History runs deep in the world Geoge R.R. Martin created. Fire & Blood, Martin’s novel on which House of the Dragon is based, is formatted as a scholarly historical treatise. The events of the series occur hundreds of years before Game of Thrones, our original entry point. King Viserys, who dodders over his living map in stone of the realm he rules, last week mused over how the histories will view his reign. And in “The Princess and the Queen,” the tectonically-shifting sixth episode of HOTD, Princess Laena Velaryon laments the time her husband, Prince Daemon spends hunched over the chronicles of dragons and conquerors. All of which is to say that, given the historic reach of this world as it’s depicted, it’s pretty cool that we’ve met a character like Laena as a child (Nova Foueillis-Mose), a teen (Savannah Steyn), and now as an adult (Nanna Blondell), living with her husband, twin daughters, and unborn baby ten years after the feast unsettled by violence that wed her brother Ser Laenor to Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen. In House of the Dragon, time’s immensity is visual.
The princess has also aged. The transition between the terrific Milly Alcock as Rhaenyra and her equally formidable counterpart Emma D’Arcy is evident in the opening moments of “The Princess and the Queen,” as Rhaenyra’s third son is born in a scene remarkable for its tenderness and respect. But the intimacy between mother and baby is invaded almost immediately by an outside order – the queen wants to see the child. And we soon meet Olivia Cooke as Lady Alicent, who takes over from Emily Carey. (If the timeline featuring Carey and Alcock as Alicent and Rhaenyra continued for multiple seasons as its own spinoff in this fantasy television universe, there would be no complaints here.) A defiant but weakened and bloodied Rhaenyra refuses to let anyone else bring her son before the queen; it’s the least her husband Ser Laenor (now portrayed by John McMiillan) can do – literally, the least – to take her arm in support.
“He’ll be called Joffrey,” Laenor declares, naming their third son after his murdered lover, and that makes the fact that neither the baby nor his older brothers Jacaerys (Leo Hart) and Lucerys (Harvey Sadler) resemble him in the least even more awkward for life at court: Laenor has indulged himself with “lusty boys” for a decade’s time, while the princess’s side of their open marriage has produced at least three sons with Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr), the current commander of the City Watch. (At least three because there’s still an outside chance that Ser Criston Cole is Jacaerys’s father. Moon tea, mayhaps you were not consumed?) It enrages Alicent that Rhaenyra flaunts her inheritance and scandalous sexual transgressions before everyone in the Red Keep.
Speaking of babies, how about a baby dragon? Down in the gloom of the pits, the mysterious psychic unification ritual of House Targaryen and its treasured flame-throated creatures occurs before our very eyes when Jacaerys first gives the command of fire to the young dragon Vermax. Prince Aegon (Ty Tennant) looks on; the firstborn son of King Viserys and Lady Alicent has already bonded with the dragon Sunfyre, though his younger brother Aemond (Leo Ashton) is bullied for being without a bond of his own.
The queen tries to impress on her oldest how vital the question of success remains. He needs to quit it with the pranks, tomfoolery, and teenage boy whack-a-tons, and understand that Rhaenyra’s sons will usurp his own claim if the king dies and his designated heir takes power. That Viserys is down to one arm and increasingly resembles a walking skeleton only puts a finer point on the continuing issue of whose ass will next be pricked by the Iron Throne.
Across the Narrow Sea from Westeros, Prince Daemon and Princess Laena live as honored guests of the Prince of Pentos in a spacious mansion. Laena is pregnant, but that doesn’t prevent her from riding her beloved senior dragon Vhagar, and their more spirited daughter Baela (Shani Smethurst) rides the dragon Moondancer while the thoughtful Rhaena (Eva Ossei-Gernin) longs for her dragon egg to hatch. Rhaena is also sad that Daemon favors her sister. The prince is cool to hang in Pentos and act as the free city’s fire security against the fomenting unrest in the Triarchy, while Laena longs to raise their children in the Velaryon stronghold of Driftmark. But the argument is moot: the second birth scene of HOTD’s sixth episode is marked with tension and danger as the baby refuses to come. Laena always said she’d die by dragon, and she uses her last strength to fall before Vhagar. “Dracarys!” she commands, and her loyal mount eventually complies. Prince Daemon looks on as his wife is immolated in dragonflame.
In the Red Keep, the questions surrounding the parentage of the princess’s sons have become shouts, not whispers, and especially after a public confrontation between Ser Harwin (Team Rhaenyra) and Ser Criston (Team Alicent). In a play for courtly peace and status quo allyship, the princess proposes that her son Jacaerys marry the queen’s only daughter, the introspective Helaena (Evie Allen), an idea Alicent is cool toward but that Viserys loves – it feeds into his willful blindness at the life choices of his daughter. Harwin’s fight with Criston has gotten him expelled from the City Watch; worse, his rumored intimacies with the princess have become facts unspoken, making his father Lynor’s position as Hand of the King untenable. But when the elder Strong tries to resign, the king and queen won’t accept, and instead send him and his son to their family seat at Harrenhal.
When Harwin said his quiet farewells, it was to sons he’ll never know as adults. Not because of banishment from court, but because of one of those violent squalls that periodically gain strength in an unseen corner of the Game of Thrones universe and soon unleash their wrath on unsuspecting characters and viewers. Ser Larys Strong, the clubfooted court whisperer of Queen Alicent, forcibly recruits a few of the condemned from King’s Landing’s death row, who proceed to carry out his command to burn down Harrenhal as his father and brother sleep. The queen thought she was asking for help in a more general way she vented to Larys about the vexing problem of Rhaenyra’s sex life as it relates to parentage and succession. What she got was a guy who decided to use the controversy as a means of murdering his kin, seizing a powerful lordship, and securing a big bargaining chip. “The Princess and the Queen” ends with Alicent on edge, Rhaenyra fleeing to Dragonstone with her family – bring along your latest romantic conquest, she tells Laenor; “we’ll need every sword we can get” – Daemon and his daughters gazing down at Princess Laena’s charred skeletal remains, and KIng Viserys collapsing, exhausted and bitter, into an uncomfortable wooden chair. The history of GOT and HOTD is vast. But in this episode alone, it contains multitudes.
Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges
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