‘House of the Dragon’: Kingmakers

House of the Dragon
“Second of His Name”
September 4, 2022


It’s been three years since the events in the last episode, and we’re back in the damned Stepstones. It’s all-out war what with all the fire and the warriors running around and some Velaryon being nailed to a post by the Crabfeeder. As the Crabfeeder deposits a few crabs onto the soldier’s chest, Daemon and Caraxes blaze onto the scene … and crush the poor Velaryon soldier in their effort to get to the Crabfeeder. Friendly fire. Literally. However, the Crabfeeder and his men just retreat into the nearby caves, hiding from the larger predator like crabs are wont to do, and irritating Daemon to no end.

Over in King’s Landing, King Viserys is unbothered by whatever is happening in the Stepstones: he’s too busy celebrating his firstborn son’s second name day. Aegon II is Viserys’ son with Alicent, who is largely pregnant with another child, and the King could not be more pleased. The boy has his hair! And his eyes! And his nose! And this is much more interesting to the King than whatever boring crap his new Master of Ships, Tyland Lannister, is trying to tell him about the war Daemon and the Sea Snake started without his permission.

Viserys, irritated with Lannister, waves him away and urges the roomful of people to feast before they load up into their carriages and head to the Kingswood for the hunt they’ve arranged for Aegon’s nameday. Also irritating Viserys on this happy day: Rhaenyra is nowhere to be found.

That’s because she’s outside in the Godswood, being a pouty teen and forcing the Court Singer to perform “Under the Dragon’s Eye” over and over again.

Queen Alicent finds Rhaenyra and is like, “Yo, your dad says it’s time to go to the hunt.” But Rhaenyra is like, “Nah, I’m cool. I’m gonna sit here and read my books and listen to ‘Under the Dragon’s Eye’ on repeat, but y’all have a good time.”

Queen Alicent dismisses the court singer, who takes off because queen trumps princess, and she tells Rhaenyra that the hunt will be a good time! Let’s go! Rhaenyra demands to know if this is the King’s order or … And when her old friend tells her it is, Rhaenyra snottily replies, “Then at once, your grace.”

The royal family piles into a carriage for a bumpy ride into the Kingswood, and Rhaenyra wonders if Alicent should even be traveling in her very pregnant condition. Alicent insists the maesters thought it would be good for her to get some fresh air, and Viserys reminds Rhaenyra that she’ll be getting knocked up soon enough. Alicent assures Rhaenyra — WHO’S MOTHER DIED IN CHILDBIRTH IN THE MOST HORRIFIC WAY POSSIBLE — that giving birth isn’t all that bad.


King Viserys suggests that Rhaenyra join him on the hunt, but she’d rather not, thanks, she’s still knee-deep in her sulk. Also, boars sound like squealing children when they’re killed and she hates that. Viserys reminds her that as Princess she has duties, and she’s like, “YEAH, I KNOW, EVERYONE IS ALWAYS REMINDING ME.” Viserys growls back that she wouldn’t NEED to be REMINDED if she ATTENDED TO THEM. And as they arrive at the hunt site, Rhaenyra huffs that no one is there for her anyway. 

King Viserys greets his loyal subjects who are excited that the royal family has arrived, and everyone cheers Aegon, “the Conqueror-Babe, Second of His Name!”


Inside the royal tent, women and Larys Strong, the clubfooted younger song of the Master of Law, Lyonel Strong — AND BY THE BY, KEEP YOUR EYE ON CLUBFOOT (and don’t come at me about that name, that is literally what they call him in the books) — are busily gossiping about the war in the Stepstones. They try to drag Rhaenyra into the discussion as they criticize her father and uncle, but she’s like, “Yes, kindly keep my uncle’s name out your mouths.”

