‘House of the Dragon’: Love is a battlefield

House of the Dragon
“We Light the Way”
September 18, 2022V3122


We begin in Runestone, the home of Daemon’s wife, Lady Rhea, who he not-so-affectionately refers to as his  “Bronze Bitch.” Lady Rhea is actually quite lovely and apparently something of a talented hunter, which is what she is out doing the day that her husband finally comes home for a marital visit.

And he’s wearing his criming hoodie. 

Daemon silently stares down Rhea as she mocks him from atop her horse. As Daemon approaches, the horse rears and falls on top of Lady Rhea, paralyzing her. When Daemon turns to leave, Rhea cries out with one last taunt: she “knew he couldn’t finish, craven.” And that’s when Daemon picks up a large rock and returns to his ladywife.

Back at the Red Keep, Otto Hightower is heading back to Oldtown, having been given the pink slip by King Viserys. Alicent is all sad that her father is leaving, but he’s like, “WELL SUCK IT UP, BUTTERCUP, BECAUSE THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT FOR SIDING WITH RHAENYRA.”

Alicent argues that he shouldn’t have pushed so hard for Aegon to replace Rhaenyra as heir. Otto counters that Viserys is going to die soon, and if Rhaenyra ascends the throne, there will be war. To secure her place as Queen, Rhaenyra will kill Alicent’s children. Alicent has two choices, Otto insists: push for Aegon to be named heir or beg Rhaneyra for mercy. Alicent has a good cry as Dad rides away because while he’s an asshole, he also ain’t wrong.

Later, in the Godswood, Alicent is minding her business when Larys “Clubfoot” Strong — who you can’t convince me isn’t Saturday Night Live‘s Mikey Day in a Ren Faire costume …

— starts yammering at her about plants. He then laments her father’s firing, calling it an “injustice.” Alicent wonders what he knows about it, and he’s like, “Look, I spend a lot of my time being underestimated and ignored. As a result, I hear all of the tea whilst it is being spilled. And the most recent thing I heard was that Princess Rhaenyra was … unwell. The Grand Maester herself prepared her a tea ~wink~ at the direction of the King.”

Alicent, incredulous — but also maybe kinda concerned — points out that Rhaenyra is fine. In fact, she’s on her way to Driftmark that very moment.

And Larys is like, “WHEW. Boy, I sure am glad I’m wrong!”

As Alicent said, the Targaryens are traveling to Driftmark via ship and it’s a rough ride that leaves poor Viserys seasick. I feel ya, V.

Upon arriving at Driftmark, the Sea Snake is not around to greet his guests, still having a bit of a pout over the whole Viserys passing over his daughter for queen thing.

Speaking of, the now-grown Laena leads King Viserys, Princess Rhaenyra, the new Hand, Lyonel Strong, and their knights into the castle. However, Rhaenyra is not invited into the throne room where the Sea Snake, in a pure power play, is waiting for her father on his throne. That conversation is for grown-ups only.

Inside the throne room, Rhaenys joins her husband and cousin, where they inform him that Daemon’s wife has died in a hunting “accident” which is surprising as she was known as a skilled rider. MYSTERY!

King Viserys:

And then moves on to why he puked his way across the Blackwater Bay to be there: What say they marry their son Laenor to his daughter Rhaenrya? That way everyone’s happy!

The Sea Snake is intrigued, but wants to clear up a couple of things: namely, how would succession work? Viserys assures him that Rhaenrya is his heir, and then her firstborn child, son or daughter, would be her heir. And that’s cool, the Sea Snake insists, but he wonders which name the kids would take: Targaryen or in the custom of the Westerosi, the father’s name: Velaryon?

Viserys comes up with a compromise: they will be Velaryons, but upon ascension to the Iron Throne, they will take the name Targaryen. Does that work for everyone? It does and Viserys is like, “COOL. BYE.”

Out on the beach, Rhaenyra and her now-fiancé take a walk where she’s like, “Look, here’s the deal. I know this isn’t what you would choose on account of you being gay and everything, but let’s make this work. We perform our duties, and then we do what we want. Cool?”

Except obviously she doesn’t say that he’s gay — she uses a belabored metaphor about preferring duck to goose, but we’re all adults here.

