House of the Dragon recap: episode three – want to wreak havoc? Send Matt Smith!

This corker of an episode gives us the first proper action sequence of the series – and what carnage it is, too. Meanwhile, Rhaenyra goes the whole hog

Spoiler alert: this recap is for people watching House of the Dragon. Do not read on unless you have watched episode three.

The crabs will soon dine on all of us!’

Somewhere in the middle seasons of Game of Thrones, a pattern was established. The majority of any given episode – the first two-thirds, perhaps three-quarters – would be all chat; plot-heavy political manoeuvrings and character work. Then somewhere towards the end, hell would suddenly break loose: unexpected stabbings, royal poisonings, the lopping of limbs. By the final series this pattern was broken – violence might erupt at any time, and did. But for a while, the system worked.

House of the Dragon’s third episode takes this format and sets it in stone. You could almost set your watch by it: for the first 45 minutes, the viewer might be forgiven for finding this all a little slow. There’s tension, sure, but not a whole lot of momentum. Then suddenly, in the final act – kaboom.

‘Hail Aegon, the conqueror babe!’

Pirate trouble … Steve Toussaint as Corlys Velaryon.
Pirate trouble … Steve Toussaint as Corlys Velaryon. Photograph: HBO

Again, the episode starts with a brief moment of pirate mayhem. Urged on by Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), the king’s estranged brother Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) has flown down to the Stepstones on a mission to wipe out the pirate scourge afflicting those islands. You’d think one full-grown dragon and an army of Velaryon warriors would be enough to tackle a few measly pirates – but their chief, Prince Drahar, AKA the Crabfeeder (Daniel Scott-Smith), has powerful backers, and the war isn’t going well for our brave Westerosi lads. It doesn’t help that Daemon’s dragon, Caraxes, doesn’t seem to differentiate between one side and the other.

But we’ve barely found our sea-legs when it’s back to the Red Keep, where there’s been another time-jump. Three years have passed since King Viserys (Paddy Considine) married his teenage bride Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey), and in that time she’s given him one bouncing baby boy and is already pregnant for a second time. Not that it seems to have cheered Viserys up much: he’s still brooding over the loss of his first wife and the betrayal of his brother Daemon, and generally finding the responsibilities of kingship a heavy weight to bear.

A dutiful bride … Emily Carey as Alicent Hightower.
A dutiful bride … Emily Carey as Alicent Hightower. Photograph: HBO

He is also, rather sweetly, proving reluctant to disempower his daughter Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) by replacing her as his heir with her new baby brother Aegon (named, of course, for the first Targaryen conqueror) – even though that’s exactly what the entire institutional patriarchy of the Seven Kingdoms is begging him to do. Where they look at Rhaenyra and see a weak female unfit to sit on the throne, Viserys sees a worthy successor; bold, headstrong and with a dragon of her own. The lords have pledged her their allegiance – they didn’t have much choice after Daemon went rogue. But now there’s another contender, and that allegiance is wavering.

‘I swear to you now, on your mother’s memory, you will not be supplanted’

Doting father … Paddy Considine as King Viserys.
Doting father … Paddy Considine as King Viserys. Photograph: HBO

Both Considine and Alcock do great work in this episode. For those of us who worried that Paddy – one of our most riveting actors, as anyone who has seen Dead Man’s Shoes can attest – was going to be constrained by the costume, the pomp, the sheer browbeaten reluctance of his character, this episode gives us hope. He’s pensive, but there’s a brooding anger boiling beneath it, a simmering frustration that must surely break loose.

Alcock, meanwhile, does a fine job of embodying a girl who’s dying to break out of the trap she was born into: she wants to roam free through the Kingswood, flirting with hunky swordsmen and stabbing pigs to death. Instead she’s forced to make small talk with tedious suitors such as Lord Jason Lannister (Jefferson Hall), a wealthy bore who won’t shut up about the size of his castle. Convinced that her father is getting ready to disinherit her, she’s painfully familiar with her duty as a princess but still desperate to break out and be her own person.

