Daemon Targaryen is a legend and this House of the Dragon episode showed why.
We knew from the previews that there was going to be a battle involving dragons in this episode, yet, as I watched it, I did not find myself waiting for that battle. It is one of the many things I appreciate about House of the Dragon, that it tells a story, that it meticulously sets up these little things that would pay off in the Dance that we know is coming, that it is not reliant on a massive, expensive battle sequence involving dragons to jar viewers into liking the episode. I already loved Second of His Name even before we got to the parts with Daemon effin Targaryen (From my notes: This is how you stage a fight and build a legend.). I was already glued to my screen with all that tension, and much of that was because of Paddy Considine's sensitive, sorrowful performance as King Viserys Targaryen.
Daemon saw his brother clearly when he mentioned in the first episode that being king was not Viserys's strong suit. Yet, Princess Rhaenys was also right when she told Rhaenyra that her father was no fool. Smart and self-aware enough to know that he was not really cut out for the job, but not smart and self-aware enough to see a couple of moves ahead and strengthen his weak spots, Viserys was a man in pain through this episode, though it was, purportedly, a celebration of the second name day of his long longed for son, Prince Aegon.
Viserys was so convinced that the babe Queen Aemma carried in her belly was a boy who would be King because he believed, or at least wanted so badly to believe, himself a Dreamer. Throughout history, it was said that there were Targaryens who could see the future. Legend has it that Aenar Targaryen moved his family, his wealth, his slaves, and his dragons out of Valyria because his daughter Daenys (Daenys the Dreamer) dreamed of the Doom of Valyria. In the first episode, Viserys revealed the reason why Aegon conquered the Seven Kingdoms -- he dreamed the end of the world of men and was convinced a Targaryen needed to sit the Iron Throne, someone strong enough to unite the realm against whatever dwelt within absolute darkness and cold, a dream he called The Song of Ice and Fire. 'What is the power of a dragon next to the power of a prophecy?' a drunk Viserys asked Alicent rhetorically. Viserys dreamed of his son wearing the crown of the Conqueror, and so wanted it to be true, he actually agreed to what amounted as murder of his beloved wife. He named Rhaenyra heir both to protect the realm from the possibility of a King Daemon, but also out of grief and regret. Now that he had remarried and had a son, which he did not imagine he would do and have back then, he wondered if he made a mistake. Added to that, there was this repeated mention through the episode of a sighting of a rare white hart, a royal portent, according to Ser Otto, on Prince Aegon's name day.
With the birth of Prince Aegon, many if not most people assumed he would be heir, despite the fact that Rhaenyra was the proclaimed Princess of Dragonstone and heir to the throne. The King was besieged with suitors, whilst a hurting Rhaenyra absolutely refused to discuss the matter with her father. When she did confront her father about it (because of Jason Lannister's rather clumsy proposal), father and daughter, King and heir, ended up fighting in front of their assembled guests.
Viserys drank heavily through the episode and was consistently badgered, not just by the question of Rhaenyra's marriage but the war his brother started and was currently losing. Looking at the whole hunt setup, I could not help but marvel at the difference in budget in the first seasons of House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones. I am amongst those who were not entirely happy with Game of Thrones (putting it mildly here), but I am grateful that its success allowed the money to come in for this adaptation. The royal tent was massive and filled with people, and House of the Dragon was able to shoot Viserys in angles that showed how alone he was amidst all these people, supporters, men and women sworn to obey and defend him.
Viserys's finest hour came when Jason Lannister approached him with a gift (a golden spear, of course) and a reiteration of his proposal of marriage to Rhaenyra. From Jason Lannister's point of view, it was almost as though he was doing the Crown a favour. He thought being Lady of Casterly Rock was an acceptable position for Rhaenyra to be in when she was no longer heir -- his castle was strong, his House was wealthy, he was capable of providing a suitable home for a princess who would no longer be Queen. This was the only conversation where Viserys appeared to be the sharper one; even drunk, he managed to take Jason Lannister for a ride, throwing his pompous words back at him with a twist of Kingly threats. It was rather entertaining to see Viserys spank a Lannister like that, and added a nice dimension to Viserys's characterisation.
