The Green Wedding is taut, tense, and a superb showcase of House of the Dragon's confident storytelling.
I am writing this less than an hour after seeing We Light The Way, and I am writing to help pick the pieces of my brain off the floor. Wow. In the bloody tradition of Game of Thrones weddings, we now have the fan-dubbed Green Wedding, a union of the two most powerful Houses in the Seven Kingdoms as pockets of chaos that would have reverberations through the realm for decades erupted around them. Whilst the first four episodes beautifully planted seeds of the Dance, We Light The Way is a forward thrust that showed the battle lines more clearly drawn. As Larys Strong pointed out to his brother Harwin, green was traditionally used as a call to banners by House Hightower. As the Blacks wed, the Greens started coming out of the woodwork.
Viserys had a problem named Rhaenyra, and his solution to that was to wed her to the only other House with their own grown dragons (and the largest fleet in the kingdoms, and unimaginable wealth from Corlys Velaryon's travels). Struggling with still unnamed illness, Viserys traveled with Rhaenyra and his new Hand, Lord Lyonel Strong, to Driftmark and the castle Lord Corlys built off his own sweat, blood, and daring, High Tide. This was not the royal pilgrimage in the vein of Robert Baratheon visiting Winterfell, where the Starks prepared their family, their people, and their castle to receive the King. When the gates of High Tide opened, only Ser Laenor Velaryon and his lover Ser Joffrey Lonmouth were there to stand at attention. It was an insult Lord Lyonel immediately noticed. Lady Laena Velaryon, who came out of the castle with another Velaryon relation, smoothly told the King her lord father awaited at the Hall of Nine.
Rhaenyra and Laena were not permitted into the Hall, and only Viserys and Lyonel walked through the display of Corlys's triumphs -- murals on the walls, souvenirs from his famous trips, a collection of wealth accumulated by a man far more accomplished than Viserys could hope to be. Corlys sat on the Driftwood Throne, and for a moment I wondered if he would even stand for the King who had wounded his pride more than once. He did, and he knelt as well, a Lord greeting his Sovereign. Princess Rhaenys, underlining how the Verlaryons truly did not do any formal preparations for this royal visit, breezed in wearing comfortable clothes and the warm smile of a blood relation, not a subject.
Viserys wasted no time in stating his proposal, a marriage between his heir Rhaenyra and Corlys's heir Laenor. Corlys wanted a couple of clarifications before he agreed, the matter of succession and the last name of any would be children. Viserys's response to this just made me stan him more; if you have read my other recaps, then you may have noticed how much I adored Show Viserys and Paddy Considine's performance. Viserys reiterated that Rhaenyra was his heir and Rhaenyra and Laenor's firstborn child, regardless of gender, would be the next King or Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. He also compromised with Corlys with regard to the family name; the children would be Velaryons when born, but once the firstborn ascended to the Iron Throne, he or she would ascend as a Targaryen ruler.
Alone with his wife Princess Rhaenys, Corlys did wonder if he overreached. Rhaenys knew this marriage put their son and House in danger. The realm already rejected a female ruler once, they would do it again. Corlys, however, saw the marriage as a way to correct a wrong that was done to Rhaenys and their family by the Great Council. Rhaenys should have been Queen; now, her blood would continue the Targaryen ruling line.
That was, if the marriage would be consummated. Corlys and Rhaenys knew of Laenor's nature. Rhaenyra did, too; they were cousins and grew up together. They had a good conversation as they walked the coast, where they pretty much decided they would do their duties to their Houses and the realm, but that they would live their lives as they chose outside of that. Milly Alcock and Theo Nate have an easy chemistry, and they sold this marriage as a dutiful friendship so well. Laenor is one of the few unproblematic characters in the books, and I have loved everything I have seen of him so far in House of the Dragon.
The Driftmark trip, difficult though it was for Viserys, was a success. Back in King's Landing, however, heavy rain signaled the storm that was about to hit House Targaryen. Otto Hightower just had to mess with his daughter's head before leaving the Capital. He blamed her for his loss of position, as though it was her support of Rhaenyra that swayed the King to protect his daughter and not the fact that she was his daughter. He also painted a dire portrait of the future: Viserys would die, and if Rhaenyra ascended as heir, war would follow, because the realm would not accept her as the new ruler. Rhaenys had a similar view, but Otto took this prediction much further; he told his devastated daughter that to secure her reign, Rhaenyra would have no choice but to kill Alicent's children.
