Oh, how they love to dole out 'jackets' and 'waistcoats' in good old Westeros. Watching Game of Thrones and the new House of the Dragon series, it appears that regal children of dubious parentage are a central part of both plots.
Everyone loves a good cuckolding story but this one appears to be by design as Laenor is not even interested in women, but enjoys sword-fighting with men. In the meantime, the whispers are growing that Rhaenrya's children with Laenor (Jacaerys, Lucerys, and Joffrey Velaryon) are fathered by commander of the City Watch, Ser Harwin “Breakbones” Strong (Ryan Corr). This intrigue is the central fact that drives this episode forward: the problems it creates, the animus it provokes between in the House of the Targaryens and the setup of the civil war which will follow once King Viserys finally bites the dust.
Arguably, this is the best episode so far, and a validation that the time-hopping concept used by the showrunners really works, with new characters introduced to play Laenor (John McMillan), Laena (Nanna Blondell), Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke) and Rhaenyra (Emma D'Arcy).
This episode combines the best GOT flourishes like the devilishly hilarious scene with young Prince Aegon Targaryen (Ty Tennant) masturbating out his bedroom window and, finally, some dragons, another GOT staple.
Dragons. Dragons. Dragons. Did I mention dragons? We have lots of dragon flying stunts with Laena swooping around on the monstrous Vhagar, suicide by dragon (Laena again), a dragon taming and training session with a scaly, adolescent Vermax and near-death dragon shopping encounter by a curious Aemond, Aegon and Helaena's younger brother.
The episode begins with Princess Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) who we learn is a regular little 'baby factory' pushing out her third son. Then a summons comes: Queen Alicent wants to inspect the child right away, presumably to see if this child is a mulatto or not.
It is here that we see the breakdown of the relationship between Alicent and Rhaenyra. Alicent used to be best friends with Rhaenyra until Rhaenyra's mother dies, and Alicent slides into the bed of bestie’s dad, King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) and started pumping out his babies. When Alicent warns her juvenile son, the one with his ice-blond locks and spiteful temperament, that "you are the challenge" to Rhaenyra's rule, you realise the friendship is over. All that is left are just snide comments, backbiting, and the vicious whispering which will lead to a generational blood feud which wipes out most of the male children on both sides. Their hatred for each other is now in full bloom.
The battle lines are clearly drawn, and blood and gore appear inevitable. Breakbones, who has been Rhaenyra’s paramour since the tragic end of her fling with Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), goes berserk during training sessions with his sons, young Prince Jacaerys Velaryon (Leo Hart) and his little brother Lucerys (Harvey Sadler), after Cole hints at his treacherous behaviour. The outburst exposes Rhaenyra.
Ser Criston deserves said beating as he hates Rhaenyra, perhaps because she spurned his affections and almost got him into a sordid love rectangle. He even trots out the dreaded c word in reference to his former lover as he and Alicent stroll and talk. Alicent has now done a full turn and is now a full-fledged villainess spreading rumours and innuendo to unsettle Rhaenyra. She plots with the loathsome Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), brother of Ser Harwin and son of Lord Lyonel.
When Lord Lyonel, the King’s Hand, tries to resign when the ugly rumours start flying, King Viserys refuses. Later, Alicent has dinner with Larys, who takes a mere suggestion that she needs her father, Otto Hightower to be the new King's Hand, as a command and recruits a tongueless trio of ex-convicts -- a sexual deviant, murderer and a traitor -- to off his brother and father in a well-planned fire when they return to the family seat of Harrenhal.
Alicent takes the news poorly, hugging her elbows, lamenting but taking note of the fact that her closest collaborator has just knocked off his entire family. Now there is someone you don't want in your lifeboat when water rations grow thin. When Larys says that he is certain she "will reward him when the time is right". You wonder what sort of screaming, painful death he truly will get as his just reward.
A diminished Rhaenyra, worried that her treachery has been exposed, makes a conciliatory offer of marrying Jaes to Alicent's only daughter, Helaena. The offer is almost immediately rebuffed. Alicent pretends that she and the King will consider the offer, but she speaks with the verbal equivalent of nitroglycerine. You can almost feel the cold forming on the walls. This friendship, which had seemed so promising in its early gestation, has now been midwifed, and pronounced still born.
Speaking of difficult childbearing, it was hard to watch the agonising birthing scene with Laena Velaryon. The twins' mother is pregnant with a third on House of the Dragon, but like Queen Aemma in the first episode, the baby is stuck in her womb. Now married to Daemon, Laena realises that neither she nor her unborn infant are going to survive the birthing process and decides instead to die swiftly, by dragonfire. She 'draecarys' (can that be a verb?) herself. You have to love the CGI graphics which capture Vhagar's confusion at this weird request, and the mewling, hesitant tone almost touching before the beast gives in to his true nature and torches her. You are left to wonder what sort of relationship her two daughters – one, Baela, a dragonrider; the other, a prospective dragonrider, Rhaena, will have with dragons in the future.
When Rhaenyra realises that the die is cast, she has been outmanoeuvred and undermined, she decides to relocate "like a wise sailor who flees the storm as it gathers" - as her husband Laenor puts it - and swoops off to Dragonstone. If history repeats itself, Laenor is not long for this show, and will be joining his sister in the afterlife.
The stage is now set for the real wars to come.