Inside the castle, Rhaenys expresses her concerns over this marriage: Rhaenyra will never be accepted as Queen by the assholes in Westeros, and she and her children, and by extension their son, will become targets of those who would rather see Aegon on the throne.

The Sea Snake poo-poos this: they have dragons and the navy, no one would dare challenge them. Sea Snake reminds her that this is justice: Rhaenys should have been Queen and she was robbed. But Rhaenys sighs that she never wore the crown and anyway, she’s put all that noise behind her, he should too.

Also, Rhaenys is right about everything.

Back out at the beach, Laenor breaks the news to his boyfriend, Ser Joffrey Lonmouth, that he has to marry the future Queen, and Joffrey is like, “RAD! I’M GONNA HANG IN A CASTLE ALL DAY, AND BANG MY HOT BLONDE BOYFRIEND, THE ROYAL CONSORT! EVERYTHING’S COMING UP LONMOUTH!” Joffrey points out that Rhaenyra basically revealed to Laenor that she has a side piece, too, and wonders who it might be.

Funny you should ask, Joffrey, because Rhaenyra is chatting with him on her ride back to King’s Landing as we speak. Ser Criston Cole approaches the princess with a proposition: instead of marrying Laenor and becoming queen of Westeros, why doesn’t she marry him and run away to Essos with him?

But Rhaenyra is like, “Are you fucking crazy? Instead, how about I marry my cousin and become Queen and you service me when I require it?”

Ser Criston Cole does not take this suggestion to become her “whore” well and proceeds to have a full-on male meltdown over “soiling” his white cloak for her.

Rhaenyra attempts to explain that her duty to the realm and Aegon’s legacy is bigger and more important than some himbo knight with whom she had sex one (1) time, but Ser Criston is not hearing it and stomps off to cry into his armor.


Upon the Targaryens’ return to the Red Keep, Alicent summons Ser Criston Cole to have a private conversation with him about Rhaenyra’s activities the night she went out with Daemon. And because Alicent is half-expecting Criston to confirm her worst fear: that Rhaenyra lied to her and did have sex with Daemon, she is dumbstruck when Criston Cole is all, “YES. YOU FOUND ME OUT. I DID IT. I FUCKED THE PRINCESS AND BROKE MY VOWS. I MEAN, SHE WAS THE ONE WHO CAME ON TO ME, THE LITTLE SLUT, BUT STILL, I DISHONORED MYSELF.”


Ser Criston Cole begs her to put him to death rather than torture him, but instead, Alicent thanks him for his honesty and sends him on his way.

Poor King Viserys, he’s not feeling great, and after being treated with leeches and some milk of the poppy, he wonders to Lyonel Strong if he’ll be remembered as a good king. After all, he’s never really been tested; his reign hasn’t been exactly the kind that songs are written about. Strong assures him that being tested ain’t all that, and Viserys reluctantly agrees and thanks Strong for not blowing smoke up his ass.

WEDDING TIME! And one thing that always goes off without a hitch in Westeros is a good old-fashioned royal wedding. Dragons and ships and fancy lords and feasts and somehow even more ridiculous Targaryen wigs! It’s all happening!

The great houses make their red carpet entrances to the welcome feast: The Lannisters! The Hightowers! The Royces! Jason Lannister makes a point of saying hello and complimenting the match Viserys made for his daughter and Rhaenyra snarks that she can think of no better man than Laenor. Jason Lannister notices that Queen Alicent hasn’t graced them with her presence yet, and jokes that this is why men fight the wars: because women wouldn’t be ready for battle in time.


Also paying his respects: Ser Gerold Royce who would like to remind King Viserys that his cousin, Lady Rhea is still dead. But before the conversation can get too deep, the Velaryons arrive and make a grand entrance, with their silvery-blue outfits and terrible terrible wigs.


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♬ original sound – Paris Nicholson

And just as everyone is taking their seats, who should stride in uninvited but Daemon.

Viserys reluctantly adds a chair for him at the Targaryen table.

King Viserys welcomes everyone to what should be a full week of feasts and tournaments but is interrupted when Queen Alicent finally arrives …


Fortunately, we have Larys “Clubfoot” Strong there to explain to his bohunk brother Harwin “Breakbones” Strong that when the Hightower family calls their bannermen to war, the Oldtown tower glows green. Translation: ALICENT IS READY TO THROW DOWN.

