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'House of the Dragon' Episode 4 Really Went There

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  • Posted on 12th Sep, 2022 02:15 AM
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Rhaenyra gets herself into trouble.

Spoilers below.

We begin this week’s episode of House of the Dragon with Princess Rhaenyra rejecting her entire dating pool. As suitors line up before her to win her hand in marriage, she plays with the necklace her uncle Daemon gave her, unamused. One contender is “older than my father”; the next is “a child” (at least one Targaryen is conscious of awkward age gaps). The princess turns them all down. As she sails back to King’s Landing with Ser Criston Cole in tow, a dragon flying overhead signals that Daemon is in town.

After his bloody victory over the Triarchy, the Rogue Prince arrives in the throne room with a fresh crown and haircut. He kneels in front of his brother, King Viserys, dedicating the Stepstones to him. His ally Corlys Velaryon has sailed back home to Driftmark, Daemon says with a smirk. While we, the audience, can sense he’s hiding something, Viserys isn’t sharp enough to catch it. He welcomes his brother with an embrace and celebrations commence.

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At the party, the awkwardness between Rhaenyra and Alicent is palpable. Since going from childhood friends to stepmother and stepdaughter, their relationship has devolved into uncomfortable glances and tense conversations, but at the feast, they finally have a moment to bond—as a treat. Rhaenyra vents to Alicent about her marriage prospects; she hates that men are just after her name and royal bloodline. “How romantic it must be” to sit in the castle and “squeeze out heirs,” she rolls her eyes saying, not realizing that she’s just described Alicent. Alicent isn’t happy with this life either; she has no friends and wishes people could see her for who she is, not just the queen. Rhaenyra grabs her hand and tells her friend she missed her. If only these two young women could share more happy moments together.

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Rhaenyra complains about marriage again when she meets Daemon in the courtyard for a bit of mid-party flirtation. (Gag.) “My mother was made to produce heirs until it killed her,” Rhaenyra says, and she doesn’t want to be put in the same position. Daemon, who is already married to Lady Rhea Royce, tells her the simple truth: marriage is a political arrangement. Rhaenrya would rather live in solitude.

News comes in from overseas: Corlys Velaryon is in control of the Stepstones now, not in Driftmark. (Why do you think he didn’t come back to King’s Landing with Daemon?) The small council thinks this is his revenge for Viserys refusing to marry his daughter, Laena, years ago. In fact, Corlys now plans to wed Laena to the son of the Sea Lord of Braavos. A union between House Velaryon and the Free Cities is a big threat to the realm. The Targaryens must seek their own marriage pact.

Come nighttime, Rhaenyra says goodnight to Ser Criston on her way to bed. When he responds, “Sleep well, princess,” the sexual tension is so thick you could cut it with Valyrian steel. Rhaenyra finds an unusual gift in her chambers: a raggedy disguise and a sketch revealing a secret passageway in her bedroom wall. The latter leads her through the dungeons of the Red Keep to meet Daemon, also undercover, outside. They embark on a mischievous little excursion outside the castle walls amongst the urchins in the street. They come across a play parodying Viserys’ reign and mocking his decision to name a female heir. The crowd boos at “Rhaenyra” and calls her feeble, not realizing she’s sitting among them. Later on their night out, Rhaenyra steals from a street vendor and runs into a Gold Cloak who recognizes her but lets her go when he spots Daemon.

Meanwhile at the castle, Alicent, who has been kept up by her crying baby (now her second child with Viserys) is finally in bed, but she gets summoned to her husband’s room. When the scene cuts to a troupe of naked dancers Rhaenyra and Daemon find performing on the street, I assume this will serve as a visual metaphor for what Alicent ends up doing with Viserys, but no. Dragon is anything but subtle, so we go back to the king’s chamber to see Viserys on top of a very disinterested Alicent in bed.

At the same time, Rhaenrya and Daemon’s escapade heads into explicit territory. The uncle takes his niece to a brothel and…they start making out and undressing. The Game of Thrones universe loves to provoke, and it has covered the incest territory before. (Hello, Cersei and Jaime Lannister, and generations of Targaryens in George R. R. Martin’s books.) And it’s true that, in Dragon’s source material, Fire & Blood, Rhaenyra does end up taking Daemon as an uncle-husband. But none of that lessens the ick factor of this scene. And perhaps that’s intentional. Before they get too carried away, Daemon pulls away from Rhaenyra and leaves. When she follows him out of the brothel, a little boy, who has apparently been watching them, trails behind.

