House Of The Dragon pulls a 10-year time jump with “The Princess And The Queen,” taking a page from The Crown. And like that other royal drama Matt Smith was also in, this involves a massive recasting to age up its characters, plus the introduction of a new generation of princes and princesses and princelings (and…princesslings?).
We begin this new chapter with Rhaenyra (now played by Emma D’Arcy), stuck in a position her younger self said she never wanted to be in: imprisoned in a castle, squeezing out heirs. She gives birth to her third child, a boy, but only gets a moment to hold him in her arms before a servant arrives to whisk him away to meet the queen, who wants the child brought to her “right away.” No one gets maternity leave from power games in Westeros. But never play chicken with Rhaenyra. She’ll bring the baby to Alicent herself, even if that means expelling her afterbirth while her maids are helping her into a dress. This all plays out in a single handheld take, evocatively filmed by Miguel Sapochnik, the camera lingering on the grim set of D’Arcy’s jaw as she pushes through the pain.
Laenor (now John Macmillan) finds her in the hallway, strangely breezy about the birth of his(?) child. But he figuratively and literally supports his wife as she makes her agonizing way through the castle to Alicent’s chambers, crowds of courtiers parting like the sea as they pass. Ser Criston motherfucking Cole is standing outside the door, still alive and well and serving in the Kingsguard, even though when we last saw him, he was brutally slaughtering a man out of nowhere in front of an entire wedding party. (I know the queen’s favor holds a lot of sway, but come on. It strains credulity that he’d come back from that kind of public display of unsanctioned violence without losing his head, let alone his position.)
As soon as Rhaenyra and Alicent (now Olivia Cooke) lock eyes, it’s plain how profoundly their relationship has decayed since we last saw them. But the princess has called the queen’s bluff and then some, because Alicent didn’t expect the baby to be accompanied by his sweating, bleeding mother. Viserys, on the other hand, is unabashedly excited to meet his new grandson. Despite his collapse at the end of the last episode, he’s still alive and kicking (in a ludicrous amount of old-age makeup). Laenor announces that their new son will be named Joffrey, an unspoken tribute to his murdered lover. Before they leave, Alicent lets her mean girl flag fly: “Do keep trying, Ser Laenor. Sooner or later, you may get one who looks like you.”
The meaning of this jab becomes painfully clear when we meet their two pale, dark-haired older sons, Jacaerys (Leo Hart) and Lucerys Valeryon (Harvey Sadler). The boys are hanging out with a guy who—weird coincidence!—also has dark hair and pale skin, and is very clearly smitten with Rhaenyra. This is Ser Harwin “Breakbones” Strong (Ryan Corr), Commander of the City Watch and the eldest son of Lyonel Strong, the Hand of the King. (Considering Laenor is a Black man with white-blond hair, the fact that they’ve kept up this charade for any length of time is wild.)
Jace and Lucerys head off to the dragon pits, where they’re joined by Alicent and Viserys’ sons, Aegon II (Ty Tennant) and Aemond Targaryen (Leo Ashton). And unlike their…nephews?…god, royalty is weird, they’ve got the classic Targaryen look: two little Draco Malfoys in green doublets, complete with bleach-blond locks and haughty sneers.
Jace bonds with a teen dragon named Vermax (via goat immolation—cute!), leaving Aemond the only one of the boys without his own scaley friend. Sensing weakness, the other three gift Aemond a “dragon” that’s actually a pig with fake wings and a tail. Alone and ashamed, he wanders into the depths of the pit and nearly gets dracarys’d in the face for his troubles.
Alicent blames the Valeryon boys for the prank, of course, further fueling her resentment. She’ll get no help from Viserys, who reliably buries his head in the sand whenever anyone brings up his eldest daughter and her indiscretions. She tries Aegon, issuing a grave warning that, as the unofficial heir to the Iron Throne that the kingdom tacitly supports over Rhaenyra, he’s got a huge target on his back. But he’s a teen boy, and he’d rather get naked and masturbate out a castle window than worry about the line of succession.
The situation hits a boiling point the next day in the practice yard, as Criston is training both sets of boys in swordplay while Viserys and Lyonel watch from the balustrade. Sweet, dumb Harwin intervenes on behalf of his not-so-secret sons when he calls Criston out on his preferential treatment of Aegon and Aemond. The two knights come to blows, and Harwin makes the foolish (but extremely cathartic) decision to beat the crap out of his rival.
And with that, the cat’s fully out of the bag—if it was even in the bag to begin with. Rhaenyra overhears Lyonel admonishing Harwin in no uncertain terms, stopping just short of calling the boys bastards. The princess needs a plan; but Laenor, drunk and carousing with his latest paramour (Ser Qarl Correy, played by Arty Froushan), is no help. She wants him to stick by her side in the face of the shitstorm that’s coming for their family, but he’d rather go fight the trendy new war that’s brewing in the Stepstones. She pulls rank and commands him to stay.
The war in question once more concerns the Triarchy—the alliance of Tyrosh, Lys, and Myr. The Crabfeeder may be dead and gone, but the Triarchy has found a new accomplice in the Martells of Dorne; it’s bad news for the other six Free Cities, and likely, bad news for Westeros.
Which brings us to Daemon, the guy who took the Triarchy down the first time. He and his family are being wined and dined by the Prince of Pentos at his seaside castle, because he’s got an offer for the prodigal Targaryen: If Daemon will lend his aid (and his three dragons) to defend the city against the Triarchy, the prince will set him up for life in Pentos.
The old Daemon would never agree to fight someone else’s war abroad, but he’s mellowed considerably since we last saw him. He and Laena Valeryon (now played by Nanna Blondell) are married now, and they’ve got two kids together—and a third imminently on the way. Retirement from nonstop violence looks great on him: He and his wife seem to genuinely love each other, he’s a decent dad to at least one of his daughters, and the only sign he’s aged in the last 10 years is that he has a different haircut.