Milly Alcock as Rhaenyra Targaryen.
Deadly daughter … Milly Alcock as Rhaenyra Targaryen. Photograph: HBO

This extended first part of the episode matches the claustrophobia and dourness of the first two instalments: no one besides baby Aegon seems capable of cracking a smile, and despite a hunting expedition to the leafy Kingswood the majority of these conversations take place within the confines of the royal camp, as Viserys loiters within tents and drinks himself to distraction. Then finally, his mood starts to break: after a heart-to-heart with Alicent he tries a spot of actual ruling, dispatching a fleet of ships to the aid of his brother and Lord Corlys, and sending a platoon of messengers ahead to deliver the good news.

‘Show me the knight who will march into that hell pit and I will show you a madman’

While the phrase “don’t shoot the messenger” may not be common parlance in Westeros, surely “don’t batter the messenger to bloody death with your own helmet” ought to go without saying? Nevertheless, that’s exactly the treatment meted out by a furious Daemon, who expresses his rage at his brother’s patronising offer of aid in no uncertain terms. But first, we’re treated to a truly gorgeous pull-back shot, moving from burning ships off the island of Bloodstone to a hilltop where Lord Corlys and his band of brethren are discussing what to do about the Crabfeeder, who is holed up in the caves below and refuses to be winkled out.

Death on the high seas … Lord Corlys and co.
Death on the high seas … Lord Corlys and co. Photograph: HBO

As it turns out, the solution is simple: send Matt Smith. Backed into a corner by his brother’s offer, Daemon decides to use himself as bait, rowing across the straits and offering himself up to the Crabfeeder seemingly unarmed. Cue the first proper, full-bore action sequence of the series, as Daemon whips out a hidden blade and cuts through the Crabster’s minions like a Valyrian steel blade through butter while the dragon Seasmoke, ridden by Laenor Velaryon, takes out their archers with his fiery breath and Lord Corlys leads his troops to take care of the stragglers. It only remains for Daemon to pursue Prince Drahar into the caves and drag him out to face justice – well, some of him, anyway. Farewell Crabby, we hardly knew ye.

Additional notes

  • How will the Triarchy – that union of free cities that have been bankrolling the Crabfeeder – react to the death of their boy? Will the decision to dispatch his ships just at the moment of Daemon’s triumph mean that Viserys gets embroiled in the war after all?

  • For all the messy violence, the highlight of the episode might have been the look on Considine’s face – and his horrified laughter – when Otto Hightower suggested marrying Rhaenyra to her own two-year-old brother. Sure, the Targaryens have a history of marital incest to preserve the bloodline, but Viserys’s expression suggested he’s not about to entertain that queasy prospect any time soon.

  • It won’t have escaped anyone’s attention that that other major fantasy series, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, made its streaming debut last week. My highly esteemed and only slightly hobbity colleague Andy Welch will be recapping that one, so be sure to keep abreast of all the latest from Middle-earth right here.

Nudity count

Once again, not a sausage – or anything resembling one.

Violence count

Oh, yes. From stakes-through-hands to squashed-by-dragon, from flaming demise at the snout of a swooping Caraxes to howling death at the blade of a rampaging Prince Daemon, the episode was top and tailed by carnage. And let’s not forget that poor wild boar, stabbed repeatedly in the forest by Rhaenyra. Is she headed for Daenerys-like madness, or do they just want us to think she is?

Random Brit of the week

That houseproud dullard Jason Lannister will, it turns out, be reincarnated in Westeros about 200 years hence: TV and film veteran Jefferson Hall played a notable role in the very first series of Game of Thrones as Ser Hugh of the Vale, the squire suspected of feeding poison to his master, Hand of the King John Arryn. (It should be noted that GoT has form in this department – remember when The Actor Kevin Eldon popped up as two completely different characters?)

Ser Hugh only lasted two episodes before being suspiciously and horrifically knocked off by The Mountain during a joust, but it could be convincingly argued that he was actually responsible for the entire, seven-season mess that followed. Will Lord Jason have the same devastating impact?

• This article was amended on 6 September 2022. It is Seasmoke, ridden by Laenor Velaryon, not Daemon’s Caraxes, who takes out the Crabfeeder’s archers at the end.


Tom Huddleston

The GuardianTramp

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