Let me put it bluntly: A lot of Targaryens feel sorry for themselves in tonight’s episode of House of the Dragon. But what starts out as a pity party becomes a thrilling reminder of why the Targaryens are in charge of Westeros, and it’s not just because of their dragons.
“Second of His Name” skips ahead three years into the future, and the future of Westeros has shifted greatly: King Viserys (Paddy Considine) has finally had a son, at least one who’s lived long enough to see his second birthday. It’s a time for celebration for everybody but Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), who has become certain she’s going to be replaced as heir to the Iron Throne. So are most of the lords of the Seven Kingdoms, who are visibly relieved they won’t be ruled by a—shudder—woman. And Rhaenyra is extremely bitter about it.
Ironically, Viserys’ happiness at having Aegon, Second of His Name, with Alicent (Emily Carey) is limited because of the same issue. In fact, he’s quite miserable because of all those lords pressuring him to publicly name his two-year-old the new heir. He’s also miserable because Rhaenyra is furious with him for marrying her best friend, continually sending potential suitors her way to marry her off, and not speaking up for his daughter while he’s obviously getting constant pressure to name his son the heir instead. Viserys’s preferred coping mechanism? A ton of wine, Tyrion Lannister-style.
The one thing he’s not particularly worried about is the war in the Stepstones, which Lord Corlys “The Sea Snake” Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) and Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) have been waging for years against the Crabfeeder and his pirates—and losing. Every time Daemon arrives on his dragon, they scuttle back into their caves, where dragon fire can’t reach them. Since Corlys and Daemon started this war without Viserys’ royal decree, the king is inclined to simply let them lose rather than send troops and seem weak by finally acknowledging their mini-rebellion.
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The thing is, Viserys is a weak king. He drinks to avoid making decisions about his daughter, but with a healthy son, things have come to a crisis point. It’s evident when Viserys takes his royal family and entourage to the Kingswood for a hunt celebrating Aegon’s birthday, and all the lords who have gathered there start applauding the king and his new boy, completely ignoring Rhaenyra’s existence. And when it’s reported a rare white hart has been seen in the forest, the men cheer for the sign from the Gods that they favor little Aegon. It’s too much for Rhaenyra, who rides out of the camp at top speed. No one really cares that she leaves or ends up staying out all night in the woods other than her appointed Kingsguard, Ser Christon Cole (Fabien Frankel), who chases after her.
With Rhaenyra thus semi-safely out of the way, the men can decide who she must marry. Having been earlier rebuffed by the princess herself, Jason Lannister (Jefferson Hall) approaches the king to ask him to make the match happen. Viserys is already angry (and quite drunk) at being forced to confront this vexing subject again when Jason makes the mistake of saying Rhaenyra will be “well-compensated for her loss of station” as Lady of Casterly Rock. Viserys screams that Rhaenyra is still his announced heir as Jason stammers, “We assumed…”
Small Council member Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes) offers another candidate, which an angry Viserys assumes is his Master of Laws’ son Harwin. Instead, Strong suggests Laenor Velaryon (Theo Nate), the (fully-grown, thank the gods) son of the Sea Snake and the king’s cousin, Rhaenys. Just as binding the two Valyrion houses together would have strengthened the crown and realm back when it was suggested Viserys wed their daughter Laena, a match between Rhaenyra and Laenor would do the same now. Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), Hand of the King, offers the grossest candidate possible—for Rhaenyra to wed her half-brother Aegon, Targaryen-style, except several million times worse because the kid—the toddler—is two. Viserys, to his credit, looks at Otto like he’s gone insane.
While the king and lords try to decide her future, another male arrives in Rhaenyra’s camp in an attempt to make the decision moot. A giant boar runs into her and Criston’s small camp, knocking the knight off his feet and attempting to maul Rhaenyra. It’s pretty harrowing to watch until Criston manages to slay the beast and it topples off the princess… until it starts to rise again and Rhaenyra finishes the job by stabbing the boar in the head I’d say, roughly, 400 million times. She’s covered in blood.
Viserys’ hunt for the white hart, however, does not fare nearly so well. Not that the king does any actual hunting, of course. The huntsmen—who could only capture a big gray elk—have to tie it up for him and then point on the deer’s torso where the killing blow should land. Viserys still needs two stabs to bring it down, because House of the Dragon does not do subtle. Case in point: When Rhaenyra returns to camp, covered in blood, Criston dragging a massive dead boar behind him, it’s impossible not to compare and contrast the two “hunts” and see who looks like the stronger leader.
