Spoiler alert: this recap is for people watching House of the Dragon. Do not read on unless you have watched episode seven.
‘The gods can be cruel’
So the board is set, and the pieces are ready to move. By the end of this episode, entitled Driftmark, we finally have a firm idea how the battle lines will be drawn, and who will face one another across this Westerosi gameboard: two queens, alike in infamy; two pairs of young, feuding princes; two older schemers with their eyes on the ultimate prize. All they are awaiting is the signal to advance.
For the first part of this ominous instalment, all anyone seems to do is look. The major players have gathered at the island seat of High Tide for the funeral of Lady Laena Velaryon, and everywhere resentment is simmering. Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) scoffs at the idea that his niece Rhaenyra’s children could be legitimate, while their supposed father Laenor (John MacMillan) stands alone and mourns his sister.
Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) blames Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke) for the death of her lover, Ser Harwin, but she has no proof and cannot publicly grieve for him. Prince Aemond (Leo Ashton) witnesses the awkward but honest empathy felt by Jacaerys (Leo Hart) towards his motherless cousins, but has no way to express his own inner turmoil. All any of them can do is wait and watch.
‘History does not remember blood. It remembers names’
At the same time, alliances are crystallising, potential partners sounded out, bonds of blood and debts of honour rekindling. Daemon may mock Rhaenyra’s marriage, but he still supports her claim over that of Alicent and her children. The Queen may have been shocked by the brutal patricide committed by the new Lord of Harrenhal, Ser Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), but she knows now that she needs him.
Meanwhile, Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best) and her husband, Lord Corlys, (Steve Toussaint) are at an impasse: his instinct is to support his legal grandchildren, whether or not they’re legitimate; she’d rather stay out of it altogether, and give up those old dreams of power.
The episode gathered steam when Aemond set out to claim his dragon. Presented last week as a snivelling brat, it turns out the boy has some serious courage, facing down Laena’s erstwhile mount and murderer, the mighty Vhagar.
The night flight that follows is giddy and breathless – we half expect the boy to scream out ‘Falkor!’ as Vhagar dives over the rooftops of High Tide – but the aftermath is far grimmer, as Laena’s youngest daughter Rhaena (Eva Ossei-Gerning) accuses Aemond of dragon-theft, and Jacaerys and his brother Lucerys (Harvey Sadler) back her up. The violence that follows is swift and shocking – it is four against one but Aemond holds his ground, throttling Lucerys as he blurts out the truth about the boy’s parentage – which ends up costing him an eye.
‘Bring me the eye of Lucerys Velaryon’
Where’s Rhaenyra while her sons are defending her honour? Down by the shore in the wreck of an old boat with her uncle Daemon, finally consummating an incestuous flirtation that’s been seething since episode one (and thoroughly scotching any fan theories that Daemon was impotent, though that should have been clear last week). Their love scene is quiet and unearthly; a union at once physical, political and strangely, disconcertingly emotional.
But on returning to the castle, Rhaenyra finds that everything has changed: Aemond is drenched in blood, and Alicent is out for more. This scene was the dark heart of the episode, the vengeful counterweight to all those silent gazes at the start, as Alicent demanded rough justice and Rhaenyra flatly refused her, proposing that Aemond be ‘sharply questioned’ to find out where he heard the rumour of her sons’ bastardy.
Everywhere, lines were being drawn – between Daemon and Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel); between Rhaenyra’s children and those of Alicent and Viserys; even between the brothers Aemond and Aegon, the first of whom was happy to name the latter as the source of the rumour. Most importantly, of course, the decade-long feud between Rhaenyra and Alicent finally came to blows, as daggers were drawn and blood spilled.
‘We are family!’
After all that commotion, the later scenes were oddly cheering. Aemond reaffirmed his bravery – and earned the respect of his grandfather, the returning King’s Hand Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) – by claiming that the loss of his eye was worth it to win Vhagar. After a genuinely moving moment of marital regret and reaffirmation between Leanor and Rhaenyra, she and Daemon cooked up an initially worrying, ultimately rather adorable wheeze whereby the prince consort and his current squeeze Ser Qarl Correy (Arty Froushan) could escape the stultifying trappings of the royal court and head off for lives of adventure in Essos.
And finally, Daemon and Rhaenyra tied the knot, in a gorgeously fog-drenched pagan ceremony witnessed by both sets of children – a truly dangerous union, for all who might stand against them. As King Viserys (Paddy Considine) languished below decks on the ship back to King’s Landing, it looked as if he might finally be on the way out, opening the floodgates for all-out war. Still, we’ve assumed that before, and he somehow always seems to pull through.
• Does Daemon genuinely mourn his wife, as his stilted, bitter conversation with Viserys appears to imply? Or does he just feel resentful and shut out? He tells Rhaenyra that “we were happy enough”, but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement.
• It’s fair enough that Paddy Considine wouldn’t necessarily know how to pronounce the word “calumnies”, but surely someone on the set or in the editing room should’ve been able to set it straight?
• “I should’ve been there.” “Those should be our house words.” Nice.
Some minor chest-nuzzling and thigh-stroking aside, it was a rather chaste coupling between Rhaenyra and Daemon – reflective, perhaps, of the high status of both actors. Elsewhere, the most simmering tension in the episode was between Aemond and his new she-dragon, Vhagar.
If looks could kill, the shores of Driftmark would’ve been awash in blood from scene one. But the real violence didn’t come until the halfway point, with that brutal meeting in a tunnel between three groups of kids. There has been preteen brutality in Game of Thrones before – hello, Arya Stark – but the slashing of Aemond’s eye was still a gasp-inducing moment.
Random Brit of the week
The implication may have been that the show is keeping Laenor Velaryon in its back pocket for later, but my guess is that we’ve seen the last of this sweet, sad character and the actor who so sensitively played him. John MacMillan is a veteran of, well, just about everything, from tiny roles in major blockbusters (The Dark Knight Rises, World War Z), to bigger parts in Chewing Gum and sketch show Famalam.