Now that we’re at the halfway mark for the first season of “House of the Dragon,” the series has shown us what it can do.
Let’s just say episode five, “We Light the Way,” goes the extra mile.
Let us count the ways.
1. Dramatic royal wedding
2. Another Red Wedding … which is really the original Red Wedding, it turns out
3. Green wedding
4. “The Departed” rat
5. A new Varys
6. Rejection-induced toxic masculinity explosion (hence, Red Wedding)
7. New nemeses
8. Targaryen hairstyles reach lofty heights
9. Uxoricide (that’s when someone kills their wife)
10. Dramatic late entrances to an important event (the wedding celebration)
We know weddings in Westeros are fraught affairs, especially if they’re happening in any kind of seat of power or castle, let alone King’s Landing.
But with all of the joyous feasting and toasting going on, we might be forgiven for almost being convinced that “House of the Dragon” would supply a peaceful wedding.
Alas, the nuptials of Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock) and her cousin Ser Laenor Valaryon (she’s moved up in the world of incest!) are shades of the Red Wedding from “Game of Thrones.”
No, the body count is not nearly as high, but yes, it is plenty bloody.
Besides the thick crowd being a total COVID hazard, conversation about bedroom secrets and palace intrigue becomes weaponized in the hands of some well-placed individuals with several axes to grind.
Alicent’s moment. Has. Arrived.
You really thought she would just keep forgiving people and turning the other cheek?
Oh no. She’s in the green now.
Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey) walks in late to the pre-wedding festivities wearing a green dress and a newfound sense of purpose.
Out in the crowd, Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) explains the significance of the color.
Strong, son of Lord Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes), new hand of the king, is positioned as something of a new Varys.
In Oldtown, Alicent’s old home — home to a “high tower” castle with a lighthouse — a green beacon means war, he says.
The queen consort’s tardy entrance is a beacon, all right. When it catches the eye of her husband King Viserys (Paddy Considine), interrupting his speech about the nuptials, it’s like a scene from a horror movie. He freezes as if someone has plunged a dagger into his chest.
His wife is now fully emboldened to believe that her friend Rhaenyra straight-up lied to her about her “virtue.” Remember, this is the same lie that got her dear old dad, Otto Hightower, unceremoniously ousted as hand of the king last episode.
Viserys is not feeling too hot to begin with, though, and his nose starts dripping blood everywhere.
What’s pretty hilarious is that the subject of Rhaenyra’s alleged lie, rascal Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith), thought he would crash the party by strutting in after the groom. Really, he’s more like a side act. Alicent’s big show, which arrives after the supposed “bad boy” of the Targaryens, obliterates the memory of his insouciance. The king’s obedient, dutiful wife has started to cross him, and right when death may be near.
This is the kind of scene that gets memed to death, with various songs applied for the needle drop. The queen consort is coming into her own and the timing couldn’t be better (for her). As the ailing king’s body breaks down, we start to see allegiances shift more concretely against Rhaenyra.
With his best-laid succession plans vulnerable to attack, Viserys starts the episode rushing off to Driftwood to see Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint). He needs to seal the deal for marriage between their offspring, who played together as kids. Because of recent events, he needs to make a grand overture to get it done.
His own cousin Rhaenys (Eve Best), the Sea Snake’s wife and The Queen Who Never Was, thinks it foolish and rather beneath him to come all this way in stormy seas (nice power play from Corlys, not going outside to greet him). Viserys is coughing up gosh knows what when he gets there. As if the sores all over his body from the stabby throne weren’t enough of a problem.
But succession is always on his mind, and he needs to lock in his bloodline before it’s too late.
The marriage of Rhaenyra and Laenor (Theo Nate) will “strengthen the bond” between their houses, but also pacify Corlys after Viserys rejected his offer to marry his daughter Laena when she was 12 (in favor of Alicent). Pacifying Corlys isn’t just good for internal Targaryen diplomacy (Rhaenys is already a Targaryen, linking the houses through marriage) — it’s good for defenses and the kingdom’s fleet. Corlys is the Sea Snake, and whichever way he turns, his ships will follow.
Corlys and Rhaenys have some conditions, though. They want to be assured of the succession — that his grandkids will be first in line for the throne. But they (mainly Corlys) also want their children to be Velaryons, not Targaryens, in name, as per patriarchal tradition.
