Season 1, Episode 4: ‘King of the Narrow Sea’
“You Targaryens have strange habits.”
It was at Aliscent on Sunday night, where she won the Understatement of the Week award. The enduring weirdness of the Targaryens, on TV, goes back to the early days of ‘Game of Thrones’, when we heard gossip about a mad king and saw various characters cheat his sister naked before marrying her to a barbarian horse lord. Whenever a new baby is born, we have heard more than once, that the gods flip a coin.
At the Dragon House on Sunday, coins kept flipping for those already here. Demon is back as a Conqueror with a new haircut, and seems to have been retrieved until he takes Rainera on a plundering tour of the filthy old town. Rhaenyra once again won our sympathy during the mournful suitor’s procession before losing it by risking the life of her closest companion, luring Ser Criston into her chambers to play a game of hide-and-seek. Viserys was chivalrous in his initial forgiveness of Daemon and then demanded in his festering lust in the middle of the night. (“It’s too late…” Aliscent protested, but the king gets what the king wants.)
It all culminated in seeing a rotten ruler kick his brother hanging on his ribs for sleeping with his daughter in front of everyone in a brothel – and seeing said brother respond by proposing to marry his niece in the name of family tradition.
So yeah. Queer habits.
Admittedly, my untrained eyes couldn’t tell how far incest had gone before Damon suffered a crisis of conscience. But the fact that I even parse something like that means, with Crabfeeder now dead and Sea Snake messing around in the Driftmark, we got a Full Targaryen this week. While there were Hightowers being kicked in different ways – Viserys started the episode with two fingers and eventually lost an entire hand – an extra full hour was set aside for the dragon-flavored psychological drama.
This is what we promised in one way or another. Prior to the season, showrunners Ryan Kondal and Miguel Saposhnik (Sapochnik has since left) suggested that “House of the Dragons” would be a more overt melodrama compared to “Game of Thrones.” (So far, I miss the “Thrones” structure as much as I miss the sense of humor, which I mentioned last week.) Sunday’s episode was purely TV series — illicit connections, secrets, family betrayal, actual palace intrigue. And according to the extreme inclinations of “Thrones” storytelling, the strategy seems to be that if you’re going to make a series, you can also make it as operatic as possible.
Return to Westeros in “House of the Dragon”
The much-anticipated prequel series “Game of Thrones” on HBO is now available.
Many of the scenes were hard to watch, but look, let’s just give a disclaimer that now applies to this week and the previous weeks and all the weeks to come: These things break down thematically. Uncles “coupling” nieces is gross; Elderly Men Covered in Pain Bedding Adolescents Gross; sexual slavery is gross; Baby dolls are gross. Despite the extreme sensitivity that age differences and so forth inspire, we all check modern ethical standards at the door, to some degree, if we want to keep up with this story.
But rudeness is also partly the point. While the Targaryen rulers believe they are noblely motivated by Aegon’s prophecy about the coming darkness, mentioned in the premiere (more on this in a minute), “House of the Dragon” is ultimately about the decline of a complex, profound botanical clan whose power is enabled by They have access to the most fearsome weapons in the world. While I doubt the show will take us to the beginning of “Game of Thrones”, this story ultimately heads toward a king so insane that he wants to burn everyone and kill for it. He was followed two decades later by a daughter who eventually followed a similar path.
So it’s about the long collapse of a dynasty (waiting for what Jon Snow, née Egon Targaryen, does, in his planned sequel, although empire building does not seem to suit him). Things that corrupt dynasties include ineffective leaders, infighting, and moral corruption permitted by unfettered power. Inbreeding is the key to the downfall as it is perhaps the main cause of the Targaryen frenzy described in The Flipping Principle. (To say the least, it keeps the madness running in the family.) So this fall is what we’re watching, a big hit.
Rhaenyra’s hour-long adventures of an owl forced her to finally bend over to her family responsibilities. She will obviously marry Lenore Villarion, whom we saw burn the Crabfeeder soldiers last week, thus bringing more dragons into the family and presumably supporting the Rift with his father, Eel, who was playing footstool with the Free Cities.
“I can be a cure for your political headache,” Rainera quipped to Viserys.
“You are be Political headache! He replied. (Paddy Considine and Millie Alcock, a veteran actor and relative newcomer, have a great on-screen dynamism.)
A final insult arrived in the form of a cup of tea the next morning, prepared by the Grand Meister. It was a bitter reminder that even when Rainera is not forced to “press the heirs,” as she embarrassedly said to the succulent’s heir, Aliscent, her womb still belongs to the kingdom.
As for Daemon, he took the king’s kicks and insults in stride, perhaps because it was what he expected of himself. A demon arrived at the throne room this week as an omnipotent hero, the King of the Narrow Sea, with the court honoring his success at Stepstone. But respect suits him like a bad bone crown (or driftwood, or whatever it is made of). By the end of the episode, he was face down in the same room, battered, exiled, possibly half drunk, which seemed like a return to the normal order of things.
I don’t care where you go, “as long as you’re out of my sight for good,” Viserys said. We’ll see how long that will last.
But the biggest loser this week was Damon’s eternal rival, Otto, the hand who ultimately overestimated himself. (I promise you the last word). The Targaryen brothers don’t take bad news very well, as we were reminded when Daemon beat up the messenger at the Stepstones. On Sunday, it was the hand that handed his head to him.
Otto steadily marginalizes Damon and Rinera in order to install his grandson Aegon as his heir. But even so, he clearly knew it was a shady business to share his knowledge of the White Worm with the King – it’s one thing to hurt a degenerate man’s brother, but to insult his daughter’s honor is at your peril.
Sure enough, Otto’s “inconvenient truth” exploded in his face, as the maneuver opened the king’s eyes—aided by Rhinera’s request to leave Otto—to the point that his hand was shaking him. Viserys said after Aemma’s death, Alicent was a “calculated distraction.” “I only now realize how good her account is.”
All that was left was for the king to remove the pin and send his father-in-law on his way. (The next family party should be fun.) Which means that despite all the unwise sneaking, drinking, and debauchery, Rainera has survived another week and heiress to the Iron Throne.
The question is, will stripping Otto of his responsibilities neutralize the threat he poses as an entrenched schemer? Or just give him more time to fine-tune his scheme? We all know the problem that can come from idle hands. (Well, that was definitely the last….)
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