House of the Dragon's fourth episode sees King's Landing embroiled in a massive scandal that radically shakes up the status quo. Let's break it down with some book context:
Are you the one?
We begin with Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) engaged in the Westerosi equivalent of mindlessly swiping through Tinder.
After King Viserys (Paddy Considine) let her choose who to marry, he's arranged for Rhaenyra to go on a months-long tour to find a match. The latest stop: Storm's End, the seat of House Baratheon and a castle Game of Thrones fans have long hoped to see after it never appeared in the original series.
As we can see, all of Rhaenyra's options are fairly terrible. There's Lord Dondarrion, who's so old that Rhaenyra openly mocks the idea of marrying him. If that last name sounds familiar, Beric Dondarrion was the man with the eye patch who continuously returned to life in Game of Thrones. Rhaenyra's next candidate has the opposite problem: He's a child, from House Blackwood, which descended from the First Men and used to rule the Riverlands. Clearly, Rhaenyra has inherited her father's stance against marrying young kids.
Seated next to Rhaenyra during all this is Boremund Baratheon, head of House Baratheon, who we saw competing in the heir's tournament in the series premiere. He was the one asking for the favor of his cousin, the "Queen Who Never Was," and Boremund later pledged his loyalty to Rhaenyra. The kid Rhaenyra rejects murders a member of House Bracken, with whom the Blackwoods have long had a rivalry, right there, so Boremund surely isn't happy with this display.
As the suitors present themselves, Rhaenyra clutches the Valyrian steel necklace her uncle Daemon (Matt Smith) gave her years ago, a hint at where her heart truly lies.
Rhaenyra abruptly ends the tour and heads back to King's Landing, and it just so happens Daemon is arriving home the very same day. His dragon, Caraxes, almost knocks over Rhaenyra's ship on the way in, foreshadowing some similarly reckless behavior from Daemon that could sink her prospects as heir.
Daemon appears cockier than ever after winning his war in the Stepstones, and he even shows up wearing a crown. "They named me King of the Narrow Sea," Daemon says, a fairly questionable title that Fire & Blood suggests Daemon bestowed upon himself. But rather than taking a victory lap, Daemon surprisingly pledges his loyalty to the king and offers up the Crabfeeder's hammer to be added to the Iron Throne, which was forged out of the weapons of the Targaryens' fallen enemies.
Viserys should perhaps be a bit suspicious, but he's ready to declare all forgiven. Does Daemon have an angle, or has the four years away truly softened him? Rhaenyra, who can't hide her excitement to see her uncle, believes it's the latter. But for what it's worth, the book, Fire & Blood, suggests that "neither age nor exile had changed [Daemon's] nature."
Rhaenyra and Daemon quickly begin to bond once again, and Daemon sneaks her out in disguise as a page for the night, first showing how the people of the kingdom want Aegon to be heir instead of her. Daemon then takes Rhaenyra to a brothel to prove his point that marriage isn't the "death sentence" she thinks because, well, she can simply cheat on her husband constantly!
They passionately kiss, which contrasts with an utterly passionless sex scene between Viserys and Alicent (Emily Carey), who's coldly called to bed as if getting an invitation to a business meeting. Surely in that moment, Alicent, who's apparently sleeping in a separate bed from Viserys, realizes she's living the dreadful life of being "imprisoned in a castle and made to squeeze out heirs" that Rhaenyra fears.
But as Rhaenyra and Daemon are about to have sex, he abruptly pulls away. Did he snap out of his lust for his niece and realize he doesn't want to fall out of his brother's good graces yet again?
Rhaenyra goes back home and actually does sleep with Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), the knight she hired to the Kingsguard. It's a rather romantic scene compared to the sense of danger we saw when she was with Daemon. But Criston is clearly reluctant and fearful, as he's breaking the vow of celibacy he took by joining the Kingsguard, and it's Rhaenyra who really pushes him into the affair. As Criston's armor is slowly removed, the implication is that by giving in to his desires, he may never be able to put it back on.
Interestingly, this episode is the first time book readers are learning what really went down between Rhaenyra, Daemon, and Criston. The source material, Fire & Blood, is written as an in-universe history book, and the fictional author presents contradictory accounts of these events. In one version, Daemon is said to have "seduced" Rhaenyra and "claimed her maidenhood," and when they were discovered in bed and brought before the king, "Rhaenyra insisted she was in love with her uncle and pleaded with her father for leave to marry him." In another version, Daemon showed Rhaenyra "how best to touch a man to bring him pleasure" so that she could seduce Criston, only for Criston to spurn her.
House of the Dragon reveals none of these versions is quite right, though the latter is close. So we can presume this incident was widely gossiped about, but historians never quite learned the full truth. Apparently, Westeros had no equivalent of Ken Starr.