“Surely, Lord Corlys, you are not proposing the Targaryen dynasty end with my daughter simply because she is a woman,” Viserys says in a rare moment of clarity.
Yes, the grandkids can carry the name Velaryon, he allows, but should one assume the throne, they will be a Targaryen king, not a Velaryon one.
Rhaenyra has a proposal of her own for her cousin Laenor, who is gay: Let’s do our duty in getting married, then live our own lives. The open marriage concept is attractive to both of them. Rhaenyra has Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) as her lover and Laenor has Ser Joffrey Lonmouth (Solly McLeod).
For a brief shining moment, the happy compromise sees Rhaneyra and the incoming king consort ready to approach this marriage like a fun game to be played together, as a team.
That’s how you know the pact is going to fall apart — it’s too good to be true. But the speed with which their fledgling arrangement comes apart seems extreme, even for Westeros.
Rhaenys has her reservations. Yes, the cousins are a perfect match to all who matter, but the proximity to the throne makes her uneasy. She should know. When she was younger, she got close enough to be wounded by its prickly swords in the form of a very public rejection.
“We are placing our son in danger,” Rhaenys tells Corlys. If anyone mounts a challenge to Rhaenyra, both Laenor and their future grandchildren will become targets. But Corlys is a proud man, and he wants justice for his wife’s stolen crown. Why can’t he let it go, Rhaenys asks — she has.
The destructive pride of men in particular is a theme that cuts like a dagger through this episode.
Exhibit A: Criston.
It’s always the “nice” guys!
Before she takes the plunge with Laenor, Rhaenyra’s trusted protector and secret lover offers her an alternative proposal.
“In Essos, you could marry me,” Criston says with heart emojis in his eyes. “A marriage for love, not for the realm.”
Criston is serious. He is also quite delusional. Not because he thinks an heir to the Iron Throne will leave it all behind to go be his wife and travel the world. Because he knows Rhaenyra, or should.
And while Rhaenyra may scoff at some of her duties, she is not someone who would skip town rather than attend her coronation. She has a shot at becoming the first Targaryen queen — she’s not about to give it up.
When Rhaenyra suggests that they continue their secret arrangement instead, Criston shows his true colors.
“So you want me to be your whore,” he seethes.
The worst thing about this, as we see later, is that Criston doesn’t release all of his bad blood and wounded pride when he lashes out at Rhaenyra for following her marriage script. He leaves some bottled up under extreme pressure. And that can of toxic masculinity is shaken! Only it’s a sword and he’s doing the slicing.
Cue the original Red Wedding, this one nearly two centuries before the Starks are slaughtered at the wedding of Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey (2013, for our purposes).
In this case, Ser Joffrey Lonmouth is the innocent victim. In approaching Criston, he wishes to toast their mutually beneficial secret arrangement as a fellow secret lover of a royal. Joffrey wants to gloat but no one told him Criston wouldn’t be cool with the whole thing — let alone all murdery about it.
The truth is, Rhaenyra didn’t see the danger at all, and she ends up exposed, too, out in the melee of the panicked crowd. After all, Criston was supposed to be her protector. She definitely needs another one of those right about now.
We can only surmise that maybe because Joffrey isn’t straight, and maybe because he simply dared to speak of the arrangement Criston loathes, he further wounds the knight’s fragile masculinity, causing him to fly off the handle.
After the rejection by Rhaenyra, Joffrey seems to threaten Criston’s sexual power just by … existing. It’s pretty scary, and wow, did we not get much of a warning!
The vicious response of Rhaenyra’s confidant is also an overcorrection of a powerful woman being in control of sex and and a relationship. Their liaison started because she initiated it. Criston, previously happy to be deferential, suddenly doesn’t want to be caught out on the wrong side of the power dynamic.
He feels impotent in more than one way. He’s sworn his life to Rhaenyra and the kingsguard — when she doesn’t reciprocate his precious little dream of escape, he takes it as the cruelest cut of all.
So when Alicent summons Criston to quiz him about Rhaenyra, he’s still intensely focused on how hurt he is, enough to unwisely wag his tongue about their secret. He thinks he’s caught. He even pleads for death instead of torture.
