is Only A Political Arrangement’
But first, the wedding party, followed by a number of both magnificent and modest entrances. The Velaryons put on the best performance, descending the stairs in full New Romantic regalia like a flock of haughty birds.
In order to force his brother to either make a scene or knuckle under and get a chair, Prince Daemon chose to make a more understated but no less dramatic entrance. Unsurprisingly, Viserys went with option two.
Last but not least, it was Alicent who caused a stir. She did so by wearing an emerald green dress, which Larys claimed represented the house’s battle colours, and by interrupting her husband’s speech in a move that made her appear more regal and determined than she had in the previous episodes.
After the talks, there will be music and dancing! Or at least a dangerously avant-garde facsimile of both: the dancing consisted mostly of swinging the arms around and shouting “Hey!” at random intervals, while the droning cacophony lacked any discernible rhythm or melody. Ser Criston losing his rag makes sense.
The guests’ perplexity about what exactly was spoofing them was expertly handled, but we figured it had something to do with Prince Daemon, who had just tried to make one more pass on his engaged niece.
But instead, it was the enamoured Kingsguard who attacked his brother-in-love in a maniacal manner, leaving Joffrey brutally bruised on the ground. Of course, the wedding ceremony continued as the rats gorged themselves on the blood; however, it is unknown whether the bride’s father survived. It doesn’t seem likely given how severely Viserys struck the deck in those last seconds.