A stunned Viserys composes himself and finishes his toast to the happy couple, at which point, Rhaenyra and Laenor perform a dance for the crowd. 

Meanwhile, Alicent visits with the Hightowers and her Uncle Ormund who are all, “YOU GO, GURL.”

Elsewhere, Ser Royce confronts Daemond about killing Lady Rhea, and Daemon is all:

Daemon is like, “but while we’re on the topic of my very dead wife whom I did not murder, I would like to talk about my inheritance. Since we didn’t have any children, I guess I inherit Runestone. After the wedding, I’ll be sure to fly by the Eyrie and petition Lady Jeyne. Thanks for the reminder!”

Daemon then begins making eyes at Laena from across the table, and the two meet on the dance floor for a little flirty flirty.

Dancing dancing dancing and making sex eyes at your future baby daddy Hawrin “Breakbones” Strong …

Meanwhile, Laenor’s boyfriend, Ser Joffrey, tells Leanor that he’s figured out who Rhaenyra’s boyfriend is: Ser Criston Cole, who is positively vibrating with jealous energy. While the dancing continues, Joffrey approaches Criston and is like, “So, listen, here’s the deal: we are both deeply invested in this marriage. Laenor is my secret luvah, and I know Rhaenyra is yours. So let’s swear to each other that we will protect them.”

While this whole conversation is happening, Daemon manages to take Rhaenrya aside, and in High Valyrian asks her if this is what she really wants: Laenor’s a nice kid, but he’s boring. Rhaenyra reminds him that he’s the one who told her marriage is a political arrangement. When Daemon notes that his own marriage is now ended,  Rhaenyra dares him to take her to Dragonstone and marry her.

But before anything more can be said or plotted or Targaryened, there is a piercing scream, and a bunch of knights comes racing into the feast hall. Chaos chaos chaos, until we see that it is Ser Criston who is beating the everliving shit out of Ser Joffrey. Laenor manages to fight his way through the crowd only to be punched squarely in the face by Criston. Meanwhile, the crowd surges and Rhaenyra is saved from being trampled by Harwin Strong who throws her over his giant shoulders like a rag doll.

In a red haze, Criston literally beats Joffrey’s face in. Once he is done, the crowd disperses in silent horror, and Laenor is left to crawl sobbing to Joffrey’s body.

Later that same night, Laenor and Rhaenyra are wed in a private ceremony, foregoing the planned week-long celebration because no one is really in the mood after all … that. And as soon as the vows are exchanged, Viserys, who has had a VERY long night, collapses.

Meanwhile, out in the Godswood, Ser Criston Cole is about to commit seppuku when who should find him and stop him, but Queen Alicent.

Welcome to Team Green versus Team Black, kids. Things are only going to get crazy from here.

Let’s begin with the small differences between the books versus the show.

First off, Lady Rhea. In the books, she genuinely does die of an accidental fall — Daemon is off fighting the Triarchy in the Stepstones, and nowhere near the Vale at the time of her death. Daemon does rush to the Vale to try to claim Runestone for himself as Rhea had no heirs, but he is denied, and the castle is given to Rhea’s nephew. Daemon, on his way back to the Stepstones, swings by Driftmark where he sets his sights on Laena. After killing her Braavosi fiancé, they get married. All of this happens, very importantly, after Rhaenyra’s wedding to Laenor, which Daemon did not attend.

Speaking of the matter of Rhaenyra’s wedding … When it’s time to make a match for Rhaenyra, it happens similarly to the show: all the great houses are super into marrying their sons to her; she’s not interested in any of them. However, in the books, when it is decided that Laenor is the best match, Rhaenyra objects strongly, as opposed to how it is depicted in the show, with Rhaenyra understanding that Laenor is her best option. In the books, King Viserys goes so far as to threaten Rhaenyra that if she doesn’t agree to marry Laenor, he will make Aegon his heir — a threat that never takes place on the show. In fact, on the show, when Viserys urges Rhaenyra to choose a husband, his argument is that she needs to do so to strengthen her claim to the throne, seemingly aware that Aegon could be a threat.