Here's my take, and these are not spoilers, this is me just following through with what Otto said here -- War would happen because powerful men like Otto would make it happen. Lords could grumble all they wanted, but they did not stand a chance against a united Targaryen front. We have already seen how devastating dragons were in open battle, and the Velaryons, the only ones with their own dragons, supported Rhaenyra's claim. It was not the custom of Westeros for a King to have more than one wife, yet did that stop Aegon the Conqueror from being both King and husband to his two sisters, Queen Visenya and Queen Rhaenys? Of course not. Targaryens have been able to bend the realm to their will because of their dragons. If the Targaryens decided a Queen would rule, no one could stand against them -- no one, that is, apart from a fellow Targaryen. Rhaenyra in her voiceover at the beginning of the season said it best: 'The only thing that could tear down the House of the Dragon was itself.' This was what Otto was doing, sowing division within the ranks of the Targaryens. He wanted his Targaryen grandchildren to grow up against their sister Rhaenyra, so Aegon would rule instead in her stead. Whether his reason for doing this was a personal desire for more power, or something else, we do not yet know.
For the first four episodes, Alicent has been a good friend to Rhaenyra and a dutiful wife to Viserys. Her loyalty to the Targaryens were tested time and again, but she had repeatedly chosen Rhaenyra and Viserys. Rhaenyra's lie and Otto's firing seemed to be the final straw that pushed her to view her childhood friend as a political operator; they were adults now, not children dreaming of flying across the Narrow Sea and eating nothing but cake. After her father left, Alicent went to the heart tree where she and Rhaenyra had some of their most important conversations. Larys Strong was there to pour more poison in her already hurting heart. With fake concern, Larys mentioned how on the same night Otto was dismissed as Hand, the King sent Grand Maester Mellos himself to Rhaenyra with tea. The Grand Maester, not just any of the maesters in the Red Keep. Alicent's doubts about her friend already being 'sullied' kicked in high gear, and when the King's party returned from Driftmark, she summoned Criston Cole, Rhaenyra's sworn protector.
Bear in mind that both Otto and Alicent thought Rhaenyra had sex with Daemon in a brothel; neither of them had any inkling that anything happened between Rhaenyra and Criston. But Criston came back from Driftmark hurting. He asked Rhaenyra to run away with him across the Narrow Sea, to be his wife. Rhaenyra gently let him down. From Rhaenyra's point of view, her arrangement with Laenor meant she and Criston could continue to be lovers. Criston viewed that as an insult and brought up how he soiled his White Cloak by breaking his vow of chastity with Rhaenyra, which is your choice dude. This whole conversation on the ship back to King's Landing just reminded me that I disliked Criston in the books. The responsibility over Aegon the Conqueror's dream aside, it was a terribly big ask to leave one's family, one's responsibilities to the realm, one's dragon, just so he'd feel better about breaking his vow. Gah! #TeamHarwin
Alicent summoned Criston whilst he was still stewing from the rejection. Alicent's words were carefully chosen, but they did allude to Rhaenyra losing her maidenhead on that fateful night. Before Alicent could say more, Criston just confessed. He was the one who bedded Rhaenyra, and his only request was the mercy of a quick death. Alicent is a Queen Consort, not a ruling Queen, and Criston bedding Rhaenyra was a sin to the still very much alive King Viserys, not Alicent, so him thinking she would determine his punishment was so moronic and yes I really am back to hating this dude. Besides, if he truly wanted to confess his guilt, he would have gone to his Lord Commander. This scene very much felt like Criston wanting to lash out at the woman who rejected him even at the cost of his own life. And his descent from his very charming 'Do you want me to kill him?' self did not even stop there.
The Targaryen-Velaryon wedding was a grand affair, and it was so lovely how House of the Dragon had the budget to show it. House Velaryon came to King's Landing in a show of wealth and power; they brought their ships with them, and their dragons, Princess Rhaenys's Meleys The Red Queen and Laenor's Seasmoke. Even the rich fabric of their clothing evoked, at least to me, a connection to Essos. Rhaenyra and Laenor greeted each other warmly. I am so here for these dutiful beautiful cousins who support each other's identities and choices.
Jason Lannister was the first one who asked about Alicent's absence, but for certain he was not the only one who noticed. For four episodes and several years in the show timeline, Alicent had chosen a quiet life of birthing babes and looking after Viserys. Now, she timed her arrival for maximum attention, interrupting Viserys's speech, wearing a striking green dress. Larys helpfully pointed out to his brother Harwin that when House Hightower called their banners, the Hightower flames changed to green. At the high table, Alicent coolly greeted Rhaenyra as 'Stepdaughter', and the kiss she gave the King was cold as well.
During the joyful dancing that followed, Laenor's lover Ser Joffrey Lonmouth figured out that Rhaenyra's secret lover was her own sworn protector, Ser Criston Cole. It was not enough for Joffrey to share this with Laenor, he had to go up to Criston to let him know what he knew. It was not clear what else happened; at some point, there was a commotion at the crowd, and Criston was delivering a horrific beating on Joffrey. Laenor tried to intervene, but Criston hit him, too, then went back to brutally murdering Joffrey in front of his King and the most important nobles of the realm, at the wedding of the princess who had been named heir to the iron throne.