It was Lord Lyonel Strong who, for the second time so far this series, provided the best counsel to the King. Whilst various lords circled around Rhaenyra and Otto Hightower suggested betrothing her to two-year-old Aegon, Lord Lyonel had a more practical and much better solution: Laenor Velaryon, Lord Corlys Velaryon's son and heir. It would unite the Targaryens and the Velaryons (two Valyrian Houses), it would heal the breach that started with the Great Council and only worsened when Viserys married Alicent Hightower instead of Laena Velaryon, and it would fix the powerful, wealthy Lord Corlys firmly on the side of the Crown. Also, though Lord Lyonel did not mention this, Laenor and his mother Princess Rhaenys are both dragonriders. Lord Lyonel even managed to sneak a little nudge about the Stepstones problem the King at that time was determined to ignore; he said he hoped Laenor would survive the fighting.
Whatever Alicent's motivations may be, and we'll explore her later, she is able to have conversations with Viserys that calm him instead of rattling him, and allow him to move past his indecisiveness. That night time conversation made it clear that Rhaenyra had been a topic between husband and wife, and Alicent was correct in her counsel about her (former) friend. I also felt that Viserys's question to Rhaenyra near the beginning of the episode -- 'How would you like to participate?' -- was a suggestion from Alicent. In any case, with Alicent's probing, Viserys decided to send aid -- ships and men -- to the Stepstones. He also later told Rhaenyra that she must marry, but she should go ahead and find someone that pleased her. That little smile on Rhaenyra's face could be an indication that she already had someone in mind.
What did Rhaenyra do through the episode? Well, whilst she continued to try and avoid her father and step-mother, she also made it clear that she would immediately obey a royal order; she did join them in the hunt, and for a brief moment even expressed genuine concern over Alicent's welfare. After her fight with her father, she rode off into the Kingswood in the hurry, and was chased, romantic hero style, by her personally chosen Kingsguard, Ser Criston Cole. I was prepared to dislike this dude, and even I was charmed by his easy, 'Want me to kill him?' tender probe to Rhaenyra, following her rant about Jason Lannister. The way Rhaenyra spoke of Lord Jason (and the way Viserys ignored his twin Tyland earlier in the episode) really showed that this was a pre-Tywin Lannister time. The Lannisters were wealthy, but they were not that prestigious House that people tiptoed around. The lion's wealth was admired, but they were not feared.
Rhaenyra did not want to return to the camp right away, because why leave a handsome knight's company for a place filled with people who don't think you should be Queen? By a camp fire, Rhaenyra asked Criston, 'Do you think the realm will ever accept me as their Queen?' Criston's, 'They'll have no choice but to, Princess', was a red flag; even he did not seem convinced that she should be Queen. Run, Rhaenyra, run!
The boar cut through the tension before Rhaenyra could probe that response. Criston was run down, and the boar went for Rhaenyra. Criston cut through the boar with his longsword, but it was not enough to kill it. Rhaenyra quickly got up and released all her pent up frustrations on the poor animal, killing it with a dagger and joining the ranks of Targaryens finding themselves with their faces covered with blood.
When daylight came, the white hart that Viserys had a whole lot of men searching for just showed itself to Rhaenyra. Criston unsheathed his sword, but Rhaenyra said no. She decided to let the animal go.
And now, the war. First off, a quick explainer about the Stepstones, and bear in mind that while I have read Fire and Blood, I am by no means an expert, so this is me doing my best to lay it out. The Stepstones is not one island, it is a chain of islands between Dorne and the Disputed Lands of Essos. Because of their geographical position, whoever controlled the islands also controlled the sea lanes to and from the narrow sea. For a time, the Stepstones were haven of outlaws and pirates, and merchants ships passing through were often preyed upon.