And I’m pretty sure all of these changes: Rhea actually being killed by Daemon before Rhaenyra’s betrothment, and Rhaenyra almost cheerfully marrying Laenor instead of being petulant about it, have to do with shoring up the relationship between Daemon and Rhaenyra. The show is making it explicit that 1. Daemon was determined to marry Rhaenyra either because he loved her or saw her as a means to the throne or both and 2. How much Rhaenyra is influenced by her uncle. She chooses to marry Laenor because Daemon helped her understand marriage to be a political arrangement that can be used to her advantage. These small changes draw Daemon and Rhaenyra closer together, even when events are keeping them separated, and will continue to do so for several years.

Another diversion from the text: Criston Cole. As in the show, it is after Rhaenyra agrees to marry Laenor that her relationship with Criston Cole changes fundamentally. As we know, on the show, Rhaenyra sleeps with Cole and then he suggests that they run away together. When she spurns him in favor of her duty to the realm but suggests that he be her side piece, his male ego is deeply wounded and he loses all love for her.

In the books, it’s a lot more unclear what transpired between the two of them. There are two competing theories — and what is interesting in the books is that both of these theories are predicated on the male narrators’ assumption that Cole was too honorable to have slept with the princess before marriage:

1. Cole slips into her bed chamber and professes his love to the princess, and suggests they run away to Volantis together. Rhaenyra refuses him, telling him that she is destined for something greater than being the wife of a sellsword, and anyway, if he could betray his vows to the Kingsguard, what’s to keep him from betraying marriage vows?

2. Rhaenyra goes to Cole and disrobes, claiming that she saved her virginity for him, but he was a man of honor and refused her. She leaves, finds Harwin “Breakbones” Strong, and sleeps with him instead.

As we now see, the show went with a version of option 1, because honestly, Cole’s turn against Rhaenyra makes a whole lot more sense if he’s a man rejected than if he had been the one to do the rejecting.

Finally, the wedding itself and the violence that takes place. In the books, we actually have the full wedding week with feasts and tournaments. And it is in one of these tournaments that Cole goes up against Laenor’s boyfriend Joffrey and kills him.

Denied Rhaenyra’s favor, Criston Cole turned to Queen Alicent instead. Wearing her token, the young Lord Commander of the Kingsguard defeated all challengers, fighting in a black fury. He left Breakbones with a broken collarbone and a shattered elbow (prompting Mushroom to name him “Brokenbones” thereafter), but it was the Knight of Kisses who felt the fullest measure of his wroth. Cole’s favorite weapon was the morningstar, and the blows he rained down on Ser Laenor’s champion cracked his helm and left him senseless in the mud. Borne bloody from the field, Ser Joffrey died without recovering consciousness six days later. Mushroom tells us that Ser Laenor spent every hour of those days at his bedside and wept bitterly when the Stranger claimed him.

Honestly, this version of events makes so much more sense than how it unfolds on the show. One knight killing another in a tournament: it happens! It’s unfortunate, sure, but it’s not a fireable offense for Cole. However, his behavior in the show is more difficult to justify: not only does he unprovokedly beat to death a fellow knight, he also assaults the future Queen’s future consort. This would absolutely be cause for him to at the very least receive some sort of disciplinary action, possibly even the dismissal from the Kingsguard. And I understand that Alicent in this moment becomes his protector within the Keep, and that Queen > Future Queen. But honestly, having Cole kill Joffrey in a tournament is just much less messy, and it is much more probable that he would get away with it.

As for why the writers made the change, having Cole kill Joffrey at the feast instead of in a tournament, I suspect it was based on a coupled of factors: first, they had already had a tournament scene this season in the pilot episode. Tournament scenes are probably more expensive but also repetitive. And second, it is keeping in the tradition of violent Game of Thrones weddings.

I am obviously not the first person to point out that weddings in Westeros tend to be bloody. The first wedding on Game of Thrones is Daenerys’s arranged marriage to Drogo, whose entertainment involves rape and multiple murders. It helps set the scene for what’s to come on this show.

