Man, we are just flying through the first season of HBO’s House of the Dragon. As customary, I like to react to online reactions I’ve seen around the net over the last week. To be honest, I’m kind of shocked at the negative takes. An article in The Sydney Morning Herald, for example, called the show “laughably bad” and stated, “A lot is being set up, but little is really happening.” Online comment sections negatively point out a number of similarities between HOD and Game of Thrones, particularly in regards to certain character arcs — Viserys is basically Ned Stark, Rhaenyra is Daenerys, Otto Hightower is Little Finger, etc.
While not a perfect show, HOD still remains head and shoulders above most blockbuster television fare — Marvel’s abysmal She-Hulk, for example. While that may seem like a backhanded compliment, I think there’s enough in HOD: Season 1 to enjoy so far. Yes, the time jumps are clunky, and the well-documented replacing of a number of the show’s stars will be hard to swallow when the moment finally arrives — mostly because everyone is doing a wonderful job in their respective roles — but overall I think HOD has employed a steady balance of engrossing drama and thrilling spectacle in line with early GOT. I’m invested in Rhaenyra’s situation, curious about Otto’s true intentions, fearful of ancillary characters such as Corlys Velaryon and Criston Cole, and eager to see how Daemon Targaryen — the show’s only true wild card — figures into the overarching narrative.
My prediction? Alicent Hightower makes the move that kicks off the eventual war. Up until this point, the show has largely focused on Rhaenyra and Viserys while Alicent quietly suffers in the background. As everyone rages about the things they stand to lose, Alicent has already sacrificed everything — her freedom, her dignity, and now her father — all so that her son, Aegon, can ascend to the throne. Except, if Rhaenyra remains heir, Alicent’s sacrifice would have meant nothing, which is all the reason for her to take drastic action.
Long story short: I like where all of this is headed. HOD: Season 1’s first half does feel like an extended prologue — more set dressing than an actual story — but I assume we’ll be grateful for the careful (albeit truncated) buildup when the shit inevitably hits the fan.
Onto House of the Dragon Episode 5!
What Happens in House of the Dragon Season 1 Episode 5
We open on Rhea Royce galloping across the Vale on her horse. She comes across a hooded figure — Daemon. “Husband? Come to consummate our marriage,” she snarls before dishing out a heap of insults — how he was passed over for a “little girl,” etc. “What will you do now?” Wordlessly, Daemon casts a cold look up at his wife, who quickly deduces his purpose there. She reaches for her bow, but her actions spook her horse and in the commotion, she falls to the ground and presumably becomes paralyzed. Even so, she continues to hurl insults at Daemon, who quietly saunters off. “I always knew you couldn’t finish,” she says.
He pauses. Picks up a larger rock and —
We cut to a fish being beheaded. Yikes.
Well, that’s one way to separate from your wife, Daemon, you old rascal!
Viserys sits aboard a ship that rocks hard enough to cause him to vomit over the side. Rhaenyra and Criston Cole are on hand as well; traversing the treacherous waters to reach House Velaryon in Driftmark, the largest island in Blackwater Bay. (I’m assuming this is where they are headed, of course, based on Viserys’ instructions for Rhaenyra to marry Corlys’ son, Laenor, in last week’s episode.)
We cut back to King’s Landing where a weepy Alicent confronts her father. He rebukes her for siding with Rhaenyra (in regards to the whole having sex with Daemon in a brothel thing) and then calmly explains what she already knows: at some point, the King will die, Rhaenyra will take the throne and war will follow because the realm will not accept a female heir. If that wasn’t enough, Rhaenyra will likely be forced to kill off Alicent’s children to secure the crown, which is … not good for anyone. Those damned Targaryens.
(Otto looks genuinely sympathetic in this scene. Alicent accuses him of pushing Aegon’s claim too hard, but his intentions do appear noble.)
“Either prepare Aegon to rule, or cleave to Rhaenyra and pray for her mercy,” Otto advises before embracing his daughter and riding away into a raging storm. Dramatic.
Following her father’s departure, Alicent stands before a Weirwood tree. Lord Larys Strong (whose own father took Otto’s place) hobbles nearby and begins making idle (read: significant) chit-chat. He casually notes that the Grand Maester dropped off some “tea” for Rhaenyra to consume a few nights earlier — around the same time as her, ah, excursion with Daemon. In other words: Alicent was wrong to believe her friend and lost her greatest ally as a result. This is bad.
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Back with our sickly King, we see the group arrive at High Tide or Corlys’ home. Naturally, Corlys doesn’t arrive to greet Viserys in person (he’s still miffed over the whole Stepstones episode, and Viserys choosing Alicent over his daughter). Instead, we see a much older Laena welcome the crew. “Oh, this is awkward,” Viserys says between vomits.
“What’s the meaning of this,” Lord Lyonel Strong, the new Hand, exclaims. “Where’s Corlys?”
“Calm down. He’s waiting somewhere else,” Laena replies.
