House of the Dragon jumps forward in time yet again this week to give us another messy succession dispute. Let's break down the latest episode, and go over what we missed during the time jump, with some book context:
Let's do the time warp again
Just when we were getting used to House of the Dragon's new cast, the show has yet another time jump this week, flashing forward around six years and replacing the children with new actors. Don't worry, though: This will likely be the last major cast change of the series.
Since their wedding, Daemon (Matt Smith) and Rhaenyra (Emma D'Arcy) have settled on Dragonstone with her bastard sons Jace (Harry Collett), Luke (Elliot Grihault), and Joffrey, all of whom have been recast. Jace is the older one studying High Valyrian at Dragonstone, and he would be Rhaenyra's heir when (or if) she ascends the throne. Joffrey, the child Rhaenyra gave birth to in episode six, is also seen being read to by the fire.
The time jump means we never get to see everyone's reaction to Daemon and Rhaenyra's quickie wedding, but the book, Fire & Blood, notes that the "king, court, and commons were all outraged," with Viserys (Paddy Considine) declaring that getting married so soon after their partners' deaths was an "insult to their memories." These days, though, he has far bigger problems.
Rhaenyra and Daemon have also had two kids together since last week: Aegon and Viserys, who unlike her other children are actually legitimate, as their blonde hair makes clear. Yes, Rhaenyra gave her son the exact same name as Alicent's (Olivia Cooke) son. Fire & Blood explains that Alicent was furious when she found out, taking it as an intentional slight (which the book suggests is an accurate read). At Dragonstone, Daemon gathers three eggs laid by Syrax, Rhaenyra's dragon, early in the episode, so perhaps his daughter Rhaena (Phoebe Campbell) will have another shot at getting a dragon of her own after her mom's was swiped last week.
Meanwhile, Rhaenys (Eve Best) has been sitting on the Driftwood Throne in Driftmark, seat of House Velaryon, while her husband Corlys (Steve Toussaint) is fighting in the Stepstones, and she's taken Daemon's daughter Baela (Bethany Antonia) as her ward. Baela's twin sister Rhaena is presumably staying at Dragonstone.
Game of Driftwood Thrones
Corlys, we learn, was severely injured in battle, raising the question of who will become the next Lord of the Tides — commander of Westeros' biggest fleet — if he doesn't make it. That's right, folks, we've got another succession dispute on our hands! And just like the one that began the series, it pits a kid against the current ruler's brother.
Corlys made clear last week he wants Driftmark to pass to Rhaenyra's son Luke, despite the fact that he isn't really a Velaryon, as his father is secretly Harwin Strong. With that in mind, it does make more sense for Driftmark to go to Corlys' actual brother, Vaemond (Wil Johnson), who puts forward his claim.
There's only one problem: Arguing against Luke's claim will be tough without accusing him of being a bastard, meaning this succession battle doubles as a referendum on the parentage of Rhaenyra's children and, in turn, whether she has committed treason and is unworthy of being Viserys' heir. Arriving in King's Landing, Vaemond appeals directly to Alicent, implying he'll owe her one if she backs him as Lord of the Tides. But she and Otto (Rhys Ifans) don't really need much more reason to screw over Rhaenyra and identify her kids as bastards; that's kind of been her entire goal for a while.
Viserys has somehow survived another time jump, though only barely. The king's illness (described by Considine as a "form of leprosy") has progressed so much that Alicent is effectively ruling the Seven Kingdoms with Otto, making decisions on the small council without Viserys present at all.
Alicent has even started making changes to the decor at King's Landing, taking down Targaryen heraldry and putting up Seven-Pointed Stars, symbols of the Faith of the Seven religion. She's wearing one of these stars, as well, and this effort to paint herself as a devout, righteous person is a bit heavy-handed on her part. But Alicent's family has a history with the Faith of the Seven, the Seven Kingdoms' most popular religion and essentially this world's version of the Catholic Church. According to The World of Ice & Fire, Oldtown, seat of House Hightower, was the "unquestioned center of the Faith for all of Westeros" for years; many people even made pilgrimages there, considering it a "holy city." The head of the Faith of the Seven, the High Septon, also ruled from Oldtown before the seat was moved to King's Landing.