Also, we meet the greatest House of the Dragon character to date, this guy:

Rhaenyra continues wandering around only to be intercepted by Jason Lannister, twin of Tyland, the Lannister who was bothering Viserys about the Stepstones at the top of the episode. He opens by noting how grand this party is for her little brother, all as a part to neg her, asking if her own second nameday party was as fancy. Rhaenyra is like, “gross.” But Jason doesn’t take a hint and he goes on about how fucking AWESOME Casterly Rock is before adding that while it doesn’t have a dragon pit, he has the means to add one. Rhaenyra, not getting it, wonders why he’d need a dragon pit, and he explains: to house a dragon, obviously. Jason would do anything for his queen … or wife.

Rhaenyra is pissed and confronts her father for trying to sell her off to one of the great houses. King Viserys angrily points out that she’s of age and he is drowning in marriage proposals. Rhaenyra spits that she doesn’t want to get married, and King V is like, “TOO BAD, SO SAD. YOU’RE A PRINCESS. THE WHOLE THING YOU DO IS GET MARRIED.”

Otto Hightower interrupts this father/daughter spat — which is taking place in front of everyone inside the tent — to inform the King that the huntsmen have spotted a White Hart, the “stag king of the Kingswood.” It’s a “regal portent” on Aegon’s nameday!

Princess Rhaenyra, who DIDN’T EVEN WANT TO COME TO THIS DUMB HUNT, runs out of the tent, mounts her horse, and rides furiously away. Fortunately, Ser Criston Cole sees her and follows on his horse.

Once Criston catches up with her and convinces her to slow down, Rhaenyra explains that she was upset because her dad is trying to marry her off to A LANNISTER of all insults, and she wonders if her father named her heir just so as to raise the standing of Casterly Rock. Criston offers to kill Jason Lannister and Rhaenyra laughs off his joke.

Ser Criston tries to convince Rhaenyra to return to camp, but she decides it’s a beautiful day to take in the Kingswood instead. As they wander through the woods, she asks if he’s ever been betrothed, and he explains he was never high-born enough to be formally betrothed to anyone. But, before he had taken his vows to the Kingsguard, he could have married any common-born woman he wanted. Rhaenyra envies his freedom over his fate, and notes that even though she is the Princess of Dragonstone, she is “toothless.” Ser Criston counters that she wrote his name into the White Book, changing his and his family’s life forever: which hardly seems “toothless” to him.

Meanwhile, King Viserys and his men are on the hunt for the White Hart and believe they are only a couple of hours behind him. Otto Hightower is practically salivating at what this signals for his grandson Aegon: it’s the Gods showing their favor, we can all agree!

Back at the royal tent, Viserys is getting his drink on when Jason Lannister approaches and offers him a gift: a spear he had forged for Prince Aegon. Maybe King V can use it to kill the White Hart … it’s as if the Seven themselves have blessed this day. Jason then gets to the point: he’d like to marry Rhaenyra, please. Casterly Rock would be a lovely consolation prize for her when King Viserys replaces her with Aegon as his heir.

King Viserys is like, “WAIT, WHAT?” Because somehow, improbably, Viserys has missed all the hints all of the other men around him have been dramatically dropping about replacing Rhaenyra with Aegon. Viserys demands to know if there’s some sort of rebellion brewing against him and his daughter, and Jason is like, “NOPE! Just made some broad assumptions on account of living in a deeply entrenched patriarchal system! My bad!”

After Jason hurries away, Otto Hightower is like, “So … what do you think of the Lannister proposal?” Viserys thinks little of it. So Otto makes a different suggestion: How about he marry Rhaenyra to her little brother?

Viserys is outraged: the boy just turned two. If he wasn’t willing to marry a 12-year-old, how’s he going to be out here making his daughter marry her toddler half-brother?

Viserys continues drinking and honestly, who can blame him?

Eventually, Lyonel Strong approaches the king and reminds him that while his predecessor Jaehaerys ruled over a peaceful kingdom for 50 years, his daughters drove him bonkers. Strong then has his own suggestion for a suitable husband for Rhaenyra, and Viserys is like, “Lemme guess: your son Harwin Breakbones?”

