House of the Dragon's second episode features a spurned brother throwing a tantrum, an unlikely alliance, and a very creepy marriage proposal. Let's break it all down and examine some lore from the books that comes into play:
The coming storm
Set six months after the events of House of the Dragon's premiere, "The Rogue Prince" begins with Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) barging into the small council furious that King Viserys (Paddy Considine) refuses to take action against the Triarchy, an alliance among the Free Cities of Lys, Myr, and Tyrosh. These cities are located on the coast of Essos, across the Narrow Sea from Westeros. The Triarchy has been seeking to take over the Stepstones, an island chain between Dorne and Essos. Leading the effort is the creepy Prince Admiral Craghas Drahar, appropriately nicknamed "The Crabfeeder" because he's feeding sailors to crabs.
This didn't seem like a huge issue at first, but Corlys demands the king get involved now that he's starting to lose ships to Drahar. As the source material Fire & Blood explains, the Stepstones aren't that valuable on their own, but "placed as they were, they controlled the sea lanes to and from the Narrow Sea." So in addition to the loss of ships, the concern is that the Triarchy will interfere with key shipping lanes. That would be a big problem for Corlys, who has become quite wealthy at sea.
Corlys wants to send his fleet in. But Viserys refuses the request, hoping to avoid sparking a war. Instead, he seeks to find a common cause against the Triarchy with their neighbors, the Free Cities of Pentos and Volantis — not a bad idea, considering the Triarchy originally formed to wage war against Volantis, according to Fire & Blood. But Corlys argues not taking stronger action against Drahar is projecting weakness across the realm, and even Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) seems to agree.
A Dragonstone's throw
Last week's premiere ended with Viserys ordering his brother, Daemon (Matt Smith), back to Runestone with his estranged wife. But Daemon had other plans, instead taking an army of his loyal City Watch men to seize Dragonstone.
That's a big deal because when a Targaryen is named heir to the Iron Throne, they traditionally receive the title of prince (or princess) of Dragonstone — meaning this is all a way for Daemon to rebel against Rhaenyra after the king named her heir instead of him. Dragonstone for years served as the seat of House Targaryen, and it's where the first king of the Seven Kingdoms, Aegon Targaryen, was born. Fans will also recall Daenerys settling there in Game of Thrones season seven.
Despite Dragonstone's significance, Viserys does nothing about Daemon's insolence for about half a year … at least, not until he takes things too far by stealing a dragon egg from King's Landing. It's tradition for a dragon's egg to be placed in the cradle of a Targaryen child, and Daemon claims he's expecting a baby with his lover, Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno), whom he plans to wed despite already being married. It turns out, though, that she isn't actually pregnant. He's clearly just trying to provoke Viserys, even stealing the same egg that was chosen for the king's deceased son, Prince Baelon, his so-called "heir for a day." In the end, Rhaenyra rides into Dragonstone personally, and Daemon, who seems to have a soft spot for his niece, forks over the egg.
How I met your stepmother
The rest of the episode centers around the question of who Viserys will marry following the queen's death, which left him without a male heir. Lord Corlys and his wife, Rhaenys (Eve Best), have an idea: He should wed their eldest daughter, Laena. They continue to feel slighted ever since Rhaenys, the "Queen Who Never Was," was passed over for the throne at the Great Council simply because she's a woman, so this would be a logical way to help heal that wound. (In Fire & Blood, it's explained that Laena was also put forward as a potential candidate at the Great Council, but like her mother, she was rejected due to her sex.)
This all poses a threat to Rhaenyra, and Rhaenys warns that should Laena bring Viserys a son, the realm will expect him to become the new heir. After all, the Great Council's precedent suggests a male must come before a female in the line of succession — though Viserys later reiterates he doesn't intend to replace her as heir.
Everyone seems to approve of the marriage to Laena, but there's only one problem: She's 12 years old. Where's Westerosi Chris Hansen when you need him? Viserys is understandably creeped out, so he instead decides to marry ... his daughter's best friend, Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey). Oh good, now it's not weird at all!