Viserys spends most of his time in bed, and he's constantly on milk of the poppy, a painkiller that Rhaenyra suggests Alicent is giving him to ensure he stays in bed and she can rule. Milk of the poppy is known to help people sleep, though to be fair to Alicent, Viserys clearly does need it, and she acts somewhat tenderly toward him in private.
But Alicent shows zero respect for Rhaenyra and Daemon by not greeting them when they arrive, and they return the favor, with Daemon brazenly refusing to stand when she enters (just like he did at Rhaenyra's wedding feast). They push for Viserys to involve himself in the succession conflict, which he could settle all by himself. But at first, that seems like a losing battle given he can barely understand what they're saying; Daemon tells him about the fate of Corlys, only for him to forget soon after. The fact that a good man (by Westerosi standards, at least) has been reduced to basically a walking corpse who's in constant pain makes the episode genuinely hard to watch.
The wedding planner
So what's Rhaenys' opinion on all this? Rhaenyra believes the "Queen Who Never Was" is going to push for herself to inherit Driftmark, so she makes an offer: If Rhaenys backs Luke's claim, she'll betroth her sons to Rhaenys' granddaughters — that is, Daemon's twin daughters with his late wife, Laena — Baela and Rhaena. Baela would marry Jace, meaning she'd be queen consort when he ascends the throne after Rhaenyra, while Rhaena would marry Luke, so she'd be with him in Driftmark when he takes it over.
It's not a bad deal, though there's been a slight hiccup in this relationship given Rhaenys (wrongly) believes Rhaenyra had her son killed. All these years later, she still has no clue that Laenor is still alive and faked his death, and really, is making her believe he's dead that much better than actually killing him?
We still haven't learned the fate of Seasmoke, Laenor's dragon, though surely he didn't take the beast with him across the sea. In the books, dragons have a magical connection to their riders, so one would think no one can claim Seasmoke while Laenor is still alive.
Off with his head
After Rhaenyra pleads with Viserys to help out, her father really comes through, first declining milk of the poppy so he can be awake and alert, then shocking everyone by arriving in the throne room to settle the matter. Seeing the king subject himself to immense pain to stand up for his daughter, possibly for the last time of his life, is a heartening moment, especially coming after a nice scene where he meets the grandson named in his honor. As Viserys enters, we get a triumphant reprisal of "The King's Arrival" from the Game of Thrones score. Return of the king, indeed.
Before Viserys shows up, Vaemond had been passionately making the case that he's fighting to save his bloodline, dancing around officially dropping the B-word. But rather than push for her own claim, Rhaenys backs Luke, accepting Rhaenyra's marriage offer. It seems she was being truthful about no longer seeking to rule herself, though who knows what she might have said in the throne room had Viserys never barged in. Either way, that settles that!
Well, not quite yet. Vaemond flips out, calling Rhaenyra's children bastards and the princess a whore, leading Daemon to cut his head off. Daemon, channeling the spirit of Will "keep my wife's name out of your mouth" Smith, was clearly ready to strike, practically begging Vaemond to make the accusation so he could kill him.
This whole conflict for the Driftwood Throne plays out similarly in the book, but with one key difference. In Fire & Blood, Rhaenyra is the one who orders Vaemond to be killed, dispatching Daemon to remove his head and proceeding to feed his body to her dragon. This change was presumably to make Rhaenyra more sympathetic, and it's definitely within Daemon's character to go rogue as he does in the show. Vaemond is also Corlys' nephew in the book, not his brother.
The episode ends without any information about how Corlys is doing, so we'll have to see if he pulls through, in which case all the squabbling — and his brother's death — would kind of be for nothing.
We need to talk about Aegon
Things take a disturbing turn with Alicent's first-born son this week, as Aegon rapes a serving girl, Dyana, in his chambers. That leads Alicent to get involved, cruelly manipulating Dyana into staying quiet by convincing her no one will believe her, then paying her hush money and giving her some of that "Plan B" tea that Rhaenyra took after sleeping with Criston Cole.
