When we open in Dragon House This Sunday ten years have passed. Rhinera – now performed by the excellent Emma Darcy – is in labor and about to give birth to her third son.
The child is born and the queen immediately requests that the boy be introduced to her. Reinera refused to send her, determined to make the long trip herself and not to give Aliscent—now played in an even more ruthless style by Olivia Cooke—complacency.
She’s joined by her husband, Lenore (who’s aging and was played by John Macmillan’s overconfident Dandy) who thinks the whole thing is ridiculous.
Obviously, Aliscent’s request is a power game. She wants to flaunt her power over the princess and wants to see if the child bears any resemblance to Lenore. The boy, whom Lenore called Joffrey, did not. Like his brothers, he is white and has brown hair. “Keep trying, Sir Lenore,” Aliscent grumbled. “Maybe one day you will get someone who looks like you.”
Old and worn out Viserys (Paddy Considine) seems completely oblivious to all the politics around him. He refuses to believe Aliscent’s claims that the children are, in fact, Harwin Strong (Ryan Core) but also doesn’t seem to care that his wife forced his daughter to introduce her child moments after birth.
His forgetfulness extends to the training ground, where Sir Kriston Cole shows a clear and unbridled favoritism to Aliscent’s sons, Aegon (Ty Tennant) and Amund (Leo Ashton) at the expense of Reinera’s sons, Luceres or Luke for short (Harvey Sadler) and Jacques (Leo Hart).
This upsets Harwin, who has come to the yard to watch. He confronts Creston (Fabian Frankl) and asks why he doesn’t give the younger boys the same amount of attention. So Cole pits young Jesiris against Egon and urges the older boy not to be satisfied with any mercy. Finally, Harwin grabbed the prince and threw him aside.
Cole, visibly delighted, asks why he shows such interest in boys. The kind of interest the father might show. It’s obvious sarcasm but Harwin is known for his strength, not his intelligence, and he takes the bait as he jumps on Cole and hits him. Cole does not seem to be staged. In fact, he seems to be very happy with everything.
It’s a scandal, of course. Harwin’s Wade King’s father, Lionel Strong (Gavin Spocks) is angry at his son and attempts to quit, telling Viserys that he can no longer honestly advise him. Viserys refuses to say that Harwin’s expulsion from the Goldcloaks is punishment enough; Aliscent tries to convince Lionel to tell them why, but says he can’t. He requests, instead, that Harwin be returned to Harrenhall and kept out of the public eye. We soon discovered that this was a fatal mistake.
Harwin Faris is very likable. He’s more honorable and kind than Sir Creston, and clearly a better match with Reinera. But neither he nor the princess were careful enough. When he leaves and says his goodbye to the boys, even they realize he seems like more than just a friend. “Is Harwin strong my father?” asks Jaecerys. “Am I a bastard?”
“You’re a Targaryen,” replies Reinera. “This is important.”
Meanwhile, Aliscent surrounded herself with conspirators and politicians. Ser Criston Cole now guards her chambers instead of Rhaenyra’s, and his bitterness toward the princess has grown and worsened over the years. While Aliscent sees her as a threat and a rival, Kriston deeply despises the princess, at one point describing her as a “spoiled *&$”. Aliscent stops dying in her tracks there, staring at him until he apologizes. But her resentment at his words does not translate into true love for her old friend and companion.
When Rhaenyra proposes a betrothal between her eldest son and Alicent’s daughter Helaena (Evie Allen) Viserys calls it a great idea, but Alicent succinctly says they will think about it and tells Viserys that she will agree to it on her dead body. She wouldn’t make her daughter marry a bastard and thinks Rainera is only suggesting the idea because she was caught red-handed. (Helena is Rhaenyra’s half-sister, so she’ll be Jacaerys’ aunt, but when will that stop Targaryen!)
Aliscent turns to her other shady ally, Larize Strong (Matthew Needham), Harwin’s paralyzed and scheming brother, for advice. When he resists some of what she says, she complains that there is no one by her side, no one will help her, no one will tell the plain truth that Rinera’s children are illegitimate.
Larry doesn’t say a word, but later visits the dungeons where he finds a group of murderers, rapists and other death row villains and tells them they can win their freedom. . . for the price. They agree and have their tongues cut out of their mouths, making them mute to hide the actions they are about to commit (certainly none of these men can write).
