Briefing

House of the Dragon: 'We Light the Way,' explained

How to get away with murder…

This week on House of the Dragon, the show had its first wedding — which went about as well as Game of Thrones weddings typically do. Let's break down that wild episode with some book context: 

How to get away with murder

It's been a banner week for family man Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith), who follows up nearly banging his niece by murdering his wife. After getting kicked out of King's Landing and disinherited, Daemon returns to the Vale to kill Rhea Royce (Rachel Redford), his estranged wife whom he's been calling his "bronze b---h" in reference to the armor the Royces wear. House Royce engraves their armor with "magic" runes, and Sansa mentions in the books that this supposedly wards "against harm" … not that it does Rhea much good here. 

After Rhea falls off her horse, the scene cuts, but it's implied Daemon bashes her skull in with a rock. "I knew you couldn't finish," she shouts, a possible trigger for Daemon, who's been dealing with impotence. It's his version of "nobody calls me chicken" from Back to the Future

Rhea was the lady of Runestone, seat of House Royce, and heir to that castle. But Daemon expects to inherit it, seeing as they had no children, apparently because Rhea has been unwilling to consummate their marriage. He declares his intention to claim the castle when confronted by Rhea's cousin, who clearly knows Daemon killed her. But Daemon will have to petition for control of Runestone to Jeyne Arryn, head of House Arryn. The Royces are sworn to the Arryns, who control the Vale and whose seat is the Eyrie, which fans will remember as that castle where people fell out of the Moon Door to their deaths in Game of Thrones. The castle of Runestone is located not far from the Eyrie. 

Rhea's death is a notable change from the book, Fire & Blood, where it's said she "fell from her horse" in a "tragic mishap," but there's no confirmation Daemon was even there. Remember when the show seemed like it was trying to make him more sympathetic? Okay, technically, we don't see Daemon kill her, just like we never saw him say "heir for a day." But in this case, it's safe to assume he did. After his plan to marry Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) didn't work out, he's nowhere close to the Iron Throne, so seizing Runestone may be all he has left. Plus, if Rhaenyra's marriage doesn't work out ... ladies, he's single! 

Spilling the tea

This is the first episode so far without any significant time jump, as Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) is only just leaving King's Landing after King Viserys (Paddy Considine) fired him. Replacing Otto as hand of the king is Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes), the former master of laws who has been giving Viserys consistently solid advice throughout the show. On his way out, Otto urges his daughter, Queen Alicent (Emily Carey), to wake up to the fact that a war is coming, and unless she's ready to back Aegon, her son with Viserys, as the rightful heir, Rhaenyra will have to kill him to secure her own claim. Even now, Alicent is still defending Rhaenyra and her innocence, clearly reluctant to turn on her friend. 

But that all changes when Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), son of Hand of the King Lyonel Strong, tips Alicent off about the tea the king had delivered to Rhaenyra at the end of last week's episode — essentially this universe's version of the Plan B pill. Its delivery strongly suggests Rhaenyra lied to Alicent's face that nothing happened with Daemon, and on the memory of her dead mother, no less. Sure, Rhaenyra truly didn't have sex with Daemon but with Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), but that distinction hardly matters when the whole issue was whether she was still a virgin. It's notable that this conversation with Larys occurs beside the Weirwood tree where Rhaenyra was lying in Alicent's lap in episode one, signaling how far their friendship has deteriorated since then.

With this bombshell, Larys is obviously trying to drive a wedge between Alicent and Rhaenyra, and he's done a stellar job! In the book, Larys is known as "the Clubfoot" because of his misshapen foot, which made him unable to join the king's hunt in episode three. He's described as being an "enigma" who "hoarded his words," "preferring to listen rather than talk." He's also the younger brother of Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr), who's currently captain of the City Watch and ran into Rhaenyra during her night out last week. Could Harwin have been the one to tip Larys off about the tea? Either way, it looks like Larys foresees a coming war pitting Alicent against Rhaenyra, and he's getting in early on picking his side. 

Alicent could use allies, as her father's firing has made her and the king estranged. She pointedly isn't by his side throughout nearly this entire episode, even when Viserys looks to be on his deathbed. When Alicent witnesses him collapse, she barely even reacts, let alone rushes to be with him, so the days of her being the dutiful wife squeezing out heirs and bathing her husband are long gone. 

Eight simple rules for dating my teenage daughter

Meanwhile, Viserys travels with Rhaenyra to the castle of High Tide on Driftmark to patch things up with Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), who rage-quit the small council after the king refused to marry his daughter, Laena, simply because she was a 12-year-old child. That's still not going to happen, but Viserys proposes a marriage between Rhaenyra and Corlys' son, Laenor, who we saw flying in on his dragon during the battle with the Crabfeeder. Laenor has Targaryen blood, as his mother is Viserys' cousin Rhaenys (Eve Best), the "Queen Who Never Was." 

Corlys accepts the proposal, but not before sticking it to Viserys one more time by failing to greet him when he arrives — he's instead greeted by Laena, now aged up and played by a different actor — and making the king come to him while he's seated on his own Driftwood Throne. Legend suggests the Driftwood Throne was gifted to the Velaryons by a god, the Merling King. Corlys holds all the power here as the man who controls the navy that Viserys needs on his side, and he knows it. 

