No battles, but lots of pieces moved in House of the Dragon's King of the Narrow Sea
King of the Narrow Sea was clearly Daemon Targaryen, but the episode was an exploration of the lot in life of two very privileged women in Westeros, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen and the former Lady Alicent Hightower, now Queen Alicent. Everyone who read the books knew some sex scenes were coming, but showing Alicent enduring a bedding with King Viserys was a gut punch. We are already four episodes in, and the stark difference in the portrayal of Alicent in the show and Alicent in the books is just becoming clearer and clearer.*** I fully support this choice, not just because this would make the later Dance much more devastating, but also because it makes reading source materials like Fire and Blood a richer experience. Yes, we already know these books are filled with information from unreliable narrators, but now we have a show that forces us to re-examine the perspective of the ones who wrote the history we rely on for information. Even for someone like myself who has a good idea on the major events to come, I remain excited to see what choices House of the Dragon will make, especially since the deviations they have made so far have only bettered the story, as least from my point of view (I understand many fellow fans disagree with this).
House of the Dragon made a point of showcasing how Alicent has been living a duty-focused, rather lonely life, from Viserys laughing off her suggestion of looking at tapestries to helping the King bathe, to soothing her crying child (that was Princess Helaena) at night, a sound that carried through to the hall where the chambers of the much freer Princess Rhaenyra were. Yes, Alicent went from being the daughter of a second son to Queen, but through her sometimes visible fatigue, it was clear that she worked on her position every day, both as a wife and a royal. So much could be read just from the resigned posture of her shoulders when her sleep was interrupted because the King sent for her. But, as always, Alicent did her duty; with the pustules visible on the King's back, we saw how it almost looked like Alicent was dissociating, then Viserys turned her face toward him, the mask of a loving wife was slipped on once more.
This was the life Rhaenyra feared was being set up for her, and which she vehemently rejected. The tour to find herself a husband was unsuccessful, because Rhaenyra viewed marriage and the accompanying pregnancy as tantamount to being jailed or, in cases like her mother Aemma's, death. Daemon being Daemon decided to show her that was not necessarily the case in the most Daemon way possible. After taking her on a tour of the city, which included a show tackling the incoming succession crisis ('Lies! Slander! Boo!' Milly Alcock is a delight as Princess Rhaenyra), he then took her to a brothel for some rather explicit anatomy lessons.
'---king is a pleasure, you see. For the woman as it is for the man.' Rhaenyra has lived a rather sheltered royal life before this night. Her understanding of marital relations had been confined to the duty of birthing heirs. Daemon was telling her, no, there is more to it than that.
Targaryens wed Targaryens so we cannot really discount the possibility that Daemon has been eyeing his niece as a possible wife for some time now. Rhaenyra, enjoying a rare night of freedom from being princess, responded to his kiss and even initiated kisses herself. For a few seconds, it looked like the heir to the Iron Throne was about to lose her maidenhood in a brothel, but then Daemon stopped. Was he unable to perform? If so, this would be the second time this happened, the first was with Mysaria. Did he pull himself back with great effort because he did not want to cross the line with his brother's child, not here, not in this way? Did he lose interest because Daemon was more used to women not enjoying sex, whereas Rhaenyra was in the moment with him and wanted pleasure for herself?
The second one, is my guess, but I could be wrong. It was interesting how Daemon removed Rhaenyra's hood upon entering the brothel, so that there was nothing preventing anyone from recognising her. Did he intentionally sully Rhaenyra's reputation so that Viserys would be forced to marry her to him? Or did Daemon think there was nothing wrong with a Targaryen pursuing her pleasures where she wanted it, because she was a Targaryen, in the same way Daemon and Viserys pursued their pleasures in their youth?
