Briefing

House of the Dragon: 'Driftmark,' explained

In which there is a rare 'Game of Thrones' twist where someone lives

The knives are out — literally and figuratively — in this week's eye-popping episode of House of the Dragon, as a Westerosi funeral goes nearly as badly as a Westerosi wedding. Let's break it down with some book context: 

One wedding and a funeral

It's a Westerosi funeral, and everyone's mad at everyone! 

The royal family gathered this week at Driftmark, seat of House Velaryon, for the funeral of Daemon's (Matt Smith) wife Laena after her fiery death, and the tension between every single person in attendance was almost unbearable. 

Rhaenyra's (Emma D'Arcy) son Jace (Leo Hart) was mad that nobody cares about the death of Harwin Strong, his real father; Aegon (Ty Tennant) was mad that he's been betrothed to his weird bug-loving sister Helaena (Evie Allen); Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) was mad at Aegon for drinking too much; Corlys (Steve Toussaint) was mad at Qarl Correy (Arty Froushan) for being his son's secret lover; Rhaenys (Eve Best) was mad at Daemon for not letting her daughter, Laena, return home; and King Viserys (Paddy Considine), well, he just seems confused, at one point referring to Alicent (Olivia Cooke) as Aemma, his deceased wife. Seriously, how is this guy still alive? 

Amid all this, the elephant in the room remains that Rhaenyra's kids are obvious bastards, so their presence at a Velaryon funeral is awkward at best and insulting at worst. "Salt courses through Velaryon blood," Corlys' brother proclaims, only to look over at non-Velaryons Luke and Jace. They stand out like a sore thumb, even more so next to their silver-haired cousins, and Daemon can't help but laugh. 

Viserys surprisingly uses the funeral as an opportunity to invite Daemon back to King's Landing, despite kicking his brother out not once, but twice, most recently for claiming to have publicly deflowered his niece. He is ready to get hurt again

During this opening funeral scene, we get a brief reference to the "Merling King," a god worshipped by sailors. Legend suggests the Merling King gifted the Velaryons their Driftwood Throne, which we see Viserys sitting on this week.

A new legacy

Rhaenys, the "Queen Who Never Was," is wracked with grief over her daughter's death, questioning whether marrying her children to the Targaryens was worth it. Part of the idea was to get closer to the throne that Rhaenys was denied at the Great Council. But while Corlys claims to be seeking justice for that wrong, he seems more driven by his own thirst for power and, as he puts it, legacy; it calls to mind Walter White's endless declarations in Breaking Bad that his drug empire was for his family, only to later admit, "I did it for me." 

Rhaenyra's son Luke is in line to inherit Driftmark from Corlys one day when his brother becomes king, despite obviously not being a Velaryon (and despite Luke declaring, with his best Jon Snow impression, "I don't want it.") But Rhaenys wants Daemon's kids to take it over instead, considering they really are true-born Velaryons. Surely, though, altering this succession plan isn't possible without publicly accusing Rhaenyra of having bastards, and that's a no-go. 

Besides, Corlys doesn't really care that his "grandsons" aren't technically related to him, so long as they carry the Velaryon name forward. Under Corlys' deal with Viserys from a few episodes back, Luke would continue using the last name Velaryon while his brother rules as a Targaryen. 

How to claim your dragon 

Having everyone gathered at Driftmark for the funeral meant there were a whole lot of dragons in one place, so much so that there is a line in the book about Driftmark briefly becoming "the new Valyria." 

Alicent's son Aemond (Leo Ashton) certainly takes note of that. You'll recall he doesn't have his own dragon like his brother and is extremely self-conscious about that, so he decides to claim one: Vhagar, which was formerly ridden by Laena. In addition to it being kind of in bad taste to swipe a dead lady's pet at her funeral, it's worth noting this isn't just any dragon. It's the biggest and oldest dragon currently in existence, and it's been around since the conquest of Westeros, when Aegon the Conqueror's wife Visenya rode her. 