Privately, Corlys assures his wife, Rhaenys, that he's seeking justice for her being denied the throne. Remember, at the Great Council of 101 that was depicted in the series' first scene, the lords of Westeros chose Viserys as king instead of Rhaenys, supposedly establishing a precedent that men always come before women in the line of succession; that's largely why Rhaenyra being chosen as heir is controversial. But Viserys confirms that Rhaenyra and Laenor's first-born child will become heir "regardless of gender," giving Corlys and Rhaenys another reason to ally with him: He intends for this precedent, which robbed them of the throne, to be abandoned permanently. On the other hand, Alicent's son Aegon's claim is reliant upon the Great Council's male-over-female precedent. But is this fight really worth Corlys and Rhaenys putting targets on their eventual grandchildren's backs should a war for the throne break out? Rhaenys doesn't think so. 

There is also the ever-so-slight problem that Laenor is gay, so Rhaenyra proposes an open marriage. She truly is her uncle's niece! Laenor has his own lover, Ser Joffrey Lonmouth (Solly McLeod), a.k.a. the "Knight of Kisses," while she has Ser Criston Cole. Or does she?

Oathbreaker

Criston is distraught after breaking his vow of celibacy, which he took when he joined the Kingsguard, by sleeping with Rhaenyra. Breaking one's sworn oath is a pretty big deal, which can be punishable by death. His only hope of restoring his honor, as he sees it, is actually marrying Rhaenyra. But she shoots down his offer to run away together, as for all the complaining she does about her situation, Rhaenyra actually does appreciate that she has a duty to the realm. The fact that she now also knows a Targaryen must be seated on the throne for the coming "long night" or the world may end probably doesn't hurt. 

But then, in a sitcom-esque misunderstanding, Criston spills his guts about his affair with Rhaenyra to Alicent, who had no clue about it until he said anything. Cue the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme! From their conversation, it's clear Criston to some degree resents Rhaenyra for seducing him. He was obviously reluctant to sleep with her in the first place, and he now says he did so "at her instigation." 

The green wedding

And so we arrive at Rhaenyra and Laenor's pre-wedding feast, and it's an absolute mess. First of all, Alicent intentionally barges in late to interrupt Viserys' speech, and it's not lost on anyone that she's wearing a green dress.  

House Hightower gets its name from an actual, literal high tower, which also serves as their seat in Oldtown. It has a beacon on top and was built "to light a path for trading ships up the fog-shrouded waters of Whispering Sound," The World of Ice & Fire says. That's why the words of House Hightower are "we light the way," the title of this week's episode. We saw the Hightower when Sam visited Oldtown's Citadel in Game of Thrones. As Larys Strong helpfully points out, the beacon on the Hightower glows green when Oldtown is calling its banners for war. 

So not only is Alicent not-so-subtly broadcasting her estrangement from Viserys to everyone gathered for the wedding, but she's also signaling she's now ready to go to war to defend her son's claim to the throne. It seems Rhaenyra's betrayal of her trust, combined with her father's dismissal as hand and her concerns over her children's fate, was her breaking point. 

But things quickly escalate when Laenor's lover, Joffrey, reveals to Criston Cole he knows about his relationship with Rhaenyra — leading Criston to snap and brutally kill him in front of the entire wedding party. What is it with people named Joffrey dying at weddings? Harwin Strong is the one who rescues Rhaenyra when the fighting breaks out; he's known as Harwin "Breakbones," and he certainly looks to have broken a bone or two here. 

A similar scene occurs in the book, but there, Criston kills Joffrey during an official tourney. Here, it's just cold-blooded murder. Obviously, Criston can't just go back to being a regular member of the Kingsguard after that, but just as he's preparing to commit suicide, Alicent stops him. Criston clearly feels spurned by Rhaenyra and was outright offended by her open marriage proposal, so could Alicent have found a new ally? 

Another ally makes himself known at the feast: Hobert Hightower, brother of Otto and head of House Hightower, who tells Alicent "Oldtown stands with you." The implication is they'll defend Aegon over Rhaenyra when the time comes, despite the fact that Hobert pledged fealty to Rhaenyra at the end of the first episode. Another notable wedding development: Laena, Corlys' daughter, expresses interest in getting to know a newly single Daemon. Of course he would try to pick up someone at the wedding of the niece he just tried to publicly deflower. 

Just before the wedding, by the way, we get a shot of two dragons flying in, one of which is Laenor's, Seasmoke, but the other of which is Rhaenys', Meleys, who we're seeing for the first time. 

The big sick

Viserys is in rougher shape than ever this week, spending nearly the entire episode coughing up blood, vomiting, and passing out. He's also lost two of his fingers due to cutting himself on the Iron Throne. For those wondering what's medically wrong with Viserys besides being sick of everyone's BS, Paddy Considine explained on the West of Westeros podcast he's suffering from a "form of leprosy."

"His body is deteriorating, his bones are deteriorating," Considine said. "He is not actually old. He's still a young man in there. He's just, unfortunately, got this thing that's taken over his body."

So moments after Rhaenyra and Laenor marry, Viserys collapses, ending the episode on a massive cliffhanger. Is that it for our king? War looks set to break out as soon as his throne is up for grabs, so has that time come? As Viserys lies on the ground, the closing image is that of a rat scurrying toward a pool of blood, just like the rat Alicent noticed while she was lying in bed after her horrifying sex scene with Viserys last week. Could this symbolize her ascent from a pawn in this game of thrones to a serious player? 

We'll soon find out. But this is our final episode before a 10-year time jump, so new actors Emma D'Arcy and Olivia Cooke will take over as Rhaenyra and Alicent next week. So long to Milly Alcock and Emily Carey, who have left big shoes for D'Arcy and Cooke to fill — and congrats on being the rare actors to graduate from Game of Thrones without their characters being brutally murdered!

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