when it comes at weddings in Westeros, the vibes are always off. Think of King Joffrey’s marriage to Margaery Tyrell, which ended in discoloration purple as he choked to death. Or of Sansa Stark’s two depressing engagements, first to Tyrion Lannister – who wasn’t any happier about it than she was – and then to Ramsay Bolton, the less said about who the better. Remember Daenerys Targaryen’s dark, non-consensual union with Khal Drogo in Essos? And, of course, there’s the ever-legendary Red Wedding, a gory landmark moment in television history under the public eye.
Did you think that just because Dragon House is a new show, would weddings be different? Ha!
While this week’s episode centers on the nuptials between Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen and Laenor Velaryon, heiress to the fortune created by her adventurer father Lord Corlys, it’s not the only portrayal of, uh, marital bliss that ‘he introduces. First, we’re introduced to Lady Rhea Royce (Rachel Redford), the ex-wife of Prince Daemon Targaryen. And then, within a minute or two, she’s already dead, run over by her horse and surrounded by a rock at the hands of the Rogue Prince himself. Daemon has bigger ambitions than marriage to a mid-level noble, so she had to leave. (That won’t stop him from claiming his inheritance later in the episode. Still thinking, our Demon!)
The main event, however, is Rhaenyra Targaryen’s engagement with Laenor Velaryon – a union of two of the wealthiest and most powerful houses in the realm, both descendants of ancient Valyria, both dragon riders.
It’s really not that bad of a match! On the one hand, this satisfies the couple’s powerful fathers, King Viserys and Lord Corlys; the two proud men reach a compromise in which the couple’s children will take the name Velaryon until they ascend the Iron Throne, at which point they will officially become Targaryens.
Even as their fathers work out the details, Rhaenyra and Laenor reach a compromise. Laenor is gay and involved with a handsome young knight named Ser Joffrey Lonmouth, the Knight of Kisses (Solly McLeod). Rhaenyra herself secretly had a date with her sworn protector, Kingsguard Knight Ser Criston Cole. The happy couple agree to do their “duty” and produce children, but beyond that they agree to be free to pursue their own love interests outside the confines of the marital bed. It’s a win/win, right?
Well, that depends on who you ask. Ser Joffrey has no problem with the arrangement and even attempts to forge a bond of mutual trust and respect with Ser Criston at the welcoming party for the wedding celebration. What he doesn’t know is that Criston just can’t handle the situation. On their way back from Velaryon’s home base called High Tide, Cole argues to Rhaenyra that they should run away to Essos together, abandoning their duties and living free as they please. Unsurprisingly, Rhaenyra hesitates, preferring her current position to a life of “infamy” on the run in the East.
But her promise to Ser Criston that she and Laenor have “an understanding” doesn’t cut the mustard with the Kingsguard, who feels he’s broken his vows and dishonored himself. A marriage could have redeemed him, according to him. But when Rhaenyra says no, he’s devastated, adrift…and angry.
When summoned by Queen Alicent, who is reeling from the dismissal of her father Ser Otto as Hand of the King for his accusations regarding Rhaenyra’s sexual conduct, Criston confesses that he and the princess have been intimate. The Queen lets slip. Whether it’s because she’s too upset that her old friend lied to her about his behavior, or because she wants to have a Kingsguard knight in her pocket, it’s hard to say.
But when Laenor’s lover Ser Joffrey approaches Ser Criston at the welcome feast with an offer of mutual secrecy, the Kingsguard cracks. He beats Joffrey to death in the middle of the party, leaving Laenor destitute and forcing the very, very sick King Viserys to speed up the wedding plans and have the ritual on the spot, instead of the big party he had planned.
Thus, Rhaenyra and Laenor say their “yes”. The two most powerful houses in Westeros, both descended from Valyria itself, are brought together. Under the all-seeing eyes of a damwood tree, Ser Criston Cole prepares to commit hara-kiri – until Queen Alicent shows up and stops him. Again, having a Kingsguard in your pocket is indeed a valuable thing. Since being convinced by her father that the future Queen Rhaenyra is a direct threat to her life and the lives of her children, the current Queen needs all the help she can get.
Oh, and in the final moments of the episode, a rat walks into the party room and nibbles on Ser Joffrey’s blood. It’s a shot straight out of The Disappeared, and a proper indictment of the neglect of these royal events. Is this a crying picture of evidence? Yes. Is it sometimes necessary to use starkly obvious images to convey the message of a particular story? Yes too.
Aside from the wedding itself, this episode sets up several character dynamics that seem important moving forward. On the one hand, King Viserys is gravely ill: he is racked with coughing fits, his nose is bleeding uncontrollably, and his body is covered in wounds that won’t heal. (A young maester named Orwyle, played by Kurt Egiawan, suggests promising treatments, which will be undone by Grand Maester Mellos.)
On the other hand, we once again establish Corlys Velaryon as a justly proud lord. His castle centers on the so-called “Hall of Nine”, essentially a museum filled with artifacts from his legendary nine voyages to distant seas and lands. When Viserys shows up to negotiate the marriage pact, Corlys remains seated on his driftwood throne as if he were the king. His wife Rhaenys, who rose to the Iron Throne in favor of Viserys, only adds to the feeling that there is a de facto second royal family in Westeros.
Then there are the sons of the most honest and least self-interested member of the Little Council, Lord Lyonel Strong. Larys Strong, nicknamed Clubfoot due to his physical deformity, sneaks into Alicent’s good graces by informing her that Grand Maester Mellos delivered an abortive tea to Rhaenyra the night she was accused of fornication. Meanwhile, her brother Ser Harwin, nicknamed “Breakbones” due to his formidable strength, saves Rhaenyra from the chaos that erupts when Criston Cole attacks Ser Joffrey during the party. Expect both of these relationships to bear dark fruit in the weeks to come.
But the episode’s most important political and personal maneuver comes from Queen Alicent herself. Arriving late at the party, she shows up wearing a green dress – the color not of House Targaryen, which is black and red, but of his own House Hightower. As Larys and Harwin gossip, the Hightowers wave green banners when they want to call their vassals to war. Did a war break out for control of the Iron Throne, following Alicent’s father’s warning that Rhaenyra would put the queen and her children to death to secure the crown? It seems that the answer is yes.
And meanwhile, new single Daemon takes a step towards Laena Velaryon (Savannah Steyn). As we often say, what could go wrong?
All in all, it is a rich and complicated subject Dragon House episode, in which virtually every main character sees their story advanced in memorable and dramatic ways. It is also a high point for many of the actors involved; we would personally refer to Emily Carey as Alicent, whose conflicting loyalties to her house, her husband and her old friend Rhaenyra threaten to tear her apart. And if another big time jump is on the way, as it seems to be, it sets up the new status quo in a vivid and violent way. Long may these dragons reign.