But that’s not even what Alicent brought him there for — she wanted to know about Daemon and Rhaenyra. She had no idea about Criston. Go directly to knight jail.
To see the wheels turning in Alicent’s head, the shock spiraling in waves across her face, is to see an origin story for a nemesis who holds the power to explode the Targaryen dynasty from the inside. There’s reason for her to save Criston from a death by his own blade, even after his murderous episode. She’s building a coalition.
It’s no wonder Viserys does away with the planned week of wedding feasting and tourneys. He has Laenor and Rhaenyra married right away, a defensive move against chaos.
Daemon has been built up as a menace to the crown for most of the season, but in this episode, the “good guys” show out as bad guys. Alicent and Criston have been activated, and how.
Of course, Daemon is still doing as he pleases. Viserys quietly stews from afar as his brother makes another play for Rhaenyra in public, at her own wedding festivities — her platinum hair piled atop her head in jeweled braids for the occasion. It’s not something a dying king wants to see from his brother, but discretion was never Daemon’s thing.
For comic relief, though, look to Viserys’ face when he hears Daemon’s wife has died in an unfortunate “hunting accident.”
The king is the one who sent his brother back to the Vale after his little excursion with Rhaenyra outside the Red Keep. He doesn’t have to say a word to relay his belief that Daemon acted as the poor woman’s executioner.
Actually, it’s a shame that Daemon’s wife, Rhea Royce (Rachel Redford), doesn’t get to stick around past her quick introduction.
Rhea easily puts the Targaryen punk in his place. At least she gets a few good digs in before learning he intends to make a play for Rhaenyra, which means he’ll have to make Rhea go away for good. She realizes she’s a goner in all of an instant, moving dramatically from casual insults to a look of utter terror.
When Rhea’s cousin, in attendance at the wedding party, openly accuses Daemon of slaughtering her, he responds not just with brazen nonchalance but a threat to take Runestone, House Royce’s castle, for his own (they didn’t have kids … or consummate their marriage … so he claims he’s the heir).
Daemon truly is the worst. And not in a hidden, Criston way — Daemon’s bad tendencies and reputation precede him.
Still, the phone call is coming from inside the house, and that doesn’t mean Daemon. He is the devil Viserys already knows.
When Alicent gets way more than she bargained for out of Criston, her allegiance to Rhaenyra immediately melts away.
Her father Otto can’t persuade her that her son Aegon is a better pick for the throne, but a revelation from a newbie turns her head.
Larys introduces himself to Alicent with a valuable piece of gossip — Rhaenyra was delivered special “tea” to relieve her of any unwanted consequences of sex. The medicinal aid arrived at the request of the crown.
Alicent’s thought process is transparent: not only was she deceived by Rhaenyra, she was also deceived by her husband.
As Viserys sits there sweating, being “leeched” in a futile attempt to restore his health, he wonders what they’ll say about him when the histories are written. He regrets he hasn’t been “tested.”
Rhaenyra doesn’t have that problem.
You can almost hear Otto Hightower’s words playing back in Alicent’s mind:
“The time is coming, Alicent.”
A war is bound to happen if Rhaenyra remains heir, he says. Aegon and her children will always be in danger. It’s time to put her son forward as heir.
A “Departed”-style rat skitters by to feast on the pooled remainders of this Red Wedding, in case you didn’t get the message.
“House of the Dragon” airs 9 p.m. ET Sundays on HBO and HBO Max.
More ‘House of the Dragon’
Inside ‘House of the Dragon’ with George R.R. Martin and Ryan Condal, N.J. creators of ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel
‘House of the Dragon’ episode 4 recap: ‘King of the Narrow Sea’ narrowly avoids a beatdown
‘House of the Dragon’ episode 3 recap: ‘Second of His Name’ and the queen who was chosen
‘House of the Dragon’ episode 2 recap: Will you take this 12-year-old to be your wife?
‘House of the Dragon’ premiere recap: Bloody ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel fires up the franchise
HBO renews ‘House of the Dragon’ for season 2 after 20M viewers tune into premiere
Thank you for relying on us to provide the journalism you can trust. Please consider supporting NJ.com with a subscription.