‘House of the Dragon,’ Season 1, Episode 2: A Happy Announcement

Season 1, Episode 2: ‘The Rogue Prince’

A couple of centuries in Westeros’s future, in the same garden (I think) where King Viserys went on a blind date with a child on Sunday, Cersei Lannister will tell the soon-to-be-splooshed Oberyn Martell one of the saddest things anyone has ever heard.

“Everywhere in the world, they hurt little girls,” she said.

We saw the truth of these words this week in “House of the Dragon.” No matter whether the girl in question is a wealthy 12- or 15-year-old being offered to a middle-aged man in order to improve her father’s positioning; a scorned woman who has been literally sold so many times she doesn’t remember where she is from; or an actual princess being disrespected by a bitter uncle and marginalized in her own home by a father who won’t even ask if it’s cool for him to marry her best friend … it’s going to hurt.

A different princess, her own dreams dashed by men long ago, might coolly describe all this as “the order of things.” But that doesn’t make it any less painful. The thrust of this season, at least, seems destined to be defined by the extent to which Rhaenyra and others are willing to abide these unjust traditions.

We picked things up almost six months after the events of the premiere. The Crabfeeder keeps feeding crabs in the Stepstones, a chain of islands between Westeros and Essos. (The Free Cities everybody keeps talking about are in Essos.) Ser Ryam, the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, has died, creating an opening for the dreamy Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), last seen besting Daemon at the tourney. Daemon himself is brazenly squatting in Dragonstone.

But the biggest problem seems to be Viserys’s continuing singlehood. Everyone is worried about his sole heir being a woman, plus we all know how much Westerosi nobles love a wedding.

More on ‘House of the Dragon’

HBO’s long-awaited first “Game of Thrones” spinoff debuted on Aug. 21.

  • A Rogue Prince: Daemon Targaryen, portrayed by Matt Smith, is an agent of chaos. But “he’s got a strange moral compass of his own,” the actor said.
  • The New King: A string of critically acclaimed roles has lifted Paddy Considine, who stars as King Viserys Targaryen, from hardscrabble roots to a seat on the Iron Throne.
  • The King’s Hand: Otto Hightower is a major player in the prequel. Here is what to know about the character and the history of House Hightower.
  • The Showrunners: In a conversation with The Times, Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik discussed the new series, brothel scenes and domesticated dragons.

In fact, there were two big marriage announcements this week. One paired a visibly rotting Viserys with an adolescent Alicent, who was deployed as a honey pot by her craven father, Otto, using his role as the king’s most trusted adviser to secure power for himself. It endangered Viserys’s relationship with the Sea Snake, his most important ally — who wanted the king to choose his preadolescent daughter, Laena (Nova Fouellis-Mose) — and shattered Rhaenyra just when she was starting to feel OK about things. The other announcement was a manipulative lie from Daemon.

So … par for the course for “Game of Thrones” nuptials. Reviews were mixed for both.

“This is an absurdity!” the Sea Snake said in response to Viserys’s big reveal, and at first he seemed to have a point. Not just because Laena made more strategic sense — and good news, she wouldn’t have to bed him until she turned 14 — but also because Viserys and Alicent haven’t exactly been setting the world alight with their chemistry. (Which also counts as good news, given that she’s 15.)

However, all the signs were pointing this way. For one thing, Viserys and Alicent have some things in common. Both are more introspective and sensitive than others in the royal court, and they enjoy the escapism of stories and myth. They’ve each suffered a gutting personal loss. Plus, they won’t even need rings — they’re already bonded through their matching finger trauma. (Wonder if “maggot dish” will be on the wedding registry.)

As the symbolic figurine from his Old Valyria model showed us, Viserys is a broken dragon. His wife’s ashes are barely cold and everyone’s telling him to remarry, and he’s physically disintegrating. And Alicent has some ideas about how to put him back together.

An indecent proposal: from left, Paddy Considine, Eve Best and Steve Toussaint in “House of the Dragon.”Credit…Ollie Upton/HBO

But he really — and I can’t stress this enough — should have given Rhaenyra a heads-up.

The relationship between the princess and her father has been awkward from the start. But this week, after some helpful counsel from Alicent, we saw them finally have some genuine warmth and connection. And look, we’ve all been there: You’re enjoying a happy family interlude, and while you have some deeply awkward news to share, you’d rather not ruin the moment. (Or maybe I’m projecting.) But that really would have been an ideal time for Viserys to prepare his daughter for the bomb he was about to drop.

