Viserys mulls over marriage and Rhaenyra struggles to find her power as the man’s world of Westeros begins to crumble.
Before we get into the recap proper, a major, major note for the creators of House of the Dragon: come up with your own theme. The Game of Thrones theme, iconic as it is, should stand on its own, paired with that sprawling, globe-trotting title sequence we spent nearly a decade gawking at. House of the Dragon, by contrast, takes a page out of The Witcher and just throws up a wordless sigil, playing a few bars of the original Ramin Djawadi theme. It feels cheap, frankly, like the show has no identity of its own outside the larger, pop-culture-defining series whose historical gaps it’s filling in.
That said, episode two of season one, “The Rogue Prince,” feels a bit stronger than the premiere, if only by dint of the fact that all the setup is out of the way, and we can spend some time actually sketching out how these characters feel about their particular station. It’s been six months since we last saw everyone: Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) has been announced heir, though she’s still relegated to pouring wine for the men at the Small Council; disgraced Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) has taken his ball and gone to Dragonstone, where he and his loyal army of Gold Cloaks have set up a kingdom in exile of sorts. (Viserys (Paddy Considine), whether out of brotherly love or the kind of meek inaction that defines his reign, has simply let this come to pass.)
Also, as we see in the opening shots of the episode, the “Crabfeeder” (the mysterious pirate raiding islands off the Dornish coast that we heard about last week) is continuing his reign of terror, Greg Yaitanes’ camera holding on half-dead sailors being eaten alive by crabs. It’s a source of consternation for the Sea Snake himself, Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), whose own command of Westeros’ seas is threatened. He petitions Viserys for help at the Small Council, but the king is more interested in trying to broker peace. Rhaenyra, keen to be involved, suggests sending her and other dragonriders, as a show of force: she’s rejected out of hand, but the gesture impresses Corlys. “At least the princess has a plan.”
House of the Dragon is fixated on the role of women in Westeros — of the ways that they, however old or young or powerful or weak, are kept from power regardless of merit by the boys’ club that seeks to keep it for themselves. This is most evident in Rhaenyra, who presents herself as strong-willed and confident (and even a little badass, as we’ll later see) but is still relegated to drink service and shooed off to help pick a new member of the Kingsguard. (Her selection, Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), is the only candidate with actual combat experience — and, most pertinently, knocked Daemon off his horse at the Heirs’ Tournament last episode.)
But while Rhaenyra must find her own avenues to strength, Viserys has his own set of pressures, this time around picking a bride. After all, selecting a new wife is expected of him, and a marriage could strengthen houses and (more pertinent to the men in power) produce a male heir to undermine Rhaenyra’s claim to the throne. It’s a decision Viserys is reluctant to make; as much of a marshmallow of a king as he is, he seems at least a somewhat good-hearted man, one who loved his wife and who is reluctant to replace her.
Naturally, the Sea Snake proposes a formal alliance by marriage to their houses, via his twelve-year-old daughter Laena (Nova Fouellis-Mose, wearing a startlingly huge platinum-blonde wig); it’s a prospect that brings Viserys no small amount of discomfort, especially since their surreal walk-and-talk in the garden ends with Laena admitting that she’s going along with it because her father told her she “wouldn’t have to bed you till [she] turned fourteen.”
And yet, for all Viserys’ disgust at the prospect, he’s getting along quite well with Rhaenyra’s bestie Alicent (Emily Carey), sent as a honeypot to secure power for her father, Otto (Rhys Ifans). They bond over his intricate scale model of King’s Landing (Viserys remains a model train dork), and she captures his heart by having the stonemasons mend a broken piece that shatters in their earlier meeting. It’s a deviously effective gambit from the little girl: the best way to a man’s heart, after all, is through his toys. Viserys is especially vulnerable to it, too, since his kingdom (like his body; cue the maggots on the pinky finger!) is crumbling amid outside pressures.
Rhaenyra, for her part, continues to try to prove her worth as Westeros’ heir; she even makes a surprise appearance at Dragonstone to save the day after Ser Otto makes his way there with a contingent to steal back a dragon’s egg Daemon pilfered from the Red Keep. As he claims, he wants it to honor the High Valyrian tradition of placing the egg in the cradle of his soon-to-be-born baby with new second wife Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno); this, of course, is a lie, as Mysaria is barren. But as we’ve seen this episode, what are women and children for in Westeros if not bargaining chips for the power grabs of men? As Rhaenys coldly tells Rhaenyra in the episode, their marginalization is simply “the order of things.”
Despite this, Rhaenyra (riding majestically into Dragonstone on Syrax, cutting through the thick fog surrounding both camps) manages to defuse the situation by outwitting and out-bluffing her capricious uncle, who recognizes game and tosses the egg back to her. This tense and exciting standoff blows all the Small Council meetings and stiff politicking of the show so far out of the water. More of this, please, even if the COVID-era protocols make the backdrops feel a little fakey.
Still, this victory rings hollow, as her aunt’s predictions hold true: “Men would sooner put the realm to the torch than see a woman ascend to the Iron Throne.” Viserys, without consulting anybody (much less his daughter), announces to the Small Council that he will marry Alicent; the Sea Snake rages, and Rhaenyra runs off in tears. Otto, meanwhile, has a shit-eating grin on his face — his plan is coming to fruition.
It’s a decision made from the heart, but one that might decimate the kingdom, especially as we later see the Sea Snake allying with — who else? — Daemon, who both pledge to make their own worth instead of waiting for it to be given. We’ll have to see how these decisions ripple out amongst the rest of the season, as a king who thinks himself a Good Man ends up thinking of himself first. The result? The continuation of “the order of things,” which might just keep the women who could save the kingdom even further from the reins of power.
- Rhaenyra and Alicent’s deep, close friendship (maybe something more?) gets some nice development here, right before Viserys’ announcement drives a rift between them, as they both mourn their mothers in a large candlelit hall in the Red Keep. Alicent clearly wants to encourage Rhaenyra to say goodbye to her mother… perhaps to open her up to the possibility of her being okay with marrying Daddy?
- Smith’s devilishly good at depicting Daemon’s preening arrogance, between tossing the egg from hand to hand like a football to his very anime way of pointing his sword at his enemies. (Paging Dr. Sephiroth!)
- On the other hand, Mizuno’s Mysaria is hobbled by an indecipherable, mush-mouthed accent, which takes some of the sting out of their post-standoff argument where she takes him to task for lying about having a child. Still, this episode shows some thematic kinship with the other women of Westeros: doing what they can to carve out what little spheres of influence the men around them permit. “I didn’t come into your services wanting power, gold, or station. I came to you to be liberated.”
- We finally get a solid look at the Crabfeeder; whoo boy, he’s spooky, with his mashed, patchwork-y face covered in grime. I guess that’ll be the White Walker equivalent of the season, since what’s a Game of Thrones show without gaunt monsters to slash?