The Free Cities were nine city-states that, apart from Braavos, were effectively colonies by the Valyrian empire. Three of them -- Lys, Myr, and Tyrosh -- banded together to form the Triarchy, and later conquered the Stepstones with their armies under the command of Craghas Drahar, also known as Craghas Crabfeeder or, as he styled himself, prince admiral. At first, lords of Westeros accepted this, and were happy enough to pay a toll if that meant not having to deal with pirates. Remember the first small council meeting at the first episode? When Lord Corlys mentioned the Triarchy taking over the Stepstones and ridding it of pirates, the King replied, 'Well, that sounds suspiciously like good news, Lord Corlys.' As time went by, however, the toll kept rising, so that merchant ships who previously willingly paid the toll started evading the galleys of the Triarchy as they did pirates in years past. The Lyseni even claimed more than coin, they also took women, girls, and young boys from passing ships to serve in pillow houses. A city heavily involved in the slave trade, Lys is best known for its bed slaves. Doreah in the Game of Thrones time (Daenerys Targaryen's servant) was found by Ilyrio Mopatis in a Lysene pillow house. Fire and Blood readers would appreciate the mention of Lady Johanna Swann, niece of the Lord of Stonehelm, captured by the Triarchy and sold as a slave after her uncle refused to pay her ransom. There's more to her story but I am wary of potentially spoiling it; I don't think it will be included in House of the Dragon but you never know, it might, or in any of the other shows in development.
Daemon and Lord Corlys have been fighting this war for three years, and they were losing. Daemon being Daemon had pushed the troops hard, and with no victory to speak of, some had begun to lose confidence in his leadership. Lord Corlys had to warn his own brother Vaemond against sowing mutiny.
Why was the war so hard, when the Velaryons had the money to buy sellswords and Daemon had Caraxes? In open battle, Daemon and the Velaryons would probably have won quickly. The Triarchy refused to commit to an open battle. Instead, they retreated to caves where the Velaryon/ Targayen strength was neutralised.
Why didn't Caraxes and Seasmoke (Laenor Velaryon's adorable young dragon) just burn down the caves? After all, dragon fire can melt stone, as we saw Balerion the Black Dread do with Harrenhal. This is how the burning of Harrenhal by Balerion and Aegon the Conqueror was described in Fire and Blood:
'Stone does not burn, Harren had boasted, but his castle was not made of stone alone. Wood and wool, hemp and straw, bread and salted beef and grain, all took fire... And even stone will crack and melt if a fire is hot enough... the towers of Harrenhal glowed red against the night, like five great candles... and like candles, they began to twist and melt as runnels of molten stone ran down their sides.'
So, yes, Balerion's dragon fire did melt stone, but the heat of the stone wasn't just due to that, it was helped by the many flammable things within castle walls that also caught fire. Balerion did not need to stay in one place to concentrate his firepower, he would swoop in and out and avoid any defenders whilst still laying waste to Harrenhal. Also, at the time of the Conquest, Balerion must have been a hundred years old, even older. He was already a huge beast.
Going by the comparison with Vhagar, who was said to have almost reached Balerion's size at around this time, Caraxes was about half that size, Seasmoke, smaller still. Neither of them would have had the firepower Balerion had. There wasn't anything to help spread the fire because the caves were just stones. They would have had to remain in the air near those caves for long periods of time, vulnerable to attack from troops who knew what dragons were and were prepared to fight them. Anyway, this is how I viewed the difficulties with attacking the caves; even if there was a chance of success, it would have taken too long and have been too dangerous for the dragons.