"You are no son of mine," Alicent later tells Aegon, an echo of Tywin Lannister's declaration to Tyrion in Game of Thrones. At a certain point, she has to be wondering if fighting for her rapist son to become king when he doesn't even want the throne is worth it.
If all of this wasn't bad enough, Aegon is also married now. Since last week, he wed his sister Helaena (Phia Saban), who gets in a hilarious dig about their marriage not being so bad because he mostly just ignores her; at least Jace shows her some attention later on by asking her to dance.
The book suggests Aegon's sexual assault was far from a one-time thing. It notes he was known for "pinching and fondling any serving girl who strayed within his reach" and says that getting married did "little to curb" his "carnal appetites." Where's the Westerosi version of Ronan Farrow when you need him?
Later in the episode, we see a servant, Talya, delivering intel to Daemon's old lover Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno) — the same servant who delivered the "Plan B" tea to Dyana. Mysaria has spies all over King's Landing, and now, she presumably knows that the king's first-born son raped someone, information that will surely come in handy.
The last supper
Viserys is on his last legs, but his final wish is for one more unbelievably tense family reunion for old times' sake.
At dinner, the dying king begs everyone to just get along and stop with all the nonsense. Somewhat surprisingly, it seems to kind of work at first. Rhaenyra and Alicent raise a glass to each other, with Alicent even saying the princess will be a good queen, acknowledging her as heir. Later, Alicent and Rhaenyra share a tender moment, and we see hints of their broken childhood friendship briefly return. Could Alicent be genuinely considering dropping her push against Rhaenyra as heir? We get the sense there's a real chance these two can reconcile, especially when Rhaenyra says she'll return on her dragon after dropping the kids off at home. For a minute, things are looking up, and we get a glimpse into what this family might look like if the knives weren't constantly out.
At least, we do until the children ruin the evening, with Aegon repeatedly mocking Jace and Aemond calling Rhaenyra's kids "strong" — code for bastard, referencing their real father, Harwin Strong. Well, it was a peaceful three minutes! Aemond was likely set off by the kids chuckling over a pig being carried in, calling back to the prank played on him a few episodes ago when the boys gave him a pig instead of a dragon. After last week's fight, Aemond has a pretty sick eyepatch, and we see him training with Criston Cole; the book explains that Aemond has now become a "proficient and dangerous swordsman," so watch out, Westeros.
Earlier in the episode, Rhaenyra asked Viserys if he truly believes in Aegon the Conqueror's prophecy. You'll recall in the pilot that Viserys revealed Aegon, the first king of the Seven Kingdoms, foresaw a coming apocalyptic event — the White Walkers attacking in Game of Thrones — and knew a Targaryen must be seated on the Iron Throne to unite the realm when this happens. Aegon's "Song of Ice and Fire" is a secret passed from king to heir, and it's a large part of what convinced Rhaenyra she had a duty to ascend the throne, though she admits now to having doubts.
So as the episode ends, Viserys again confuses Alicent with Rhaenyra and continues the conversation with his daughter from earlier. But Alicent misunderstands Viserys, thinking he's telling her that she must unite the realm. When he refers to Aegon the Conqueror, she thinks he's talking about her son Aegon. See, this is what happens when so many people have the same first name!
The implication is Alicent will come away believing, incorrectly, that Viserys' dying wish was for Aegon to rule instead of Rhaenyra. In that case, any chance of peace between the princess and the queen is surely over thanks to a tragic misunderstanding. As the episode closes, we see Viserys' Valyrian steel dagger in the corner, on which Aegon's prophecy is inscribed — the prophecy that, more than likely, will be the cause of Alicent and Rhaenyra going to a war that could have been avoided.
And with that, Viserys takes his final breath, and it would appear the king is finally dead. Let's hope so, at least, because this man needs to be put out of his misery. The entire series thus far has been about putting the pieces in place for two dueling sides, supporters of Aegon and supporters of Rhaenyra, to face off the moment the throne is up for grabs, and now, it officially is. And here we … go.