Later, we see them outside Harrenhal. When Lord Lionel and Sir Harwin sleep, the assassins set fire to the reserve, blocking the doors. Both men are burned to death – murdered by their relatives. It’s a horrific moment, and one of the darkest in an already very dark show. Larry’s soon established himself as the most complicit rascal in the entire show. Even Aliscent looks upset.
“I didn’t ask for this,” she told him, her face pale and drawn from shock.
Laris is different. “I’m sure you’ll find a way to pay me back one day,” he told her.
The death of her lover and father of her children finally pushed Rhaenyra into action. Lenore told her earlier in the episode, “A wise sailor flees the gathering storm,” and she finally took his advice. She told him they were leaving, and took their children (and Lenore’s lover) to Dragonstone where they would be safe from the Queen and her allies, and where her sons could rest easily. With her faltering father only serving as protection against whatever Aliscent is planning, putting some distance between them makes sense. It may sound like a backlash, but it’s tactical.
Meanwhile, in Pentos Daemon (Matt Smith) and Laena Velaryon (Nanna Blondell) they have obtained semi-permanent residence with their two young daughters.
Lina is pregnant with a third child. She’s excited to come home to Driftmark and Westeros, and tired of her many years of living in the country away from it all. On the other hand, Satan enjoys life out of court and away from the endless politics and deception of Westeros. They have a great offer of ownership, endless money and generous lives from the powers of Bentos, who only want dragons in return as protection from the renewed threat of the Triumvirate.
Satan wants to stay. Lana wants to go. However, the Devil makes it very clear who’s calling the shots. He clearly has feelings of affection for his wife (unlike his last!) but is a very selfish prince in the kingdom. “Dad is ignoring me,” said his eldest daughter, Bayla (Shane Smithhurst) to her mother.
This cycle begins and ends with birth. The first brings a young prince into the world. The second is another tragedy. Even the strong Dragon Women weren’t safe when it came to the birthing bed, and Lena was no exception.
In a scene that reflects Visery’s first wife, Aemma’s death, Doctor Pentos reaches the end of his skill and tells Daemon that he simply can’t get the baby out. He can cut off the mother, but there is no guarantee that the child will live. Satan is not interested.
In the end, Lena takes matters into her own hands. She left the palace and went out into the courtyard where her huge dragon Vhagar was resting. “Dracarys!” She screams over and over. A demon runs from the building, “Layna, no!”
“Dracarys!” She pleads, and the bewildered old dragon, puzzled at first, finally obliged. Lena and her unborn child are burned to death.
The other important character in this episode is Aemond Targaryen (Leo Ashton) Aegon’s younger brother.
Emond is the only one of the children (from the brood of Aliscent and Rhinera) who does not have a dragon. The other boys made fun of him and teased him for this. At one point, they brought him a pig with wings attached to it and said it was the pink dread. Aliscent blames Raynera’s sons, although it is clear that Egon was part of the bullying (possibly the leader of the group).
Aemund has a sad and serious look about him even as a boy. The nature of the wild Aegon is tinged with cruelty, but it is mostly honest cruelty. This teenager masturbates on the windowsill. He wants to fight and spoil. Aemund is even more intimidating, and I think he’s a character we all have to keep a close eye on moving forward.
Finally, this was a masterful episode full of shocking twists and turns and a really strong ending to the end between Strong’s murders and Lena’s tragic death. Rhaenyra’s departure to Dragonstone will change a lot of the dynamics in the game, leaving Aliscent alone with the King and Earth’s most powerful woman despite her lack of dragons.
My only complaint, which is a small one, is that we read some of these stories too quickly and don’t get to know the characters as much as I’d like. Lana and Harwin were such a small part, I think we might have benefited from getting to know them better. Then again, this is a show that spans many years and simply can’t get involved in every character and relationship. They do an incredible job making these scenes powerful even without a lot of screen time for the characters.
And for those remaining characters – from Larys to Alicent to Rhaenyra to Daemon – we get some really notable character development, with an amazing, complex cast that is in some ways more compelling than Game of thrones If not that much fun.
I really like the new cast of Rhaenyra and Alicent in particular and I think both D’Arcy and Cooke do a great job inhabiting these characters. I can’t wait to see where they take them in the remaining four episodes.
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