This was, presumably, Hand of the King Otto Hightower's plan when he encouraged his daughter to comfort the king in his chambers in last week's episode. Indeed, Fire & Blood notes that when Viserys revealed his planned marriage to Alicent, there were "those who murmured" that the Hand of the King "brought his daughter to court with this in mind." In fact, Fire & Blood says there were even rumors that Alicent slept with the king while his wife was still alive, though in the show, there is no evidence of that. To be fair, the Hightowers are still an "ancient and noble family, of impeccable lineage," Fire & Blood notes, so the marriage isn't that outrageous of an idea.
But the decision angers Alicent's (former?) bestie Rhaenyra, and most crucially, it infuriates Corlys, who is getting sick and tired of his family being repeatedly passed over in the line of succession. He's so angry, in fact, that he joins forces with Daemon, seeking his help in the war against the Triarchy that the king keeps ignoring. Has Viserys just burned one of his most important bridges? Corlys is the wealthiest man in Westeros whose fleet is a crucial asset for the king, so … not great, Bob!
For what it's worth, Fire & Blood says Laena herself didn't seem to mind, showing "more interest in flying than in boys."
Elsewhere in the episode, an opening on the Kingsguard emerges after the death of Ser Ryam Redwyne (also a former Hand of the King), leading Viserys to task Rhaenyra with choosing his replacement. She insists on picking someone with combat experience and ends up going with Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), the handsome mystery knight who caught her eye when he defeated her brother Daemon during the heir's tournament. Otto urged Rhaenyra to pick someone from an allied house, but Criston comes from a more humble background as the son of a steward. So the first real decision we see Rhaenyra make as heir has already ruffled feathers.
Fire & Blood plays up Rhaenyra's enthusiasm for Criston, describing how she "begged" her father to name him as her personal protector and even dubbing him "my white knight." In the show, though, Rhaenyra appears ticked off that Viserys is seemingly just trying to distract her with this busy work when she'd rather have a seat on the council discussing matters of war.
Valyria of old
We hear quite a bit in this episode about the ancient city of Valyria, so now would be a good time for a bit of a history lesson.
Think of Valyria as sort of the Game of Thrones version of ancient Rome, or perhaps Atlantis. Located in Essos, it was the "greatest city in the known world" and the "center of civilization" during its height, according to Fire & Blood. Valyria was home to a variety of houses, including the Targaryens and the Velaryons. The Targaryens weren't the only dragonlords in Valyria, and in fact, Fire & Blood says they weren't even the most powerful.
But they were the only dragonlords to survive a Pompeii-esque cataclysm, the Doom of Valyria, that destroyed the entire city around 200 years before the events of House of the Dragon. We still don't fully know the details, but it appears to have been a natural disaster that involved a series of eruptions from volcanic mountains called the Fourteen Flames, where the Valyrians mined gold and silver and where some claim dragons were born. House Targaryen survived the Doom thanks to Daenys the Dreamer, who foresaw the end of Valyria 12 years earlier, leading her father, Aenar, to move his family (and dragons) to Dragonstone.
On top of riding dragons, the dragonlords of Valyria also "practiced blood magic and other dark arts … twisting the flesh of beasts and men to fashion monstrous and unnatural chimeras," so some claim the gods "struck them down" for their sins, Fire & Blood says.
The Velaryons, meanwhile, also have Valyrian lineage and claim to have arrived in Westeros before the Targaryens, where they settled on Driftmark prior to the Doom. They've been more focused on the seas, while the Targaryens were focused on the skies, but both houses have been allies for many years. In fact, Aegon the Conqueror's father was a Targaryen but his mother was a Velaryon.
Valyria comes up in this week's episode during Viserys' chat with Laena, who asks what it was like to "ride the Black Dread," referring to Balerion, the dragon Aegon rode when he conquered Westeros. Viserys later rode Balerion, though he never rode another dragon after Balerion's death. "With Balerion died the last memory of Valyria of old," Viserys says, as Balerion was born in Valyria and escaped the Doom with Aegon; Fire & Blood describes the dragon as possibly "the only living creature in the world that knew Valyria before the Doom." Laena notes, though, that Vhagar still lives, referring to the large dragon who was born at Dragonstone and that Aegon's queen rode.
Valyria is also the city depicted in Viserys' detailed model, and he fears its "glory" will never come again. Later, Corlys references Valyria when he notes that a marriage between the king and his daughter is a good idea because it would unite the "two great surviving Valyrian houses" that remain after the Doom. Welp, so much for that!