Rhaenyra returned to the castle alone, and Ser Criston Cole, who was not aware she slipped out using the castle's secret passages, almost went to report to the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Rhaenyra's passion had awoken, and she teased Criston to come into her chambers. By this time, they had been together for years; perhaps the attraction had been there all this time. To Rhaenyra, this was just her acting on her desire; to Criston, this was a breaking of his vow, a treason punishable by death. Criston was fully armoured, so the undressing took time; the camera lingered on his white cloak, and the way they both sat down to unlace their own boots was adorable in its awkwardness. Both with Daemon and with Criston, the focus of the scenes were on Rhaenyra's agency and desires. Having a woman direct this episode paid of, I think.
There was no way the past night's shenanigans were going to remain secret. Mysaria, who had been a whore and Daemon's paramour, now ran a network of spies. One of her clients, it seemed, was Otto Hightower. Otto was informed that Daemon and Rhaenyra copulated inside a brothel, and this was the news he relayed to a furious King Viserys. Alicent overheard, and confronted Rhaenyra herself. Rhaenyra lied to Alicent on her mother's memory.
A still drunken Daemon was dragged to the throne room, where Viserys kicked his little brother and banished him to the Vale. Daemon did not deny the allegation and asked to marry Rhaenyra, which Viserys absolutely refused. Was it because a marriage to Rhaenyra would mean Daemon being closer to the Iron Throne, and Viserys thought that a terrible idea?
House of the Dragon again did a good job in planting more seeds that will pay off later in the Dance. Whilst watching the play in the city, Daemon tried to counsel Rhaenyra that the smallfolk would expect her brother Aegon to be King, and Rhaenyra brushed this off with a flippant, 'Their wants are of no consequence.' Earlier in the episode, at Storm's End, Rhaenyra was dismissive of the lords who came to vie for her hand. In this episode as in the last (when she snapped back at Lady Redwyne with that rather delicious eat cake retort), Rhaenyra was shown to be not very politic when dealing with people around her. She was savvy enough, however, to manoeuvre an enemy out of power. Viserys told Rhaenyra rather firmly that her courtship was at an end; she would marry Laenor Velaryon. Rhaenyra agreed, but she also demanded that Viserys get rid of Otto Hightower as his hand.
The episode started with Viserys upset at Rhaenyra for dismissing all her suitors and prematurely ending her tour, but as the episode went on, the King went on full protective mode. When Otto first told him the princess was spied in a pleasure house, his first reaction was, 'What of it?' He repeatedly asked for specifics, and when Otto finally mustered out that Daemon and Rhaenyra were seen 'coupling', Viserys immediately dismissed it as a lie and demanded that whoever told Otto that story be brought to him so he could take their eyes out. This was a reaction of a father, yes, but this was also a reaction of a King being told that the virtue of his chosen heir was now in question. As Otto refused to name his source, Viserys went on offensive. He all but accused Otto of being so sick with ambition that he was having Rhaenyra stalked for a chance to destroy her reputation. If Otto had not sent his teenage daughter to the grieving King's chambers repeatedly so he would learn to rely on her and later make her Queen, I would have felt bad for him. Instead, I felt bad for Alicent here, who had to witness her father getting dressed down.
Alicent had been a good wife to Viserys, so his latter conversation with Otto could not have been easy. He evoked the memory of his father Prince Baelon, who died after being named Hand to King Jaehaerys; the Prince's death was followed by the rise of Otto Hightower as Hand. 'How long did it take you to choose yourself over your king?' Viserys asked, as he finally realised that his meetings with Alicent Hightower following the death of Queen Aemma were a highly calculated move by Otto. Viserys acknowledged the crown's debt to Otto's service as Hand as he dismissed him.
I liked this episode, and I think House of the Dragon has been going from strength to strength. Second of His Name remains my favourite so far, though. Based on the preview, it looks like things are really picking up next episode. I can't wait!
♕ *** In Fire and Blood, there were not too many details about the relationship between Rhaenyra and Alicent before all things that happened later happened. Here's the text: 'When King Viserys took Alicent Hightower to wife in 106 AC, House Velaryon was notable for its absence. Princess Rhaenyra poured for her stepmother at the feast, and Queen Alicent kissed her and named her daughter. The princess was amongst the women who disrobed the king and delivered him to the bedchamber of his bride. Laughter and love ruled the Red Keep that night...' This short reference to a cordial relationship between Rhaenyra and an older Alicent was changed in the show to be a deep friendship between two high born women of roughly the same age. I am all right with this change. In any case, based on the previews, it looks like we are soon getting the version of Alicent that is closer to the books soon.