It was Vaemond Velaryon who wrote to the King and asked for help, and Alicent who helped the King come to the decision that aid was in the best interest of the realm. Viserys's letter to Daemon actually reflected a kind older brother who still loved his querulous younger brother and wanted to help him. Matt Smith did not have any lines through all this, but as I watched what happened from the time Daemon got Viserys's letter, I thought, This is why you hire Matt Smith. Everything happened with just minute shifts in his face and eyes, there were whole stories told there before he even started beating down that poor knight messenger. As Paddy Considine's kind, generous, slightly hurting voice read Viserys's letter, Daemon rowed, alone, to Bloodstone, where the Triarchy were hiding. He walked past crab-eaten dead bodies and waved a white flag in surrender. It was too tasty a bait, a Targaryen prince holding up his longsword, Dark Sister, the weapon of Queen Visenya Targaryen herself. This was the plan young Laenor mentioned earlier, the suicidal plan only a madman would do. Or a Daemon Targaryen, intent on forcing a win or die scenario before his powerful brother's aid arrives.
Drahar stood just outside his cave, his eyes time and again watching the sky, checking for dragons. At first, only a handful of men came close to him, and Daemon easily dispatched them; there was some smooth physicality happening there, and kudos both to Mr. Smith and his stunt double. Arrows rained down even as Drahar started sending more and more men to fight just one man, albeit one who was well-armoured and armed with a Valyrian steel sword. In Fire and Blood, Daemon was described as. '... lean and hard, a renowned warrior, dashing, daring, more than a little dangerous.' This was such a scene to showcase it.
Daemon was hit by at least a couple of arrows, and at one point he had to shelter from them, but he still stood up and kept fighting, and kept winning though the number of foes he faced kept increasing. Drahar's eyes still continued looking up, and there was no sign of dragons. Finally, he sent a rather large contingent of men, and Daemon was surrounded.
It was then that the Velaryon forces came. Laenor Velaryon swept down on Seasmoke, raining fire on the now exposed enemies. Little was written about Laenor in Fire and Blood; House of the Dragon's Laenor is young and joyful, even on dragonback, with his mad plan succeeding beneath him. I don't even know why I did not expect him to be awesome; this is Corlys Velaryon's heir, of course he would be. House of the Dragon really wants to shatter us in the episodes and seasons to come.
With the forces of the Triarchy overwhelmed, Drahar retreated into a cave. Daemon went after him, and soon enough came out dragging half the prince admiral's body with his entrails hanging out. I was a bit miffed that we did not see the fight; after all, there was a lot of build up to the Crabfeeder being this awful villain. But the Crabfeeder, like many villains, was only strong when surrounded by his men and fighting a war he was almost certain he could win. One on one with Daemon Targaryen, he would not have lasted long, anyway. So, I was disappointed that fight happened off-screen, but I am over it.
Second of His Name was a strong (Rhaenyra), mournful (Viserys), ultimately triumphant (Daemon) episode. I lost interest in Game of Thrones fairly early on; I still watched the episodes, though often late, and there were some spectacular scenes that I genuinely loved. But that is the difference that I am seeing right now -- With Game of Thrones, I could only enjoy certain parts of it. With House of the Dragon, I could watch it and love most if not all of it. Yes, early days yet, and I loved most of the first season of Game of Thrones, too. But I am choosing to remain hyped and hopeful. I did not even plan on watching House of the Dragon until about a couple of weeks before the premiere, when some friends I met through Game of Thrones got me hyped. And now here I am, so very positive toward it when I know there are grumblings in the fandom. In any case, the next episode should give some answers to a question even those who read Fire and Blood do not know. Can't wait!
♕ This is my first full recap in over two years! I wondered what would entice me to return to this blog, apparently, it's House of the Dragon! I did a Recap Lite of the second episode here.
♕ Another stirring, symbolic scene with Viserys was when the stag was finally captured, and it was huge, though not the rare white one the men were hyped about earlier. True hunters had to go and capture it just so the King could deliver the killing blow and claim the kill as his. Viserys did not even appear to have much appetite for the kill, but it was expected of him and he did his duty. His first thrust was a miss. He did manage to kill the stag on the second try. I truly love how House of the Dragon is handling Viserys so far, and I cannot praise Paddy Considine enough. It's a textured performance, compelling in the tragedy of weakness.