That he didn’t might strike some viewers as a ridiculous narrative contrivance, which is understandable. But I think it was an example of Viserys’s flaws coming into play, the same general obliviousness and strategic clumsiness that had him asking randos on the council for marriage advice and then ignoring it.

History is built from momentous acts of wisdom, courage and cruelty, sure, but also from simple human error. I don’t know that there was a way to frame this for Rhaenyra that would have made it more palatable, but I do know that springing it on her in front of the gods and Small Council and everybody, leaving her feeling shocked, deceived and betrayed by the two people closest to her, was the worst way to let her know. People kept telling her that Viserys was going to have to remarry, and she endorsed it out of a similar sense of duty. But no one said: “The only person who understands you is going to start sleeping with your dad.”

In the process, Viserys most likely set into motion the thing he has been trying hardest to avoid: sending the country into war. Alicent will produce heirs that will threaten an already embittered Rhaenyra, while an outraged Sea Snake is now seeking a new alliance with Daemon, whose sworn enemy is Alicent’s father. As Daemon put it in that meeting — he, too, has obvious flaws but also an early knack for saying what we’re all thinking — the thing the king is worst at is kinging.

The big announcement was the toughest part of a tough week for Rhaneyra that, until then, had mainly served to reveal her strength.

She spoke out of turn at the meeting about the Crabfeeder, but she was probably also correct — I guess we’ll see how it goes if Daemon takes up the Sea Snake’s offer to do essentially what Rhaenyra suggested. Rhaenys told her she would never be queen, and she gave as good as she got. She resolved the Dragonstone Egg Crisis with spine and a promise of mutually assured destruction as her dragon eyed Daemon’s across the chasm.

The prince tossed around the pilfered egg like he was Curly Neal, but eventually he gave in. When Otto stared at Rhaenyra with a new respect for her formidableness as she soared off, I’m guessing he was pondering future clashes as much as the present one.

And so might we. Compact, white-blond and steely, with a flair for “Dracarys”ing, Rhaenyra is the “Dragon” character who is the clearest analog to a “Thrones” one. She may have more challenges before her than she deserves in Westeros’s patriarchal order of things, but her plan to “create a new order,” expressed to Rhaenys, sounded a lot like Daenerys’s vow to break the wheel. And we all know how that turned out.

Like girls throughout the realm and beyond, Rhaenyra has been hurt. But she also seems increasingly capable of hurting back.

Squatting in Dragonstone: Matt Smith in “House of the Dragon.”Credit…Ollie Upton/HBO

A few thoughts while we adjust the contrast

  • The first season of “House of the Dragon” was filmed under Covid protocols, which made extensive travel and multiple shooting units much more challenging. Fortunately, they were able to shoot much of the show on an enormous virtual production stage. Unfortunately, much of the show so far looks like it was shot on a virtual production stage. The broad, sweeping shots in particular — aerial views of King’s Landing, the backdrops at Dragonstone — have a two-dimensional C.G.I. sheen that scuttles the transportive quality that made “Thrones” distinctive.

  • Little Lady Laena was heartbreaking, but I did laugh at Viserys’s quick “you’ve got to be kidding me” glance back at the Sea Snake as he strolled in the garden with the tiny would-be fiancée. Setting aside the ick factor that apparently wasn’t a big deal back then, another possible consideration in Viserys’s choice of Alicent is that he may not have enough time left to wait for a child bride to grow up.

  • Otto really is the worst. The only thing more shameless than his tweaking of the king’s grief, when he learned of the Lady Laena betrothal plan, was his “checkmate, Sea Snake” grin later after Viserys announced that he would marry Alicent instead.

  • I do realize that the man’s actual name is Lord Corlys Velaryon, even though I keep calling him by his nickname, the Sea Snake. But wouldn’t you want to be called the Sea Snake?

  • The Crabfeeder’s helmet-mask had me Googling “what does a crab’s face look like?” but maybe I’m being too literal.

  • What would be your preferred aquatic animal nickname? Will the Daemon-Sea Snake rogue axis be the next thorn in Viserys’s side? And would maggots help with that, too? Fire away in the comments.

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