♕ Daemon, speak Valyrian to me.
♕ 'He called me a boy!'
♕ The number of times Daemon and Rhaenyra held hands as they walked through King's Landing is the stuff ships are made of.
♕ Whilst running within the city dressed as a page, Rhaenyra ran into Ser Harwin Strong, who, after seeing Prince Daemon behind her, let her go. This is the second time that Ser Harwin reacted like he was fine with Rhaenyra doing things that were not the norm of a princess and a lady; the first one was that big smile on his face (he was notably the only one who did this) when Rhaenyra returned from the woods all bloodied up, with a dead boar.
♕ Over three years of war, and Daemon and Lord Corlys didn't bother to leave a garrison at the Stepstones to hold it?
♕ Why did Daemon return to King's Landing? He could have other motives, of course, but I like to think it was a combination of him wanting to see his family and also wanting to mess with his brother. Something happened with Daemon that was not included in the show, that caused him great anger toward his brother; I hesitate to mention it because I don't know if the show will eventually incorporate it into the story.
♕ It looked like there was a bit of a falling out between Daemon and Mysaria, no?
♕ At the beginning of the episode, Rhaenyra still wore the necklace Daemon gave her. After having sex with Criston, she switched back to her gold necklace.
♕ Book reader me was thrilled to see a Blackwood and a Bracken, and heartbroken when Rhaenyra was more amused with the Bracken boy. #TeamBlackwood
♕ Also, Bitterbridge was mentioned. Book readers would know the significance of this.
♕ That was a brief glimpse of Storm's End, and I imagine we will see more of it in later episodes.
♕ A couple of foreshadowing scenes -- Baby Helaena by the window, that fire breathing dragon statue whilst Rhaenyra walked the streets of King's Landing with Daemon (no further details to avoid spoilers).
♕ When the Blackwood kid stabbed the Bracken bully, Criston Cole told Rhaenyra, 'Don't look, Princess.' When Daemon had Caraxes nudge Rhaenyra's ship as they neared King's Landing (because that was just the way Daemon chose to say hello), and Rhaenyra was knocked down, Criston Cole was immediately on her side and even wanted to call for a Maester. It was his job to protect her, and he was protective of her, though Rhaenyra did not give off the impression that she wanted or needed protection. I suspected the relationship based on what was written in Fire and Blood, but I did not expect to enjoy it this much. Later, in Rhaenyra's chambers, the way Criston was bent over after the two of them had finally gotten his armour off, then the smooth way he straightened up and immediately kissed her, then that hesitation again by that screen toward her bed, that little smile as they kissed -- the whole scene was well directed. I did not like Criston in the books and perhaps I won't like him again soon, but at least in the first four episodes, Criston has been cool.
♕ The morning after they had sex, Criston would not even look at Rhaenyra. I wonder if that was because he had already heard what happened between her and Daemon, or if he was just feeling particularly guilty about breaking his vows.
♕ Of course Daemon took the Crabfeeder's axe to add to the Iron Throne.
♕ It was so cute when Daemon actually rested his head on Viserys's shoulder when the King embraced him. Matt Smith and Paddy Considine have great chemistry.
♕ When Viserys was being a jerk to Alicent about the tapestries, Rhaenyra hurried to her defense. Alicent was on Rhaenyra's corner through this episode.
♕ 'You cannot live your life in fear, or you will forsake the best parts of it.'
♕ Rhaenyra was no longer a cup bearer; she had a seat in the Small Council. Their latest concern was that Corlys Velaryon had entered negotiations to marry his daughter Laena to the son of the Sealord of Braavos.
♕ Pausing to appreciate that despite the very busy week I am having, and having to write this in pieces, it is finally done. Till next episode!
Director: Clare Kilner
Writer: Ira Parker
First aired: September 11, 2022