Briefing

House of the Dragon episode 3: Daemon's war on the Crabfeeder and more, explained

All's fair in love and war

House of the Dragon's latest episode features the show's first big battle sequence, a very drunk king, and a somehow even grosser marriage proposal. Let's break it down with some book context: 

A feast for crabs

Three years have passed since House of the Dragon's second episode, and the war against the Triarchy and the Crabfeeder is ... not going well! 

As a reminder, the Triarchy is an alliance of the Free Cities of Essos led by Craghas Drahar, the Crabfeeder. Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) allied with Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) to wage war against the Triarchy, largely because they're taking over an island chain known as the Stepstones located in a key area for shipping. 

Initially, the lords of Westeros were actually happy that the Triarchy was riding the Stepstones of pirates. But as The World of Ice and Fire explains, when they started demanding "increasingly exorbitant tolls of passing ships," that's when they really became a problem, and they even started kidnapping people and selling them (as we briefly hear about early in this week's episode). Corlys, who became absurdly wealthy thanks to his ships, had been especially alarmed over all this. The show has made the threat even more visceral by playing up the horror of the sadistic Drahar nailing sailors to spikes to be eaten by crabs. Also a new addition for the show: Drahar appears to suffer from Greyscale, the skin disease that plagued Jorah Mormont and Shireen in Game of Thrones

As the episode begins, Daemon swoops in on his dragon, Caraxes, to mow down Drahar's forces — in the process, brutally landing on a Velaryon and crushing him to death. That's your side, dude! Clearly, our rogue prince is no savior, and Daemon is surely in the conflict to make a name for himself after being passed over as heir. Indeed, the book Fire & Blood says Daemon was "eager for the gold and glory that victory in war would bring him." 

But Daemon's dragon can only be so effective when Drahar and his men keep fleeing into the caves of Bloodstone. Come debate me, coward! Daemon and Corlys look set to lose the war, and even Corlys' own brother starts fomenting a mutiny. King Viserys (Paddy Considine), meanwhile, fears the message it would send if he supports a rogue war effort waged by two guys who currently hate his guts. (Fire & Blood says the Velaryons didn't even attend the king's wedding to Alicent after he rejected 12-year-old Laena Velaryon as his new wife.) 

Ultimately, Queen Alicent (Emily Carey) convinces Viserys to send aid. But when Daemon receives word of this, he's not relieved … he's absolutely furious. Daemon, after all, wants nothing more than the glory of winning this war without his brother's help, the only thing he has left to grasp onto as he gets bumped further and further down the line of succession with all these new heirs. Viserys' letter about sending aid pretty much calls his brother a failure and uses "us" as if he's been involved in the war the whole time, which Daemon surely didn't appreciate. 

So right then and there, Daemon heads for Bloodstone, pretending to surrender to draw Drahar out of the caves, only to start slicing through his men and, ultimately, cutting the Crabfeeder in half. (A dragon assist from Laenor Velaryon, Corlys' son, at just the right moment definitely helps). Remember when it seemed like the Crabfeeder might be the show's new overarching villain? Yeah, about that... 

Second of his name

After Viserys spurned the Velaryons last week by choosing Alicent Hightower to marry, she's now pregnant and has also already given him one son: Aegon, named after Aegon the Conqueror, the first Lord of the Seven Kingdoms who conquered Westeros. You know what that means: Aegon, who has just turned two, will now be the king's new heir, not Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock). Or will he? 

The Great Council depicted in the series premiere — the one that saw Viserys chosen as king — seemingly established a precedent that a male must come before a female in the line of succession. Yet Viserys seems dead set on keeping Rhaenyra his heir. That's his story, and he's sticking to it! 

So what's his reasoning for this? We get a glimpse into Viserys' mindset in a fascinating fireside chat with Alicent. The king admits he named Rhaenyra heir to "protect the realm from Daemon," supporting her suspicion that the move was primarily a way to spurn his brother, rather than actively choose her. But Viserys also remains wracked with guilt over his obsession with having a male heir, which was driven by a vision he had of his son wearing Aegon the Conqueror's crown. Keep in mind, we now know Aegon the Conqueror received a vision of the coming White Walker threat, and Daenys the Dreamer foresaw the destruction of Old Valyria, allowing the Targaryens to survive the Pompeii-esque destruction of their home. 

So Viserys saw himself as continuing this grand tradition of Targaryen dreamers, yet he now feels he's made a huge mistake. This obsession with making that future come true led to the death of his wife, driving him to let her die in childbirth in hopes of saving a son he was certain was destined to be king. Naming Rhaenyra his heir, then, seems like Viserys' attempt to right that wrong, even if he temporarily questions whether he made the right call. "I swear to you now on your mother's memory," he tells Rhaenyra, "you will not be supplanted." We'll see!