What is interesting about the Dothraki wedding customs is how shocked the Westerosi are at their violence, despite the fact that in their weddings, tournaments are often held in celebration, and that the custom of “first night” was long held. In this gross tradition, when common folk married, their lord or king had the right to rape “bed” the bride before the groom. (It’s also part of the reason I still think Tyrion is a secret Targaryen, but I digress.)

ANYWAY. The most famous weddings on the show were, of course, The Red Wedding, in which the Starks were ambushed at the Twins by the motherfucking Freys, and the Purple Wedding, in which horrid King Joffrey got what was coming to him when he was poisoned by his bride’s family.

But it is worth noting that there were other weddings on the show that managed to complete the ceremony without blood being spilled: Robb Stark to Talisa;  Margaery Tyrell to Tommen Baratheon; Tyrion Lannister to Sansa Stark; Sansa Stark to Ramsay Bolton; and Lyanna Stark to Rhaegar Targaryen.

That said, none of these marriages had a happy ending, not even the only two that were for love: Robb and Talisa; and Lyanna and Rhaegar. If anything, that last secret marriage led to more violence and death than Westeros had previously ever known in its history.

What’s the deal? What does Martin have against love and the sacrament of marriage? First, I think there’s a little bit of literary subversion that is going on. As Lord Byron wrote in Don Juan: “All tragedies are finished by a death; All comedies are ended by a marriage.” And while this is not strictly true of all classical comedies, it’s close to it. So to have a wedding, which is commonly understood to be a happy event, a new beginning, turn into a bloodbath is a deeply shocking, unexpected turn for those of us raised on the Western canon. Just think back to the response to the Red Wedding and how stunned viewers were. I, myself, had read the book before seeing it on screen, and I had to re-read the chapter a few times to be able to process that it really happened AND call my friend who was the editorial assistant on the book to confirm that YES, IT WAS REAL. And so, Martin is subverting our expectations and upending convention, just as he is wont to do by unexpectedly and in the first act killing off who we might think of as the major protagonists. It’s a way to keep the reader/viewer unbalanced and unsure of what might happen next.

But far more importantly, he’s making a bigger point about the use of marriage as a powerful political tool — perhaps the most powerful political tool of all. Marriage is the best way to forge an alliance between two parties, as both parties then have an active investment in the children that come from that marriage, and it is an effective way to consolidate power. Thus, why both in Westeros and in our own history, royal families had a tendency towards incest: if you are the controlling family, and you only marry within your family, no one else can take control.

Therefore, marriage among the powerful is a very conscribed institution that cares little about your feelings. Sometimes it becomes love, like between Edd and Catelyn Stark, but more often, it’s just a matter of opportunity and alliance, like Rhaenyra and Laenor or Robert Baratheon and Cersei Lannister.

And this, friends, this is the problem. Because while marriage is an effective and powerful political tool — it also involves matters of the heart and actual human individuals, and therefore is a remarkably fragile tool, despite its power and efficacy.

The Red Wedding happens because Robb was promised to a Frey girl, but he fell in love with another, and wed her in secret, breaking a political promise. The Stark house nearly falls as a result.

The Purple Wedding happens because Joffrey Baratheon is a fucking psychopath and the Tyrells recognize his danger to their own — and the fact that he has a much less dangerous younger brother ready to be his heir that Margaery can marry and retain her power for her family.

And the Green/Black Wedding in this episode (or whatever we are calling it) happens because a woman chose political power and duty over a man’s heart — or, rather and more accurately, a man chose his ego over a woman’s ambition.

And the doozy of them all, Lyanna Stark’s secret marriage to Rhaegar Targaryan. Rhaegar was wed to a Martell woman but secretly had his marriage annulled because he had fallen in love with Lyanna Stark who was betrothed to Robert Baratheon. Rhaegar and Lyanna ran away together, though the Baratheons and the Starks claimed it was a kidnapping, which led to “Robert’s Rebellion,” the war that ended the Targaryen dynasty, and led to the events in Game of Thrones.

 And this is too many words to say that marriage as a political tool is a fraught one as it can be derailed by the flutter of a heart. Marriage can be a happy ending — but if someone powerful falls in love with the wrong person, it can lead to war. To return to that Lord Byron quote — “All tragedies are finished by a death; All comedies are ended by a marriage” — there is one final line: “The future states of both are left to faith.”

House of the Dragon streams on HBO Max.

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