Rhaenyra returns to her room and handles unfinished business with Ser Criston, stealing his helmet and leading him into her chambers. Their night together is inevitable after their shared scenes during the royal hunt last episode. But unlike the impulsive Daemon, Criston, a knight who takes his job seriously, is reluctant to sleep with Rhaenyra. He’s still when she starts removing his armor and he pauses before he enters her bedroom. The pacing of this scene is gentler and more delicate than the rushed brothel hook-up; there are close-ups of Rhaenyra and Criston’s hands intertwined and there are obscured camera angles from behind a screen in the furniture or behind the bed frame.

If the previous episode compared Viserys, Rhaenrya, and Daemon’s approaches to violence, this episode compares how they approach sex—what they expect from it and how they experience it. For Viserys, it's part of his royal duty to produce heirs and strengthen his lineage, no matter how rote and passionless it is for his wife. To Daemon, it’s self-serving, aggressive, and hedonistic, and he doesn't care if it’s vulgar. To Rhaenyra, it represents romance and intimacy, two things she’s been missing throughout her search for a husband across the entire Seven Kingdoms.

The next morning, Otto receives word of Rhaenyra and Daemon’s exploits from White Worm, the boy who followed them. With his suspicious air, child messenger, and position on the council, Otto feels like a clear analog for Littlefinger and Lord Varys. He reports to Viserys that Rhaenyra was spotted “coupling” with Daemon in a pleasure house, noting that his source has never been wrong. Viserys won’t believe it. He scolds Otto for having Rhaenyra spied on and accuses him of scheming to put his own blood (Aegon, Alicent and Viserys’ child and Otto’s grandchild) on the throne.

HBO

After overhearing the news, Alicent confronts Rhaenyra herself, but the princess is quick to deny and gaslight. How could you believe that? Who made these claims? Rhaenyra confesses that, sure, she and Daemon snuck out to taverns and a show, but he eventually got too drunk and left her for another woman. “Daemon never touched me,” she says, swearing on her late mother. (Damn.) Alicent understands that Rhaenyra needs to keep her reputation squeaky clean if she’s to find a proper husband, especially one who can provide strong allies to the realm. But in the end, she is fooled by Rhaenyra’s lies.

Daemon is dragged into the throne room to meet Viserys’ wrath. The king berates him for “defiling” his daughter. Rather than deny, Daemon pushes Viserys’ buttons: wouldn’t he prefer that she lose her virginity to her uncle than someone else? (First of all, ew. And second, it was someone else—Ser Criston.) But on a more serious note, Daemon makes a proposal: Rhaenyra should marry him. She’s already denied all of her suitors and marrying within the family, in the incestuous tradition of their Targaryen ancestors, would only strengthen their house, Daemon argues. Viserys suspects he’s just thirsty for the crown and sends him away.

Alicent tells Viserys that Rhaenyra is telling the truth and Daemon is the one lying just to distract him. Still, the king doesn’t think his daughter is innocent. It doesn’t even matter whether she is or not; the fact that her reputation has been tarnished is bad enough. Viserys tells Rhaenyra this when they finally meet. “If I was a boy none of this wouldn’t matter!” the princess tells him. And that’s true. This episode not only compares how Daemon and Rhaenyra use sex, but also how they experience its consequences as a man and a woman. Only one of their reputations is at stake now, and it’s not his.

Viserys puts an end to the drama by solving Rhaenyra’s husband search and the Sea Snake’s control of the Stepstones with the same salve: She will marry Corlys’ son Laenor Velaryon and that’s final. Rhaenyra will only comply if Viserys gets rid of the “vulture” Otto Hightower. It’s clear to her that Otto wants Aegon to be named heir and will stop at nothing to see it done, including sending spies to find dirt on Rhaenyra to sabotage her standing as next in line.

Somewhere in his lecture, Viserys shows Rhaenyra a dagger inscribed with a Targaryen prophecy (and easter egg for Thrones fans): “From my blood comes the prince that was promised and his will be the song of ice and fire.”

HBO

When Viserys meets with Otto, it’s only then that we learn how he became Hand of the King. Viserys’ late father, Baelon, was originally named Hand by King Jaehaerys, but five days later, he died in a royal hunt. Otto was named Baelon’s successor and remained in the role ever since. Viserys once believed Otto was loyal, but he can’t trust him anymore. He realizes now that Otto sent Alicent to him after his first wife’s death as “a calculated distraction”—a scheme to make Alicent queen and place the Hightowers closer to the throne. So, Viserys fires Otto.

In the episode’s closing moments, the grand maester gives Rhaenyra tea ordered by Viserys to “rid you of any unwanted consequences.” My guess is it’s Westeros’ version of Plan B, and it’s not enough to fix House Targaryen’s problems.

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