Even Rhaenyra is starting to question whether the realm will accept her as queen, though, a shift from her prior confidence that she'll create a "new order." Heck, we see early in the episode that people have no problem dissing her for supplanting Daemon as heir right in front of her face. 

Amid all this, two parallel hunting storylines contrast Rhaenyra with her father. She spares a deer, while he slays one for sport; she gets covered in blood after killing a boar up close in self-defense, while he struggles to kill an innocent deer that's been tied up. Only one seems ready to truly get her hands dirty.

The queen's father's gambit

So where is Alicent in all this? It's her son, after all, whom Viserys' plans to pass over as heir. But she seems reluctant to push back against this. "Would you have me raise a man to steal his own sister's birthright?" she asks her father, Hand of the King Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans). 

Instead, it is Otto who is really pushing his grandson's claim, urging Alicent to make the case to the king. Otto, remember, was the one whose scheming led his daughter to marry Viserys in the first place. 

So the show is painting Otto as more crafty, while Alicent seems to genuinely still care about Rhaenyra, her former best friend. We see her trying to repair that relationship, to no avail, and she even defends Rhaenyra as heir both publicly and privately. But has Otto swayed her into supporting her son instead? 

The bachelorette

Meanwhile, Rhaenyra's relationship with her father seems beyond repair when this episode begins — which, yeah, tends to happen when your dad blindsides you by marrying your best friend. 

Last week, Viserys didn't even bother to privately tell Rhaenyra he would marry Alicent. Now, he doesn't bother to tell her he intends to marry her off to Jason Lannister (Jefferson Hall). It doesn't help that Jason doesn't make the best first impression, arrogantly bragging about how tall Casterly Rock is and calling Rhaenyra his "lady wife" when she has no clue they're supposed to be getting married. Later, Jason blows it even harder by just assuming Rhaenyra is no longer Viserys' heir, infuriating the increasingly drunk king. 

(By the way, Jason has an identical twin brother, Tyland, who serves on the small council and is played by the same actor. He appears to be the new master of ships, taking over from Corlys, and that was him delivering the king news about the Stepstones early in the episode, not Jason. Obviously, having two characters named Rhaenyra and Rhaenys simply wasn't confusing enough.) 

Rhaenyra doesn't want to get married at all, but Viserys insists she must, though this is all slightly hypocritical coming from the guy who just lost his most important ally by following his own heart on marriage. "If it was for advantage," Rhaenyra accurately notes, "you would have wed Laena Velaryon."

When Rhaenyra runs off, she bonds with Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), the handsome knight she personally hired for the Kingsguard last week. They have genuine chemistry together, though unfortunately for Rhaenyra, members of the Kingsguard can't get married. 

Hand of the King Otto Hightower suggests an alternate idea: Marrying Rhaenyra to … Aegon. That's right, her two-year-old stepbrother, which makes the idea of marrying a 12-year-old look reasonable. Otto already pushed his daughter into marrying the king, and now, he's pushing for his grandson to marry the princess. Viserys literally laughs off his idea — so is Otto at risk of losing the king's confidence? His declaration in episode one that "the gods have yet to make a man who lacks the patience for absolute power" increasingly seems like a description of himself. 

Master of Laws Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes), though, has a more reasonable proposal: Rhaenyra should marry Laenor Velaryon, son of Corlys. Fire & Blood says Laenor was one of the candidates to become king put forward at the Great Council. But according to the book, he was rejected because his claim derived from his mother, while Viserys' derived from his father, and "most lords felt that the male line must take precedence over the female." At the time, the book says Corlys was massing ships getting ready to defend his son's right to the throne, but he ended up having to accept the vote for Viserys because it was so overwhelming. 

So marrying Laenor to Rhaenyra would be a great way to make things up to Corlys, the wealthiest man in the realm, who blew his lid when the king decided not to marry his daughter, Laena. As the son of Viserys' cousin Rhaenys (Eve Best), the "Queen Who Never Was," Laenor also has Targaryen blood. Hey, great idea, Lyonel!

That seems like the best option, but Viserys decides he'll let Rhaenyra choose who to marry — an admirable but slightly questionable decision, considering it could lead the Velaryons to be spurned for the umpteenth time. Is Viserys actually offering Rhaenyra the freedom to choose, or merely trying to make her believe getting married to someone like Laenor is her idea, like Alicent said? Regardless, stay tuned to see who gets the rose!  

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