“Let’s do this,” Viserys says and the group shuffles off to another gloomy locale where Corlys awaits. After brief introductions, during which Princess Rhaenys nearly kills Viserys just by shaking his hand (he’s not well), they relay the bad news: Rhea Royce is dead.
“How,” Viserys asks.
“A horse accident crushed her entire body, including her skull,” Corlys explains. “Yeah, she was real old.”
Viserys switches gears. “Rhaenyra and Laenor should get married,” he suggests. Corlys takes the offer in stride but wants to iron out a few details regarding succession. “My daughter will inherit the throne,” Viserys explains. “And her child, whatever gender, will inherit the crown after her.”
Corlys wants to make sure the kids take up their father’s name — “Velaryon” — because people have nothing better to do in this world than worry about legacies.
“Surely, you’re not proposing the end of the Targaryen dynasty simply because Rhaenyra is a woman,” Viserys snaps as the Princess, aka the Queen that Never Was, smirks. Regardless, Viserys agrees to keep with tradition and allow Rhaenyra’s children to take on the Velaryon name — at least until they take the Iron Throne. “Dragons are gonna kick ass for the next hundred years,” he smirks.
Corlys and Rhaenys smile like two people who just learned they would be playing for a washer and dryer on the Price is Right and accept the compromise. Later, we see them overanalyze the conversation — at this point, I’m assuming 85% of their marriage consists of plotting their next political maneuver. They also discuss Laenor, who we learn is different. “He’s still young,” Corlys states. “He will outgrow it. There’s nothing better than bedding a woman!” The Princess notes that everyone will come after Rhaenyra when she takes the Iron Throne and wonders if the risk is worth it.
“We have dragons and a lot of ships,” Corlys says. “Anyone foolish enough to challenge Rhaenyra’s claim will be crushed!” Hell yeah.
“To what end, Coryls? Wealth? Power? Pride,” the Princess retorts.
“Justice,” he shoots back. He’s still pissed that Rhaenys never wore the crown. This is their opportunity to right a wrong.
Elsewhere, our bride and groom hang with the people they really want to be with. Laenor chills with Ser Joffrey Lonmouth while Rhaenyra spends time with Criston. The former is intrigued by the power Laenor will possess, while Criston asks Rhaenyra to run away with him. “You can marry me. A marriage for love, not for the crown.”
“I am the Crown, Ser Criston,” she states. “It is my duty to marry a noble man from a great house.” In other words, no. Though, she explains that she and Laenor have reached an understanding.
“You want me to be your whore,” Criston says before storming off. He evidently had a real good time the other night.
Everyone arrives back at King’s Landing following that exciting weekend. The King collapses — he doesn’t have long — an event Alicent watches sans emotion. She summons Criston “the whore” to her room to ask about that night. She already knows the answer … unfortunately, the way she words her question, Criston thinks she’s talking about him and comes clean. This makes matters a lot worse.
“I’m a whore,” Criston says. “Please don’t torture me, just kill me mercifully.”
“Uh, you can go,” Alicent says and we see confusion splattered all over our knight’s face.
Elsewhere, the King collapses into a chair, sips some medicine, and then wonders aloud what his legacy will be. He kept the peace but didn’t really move the needle. Is that enough?
We zip forward several weeks and — following a nifty bit of dragon flying — find ourselves at Rhaenyra and Laenor’s wedding (uh oh). Guests approach the bride, including Jason Lannister, whose appearance causes Rhaenyra to roll her eyes (I’m going to miss Milly Alcock when she eventually surrenders this role to Emma D’Arcy). Ser Gerold, Rhea’s cousin (?) also appears and laments her passing, but his words are cut short by Corlys’ sudden entrance.
Why am I feeling uncomfortable right now? The camera cuts to various people in the crowd, including Laenor’s lover, Lord Larys Strong, and Criston Cole. To compound matters, Daemon struts in alone like a boss. He pulls up a chair and takes a seat at the royal table. What the hell?
Viserys makes a speech but stops short when Alicent suddenly emerges. Lord Larys notes the peculiarity of the situation by asking what color the beacon on the Hightower glows when Oldtown calls its banners to war … uhhhh … Alicent coldly congratulates Rhaenyra. Viserys continues his speech. “More dragons,” he beams, “and seven days of tournament and feasting, followed by a royal wedding.”
Awkward glances are exchanged. Rhaenyra and Laenor dance. Alicent looks positively miffed. Laenor’s lover glances at Criston. Daemon looks like he’s waiting for something. Alicent heads to her uncle, who tells her that Oldtown stands with her.
Nearby, Gerald confronts Daemon. After calling him a bronze old c–t, Daemon notes that he’s eager to discuss his inheritance. “What inheritance,” Gerald asks. As it turns out, since Rhea and Daemon had no heirs, everything she stood to inherit passed to her husband. “She stood to inherit all of Runestone. Did she not,” Daemon asks.
