House Of The Dragon - Episode 6 Review
Warning: The below contains full spoilers for Episode 6 of House Of The Dragon, which aired on HBO on Sept. 25, 2022. To refresh your memory, check out our review of last week's episode.
It’s just past the halfway point of Season 1, and our two leads have finally shown up for work. Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke now take over as Rhaenyra and Alicent, respectively, and it’s a testament to the strong work of Milly Alcock and Emily Carey that it takes a chunk of this episode to get used to the shift. Helpfully, the ten-year time jump signalled by the casting change has only seen a continuation of patterns already established: the pair have settled into their rivalry, and established a routine of petty jousting that is warping the entire court.
We open on a woman moaning, and for once it’s not me complaining again about the show’s obsession with women as dynastic instruments. Well, also that. D’Arcy’s Rhaenyra is giving birth to her third son, a baby that husband Laenor (John Macmillan) christens Joffrey after his long-lost love. The umbilical cord is barely cut before there’s a demand from the queen to see the baby: Rhaenyra, stubborn to the bone, insists on carrying the baby herself as a sort of passive resistance. If it is her plan to shame Alicent, she fails: while there’s a moment of real concern in Alicent’s eyes it’s swiftly replaced by the usual sniping.
Every Dragon in Game of Thrones: House of the Dragon
What becomes clear – and it’s one of the many advantages of casting these Black actors as the Velaryons – is that none of Rhaenyra’s children come from Laenor, and that she has in fact been having an affair with Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr). Alicent obviously knows about it, but no one will make the accusation publicly for fear of treason – and Viserys (Paddy Considine) is willfully blind to the whole thing. He encourages his sons and grandsons to play together, blithely certain that he can bind them as allies so that they all support Rhaenyra’s rule. It’s interesting to see, however, that the previously mild Alicent is now sure enough in her own power to rather acerbically challenge his cozy worldview.
Each woman carefully toes the line in public and vents in private. Alicent turns to Ser Cristen Cole (Fabien Frankel), whose anger at Rhaenyra has crystallised into a hate that shocks even the queen, while Rhaenyra tries to explain how things are to her own merrily dismissive husband. But perhaps the most illuminating exchange is the scene where Alicent interrupts her son Aegon (Ty Tennant) during his, er, private time (a boy prince wanking over an entire city is quite the metaphor) to explain to him the existential threat that his nephews pose. “If Rhaenyra comes into power, your very life could be forfeit…” she says. “You are the challenge, Aegon, simply by living and breathing.” She has accepted her father’s worldview completely now; the struggle with Rhaenyra is an existential one.
The rivalry between the women comes to a head – for now, at least – in council, where they bicker over strategy (Rhaenyra’s soft spot for the absent Daemon is still evident) while everyone else watches in awkward silence, not wanting to get on the wrong side of either queen or heir. Interestingly, Rhaenyra is the one to extend an olive branch, offering a match between their children that might align their interests. Viserys is delighted – it’s his fantasy come true! – but Alicent reacts with an almost visceral disgust, and sidesteps the question by embarrassing Rhaenyra when she points out her still-leaking breasts. Alicent was apparently standing behind the door when feminist solidarity was being handed out.
With the women confined to bickering by court protocol and a shared deference to Viserys, their rivalry plays out by proxy. Aegon and Rhaenyra’s eldest, Jacaerys aka Jace (Leo Hart), team up to play a trick on Aegon’s dragonless younger brother, Aemond (Leo Ashton), in the shadowy depths of the Dragonpit, which prompts Alicent’s fury at her eldest because she needs her sons to stick together against their nephews. But the more damaging fight comes as the children work in the practice yard. Ser Cristen comes perilously close to naming Ser Harwin as the boys’ true father and the two men brawl in sight of the king. The fallout from their struggle will have serious consequences, of which more later.
Laena's new death is far more spectacular but feels emotionally less clear.“
Meanwhile, Daemon and his wife, Laena (now played by Nanna Blondell), are settled in Pentos with their twin daughters. They are introduced as a couple via some spectacular dragon stunt-flying, loop-de-looping, and soaring around one another and – in Daemon’s case – flying through bouts of flame in a giddy scene showcasing the sheer joy of flight and a reminder that House Of The Dragon does have quite the special effects budget. All seems idyllic, but Laena isn’t quite ready to give up on Westeros and settle for good. Then Laena’s latest pregnancy ends with a difficult labor, and Daemon faces the same choice that Viserys once did: should he risk his wife for the child?
This is a departure from George R.R. Martin’s Fire And Blood that’s obviously intended to draw a straight parallel between the brothers. Daemon makes no choice, and it’s not clear whether he holds back out of respect for his wife – he does appear to have some – or from horror at the decision itself, a weakness in the face of unimaginable crisis.
Laena’s own response is also hard to parse: choosing immolation by dragonfire rather than a painful death might be comprehensible (she does say earlier that she wants “a dragon rider’s death”), but at that point it’s not clear that she knows the baby is also non-viable. In the novel, the baby is born deformed, and Laena simply dies in childbirth. Her new death is far more spectacular but feels emotionally less clear. If her own death is certain and she accepts that, wouldn’t she let them try to save the child? It’s an odd end for an apparently devoted mother of two young girls.
The final thread of this tangled web involves Lord Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), son of the Hand and less physically imposing brother to Ser Harwin. Since we last saw him he’s become a counsellor to Alicent, who privately bemoans her lack of allies at court. Lord Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes) has offered to resign as Hand of the king following Harwin’s brawl, but Viserys won’t hear it – so Lyonel has begged leave to at least escort his son home to their (famously unlucky) stronghold of Harrenhal. That gives Larys room to act.
A rat running along Viserys’ mantlepiece and his empty sleeve are not the only signs that his power is decaying.“
Larys defines “helping” Alicent as finding some condemned men, having their tongues cut out (while he watches with interest), and sending them to murder his brother and father, Lord Lyonel. This achieves several things at once. The office of Hand now lies open for Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) to return. Rhaenyra and her sons are deprived of a key ally. And Alicent is left terrified of her own ally, having seen what the quiet, mild Larys is capable of. Anyone looking for a Littlefinger in this show, the search is over.
We finish with Daemon once again widowed – it’s becoming a habit – and Rhaenyra leaving King’s Landing for her ancestral fortress on Dragonstone, abandoning the court and its machinations to her rival. Will it prove a mistake to cede the power of the court to Alicent? Almost certainly, but Rhaenyra’s desire to get away from the endless attacks on herself and her children is understandable. A rat running along Viserys’ mantlepiece and his empty sleeve are not the only signs that his power is decaying, and something is going to have to give way soon.
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This story originally appeared on: IGN - Author:Helen O'Hara