‘House of the Dragon’: Come and take it

House of the Dragon
“The Rogue Prince”
August 28, 2022



Yeah, it’s fine. And I understand not messing with something that’s not broken: Everyone knows the Game of Thrones theme song: you know what you’re getting when you hear that music. But (and trust me, I know exactly how nerdy this sounds) I do wish they had used one of the Targaryen’s themes from Game of Thrones instead:

Let the Targaryens have their own thing!

As for the episode: we begin on the Stepstones with that pesky Crabfeeder busily feeding Valeryons to the crabs. And there are A LOT of crabs.

In the Red Keep, the Small Council is attending to the matter of who will replace some knight of the Kingsguard who just died. The Lord Commander has a few candidates he’d like to run by the King, but before we can get to all that, the Sea Snake storms in SUPER PISSED about the whole crab thing. The situation has turned into a whole conflagration while they’re all sitting here talking about knights and shit.

King Viserys assures the Sea Snake that he will be fully compensated for his ships and men, but the Sea Snake is like, YOU AREN’T GETTING IT, THIS IS BAD FOR WESTEROS, AND I WANT TO KILL THIS CRABFEEDER ASSHOLE.

King Viserys and his Small Council are like, “Yeaaaaah, but we don’t want to start a war with the Free Cities. We’ve never been at war with the Free Cities and it could be, like, messy and stuff.”

The Sea Snake points out that Westeros is being perceived as incredibly weak, what with Daemon having taken over Dragonstone and squatting there for the past six months with no response from the King.

King Viserys insists that he has done something about the Stepstones: he’s sent envoys to Pentos and Volantis to talk things out, and the whole situation will be settled … soon enough. Sea Snake needs to keep his pants on and tamp out his wig hair.

And that’s when Princess Rhaenyra is like, “Y’all, we have DRAGONS. Send some of your dragonriders to Stepstone and we’ll take care of this Crabfeeder shithead in no time at all.”

And this might shock you to hear, but men don’t like it when women — especially younger women — make them look like cowardly little pussies, so Otto sends Rhaenyra out with the Lord Commander to go pick a new King’s Guard member and leave the men to continue sticking their thumbs up their bums in peace.

Lord Harrold introduces Princess Rhaenyra to a number of knights: this one has been in tourneys, this one once caught a poacher, this one is from a fancy family, as is this one and that one and this one over here. But Princess Rhaenyra isn’t interested in choosing someone for political purposes. Instead, she wants someone hot who has seen actual battle, which narrows the competition to one man: that cute Ser Criston Cole fellow who saw combat in the Dornish Marches for a year, defending Westeros from Dornish incursions. “GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME,” says Princess Rhaenrya. “YOU’RE HIRED.”

You’ll have to forgive me when I got this wrong in the last recap, but King Viserys is not making a model of King’s Landing; he’s making a model of Old Valyria. Anyway, Alicent is in his quarters asking him about what the city was like, and whether Westeros will ever be able to match its grandeur. Short answer: No, probably not. In the process of answering this question, King Viserys drops and breaks one of his little toy dragons and has a sad.

King Viserys asks Alicent how Rhaenyra is really doing, since his daughter isn’t speaking to him much these days. (BITCH, SHE TRIED TO TALK TO YOU IN THE SMALL COUNCIL.) Alicent suggests that King Viserys be the one to open the door between the two of them and he’s like, “Yeah, but she’s scary. Have you met 15-year-old girls?”

King Viserys makes sure that Alicent is keeping their little meetings secret from his daughter and she assures him that she is because nothing says a normal healthy relationship than “You’re keeping this on the down-low, right?”

Later, over in the Sept, Alicent listens as Princess Rhaenyra bitches that she knows the Small Council is scheming to marry her father off and replace her as heir already. Alicent is like, “Instead of worrying your girl head about man stuff, why don’t you kneel with me and pray to the Mother? Doesn’t that seem like a nicer, ladier thing to do? Also, you totally need to talk to your Dad. Also, don’t worry about how I know to tell you that.”

Thing is Princess Rhaenyra is not wrong: the menfolk are trying to usurp her as heir.