“Shit,” Gerald says before fleeing the scene.
Viserys watches his brother, a sorrowful expression etched on his face.
More dancing. Daemon makes a move on Laena. Laenor and Joffrey guess that Criston is Rhaenyra’s secret lover due to the painful look he keeps casting in her direction. “This is a good thing. She knows your secret and now you know hers,” Joffrey says. He then wonders over to speak with Criston — awkward shots of people breaking apart food adds to the tension — and basically orders him to, well, keep her secret.
Dameon slips over to Rhaenyra and again offers his hand in marriage. She scolds her uncle and tells him that he’ll have to basically kidnap her to make it happen. Before their conversation can continue, people begin screaming. What happens next is kinda nuts.
Apparently, Criston Cole lost his, er, cool and decided right now was the best time to beat the shit out of Joffrey. Granted, the man was probably living in a glass case of emotion since his night with Rhaenyra, but jeez … he goes all Edward Norton on Joffrey until the man’s face looks like raw hamburger. The King’s Hand casually nods to his own assistant to save Rhaenyra, an order that looked more “oh, what the hell” than “save her at all costs” — or maybe I’m reading too much into it.
At any rate, Viserys looks about done with all this political shit — he can’t even enjoy a wedding for God’s sake — and starts coughing up blood. Laenor screams and the show neatly cuts to the pair enjoying a silent wedding later that night in an empty dining hall, tears in their eyes. Not happy tears mind you, but tears not unlike my wife when she realized her grave mistake during our own wedding. Everyone says their “I dos” and Viserys collapses — again — on the floor.
Criston, ever the dramatic whore, heads outside to casually kill himself but is stopped short by Alicent. Did everyone just let the poor bastard leave after he straight-up murdered Joffrey? He can’t survive … can he? Imagine the next morning when the Queen arrives with Criston by her side acting like George from Seinfeld: “Oh, that? You thought I was serious?”
Final Thoughts on House of the Dragon Season 1 Episode 5
I dug it. There’s a lot happening in this show, even if much of the action is buried within small character beats. Everyone is plotting something, but we’re still waiting for someone to make the first move. Daemon wants Rhaenyra and has taken smaller steps to claim her, but has yet to fully commit; Alicent knows her situation is perilous but refuses to take action; and the King’s advisors know Rhaenyra’s bid for the throne will lead to war but are waiting for the right moment to make their move, whatever that move is. The only one having fun is Corlys, who seems completely oblivious to the plotting and scheming occurring around his son.
Then again, maybe nothing will happen. Maybe the expectations created by Game of Thrones have impaired my ability to review this show in the proper light. Maybe House of the Dragons isn’t about shocking twists and turns and is more of a quiet soap opera centered around a group of rich assholes whose comfort blinded them from impending doom.
No, I refuse to accept that.
Alicent will make the first move that will thrust this world into war. I’m not sure what that move looks like, but it’ll be drastic enough to cause ripple effects across the whole kingdom. At some point I gather Rhaenyra will run off with Daemon … maybe that’s when we’ll get our time jump? I don’t know.
I will point out that the time jump did have a negative effect on that shocking ending. We haven’t really gotten to know Criston Cole very well. He’s a nice knight who smiles at Rhaenyra and seems to do his duty well. His courtship with the Princess was relatively brief — a short scene of the pair wandering through the woods, a few mild exchanges, and then SEX! — and not written well enough to make us believe he would throw his life away just to be with her. Indeed, his offer to Rhaenyra was perhaps the most shocking moment in this episode.
Had the series developed this relationship further, Criston’s beatdown of Joffrey might have left an emotional impact. As is, we do lament Criston’s decision, but if he had died at the end of this episode my reaction would’ve been, to once quote Seinfeld, “That’s a shame.”
As stated above, House of the Dragon Season 1 feels like the prologue to a larger story. We’re witnessing the crucial moments that eventually led to the downfall of a powerful family, and it will be interesting to see if the show slows down when we make the expected time jump. Then again, much of this is based on a “historic account” written by George R.R. Martin. Where Game of Thrones was a feature-length story, Fire and Blood is largely a dictionary of sorts chronicling the Targaryen dynasty. Maybe the plan is to leapfrog through the various decades so we can see the most notable ways this family f—ed up. I’m all for that, but it certainly makes caring about these people a little more difficult.
Also, I guess Crabfeeder is really dead, eh? I thought for sure there was something else brewing between the mysterious sea creature-loving baddie and Daemon. Is Otto Hightower gone for good? He rode off into a rainstorm and didn’t look back. His words to Alicent felt final. A sort of “you’re on your own, kid” farewell, as it were. What will the alliance between Alicent and Criston produce? Will the pair fall in love? Or will they scheme to drive Rhaenyra off the throne? Finally, Daemon really likes Rhaenyra. More importantly, I think he respects her. They keep teasing their courtship for a reason. Here I am rooting for an uncle to get with his niece. What the hell is wrong with me?