The Gods of Foreshadowing:

Lyonel Strong is like, “Ha ha, good joke. No: Laenor Velaryon. He solves all of the problems that you created when you didn’t marry his sister Laena: he’s of pure Valyrian descent, he’s your cousin’s kid, he’s the heir to the wealthiest house in the realm, and it might make nice-nice with the Sea Snake.”

Elsewhere, Rhaenyra has decided that she is going to spend the night out in the woods, and Ser Criston is welcome to join her if he’d like. She wonders if the realm will ever really accept her as their queen, and Criston is like, “What choice do they have?”

Their conversation is interrupted by a surprise visitor: a feral boar who attempts to gore Rhaenyra. Criston manages to stab it, pausing the attack — temporarily. The boar tries to get back up, but Rhaenyra has this one, and in a blood-spraying fury, stabs the boar finally to death.

Targaryens don’t play, y’all.

Back at the camp, Viserys stares into the bonfire, questioning everything. Alicent waddles over to check on him and he explains that he named Rhaenyra as heir to protect Westeros from Daemon. He then explains to the audience Alicent that most Targaryens are dragon riders but some are “dreamers” and blessed with the gift of prophecy. So when he had a dream that his son would sit on the Iron Throne, he wanted it to be true, and he wanted to believe that he was a dreamer. But then when Aemma and their baby died, he questioned everything. He believed Rhaenyra was the way out of his grief, that naming her the heir would set things right … but what if he was wrong?

In the morning, King Viserys is brought out to the woods: the huntsmen have found the stag. Well, not THE stag, but it’s A stag and he is urged to kill it with the new spear the Lannister boy gave him. Viserys barely has the stomach for any of this, but he knows it’s expected of him as King, and so he stabs the bound and trapped stag in the chest. The stag screams terribly, but it does not die, and a huntsman has to direct Viserys to the right spot to finally off the beast. Viserys closes his eyes and stabs again, finally putting the stag out of its misery.

Meanwhile, out in the Kingswood, the actual White Hart appears to a blood-soaked Rhaenyra. The two lock eyes, and when Criston makes move to kill the beast, Rhaenyra stops him. The White Hart turns and disappears into the woods while Rhaenyra looks on.

A still bloodied Rhaenyra returns to camp with the slaughtered boar, and you can color one Breakbones Strong is very turned on impressed.

Hunt over! Successful hunt!

Back in King’s Landing, Otto visits his daughter in her chambers, and is like, “Here’s the plan: we’re going to make your kid Aegon the heir. All the men are totally down with this, so go convince your husband.”

Alicent is concerned that the great houses swore their allegiance to Rhaenyra and she is loathe to raise a man who would steal his sister’s birthright. But Otto is unbothered: Rhaenyra is a GIRL, she doesn’t have a birthright, and Aegon will be king.

Alicent visits Viserys in his chambers where he is also worrying over Rhaenyra, but not for the same reasons. He’s upset that she’s angry with him over the whole Lannister thing, and Alicent is all, “I told you so.” Alicent then offers Viserys some good advice: Rhaenyra will marry, but she must believe it’s her choice to do so.

Alicent then notices a letter on his drink table, and he explains that it is from the Sea Snake’s brother, Vaemond Velaryon, who reports that things are going poorly in the Stepstones. Alicent reads the letter and notes that it’s a plea for aid, but Viserys is reluctant to give it: the Sea Snake and Daemon fucked around when they started this little war, and now it’s time to find out. How would it look if he were to help them now? Viserys laments that he’s doomed to anger one person to please another, so Alicent is like, “Let’s simplify this: would it be better or worse for Westeros if the Crabfeeder were defeated?”


The next day, Viserys sends a message to Daemon via a team of knights before turning his attention to Rhaenyra who warns him that Daemon would rather die than accept his help. NOT THAT IT MATTERS WHAT RHAENYRA THINKS, DAD.