Meanwhile, it’s a different lady who comes not just to the king’s rescue, but the realm’s as well. As Viserys dithers about what to do about Rhaenyra and whether to send troops to help his brother and the Sea Snake, Alicent arrives to guide him. Ignoring her father’s desire for her to tell the king to name Aegon his heir, Alicent tells Viserys the only way to get Rhaenyra married is to let her make the match. As for the war with the Crabfeeder, she essentially asks, regardless of his feelings, Daemon’s feelings, and even the people’s feelings, what decision would be best for Westeros?
The conversation essentially puts some Valyrian steel back in Viserys’ spine. He sends a messenger to tell Daemon that troops are on the way, because he knows his brother would rather die than ask for help. The king also summons Rhaenyra, and finally confirms she’s still his intended heir and will not be replaced. He also tells her she can marry whoever she wants but she would be wise to pick someone who can provide an alliance and shore up her succession. It’s a conversation that could have (and arguably should have) appeared much earlier in the episode instead of focusing so intently on Rhaenyra sulking and Viserys drinking, but it’s fine.
But the slow burn of the king and princess’ reconciliation in “Second of His Name” has the benefit of making the episode’s final act even more awesome, and it’s very awesome indeed. As Corlys, his brother Vaemond, and his son Laenor argue about their losing war with the pirates, Daemon arrives on his dragon, and he looks rough. But his frustration with the Crabfeeder doesn’t stop him from trying to furiously beat Viserys’ messenger to death once he’s delivered the news that help is on the way.
Cut to: Daemon, rowing a small boat to the island where the pirates are holed up. He waves a white flag, kneels, and offers up her sword to his enemy, signaling his surrender. When the Crabfeeder exits his cave, all he does is watch the skies for Daemon’s dragon, who is nowhere in sight. Some pirates take to the ledge and aim their arrows at the prince, suspecting a trick; others cautiously approach Daemon… and then he starts killing them all.
I didn’t know how much I wanted to see Matt Smith kick unholy ass, but it was apparently quite a great deal. Daemon murders his way towards the Crabfeeder, until two arrows force him to take shelter. Then what seems like the entire pirate army emerges from the caves to take out the Targaryen, which is what the Velaryon forces have been waiting for. A full-blown battle on the shore breaks out while a dragon scorches the pirates—but this one is Seasmoke, ridden by Laenor. (Remember, Laenor’s mother is Rhaenys, meaning he has Targaryen blood and is thus entitled to a dragon.)
In the chaos, the Crabfeeder retreats into his cave, but this time he’s followed by Daemon. And when Daemon reemerges, he’s dragging the severed torso of his foe, the Crabfeeder’s exposed intestines trailing behind it.
Does this scene make sense? Not especially, and I couldn’t care less. It’s extremely rad, giving the visceral thrills of Game of Thrones episodes like “Hardhome” and “Battle of the Bastards.” While the politics of House of the Dragon have been captivating, it’s awesome to know the show has the power to deliver the visceral action that made Game of Thrones so thrilling.
It’s a spectacular end to an episode that otherwise spent a little too much time twiddling its proverbial thumbs, but it evens out in the end. I also love how House of the Dragon is playing the long game by continually jumping forward—and we haven’t even seen the adult actors playing Rhaenyra and Alicent yet. Hell, the Targaryen civil war hasn’t even started yet—and a new contender to the throne has only just arrived. These first three episodes have basically been a prologue to the real story to come, and they’ve been remarkably good. When the new fight for the Iron Throne finally begins, we could be in for something special indeed.
- As rad as Matt Smith is in the final scene, his scene at the beginning of the episode is extremely weird. Daemon is on his dragon, at the Crabfeeder’s beach, telling him to “come out” and asking, “Where are you?” but Smith’s delivery of the lines was remarkably emotionless. It was very off-putting, especially since the dialogue already sounded like it was from a man playing hide-and-seek with a toddler.
- Cancel Otto Hightower.
- Goodbye, Crabfeeder. Your head was too weird and gross for this world.
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