So claiming Vhagar is a rather massive deal, and when the dragon begins taking Aemond's commands, we're meant to understand it's now officially his. This is an especially tough blow for Daemon's kids, mainly Rhaena, who also doesn't have her own dragon since the egg she was given at birth never hatched. So after her mom's death, the one bright spot was that Rhaena could now claim Vhagar … and Aemond just stole her. Maybe he, not Aegon, is the Targaryen kid we should really be worried about?

An eye for an eye

The kids truly aren't alright this week, as the dragon episode leads to a bloody confrontation between them all. It escalates when Aemond openly calls Luke and Jace bastards, leading Luke to take his eye out. Well, that would explain the eyepatch we've seen Aemond wearing in the trailers. The book, Fire & Blood, explains that Alicent's kids "grew to be bitter rivals" of Rhaenyra's, "resentful of them for having stolen" the throne. 

Then Alicent demands one of Rhaenyra's kids lose an eye as retribution — and when Viserys refuses, she attacks Rhaenyra with the king's own Valyrian steel blade. Viserys has little control over the madness, once again underlining his weakness as king. He's really going to let his wife violently attack his daughter and heir in front of everyone? At least Viserys threatens to remove the tongue of anyone who speaks of the bastard rumors again, but will anyone take that threat seriously when Alicent gets away with all her behavior here? 

This whole sequence is lifted directly from the book with the exception of Alicent slicing Rhaenyra, a show invention. Aegon, meanwhile, misses the entire fight after drinking too much; Fire & Blood describes him as "given to swilling ale and strongwine and pinching and fondling any serving girl who strayed within his reach."

By the way, you know how Alicent's daughter Helaena has been muttering seemingly random things to herself while looking at her bugs? Well, last week, immediately after Alicent promised Aemond he would have a dragon one day, Helaena said this: "He'll have to close an eye." Was that just clever foreshadowing that Aemond would soon lose an eye and gain a dragon, or could Helaena actually be a greenseer, e.g. someone who can see into the future? Keep an ear open to her dialogue for potential hints. 

You've got to hand it to her

Alicent's father Otto has already been reinstated as hand of the king after Lyonel Strong also had a fiery death last week. The show doesn't really explain why Viserys is fine with Otto getting his old job back when he obviously doesn't support Rhaenyra as heir, but we can assume Alicent managed to convince him. Fire & Blood notes that Viserys considered naming Rhaenyra or even Daemon hand of the king, but he "chose familiarity" by re-hiring Otto. 

But just when Alicent expects Otto to chastise her for assaulting the princess, he's actually psyched that she was willing to get ugly. Clearly, Otto is ready for this cold war to heat up, though that's easy to say now that his side has the world's biggest dragon. Still, could Alicent's outburst — the Westerosi equivalent of The Slap, perhaps — sway crucial allies toward Rhaenyra? Either way, if there was any chance Viserys would change his mind about Rhaenyra being heir, that just went out the window. 

Lord have mercy

Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), meanwhile, is now officially the lord of Harrenhal, inheriting it after having his own father and brother burned alive in that very same castle, and he seems eager for even more mischief.

Indeed, Larys floats the idea to Alicent of getting retribution for Aemond's eye himself, which she rejects — for now. "The day will doubtless come when I require such a friend," she tells him, so Larys is basically on retainer for another murder. Here he goes killing again! He should probably practice being more subtle about this, though, considering everyone notices him staring at her with pride at the funeral, and Daemon has already figured out that Alicent was involved in the Harrenhal fire.

Notably, this offer comes after Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) refused to help Alicent take out one of the kids' eyes. So could we see her start turning more to Larys, rather than Criston, when it comes to breaking the law in the future?

Wherefore art thou, Laenor?  

A grief-stricken Laenor misses nearly this entire episode, arriving the morning after like Troy bringing back pizza to his fiery apartment. His absence when his sons get in trouble surely won't dissuade people from believing they're not really his. "I should have been there," he says. Yeah, you think? 