Sea Snake and Princess Rhaenys approach King Viserys with an idea: what if he married their daughter, Laena? Things aren’t going great for the King, what with his brother just stealing Dragonstone, a foreign power in their shipping lanes, and a GIRL as the heir to the Iron Throne? If Viserys has any chance of strengthening his power, he needs to remarry and remarry quickly. And who better than their 12-year-old daughter who is also his first cousin once removed? This would fix everything! King Viserys is like, “I mean, yeah, but she’s TWELVE let me think about it.”

That night at dinner, King Viserys tries to broach the emotional distance between himself and his daughter. He tells her that he loved her mother very much, and Princess Rhaenyra is like, “Yeah, me too.” She then informs him that she chose Ser Criston Cole as the new King’s Guard because he was the only man among the knights that Lord Harrold provided who had any real war experience. She then tries to discuss her suggestion at the Small Council, but he shushes her, and insists that it’s no biggie, she’s a child, she has much to learn. (YEAH, I DON’T THINK SHE WAS GOING TO APOLOGIZE, DAD.)

Meanwhile, King Viserys’ health is not great. His hand is infected, and to treat it, he shoves it into a bowl of maggots because antibiotics won’t be invented in Westeros for another thousand years or so. While the maggots are gnawing on his gross fingers, he mentions to Otto and the Grand Maester that the Sea Snake suggested that he marry Laena. Otto argues that the Sea Snake overstepped, while the Grand Maester is like, “I mean, it’s not a terrible idea: sure, she’s young, but you’d be uniting two great Valyrian houses and that’d be cool …”

King Viserys worries about what Princess Rhaenyra would think, but the men are like: WHO CARES? You’re the king, you have to propagate your line. It’s your duty to take a preteen as a wife. YOU HAVE TO THINK OF THE REALM.

So, King Viserys has a private walk and talk with Little Lady Laena in the castle gardens.

But before we can move on, we need to discuss this wig:



OK, so Laena in her giant-ass Marie Antoinette wig asks King Viserys about his time riding Balerion, “The Black Dread,” but he explains he didn’t ride him for long before the old dragon died. Laena, who knows her dragons, asks where Vhagar is, since she’s too big for the Dragonpits. “Some would say too large for our world,” replies Viserys before saying that it’s suggested that she nests somewhere on the Narrow Sea. When Laena notes that workers sometimes say they hear Vhagar’s sad cries, Viserys notes that dragons might become lonely, too.

Laena then insists that it would be her honor to join their houses, and that she would give him many strong heirs. Viserys sadly replies that her father must have instructed her to say that before wondering what her mother told her, and Laena explains that she was told she wouldn’t have to bed him until she was 14.

Princess Rhaenyra watches this entire conversation with irritation from the balcony of the castle, while her cousin Princess Rheanys watches her, noting that it seems to bother her. “NUH-UH,” argues Rhaenyra. But Rhaenys is like, “Listen up, little girlie: your father is going to marry someone, and they are going to give him heirs, and there’s a good chance one of those heirs will be a boy. And when that boy comes of age, the men of Westeros are going to expect him to become the heir, not you. That’s how a patriarchal society works.” Princess Rhaenyra is like, “WELL, I’M GOING TO DESTROY THE PATRIARCHY,” but Rhaenys is like, “Yeah, they had a chance to do that, and it didn’t happen.” Rhaenyra retorts that maybe they just didn’t like Rhaenys, but Rhaenys sighs that this is the hard truth: “Men would sooner put the realm to the torch than see a woman ascend the Iron Throne.”

In his chambers, King Viserys mentions to Alicent that he’s being pressured to marry Laena, and she’s like, “OH GREAT THAT DOESN’T BOTHER ME AT ALL AFTER MY FATHER HAS WASTED ALL THIS TIME WHORING ME OUT TO YOU AND STUFF.” ~tight smile~ She then presents him a gift: she had the stonemasons repair the toy dragon he broke, and he’s very moved by her thoughtfulness. 

Her father Otto interrupts the moment, though, informing King Viserys that he’s needed in the Small Council immediately: there’s a situation.

The situation, it turns out, is that King Viserys’ bratty little brother Daemon has announced he is taking a second wife, his prostitute girlfriend Mysaria, who is pregnant. Additionally, he’s taken a dragon egg to put in the baby’s crib, and he’s practically daring his brother to come retrieve it from him.

Princess Rhaenyra asks the dragon keepers which egg Daemon took, and when it is revealed it was the one she had chosen for her brother Baelon (R.I.P.), both she and King Viserys are PISSED. He wants to go confront his brother in Dragonstone, but Otto insists it’s too dangerous for the King to go: he’ll handle it.