Viserys sighs that Daemon is already one thorn in his side, why must everything be a battle with her, too? And Rhaenyra is like, “Oh, is this because I don’t want to marry that pompous ass, Jason Lannister?” Viserys insists he was just trying to help and wonders why she’s so resistant to getting married. Rhaenyra explains now he has Alicent’s son, he doesn’t need her anymore: he can replace her with the boy he has always wanted, and he might as well sell her off for whatever he can get.

Viserys is taken aback by this but notes that while it’s true the highborn must marry for advantage, he has no intention of replacing her as heir. Rhaenyra points out what Lyonel Strong originally told him: if alliances and advantage is sooooo important, he would have married Laena. Her father cedes this point and urges her to find her own match and strengthen her claim to the throne with her own heirs.

As Rhaenyra is about to leave, Viserys admits that he did waver one time, but that he swears on her mother’s memory that she will not be supplanted.


Finally, we check in on the Stepstones. Things aren’t great for the Velaryons: they are losing ships, men, supplies, and food, and the dragons aren’t proving very useful because the Crabfeeder and his men just retreat into the safety of the caves. Vaemond Vaelaryon suggests that they need to lure the Crabfeeder out of the caves, maybe by sending someone over alone to lure the Crabfeeder out, and noting that it would be a suicide mission.

The knights from Westeros arrive around this same time with Viserys’ message to Daemon announcing that he has sent 10 ships and 2,000 men to help, and hoping that this will be what his brother needs to finally declare victory.

Instead, Daemon very nearly beats the messenger to death. Maybe he does kill him? Unclear. The point is: Daemon is pissed and does not want his brother taking this glory from him.

Daemon rows himself back over to the island where the Crabfeeder is burrowing, fashions a surrender flag out of white cloth, and presents himself in front of the cave. As the Crabfeeder’s archers take position from the cliffs above, Daemon unsheaths the Dark Sister and places it down on the ground as an offering. This is tempting to the Crabfeeder, who sends men out to collect it.

However! When one man goes to take the sword, Daemon surprises him with a stab in the belly and grabs Dark Sister. As the archers let loose on him, Daemon full-speed sprints towards the caves, fighting the Crabfeeder’s men as they come out of the cave to confront him (politely and fortunately enough for Daemon, one at a time). The Crabfeeder sends out more men, and more, all the while arrows are falling on Daemon, eventually piercing his shoulder and leg.

And just as it looks like the end for Prince Daemon, he’s joined by the Velaryon forces, including Laenor on his dragon Sea Smoke. Fighting fighting DRACARYS! fighting.

While his men fall to the Velaryon army, the Crabfeeder retreats alone into a cave, but this time Daemon is right behind him on foot. And when Dameon emerges from the cave, he does so covered in blood, dragging out the top half of the Crabfeeder’s body.


Because, yeah, this episode leans heavily on the symbolism — and explicitly tells us that it is doing so.

Every other line Otto Hightower utters is about the white hart and what it represents:

“There’s been a sighting of a white hart. The stag is ‘The King of the Kingswood,’ Your Grace.”

and …

“Before the dragons ruled over Westeros, the white hart was a symbol of royalty in these lands.”

Otto is making it really clear to King Viserys — or at least he’s trying to make really clear — that the relevance of the white hart being spotted during this hunt in honor of Baby Aegon’s second nameday, is that it is a sign from the Gods that Aegon is meant to be Viserys’ proper heir.

What is important is to know that the white hart is historically an important symbol in the British Isles: Stags were often used by royalty and aristocracy as a heraldic symbol, and specifically, the white hart was used by King Richard II as a Plantagenet emblem. (And I will just note here very briefly that it was two branches of the Plantagenets — the Lancasters and the Yorks — who fought the Wars of the Roses, which was part of the inspiration for the Game of Thrones saga.)