He said, she said
News of Rhaenyra and Daemon's escapades quickly makes its way back to Hand of the King Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans). Otto gets a tip from none other than Mysaria, the (now former) prostitute Daemon fled to Dragonstone with in episode two. She's clearly moving up in the world, and we see Otto receive word from a messenger for "the White Worm," Mysaria's nickname, after which the kid who spotted Daemon and Rhaenyra outside the brothel brings Mysaria money. Fire & Blood notes that Mysaria came to have "eyes and ears in every brothel, alehouse, and pot shop in King's Landing," sort of like Varys from Game of Thrones.
Rhaenyra during her night out also runs into Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr), whose father is Master of Laws Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes) and who we saw glancing at Rhaenyra during last week's hunt. Though he recognizes the princess, he apparently doesn't rat her out.
Viserys is naturally furious when he hears the rumor Rhaenyra's virginity was taken by her uncle, in part because this could turn away potential suitors. But when dragged before the king, Daemon fails to mention that he and Rhaenyra never actually had sex, just like he didn't refute calling Baelon the "heir for a day" when we never saw him do so. Daemon hopes that if Viserys believes he did take Rhaenyra's virginity, he'll be more willing to marry her off to him. So has Daemon been angling for a way to get closer to the throne by marrying Rhaenyra this whole episode, and that's what inspired the brothel trip? Perhaps, though if that's all that was motivating him, he probably wouldn't have pulled himself away from her.
Even though Daemon is already married to the Lady of Runestone, he argues for taking Rhaenyra as another wife, following in the footsteps of Aegon the Conqueror, who was married to his two sisters simultaneously. But Viserys shoots down the idea and banishes Daemon again. It's hard to imagine the relationship between brothers can come back from this one.
Notably, after being abandoned by Daemon, Rhaenyra is no longer wearing the necklace he gave her in the second half of the episode. She insists to Viserys and Alicent that nothing happened between them. But later, Viserys has moon tea (essentially the Westeros version of plan B) delivered to her, implying he has doubts. The fact that Rhaenyra actually did have sex with Cristen never comes to light, though the way the sex scene is shot almost seems to suggest someone may have been watching them. Is that another bomb just waiting to go off?
Otto's ambition for the throne finally comes back to bite him this week. Even though the information he receives about Rhaenyra is mostly accurate, Viserys suggests Otto has been spying on his daughter in hopes of ruining her reputation. Remember, Otto's grandson is the king's firstborn son, Aegon, who many people believe should come before Rhaenyra in the line of succession. So Otto does have every reason to want to have Rhaenyra removed as heir.
With help from Rhaenyra, Viserys finally realizes Otto sent his daughter, Alicent, to comfort the king as part of a scheme to make her queen. He even points out how Otto benefited from the death of Viserys' father, Baelon, as this elevated him to hand under the prior king. And with that ... beat it, Otto! This is a change from the book, where it's said Otto was fired for pushing too hard for Aegon to be named heir.
The princess and the queen
Rhaenyra and Alicent seem on the verge of a breakthrough in repairing their relationship this week after a distant few years, and it's heartening to see them open up about missing one another. When the gossip about Daemon emerges, we once again see Alicent genuinely cares for Rhaenyra. The queen takes her at her word that the accusations are false, even though their being true would be in Alicent's best interest, considering that would strengthen her son's claim to the throne.
But Alicent only gets involved in the Daemon scandal at all because she overhears a conversation about it, not because anyone thinks to include her as the queen. It's notable that while Alicent is mostly kept out of the loop, Rhaenyra has now taken a seat on the small council. Could we be seeing the seeds of Alicent's desire to get more involved in politics, not merely acting as a pawn of her father? With Otto gone, she'll soon have that chance.
The prince that was promised
Viserys dropped a bombshell in the series premiere that the first Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, Aegon the Conqueror, foresaw the threat of the White Walkers. "Aegon called his dream the song of ice and fire," Viserys explained. This episode reveals Aegon's "song" was also hidden in Viserys' Valyrian steel dagger, which has been passed down through the ages. "From my blood come the prince that was promised, and his will be the song of ice and fire," the dagger's inscription says.
In the books, readers have long heard about the prophecy of the "prince that was promised," who legend suggested would save the world. Melisandre initially believed Stannis Baratheon was the promised prince, but clearly, that didn't work out. Fans theorized it's actually Jon Snow, who has Targaryen blood, though Arya Stark being the one to defeat the Night King using this dagger threw a wrench in many of those theories.
The sea snake bites
Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) is nowhere to be found in this episode, but we learn he's taken over the Stepstones, even though Daemon declared he'd be giving the islands back to the king. It's an apparent rebuke for Viserys refusing to marry Corlys' 12-year-old daughter back in episode two, which the Lord of the Tides is still holding a grudge about.
Ultimately, Rhaenyra's reckless behavior leads Viserys to revoke his offer to let her pick her husband, going back to the original idea of marrying her to Corlys' son, Laenor Velaryon, who was the one riding the dragon during the battle with the Crabfeeder. Will that finally bring the Velaryons back into the fold after years of strife? Hey, when Rhaenyra's other options included her infant half-brother, she could certainly do worse.