So Otto and Ser Criston Cole and a whole bunch of knights head to Dragonstone where they confront Daemon, Mysaria, and his Gold Cloaks on the driveway to the castle. Otto orders Daemon to disband his soldiers, give up the egg, cancel the wedding and get out of Dragonstone already, by order of King Viserys, but Daemon is like, “Where IS King Viserys, anyway?”

There is some jawing back and forth for a while, and swords are drawn, when Daemon’s dragon Caraxes makes his presence known. Otto, knowing that he’s been out-dragoned, orders his men to sheathe their swords … which is when Princess Rhaenyra arrives on Syrax.

Rhaenyra marches right past Otto who tries to order Ser Criston Cole to remove the Princess to safety. But she warns that it might not be a great idea seeing that Syrax is very protective of her. She heads straight for her uncle, and in High Valyrian reminds him that she’s the reason he was disinherited. If he wants the Iron Throne, he’s going to have to kill her. So get on with it.

Instead, he tosses her the egg and stomps back up to Dragonstone. SO SUCK IT, OTTO. GIRL TARGARYEN OUT HERE GETTING SHIT DONE.

Inside, Daemon’s girlfriend Mysaria is SO MAD at him for lying about being pregnant with his child — that kind of shit will get her killed. And he’s like, “LOL, my bad.”

Back at King’s Landing, King Viserys chats with another of his advisors, Lord Strong, asking him what he thinks of the idea of marrying Laena. Strong is like, “I mean, it’ll get you back on the Sea Snake’s good side; she’s the eldest daughter of the wealthiest house in Westeros; and she’s half-Targaryen. What’s the dispute?” King Viserys points out that she is 12. NOT EVEN A TEENAGER. SHE’S 12. But Lord Strong shrugs that she’ll get older.

Strong then reminds King Viserys, again, that things are a little dodgy right now and he needs remarry soon. Like soon, soon. And the best move would be to marry the Sea Snake’s daughter, no matter how young she is.

And that’s when a knight enters to alert the King that Princess Rhaenrya has returned from Dragonstone.

King V:

Princess Rhaenyra, clearly living by the rule that it is better to ask forgiveness than permission, is like, “I did what I did, and it worked, so deal with it.” King Viserys sighs that she reminds him of her mother, and insists that he’ll never get over her death. Rhaenyra is relieved that she is not alone in her grief, it’s all she really wanted to hear.

With that, King Viserys then reminds her that he is obligated to take a new wife: but he will never replace Rhaenyra’s mother, just as he would never replace her as heir. And because she’s his only heir, she can’t be just riding off to confront her homicidal uncle over dragon eggs. Princess Rhaenyra is like, “FINE.”

And so, a Small Council is called where King Viserys announces that he is set to take a new wife, and he’ll be marrying … Lady Alicent Hightower.

Before Rhaenyra found out:

After Rhaenrya found out:

Rhaenyra and Sea Snake don’t take the news well, and storm out of the council room.

Later, at Driftmark, the Sea Snake’s home, Corlys Valeryon flatters Daemon, saying that he reminds him of himself: a doer, someone who makes things happen for himself. Anyway, if Daemon could help him out with this Crabfeeder asshole, that’d be great. Think of it as his big comeback moment, when he can truly prove himself. After all, as second sons, they can’t just wait around for someone to hand them something, they have to go out and make it themselves.

ALRIGHT. SO. In last week’s post, I neglected to talk about the books that this series is based on! Whoops!

George R.R. Martin’s first A Song of Ice and Fire book, A Game of Thrones, was published in 1996. And 15 years later, in 2011, the Game of Thrones TV series debuted on HBO, a mere four months before A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series was published. We are, as everyone by now is well aware, still awaiting the publication of the sixth and seventh Song of Ice and Fire books. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

But it’s not that Martin wasn’t writing in the interim between 2011 and now. In 2006, Martin enlisted the heads of the Game of Thrones fansite, Westeros.org, to help him compile an illustrated companion book to the Song of Ice and Fire book series. The book, The World of Ice & Fire, is a fictional history of Westeros written by a nameless Maester. Half of the book is about this history, beginning with the arrival of Men to Westeros and concluding with Robert’s Rebellion, the war that took place shortly before the beginning of the Game of Thrones series. The other half of the book describes each of the seven kingdoms and the lands beyond Westeros.