Over in Scotland, some 900 years ago, King David I decided to go on a hunt on a holy day, despite being warned not to. According to legend:

As the King and his nobles advanced through the forest, a glimpse of a beautiful white stag, sometimes called a white hart, was caught by the group. The King broke away and pursued the beast – before coming face to face with it in a clearing.

It is said that the rare animal, standing viciously at bay, then stepped forward to gorge the King as he lay in fear for his life.

At that moment, a divine intervention reputedly saved the King from attack.

Several versions of the legend exist. When the King went to grab the stag’s antlers, they miraculously turned into a large cross, according to some, with the deer fleeing as a result.

Other accounts claim that a silver cloud appeared at the moment the stag appeared, with a hand passing a silver cross to the monarch.

St Andrew, the apostle of Scotland, appeared to the King in a dream that night instructing him to show gratitude for his deliverance by founding an abbey.

The abbey, it should be noted, is believed to have been the Holyrood Abbey which sits at the foot of the famous Royal Mile in Edinburgh. The Abbey’s guesthouse eventually became Holyrood Palace, and the Royal Family continues to use the palace regularly to this day. In fact, the Queen’s body was taken there from Balmoral just a couple of weeks ago, as the Queen made her way back to London for her funeral.

BUT I DIGRESS. Crucially, Otto notes that the white hart has been an important symbol in Westeros since before the Targaryens and their dragons arrived. It turns out, historically white harts are an important symbol in Arthurian legend, too, symbolizing a creature that can never be caught, and a representation of the quest for spiritual knowledge. King Arthur, of course, is a legendary Celtic Briton king who supposedly existed in this pre-historic Britain, and around whom a great mythology about the original Britons is based. The white stag represents the original kings of Westeros, the ones who ruled before Aegon Targaryen/William the Conqueror took over the island. Thus, if Aegon is being blessed by the White Hart on his nameday, in Otto’s logic, he’s being blessed by a long line of original rulers of Westeros, and the Seven Gods themselves. And so, it is particularly meaningful that the White Hart appears to Rhaenyra, not to Viserys and his huntsmen. The White Hart/the old kings/the Seven themselves … they choose her.

So why is a stag a symbol of royalty? In cultures all over the world, stags are often read as a Tree of Life symbol, their antlers not unlike tree branches reaching into the heavens, while attached to this earthly corporeal body. Thus stags represent a connection between the Gods and the Earth — sort of like what monarchs are supposed to be: Gods chosen conduits between themselves and humanity. Additionally, in many cultures — Muslim, Native American, and Christian — stags represent rebirth, renewal, and resurrection. Specifically, in Celtic cultures, stags have long represented magic, transformation, the forest itself, and most importantly for our purposes here: power and nobility. Hence, why they are spiritual creatures in Arthurian legend, and a symbol of power for later kings and rulers.

We have another symbol of the forest running around in this episode: the feral boar that attacks Rhaenyra. Boars are a primeval symbol of fierceness, aggression, and courage. Particularly in Celtic tradition, boars have been a favorite symbol for warriors. Boars also represent danger and destructiveness, and one of Hercules’ Twelve Labors was to defeat the Erymanthian Boar who had been terrorizing the locals, which he did with a loud shout. Thus, Rhaenyra killing the boar demonstrates her fierceness and courage — her heroic savageness. (And considering how Rhaenyra said earlier in the episode that she didn’t like the way boars squeal like children, her killing of the boar, her extreme anger while doing so, may also represent her feelings towards her younger brother … or maybe it’s foreshadowing …)

In any event, the slaughter of the boar shows that Rhaenyra is not a delicate princess who needs to be protected by others. It also differentiates her, once again, from her father, and aligns her more with her fellow dragon-riding uncle, Daemon.

I mean, they make it REALLY OBVIOUS:

One of these things is not like the other.