But with Laenor's lover Qarl going off to fight in the Stepstones, he vows to change his ways and actually be a husband and father in practice, not just in theory. Great, here's to many more years of happy marriage between these two. Surely, nothing will get in the way of that! 

For those who wondered last week why Laenor and Rhaenyra couldn't have at least had sex a few times to produce kids that look like him, we learn this week that they did try, but there was no "joy" in it, as Rhaenyra puts it. In the book, there is a whole section about rumors of their sex life, with one of the in-universe historians saying they "shared a bed no more than a dozen times," while another more salacious source claims that Qarl "oft shared that bed as well." 

Til' fake death do us part

First Daemon tries to bang his niece, then he murders his wife, and then he actually does bang his niece at the funeral of his other dead wife. They couldn't wait, like, a few days? 

Well, at least it's Rhaenyra who initiates it. She clearly has always had a thing for Daemon, though the fact that their flirting began when he was a grown man and she was a child makes this creepier than just regular old incest. She's frustrated with him for abandoning her all those years ago, so maybe if he had simply proposed marriage in a normal way without those brothel shenanigans, everything might have worked out (after he first killed his wife, of course). 

Rhaenyra proposes they get married now, to which he's presumably thinking, "Yeah, I've been saying that!" She even compares their marriage to Aegon the Conqueror's, just as Daemon did to Viserys. It's not a terrible idea, as Daemon could give Rhaenyra legitimate heirs. The fact that a Targaryen would be king consort might also improve her claim, as for all those raging misogynists out there in Westeros, at least a male Targaryen would be close to the throne. Besides, Rhaenyra needs someone strong by her side when the coming war begins, and Laenor doesn't really fit the bill. 

"I cannot face the greens alone," Rhaenyra says. In the book, "the greens" refers to those loyal to Alicent, in reference to the infamous green dress she wore.

But this would only be possible if Laenor were dead. Boy, it would be a shame if something happened to him, right? As Rhaenyra and Daemon scheme, our jaws drop as we're led to believe that Daemon hires Qarl, Laenor's lover, to murder him, a shocking twist that would call into question which side we're rooting for. We even see Qarl get into a sword fight with Laenor, which seemingly ends with Laenor's dead body being tossed in the fire.

In the closing moments, though, we see Qarl and Laenor, now with a shaved head, sailing away, revealing the whole thing was a ruse and that Rhaenyra and Daemon actually plotted to fake his death. Laenor's "body" is presumably just the body of that man Daemon killed, burnt beyond recognition. Thank goodness DNA testing hasn't been invented in Westeros yet!

Now, Rhaenyra and Daemon are free to marry, while Laenor can live blissfully with Qarl across the Narrow Sea in a place "where it doesn't matter what a man's name is," which sounds like a solid deal considering he's shown no interest in all this political scheming and dreamed last week of being "back at sea"; it's basically the same out that Criston offered Rhaenyra. 

Still, we're not letting Rhaenyra off the hook for this considering Corlys and Rhaenys seemingly aren't in on the plan — unless they're just amazing actors — forcing them to go through the grief of losing a second child. Rhaenyra and Daemon are also both hoping to strike fear in their enemies by making the realm suspect she killed him, hence Daemon noting, "We will know the truth of it, and our enemies won't." 

This is another example of the show solving a mystery from the book. Fire & Blood says Laenor was stabbed to death by Qarl at a fair but that "the circumstances of the murder remain a mystery to this day." It offers several theories, including that Daemon paid Qarl to kill him, and fans have always suspected that's what happened. But the idea that Laenor's death was actually faked is a big reveal even for book readers. That's right: It's a rare Game of Thrones twist where someone lives

Daemon and Rhaenyra waste no time tying the knot, so the episode closes with their marriage. The book suggests the reason they were in such a hurry is that Rhaenyra "knew her father would never approve of the match, so she wed in haste to make certain he could not prevent" it. We'll have to see how Viserys feels when he finds out, so stay tuned to see if Daemon will get thrown out of King's Landing like Jazz from Fresh Prince for a record third time. 

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