However, in typical Martin fashion, he wrote too much, and 200,000 words that were cut from The World of Ice & Fire became the first of a planned two-book series based on the Targaryens’ specific history in Westeros, entitled Fire & Blood. The first book was published in 2018, the second book, again, in typical Martin fashion, has not yet been published.

Which brings us to, House of the Dragon, which is based on events in both of these books: The World of Ice & Fire, which has a brief history of the Targaryens’ time in Westeros; and Fire & Blood, which is a much deeper exploration of this same time. And the most important thing to know about both of the books is that they are written by a Maester who is collecting these stories from historical accounts (including the more salacious details from a court jester named Mushroom); it’s not a first-hand narrative. Thus, both versions of these histories contain holes, contradictions, speculation, and a lot of opinions from our nameless narrators.

What’s fun about this is that the books obviously offer a lot of information and history — and spoilers — for the current series; but the series is also providing a great deal of information that the books don’t contain because of this limited perspective from which they were written.

So, for instance, the coolest moment in this episode arguably has to be when Rhaenrya and her dragon accomplish what Otto Hightower and all the best knights of King’s Landing cannot: to get Daemon to return the dragon egg and stand down without violence. This unfolds very differently in the books.

In Fire & Blood, the longer of the two, Daemon flew to Dragonstone with Mysaria, and when he discovered she was pregnant he “presented her with a dragon egg.” The King demanded he return the egg, leave Dragonstone and abandon his “whore” and Daemon, it is said, “obeyed.” He sent Mysaria off to Lys, and in a storm in the Narrow Sea, she lost the child.

As for the version in The World of Ice & Fire … there is no version. It’s never mentioned.

And I find this fascinating for a few reasons: first, the issue of Mysaria’s pregnancy. In Fire & Blood, it is presumed that she was pregnant and lost the baby. From the book:

“When word reached Prince Daemon he spoke no syllable of grief, but his heart hardened against the king, his brother. Thereafter he spoke of King Viserys only with disdain, and began to brood day and night on the succession.”

What is interesting about this to me is that as we see in the show, Mysaria was never pregnant in the first place, and would never allow herself to become pregnant because she’s not a stupid woman. Instead, the whole thing was a ruse on Daemon’s part to provoke his brother. That’s it. That’s all it was. But the Maesters, these men, imagine that it is the loss of this child that motivates Daemon — even though he never grieves — and not just his sense of male entitlement on full display.

Speaking of toxic masculinity, there is also the fact that the Maesters completely write Rhaenyra out of this story altogether. Or, it’s more likely, the TV writers chose to write her into the story to give her this amazing moment, and also to give us this glimpse into the dynamics between Rhaenyra, her father, and her uncle. Daemon is having a tantrum over being passed over as the heir, but he does love both his niece and his brother too much to actually do anything to harm her. (Other techniques to remove her from his path, however, remain on the table, as we learn later.) He’s more than happy to have a reason to burn Otto Hightower to a crisp, but he could never bring himself to harm Rhaenyra, and she knows it.

Meanwhile, Rhaenyra, who is irritated at being dismissed by her father and the other men, and feels like she’s just being used as a tool by her father to punish her uncle, uses the moment to prove herself not just to Dad, but to the other men of King’s Landing. She’s not just a Dragonrider, she’s also a leader who is not afraid to put herself on the front lines.

Which brings me to Viserys, the most interesting character in this particular episode. 

Let’s first address the most “scandalous” part of this episode: Viserys choosing to marry a 15-year-old instead of the 12-year-old (who honestly was the wiser choice politically). YES, IT’S GROSS. But you should know that the ages of everyone involved have been changed from the books for plot purposes, with the exception of Laena. In the books, Rhaenyra and Alicent are not peers — Alicent is nearly 10 years older than the Princess. In fact, Viserys is all of 28 when his wife Aemma dies, and Rhaenyra is 9 when she is named heir. When he marries Alicent, she’s 18 years old, not 15.

(Which is also another reason to assume that including Rhaenrya in the Dragonstone scene was a full invention of the TV writers and not some deliberate snub by the “Maesters” because in the books, Rhanerya would have been 9 or 10 at the most.)

