House of the Dragon - Episode 3 Review
Warning: The below review contains full spoilers for Episode 3 of House Of The Dragon, which aired on HBO on Sept. 4. To refresh your memory, read our review of last week's episode.
It may feel like it’s only been a week, but years have passed back in the Seven Kingdoms. Almost all the problems that stood in the previous installment remain – except for the ones that have grown considerably worse. But after that familiar theme plays and those clockwork credits spin, this week’s episode comes with a little homework: time to start making notes on the Lords of Westeros, because the movers and shakers have arrived in great numbers now, and they’re beginning to look like sharks in the water.
Viserys (Paddy Considine) and his court are off into the woods to celebrate the second birthday of his son, Aegon. Surprise! He now has that longed-for son, and another kid about ten minutes away from dropping, judging by the looks of Alicent (still Emily Carey for the time being). The noblemen of Westeros have assembled to pay tribute to the baby, who they assume will eventually become the king’s heir – however much he protests that he’s still backing Rhaenyra (still Milly Alcock), his anointed heir. He’s the only one who seems to have her back. Rhaenyra looks and feels isolated – though she also doesn’t seem to have much grasp of the politicking that might make her position more secure. Alcock isn’t too oppressive, giving the impression of someone coached in keeping her emotions under wraps. But she is also clearly ill at ease and reluctant to trust anyone around her.
However, father and daughter are at odds despite his official support: having gotten himself (somewhat) successfully married off, Viserys is now pressuring Rhaenyra to follow him into matrimony. She is all of 17 and therefore nearly past it. Jason Lannister (Jefferson Hall) makes a bid for her hand, but he’s no Tywin, and manages to offend both father and daughter in the process. Hey, at least he got them to agree on something.
It’s a big week for meeting lords of Westeros, in fact. Jason’s sensible twin Tyland Lannister (also Hall) is around, and appears to be the brains of the two. These Lannister twins don’t have quite the presence of Cersei and Jaime yet, but they also haven’t thrown any kids out windows so call it a draw. Lord Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes) has caught the king’s ear and seems closest to suggesting a match for Rhaenyra that the king can accept, but now his sons, Sir Harwin “Breakbones” Strong (Ryan Corr) and Larys “the Clubfoot” Strong (Matthew Needham), are stepping forward too. No prizes for guessing who’s the brains and who’s the brawn in that pairing. These men (so many men) all feel like the upcoming victims and villains of whatever schemes the show is cooking up, so they’re probably worth keeping an eye on.
There’s lots of public bickering in this episode, the kind that would start unsettling rumors in a more stable court than any in Westeros. Viserys and Rhaenyra have a shouting match about their weddings; Rhaenyra and Alicent have a struggle of wills over the court bard; even Lord Corlys (Steven Toussaint) and his brother Vaemond (Wil Johnson) are tense, though they work it out on the battlefield. The fish rots from the head, and Viserys’ failures of leadership – along with Westeros’ sexism – is setting the country up for a coming conflict. You don’t have to have read Fire And Blood or even watched any previous Game Of Thrones to feel the tensions building. When Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) suggests that Rhaenyra marry her toddler half-brother to set things to rights, and he actually has a point dynastically speaking, it’s clear that something is rotten in the state of Westeros.
One problem is that this whole patriarchal mess is already getting boring. The succession is super easy – unless you refuse to accept women on the throne. Since they do, we’re back to resting on questions of marriage and babies for all the principal women, and old women discussing the fate of those who fall to enemies: namely, being exiled to a brothel to be raped. So far every woman’s fate on the show seems to revolve around her genitalia, even the girl who rides dragons. Rhaenyra does manage to escape for a little while, and has a heart-to-heart in the woods with Ser Christen Cole (Fabien Frankel). They muse on duty and love and nearly get gored to death by a boar, until Cole wounds it and Rhaenyra stabs it to death. It’s a neat reminder that Westerosi women are also capable of bloody slaughter if only someone would give them the chance.
Daemon may be powered by petty spite and the almighty chip on his shoulder, but he gets results.“
There are also big questions of destiny and fate to face. Viserys is hunting a white hart, the killing of which would be a good omen for his reign and for his baby son. If he knew it would be a Targaryen daughter who ultimately faced the Night King, perhaps he’d be a bit more supportive of his eldest. But when a (brown) stag is tied up before him, he fumbles the kill. Rhaenyra sees the white beast, but she lets it go. Does this count as a bad omen for both? The computer animation on the two beasts is beautifully done but not quite photo-realistic, which is a shame: this is one place where a real beast might have been better.
Away from court, Corlys and Daemon (Matt Smith) have launched their illegal war against the Crab Feeder and his armies in the Stepstones. Despite the presence of two dragons – Daemon’s Caraxes and a now older Laeron Velaryon’s (Theo Nate) Seasmoke – the war isn’t going well, somehow. The Crab Feeder and his vaguely Mongolian-coded armies keep disappearing into deep caves where, apparently, even dragonfire can’t reach, and somehow taking out fully armed battleships from a stationary base. As presented, it’s not entirely clear what the hold-up is, but luckily Daemon gets an offer of help from his brother that drives him into such a fury that he offers himself up to the enemy and breaks the stalemate.
Every Dragon in Game of Thrones: House of the Dragon
Turns out our bad boy is also a one-man army, so that’s fun. Daemon hews down a few squadrons of goons until Drahar himself comes out to face him. Back-up arrives in the form of the Velaryon forces and dragonfire to warm both the heart and all the other bodily organs. It’s a display of Valyrian steel’s superiority over pirate weaponry and armor, and immense fun to watch. Daemon may be powered by petty spite and the almighty chip on his shoulder, but he gets results.
Once again, the episode starts and ends with the Crab Feeder at work – but this time things don’t conclude quite so happily for the dreadfully scarred, masked figure. Nor for his victims: it’s telling that Daemon’s idea of salvation in no way involves rescuing prisoners and in fact includes landing the occasional dragon on them. Still, Drahar and his Triarchy forces are finally chopped to bits, and an exhausted Daemon finishes the episode, blood soaked from head to toe, presumably heading home at last as a conquering hero. Whether he can hold the Stepstones is another matter – he’s not a details guy – but he appears to be on the up once more.
As we settle into these new characters, and that blood-soaked credit sequence, it’s all feeling awfully familiar. This is Game Of Thrones as we know it, almost to a fault, with all the same backstabbing and family dramas. The principal house sigils are different and that’s about it. But that’s no bad thing, if they can hold our attention and keep us guessing – and if we keep seeing dragons going ape like this.
This story originally appeared on: IGN - Author:Helen O'Hara