New-and-improved Daemon tells Laena that he’s grown tired of fighting and scheming for a place in the Targaryen line of succession, and a purely transactional relationship with Pentos sounds chill as hell. But Laena, a proud Velaryon like her father, won’t fold so easily. She says that she wants to have her baby back home in Driftmark, wants her children to be raised in their homeland according to their birthright, and wants to “die a dragon rider’s death.” (As she proudly tells her daughter Rhaena, her mount is Vhagar, the largest dragon in the world.)
The flip side of Daemon’s complacency is a crusty self-loathing, which rears its head when Laena finds her husband on the roof later, drunk and despondent. She knows he pores over old stories about the deeds of Targaryens past the same way his brother Viserys fusses over his miniature of Old Valyria. Having the blood of the dragon in your veins means that you’re either conquering cities or angry at yourself for not conquering cities.
Daemon may fancy himself an unpredictable genius, but Laena can read him like a book. Her energy as a character (and Nanna Blondell’s as an actor) is a refreshing addition to the show; she’s Daemon’s equal in ambition sans the sadism, Lady Macbeth sans the bitterness. Too bad she’s about to get written off it.
Back in the Red Keep, a Small Council meeting becomes a theater of war for Alicent and Rhaenyra. The queen is all about steering clear of problems in the realm—including a dispute in the Riverlands and the resurgence of the Triarchy—while the princess argues that the crown should intervene. And then Rhaenyra plays the best hand she can right now: She proposes that Alicent’s daughter Helaena should marry Jace, uniting their two houses. Everyone hates this plan except Viserys.
With his son having compromised the family reputation, Lyonel attempts to step down as Hand —but the king won’t accept his resignation. He will, however, let Lyonel take Harwin home to the Strong family seat at Harrenhal, aka the most cursed-ass castle in Westeros.
Then the show reminds us about Lyonel’s other son, our old wormy friend Larys, who’s got a dinner-and-gossip date with Alicent. The queen unloads about her lack of friends in King’s Landing and reminisces about the days when her father Otto was still Hand. And before you can say “I wonder when House of the Dragon will get its own Littlefinger,” Larys has enlisted a group of condemned prisoners for a mission and ripped out all their tongues.
Back on Pentos, Laena has gone into labor—and it’s not looking good. The attending maester gives Daemon the same choice that Viserys had to make in the pilot: save the baby or save the mother. And unlike his brother, Daemon chooses Laena over his own legacy.
What happens next is bewildering. Laena, bleeding and weeping, staggers out onto the beach and falls to her knees in front of Vhagar, shouting a command we know all too well: Dracarys. The dragon looks at his rider like he can’t believe what she’s asking, but he obeys, and Daemon arrives on the scene just in time to watch his wife turn ash.
I have so many questions. How did Laena make it out of the castle without anyone stopping her? Why did this proud, determined woman who clearly cares about her daughters and her own future so abruptly decide to kill herself? Was she so stricken with grief over the loss of her child that she immediately decided to self-immolate? Is this really what she meant when she said she wanted “a dragon rider’s death”? The writers have left it to the audience to fill in the blanks.
Back in the Red Keep, Rhaenyra decides it’s finally time to get the hell out of King’s Landing. Laenor is surprised by her decision, but agrees, and the family heads to Dragonstone with a small army (and Ser Qarl) in tow.
And not a moment too soon, because the knives are coming out. Larys’ new black ops team follows Lyonel and Harwin to Harrenhal, setting a fire in the middle of the night that will leave nothing but their charred remains at sunrise.
When Larys tells Alicent what he’s done, she’s horrified. “The queen makes a wish—what servant of the realm would not strive to fulfill it?” he says, plucking a lily from a vase and twirling it between his fingers like the cartoon villain he is.
With “The Princess And The Queen,” House Of The Dragon is rushing to a lot of conclusions without showing its work. Larys’ betrayal of his father and brother lacks the Red Wedding rush the series seems to want us to feel, because we have almost no information about their dynamics as a family, let alone any investment in their stories. (Imagine if Tyrion had murdered Tywin without us ever having seen the two interact.)
Both Laena’s suicide and the murder of the Strongs are fiery set pieces, tragic spectacles with no groundwork laid beneath them. But House of the Dragon is in such a rush to race through history that it’s throwing the basics of storytelling out the window.
- Kudos to D’Arcy and Cooke, who come out of the gate swinging as the older Rhaenyra and Alicent, building on the foundations Milly Alcock and Emily Carey laid for the pair’s love-hate dynamic.
- The curse of Harrenhal goes all the way back to when Aegon the Conquerer’s dragon burned King Harren’s family to death during the War of Conquest. Every noble house that occupied the castle since has met an ignominious end.
- Last episode, Alicent caused a stir by showing up to Rhaenyra’s wedding feast in a green dress, the Hightower color of war. A decade later, she’s still wearing green—and both her sons are, too.
- We only get a brief glimpse of Helaena Targaryen (Evie Allen), playing with her pet centipede and reciting facts about centipedes while her mother and brother argue. Honestly? The most fun anyone is having anywhere in the Red Keep.
- Daemon and Laena’s flirty dragon joyride on their way to Pentos looked like a blast.
- Is the season finale twist going to be that Daemon and Criston were secretly vampires this whole time? Because neither of them has aged a day in 10 years.
- House Of The Dragon now has a Rhaenyra, a Rhaenys, a Rhae (R.I.P.), and a Rhaena. Remember back when Game Of Thrones changed Asha Greyjoy from the books’ name to Yara so people wouldn’t get her confused with Osha the Wildling? Those were the days.
Read More: House Of The Dragon has a major time jump