Rhaenyra was trapped amidst the crowd. With a nod from Lord Lyonel, his son and heir Ser Harwin fought his way through the crowd and fireman carried Rhaenyra out of there. Remember that Harwin was the only one who smiled at Rhaenyra when she returned to the royal hunting camp all bloody from killing a boar. He knew she was out of the castle on that fateful night, and not only did he let her go about her business without fuss, he did not appear to have blabbed that she was, indeed, out in Flea Bottom with her Uncle Daemon (I am still undecided on whether he told his father Lyonel and brother Larys). Ser Harwin Strong is an integral part of the story of the Dance of the Dragons, and I look forward to the major time jump next episode that will show the extent of his involvement in the story.
Poor Laenor's anguish over his dead lover was witnessed by everyone at the wedding. With Joffrey Lonmouth's blood still un-mopped, Laenor and Rhaenyra were forced to wed, eschewing the seven days of celebrations that had been previously planned. The quickie wedding was just finished before Viserys collapsed. Outside, as Criston Cole prepared to kill himself, Alicent appeared, saving him.
I feel like I need a few more rewatches to fully absorb all that We Light The Way gave us. For now, I'd like to end this recap with major props to Milly Alcock and Emily Carey for fully owning roles they knew they would only inhabit for a few episodes. Rhaenyra and Alicent were fleshed out in these early episodes in ways they were not in the books, and Milly and Emily gave confident performances that will inform the story going forward. Seven blessings to the both of them and hope to see them soon in new projects!
♕ Laenor's 'It's not for lack of trying' hurt my heart. How he must have struggled not just as a gay man in Westeros but as the son and heir of the great Corlys Velaryon. The conversation between Corlys and Rhaenys implied that Corlys did not quite understand that his son was gay, that it was not something he could outgrow. I am looking forward to seeing how the show develops the relationship between Laenor and Rhaenyra.
♕ The books did not explicitly state Prince Daemon Targaryen killed his wife Lady Rhea Royce of Runestone; Ryan Condal is correct that the description of her death is interesting, though the impression the text gave was that Daemon was not in Runestone at the time of her death. I neither like nor dislike how the show handled it; part of liking Daemon Targaryen as a character is accepting that he will do horrible things and great things. Daemon's, uh, performance was an issue with Mysaria, Rhaenyra, and now Rhea Royce so this is a recurring subject. I was a bit confused at how the show made it seem as though Lady Rhea was heir to Runestone, not ruling Lady of Runestone. Daemon's claim to Lady Rhea's lands is already weak as it is, it is even weaker with the tidbit that the marriage was never consummated.
♕ It was Larys Strong's tea that tipped Alicent against Rhaenyra and to a certain extent Viserys. There were people comparing Otto Hightower to Littlefinger, which I didn't get because though a second son, Otto remained a Hightower, a very powerful, very wealthy House. Larys is closer to Littlefinger, I think; the high born thought Littlefinger harmless because of his humble origins, Larys, because of his disability.
♕ Rhaenyra visibly rolled her eyes when Jason Lannister arrived followed by his household, including his brother Tyland. Pompous as always, the dislike appeared to be mutual; Rhaenyra would not be able to count on Lord Jason as an ally.
♕ Alicent's uncle Lord Hobert Hightower assured her of Hightower support, which is considerable. The Hightowers are not only wealthy, they are also of the Reach, the most populous region in Westeros. This meant their overlords the Tyrells could call on a vast army if necessary.
♕ Daemon did not have a seat at the high table, which meant his brother the King did not plan on him being there. When Daemon arrived, however, Viserys, whilst not exactly happy, did not throw him out. He motioned for a seat to be brought forth.
♕ Poor Viserys had to watch Daemon and Rhaenyra almost kiss in the middle of the wedding celebrations. Viserys did not have to fight great wars, but he is being tested, as a ruler, a brother, a father.
♕ Laena Velaryon is surpassingly lovely and interested in Daemon.
♕ Ser Gerold Royce, Lady Rhea's cousin, accused Daemon of murdering his wife. Daemon coolly shared that he intended to press his claims to Runestone to Lady Jeyne Arryn as Lady Rhea's husband.
♕ There was a moment after they returned from Driftmark that Viserys, very unwell, asked where Alicent was. This appeared to be the beginning of Alicent pulling away, of not being there all the time to see to Viserys's comforts.
♕ 'Is it not better to live in peace than to have songs sung after you are dead?' Lord Lyonel continues to give sound counsel.
♕ The episode title, We Light The Way, are also House Hightower's words.
Director: Clare Kilner
Writer: Charmaine DeGraté
First air date: September 18, 2022