Some people regard aging Viserys up to his late 40s, early 50s is an attempt by the show to make him more “villainous,” or at the very least unlikeable. I don’t read it that way. I think there are two important plot elements happening here: 1. the writers are telling a story about female power and the lack of it in a patriarchal society. Having Viserys and Alicent be only 10 years apart gives her more agency in this relationship than she does in a 35-year age difference. At 18, she’s technically an adult by our standards; but everyone recognizes that a 15-year-old is still a child.

And 2. the writers have imagined Alicent and Rhaenyra as best friends so that they can tear them apart through the machinations of politics and patriarchy. To do so, they needed to age Rhaenyra up and Alicent down. And to age Rhaenrya up, they also needed to make Viserys an older man. (I mean, sure, he could have sired a child at 13, but it’s unlikely.)

More interesting to me from this episode was Lady Laena’s conversation with Viserys about the dragons for a couple of reasons.

OK, SO. Remember in the first episode, Viserys tells Rhaenyra the secret of the Song of Ice and Fire in front of the skull of the dragon Balerion? Balerion was the last dragon from Old Valeryia, a point he makes in his speech to his daughter. What he doesn’t mention (but which I assume she already knew) is that he was Balerion’s last rider. This does come up in his conversation with Laena when she asks him directly about riding the dragon. He says that he was Balerion’s last rider for only “a short time” before the dragon died.

According to the books:

“In 93 AC, Prince Baelon’s sixteen-year-old son, Viserys, entered the Dragonpit and claimed Balerion. The old dragon had stopped growing at last, but he was sluggish and heavy and hard to rouse, and he struggled when Viserys urged him up into the air. The young prince flew thrice around the city before landing again. He had intended to fly to Dragonstone, he told his father afterward, but he did not think the Black Dread had the strength for it.

Less than a year later, Balerion was gone. ‘The last living creature in all the world who saw Valyria in its glory,’ wrote Septon Barth.”

A few pages later:

“Viserys never claimed another dragon after Balerion’s death, nor did he have much taste for the joust, the hunt, or swordplay …”

So Viserys was a dragonrider in the most technical of senses — and it does help him clench the throne during the Grand Council:

“The Great Council deliberated for thirteen days. The tenuous claims of nine lesser competitors were considered and discarded (one such, a hedge knight who put himself forward as a natural son of King Jaehaerys himself, was seized and imprisoned when the king exposed him as a liar). Archmaester Vaegon was ruled out on account of his vows and Princess Rhaenys and her daughter on account of their sex, leaving the two claimants with the most support: Viserys Targaryen, eldest son of Prince Baelon and Princess Alyssa, and Laenor Velaryon, the son of Princess Rhaenys and grandson of Prince Aemon. Viserys was the Old King’s grandson, Laenor his great-grandson. The principle of primogeniture favored Laenor, the principle of proximity Viserys. Viserys had also been the last Targaryen to ride Balerion…though after the death of the Black Dread in 94 AC he never mounted another dragon, whereas the boy Laenor had yet to take his first flight upon his young dragon, a splendid grey-and-white beast he named Seasmoke.”

Viserys is a dragonrider based on one sad, abbreviated ride. And based on how he talks about the dragons to his daughter and to Laena, it seems he doesn’t trust the beasts, and might even fear them, rather than regard them with the sort of sense of awe and possession that other Targaryens do. He tells Laena that Vhagar is “too large for our world,” and to Rhaenrya, he describes dragons as “a power man should never have trifled with. One that brought Valyria its doom. If we don’t mind our own histories, it will do the same to us.” 

I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this, though I have some questions about the Targaryens who are dragonriders versus the Targaryens who have dragon dreams, and how often they overlap (not often, from what I can tell).

But more importantly, I think Viserys’ distance from the dragons is being used to demonstrate just how different he is from both his daughter and his brother who are both fearsome dragonriders. Viserys does not rule with dragons, he does not rule from a place of fear and control. Instead, his command of the Iron Throne is based on the realm’s respect for the Targaryen monarchal lineage; his rule depends on an idea that the other men of Westeros have chosen to honor, not just from the threat of brute power.

THAT SAID, there are dragons that in theory could be loosed if someone outside of his family attempted to challenge Viserys’ rule. Hence, as long as they have dragons, the only people who could truly upend the Targaryen control of the Iron Throne … are other Targaryens.

As they say:

House of the Dragon airs on HBO and streams on HBO Max

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