Across the last few weeks, HBO’s House of the Dragon has brought Westeros back into pop culture in a big way — with court intrigue at the forefront of this well-anticipated prequel series.
HOTD’s fourth episode takes that premise further with another minor time skip, giving us further insights into Princess Rhaenyra’s (Milly Alcock) coming-of-age story, which takes a particularly salacious turn in 116 AC.
Much of this episode concerns itself with the consequences of King Viserys Targareyen’s (Paddy Considine) decision to stand by his daughter’s desire to independently become queen and seek her own heir. Starting off with a scene straight out of Westeros’ The Bachelorette, Rhaenyra goes through a small army of potential suitors, all of which she finds quite disappointing.
We open with the much older Lord Dondarion, who references a visit with Queen Alyssane, Rhaenyra’s great-grandmother. Both Alyssane and her husband King Jaheyrys (who makes a tiny cameo in the pilot episode) were referenced in this episode, and have been extensively talked about throughout the mainline Song of Ice and Fire books.
After two younger suitors get into a violent clash over their own honor, Rhaenyra decides that she has had enough, and breaks off her tour to return to King’s Landing — observing her uncle Daemon returning as well, on dragon back.
King Viserys assembles every soul within the court at Daemon’s return, taking care to dress regally while wielding Blackfyre, the ancestral Targaryen sword. Daemon willfully submits to his king — despite wearing a crown of his own, and after four years, the brothers embrace and seemingly leave behind their old animosity. Queen Alicent, who has sunk into a lonely, quiet existence without friends, seeks to rekindle her friendship with Rhaenyra, possibly inspired by her husband and Daemon burying the hatchet.
Rhaenyra, rather nonchalantly, dismisses Alicent in the following conversation, alluding that her only purpose in life is to ‘squeeze out heirs’ — hitting the young queen where it hurts. It’s a taste of things to come as Westeros becomes more and more politically unstable — a preview of Rhaenyra’s own arrogance, and Alicent’s growing resentment.
In a slight nod to the original Game of Thrones, Rhaenyra dresses up as a boy and sneaks out into King’s Landing with Daemon — with Milly Alcock seriously resembling Maisie Williams aka Arya Stark as both characters come across street-performer parodies of what goes on in the royal court.
Daemon is obviously out for his own amusement, but also has an agenda on his mind. The prince brings his niece to a commoners’ play, where the royal succession is parodied — giving Rhaenyra a clear understanding that the people themselves don’t believe a woman could rule the Seven Kingdoms.
Rhaenyra storms off and decides that her will is more important than her supposed duty — a theme that continues with the final culmination of her and Daemon’s burgeoning sexual tension. (Ew.)
Interestingly, Daemon himself finds the interaction unpleasant and backs off, even though Rhaenyra seems entirely into it. Finding her way back home, she decides to sleep with the studly Kingsguard Ser Cristan Cole — driving home the point that at the end of the day (or night, it would seem), the princess isn’t keen on taking orders from anyone.
Hand of the King Otto Hightower, who has already infiltrated the royal succession through his daughter Alicent, now approaches the King with news of Daemon and Rhaenyra’s night escapades, reported by one of his loyal spies. Concurrently, Alicent also approaches Rhaenyra, albeit from a position of care rather than political concern.
Fed up with losing control of his court, Viserys once again banishes his brother — who uses his last words to propose marriage to Rhaenyra. Viserys has other plans, however. After years of supporting his daughter’s independence, he decides to follow through with his ally Lord Lyon Strong’s suggestion in Episode 3 — get the princess hitched to Laenor Velaryon, and unite the realm’s two most-powerful houses. He also effectively fires Otto Hightower after sealing a compromise with his daughter — who is now convinced that House Hightower has plans to end her succession.
A pretty spicy episode, through and through — it even ends with Rhaenyra being offered the medieval equivalent of a morning-after pill. Here’s what fans thought:
Obviously, the Rhaenyra x Daemon scene drew a ton of eyeballs. Despite the taboo, Alcock herself was extremely frank about the moment, while speaking to The Post.
“No, strangely enough. [Matt Smith and I] were just kind of mates. So, it was quite comfortable,” Alcock, 22, said about filming the scene with Smith, 39. “We had an intimacy coordinator, and we worked with her through the rehearsal process and blocked it out months before.”
(Note that the episode has a female director and that the sex scenes are all quite female-gazey. Great improvement over Game of Thrones, I think!)
“Rhaenyra is at an age where she can’t tell the difference between platonic love, romantic love, and lust because she hasn’t lived long enough and gone through those experiences,” Alcock added. “I think that she understands that there’s a feeling here [with Daemon], but she’s not quite sure where it lands, and how to behave with it and navigate it.”
House of the Dragon will return next Monday at 6:30 AM, on Hotstar.
Lead Image: HBO