Per my last post, the show seems to be doing something that isn’t explicit in the books by making it clear that there are two different kinds of Targaryens: dragonriders and dreamers. Viserys’ conversation with Alicent in front of the bonfire seems to elucidate that yes, while he rode a dragon that one time (which is more than most men and women in Westeros are capable of as we will learn later) he’s really a dreamer, even if he’s only had the one dream. It’s not that a Targaryen can’t be both: Aegon the Conqueror and our girl Daenerys both seem to have been fierce dragonriders and have had prophetic dreams. But it does seem to be suggested in the show that a Targaryen leans towards one or the other: Rhaenyra and Daemon’s dragonriders or Viserys’ dreamers.

ALRIGHT, SO, along those lines: The only thing in this episode that is chronicled in the books is the Battle at the Stepstones as seen at the beginning and end of the episode, and it’s only briefly mentioned in Fire & Blood:

“It is not our purpose here to recount the details of the private war Daemon Targaryen and Corlys Velaryon waged on the Stepstones. Suffice it to say that the fighting began in 106 AC. Prince Daemon had little difficulty assembling an army of landless adventurers and second sons, and won many victories during the first two years of the conflict. In 108 AC, when at last he came face-to-face with Craghas Crabfeeder, he slew him single-handed and cut off his head with Dark Sister.

King Viserys, doubtless pleased to be rid of his troublesome brother, supported his efforts with regular infusions of gold, and by 109 AC Daemon Targaryen and his army of sellswords and cutthroats controlled all but two of the islands, and the Sea Snake’s fleets had taken firm control of the waters between. During this brief moment of victory, Prince Daemon declared himself King of the Stepstones and the Narrow Sea, and Lord Corlys placed a crown upon his head …

Excerpt From
Fire and Blood
George R.R. Martin & Doug Wheatley
This material may be protected by copyright.

Again, we must keep in mind that these books are written from a particular perspective, one that seems to want to tamp down Daemon’s reputation and celebrate Viserys.

Over in The World of Ice and Fire, a very similar story is told, with the added detail that upon learning that Daemon was going around calling himself the King of the Stepstones, Viserys’ response was that “his brother could keep his crown if it kept him out of trouble.'”

(I will add here that the Battle of the Stepstones doesn’t actually end after Daemon kills the Crabfeeder — in the books, Daemon crowns himself, and then Dorne decides to get involved. From Fire & Blood:

“The next year, the Kingdom of the Three Daughters dispatched a fresh invasion force under the command of a devious Tyroshi captain named Racallio Ryndoon, surely one of the most curious and flamboyant rogues in the annals of history, and Dorne joined the war in alliance with the Triarchy. Fighting resumed.”

This said, the show seems to have eliminated the Dorne involvement altogether to streamline the storytelling.)

What is interesting here is that the show seems to be suggesting that the more violent Targaryens — Rhaenyra and Daemon — are perhaps more natural leaders than gentle Viserys. They are not leaders because men chose them to be as Viserys was chosen by the Great Council. They are leaders because they are touched by the Gods, like Rhaenyra, or because they take action like Daemon, and most importantly, perhaps, because they do not hesitate to kill. They are fearless and they are fierce, and they are unafraid to impose their will on others. And this last point is the most important one because just because they are “natural” leaders in this sense doesn’t make them good leaders. They control through force, not by election.

In fact, it could be argued that the Great Houses of Westeros attempting to have some voice in who their next leader will be, as they seem to be doing by pushing Viserys to make Aegon his heir, is a form of proto-representative democracy. I’m not saying their reasoning is good for choosing Aegon over Rhaenyra: it’s based on pure unadulterated misogyny. But it is, in a very small way, an early form of quasi-democratic rule.

And … this is what we, the viewers have to struggle with while watching this series: the tension between wanting to root on this badass woman, Rhaenyra, as she topples the patriarchy, while still remembering that she’s still a monarch, she’s a dragonrider, she’s a tyrant. And ultimately, she may not be who the people of Westeros want to lead them.

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

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