♕ Twitter is filled with that poor guy who thought he was going to be rescued by Daemon, only to be trampled by Caraxes upon landing. A rather pointed symbolism of royal worship.
♕ That was Otto's brother Lord Hobert who kept going on and on about Aegon being King, right?
♕ So, about Alicent -- In Fire and Blood, she read to King Jaehaerys in his final days and was already 18 when King Viserys decided to marry her. She was not at all a casual bystander in the Dance. But, it was made clear in Fire and Blood itself that the sources were not necessarily reliable narrators. So, what we book readers read about Alicent may not necessarily be true. What interested me about Alicent in the first episode was how she picked at her nails, a sign of stress, even before her father sent her to Viserys. She was a Hightower, daughter of the Hand, best friend to a princess, she was one of the most privileged young women in the realm. So what was stressing her that much? Was she already aware of her father's machinations? Was she told to befriend Rhaenyra? Alicent is quite an intriguing character, because if we accept what we are seeing on screen, then she is a rare and perhaps incongruous combination of ambition and an insistence on doing the right thing, as much as possible. That is going to make the events of the Dance that much more devastating.
♕ Alicent really pulled rank on Rhaenyra to get the singer to leave so they could speak. Before that, Rhaenyra was having the singer sing a song about Nymeria, a reminder of happier times with Alicent.
♕ The Strongs that we saw in this episode: Lord Lyonel (current Master of Laws), his heir Ser Harwin (also known as Breakbones), and his younger son Larys (also known as the Clubfoot).
♕ When Rhaenyra returned from the Kingswood covered in blood and with a dead boar, everyone stared at her. Only Ser Harwin did so with a big smile.
♕ The high born women surrounding Alicent spoke to Rhaenyra like she was not a princess and a dragon rider who could burn them. The way Rhaenyra snapped back at Lady Redwyne was so deserved. Also, there are pugs in Westeros!
♕ At least for this episide, Alicent insisted on maintaining the status quo and Rhaenyra as heir.
♕ Rhaenyra, about Jason Lannister: 'He's arrogant and self serious.' Viserys: 'We'll I thought you'd have that in common.' Lol.
♕ When Rhaenyra said she felt herself toothless, Ser Criston countered that he owed everything to her. After all, she was the reason he became a member of the Kinsguard, the highest honour any Cole has ever reached. And you remember that, Crispin.
♕ Viserys, about Jason Lannister: 'That man's pride has pride.'
♕ About Ser Otto's proposal that Rhaenyra be betrothed to baby Aegon -- Targaryens marry brother and sister, so that was not really an issue. But Aegon was only two years old at this time, and Rhaenyra was already 17. By the time Aegon would be old enough to be truly married, how many childbearing years would Rhaenyra have left? Would they even be bedded, or would the marriage be set aside so Aegon could find a younger wife? If the marriage was set aside, what would happen to Rhaenyra --- husband-less, child-less, even more set aside than she already is? Ser Otto's proposal just seemed off to me.
♕ Viserys, about Rhaenyra: 'The girl is a heedless contrarian.'
♕ I feel like Lord Lyonel comforted King Viserys a little when he mentioned that King Jaehaerys ruled over half a century of peace all whilst his children, especially his daughters, drove him to near madness. A daughter of King Jaehaerys and Queen Alysanne, Princess Saera, escaped across the narrow sea and worked at a pleasure garden. She eventually grew very wealthy as owner of a pleasure house. Three of her children by different fathers were among the claimants to the Iron Throne during the Great Council.
♕ Apparently, Viserys had to marry Aemma Arryn (his cousin, daughter of Princess Daella Targaryen) because the Vale had an army to rival the North. It's just a little tidbit I wanted to take note of because I don't remember it from the books.
♕ Viserys, to Rhaenyra: 'I did waver, at one time. But I swear to you now, on your mother's memory, you will not be supplanted.'
House of the Dragon Season 1 Episode 3
Director: Greg Yaitanes
Writers: Gabe Fonseca and Ryan Condal