The pearl clutchers who worried that Game of Thrones was rotting the brains of adults and corrupting the minds of children, were concerned about two things: sex and violence.
Well, after last week’s episode of House of the Dragon ended with a man cutting another in two as if he were halving a sandwich, this latest chapter of Sky’s Thrones prequel brings the sex. Warning for viewers: do not watch this episode with a family member.
We open with Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) confronted by dozens of eligible lords. But in this game of mediaeval Take Me Out, her light stays firmly off. Contestants range from an elderly Dondarrion lord (“The man is older than my father!” she exclaims. “It’s unseemly for him to put himself forward as a contender for my hand”) to a Blackwood heir barely into puberty, whose application ends with him running his sword through another suitor (a gimmick that would doubtless improve Take Me Out).
When Queen Alicent (Emily Carey) asks the princess about her failure to find the proposition romantic, Rhaenyra replies with a snort: “How romantic it must be to get imprisoned in a castle and made to squeeze out heirs!”
The reality is that Rhaenyra isn’t ready to settle. She wants dragon-riding adventures and to barbecue baddies, just like her uncle Daemon (Matt Smith), who, coincidentally, has returned to King’s Landing. He re-enters the scene with a renewed swagger, wearing a driftwood crown. “Since we smashed the Triarchy, they named me King of the Narrow Sea,” he tells his brother King Viserys (Paddy Considine), “but I know there is only one true king, your grace.” He’s also sporting a new haircut that makes him look like Draco Malfoy at a job interview.
If there’s one thing that people who didn’t watch Game of Thrones reliably know about the show, it’s that it featured a bunch of incest. The relationship between Daemon and Rhaenyra has, thus far, been flirty but just about the right side of appropriate (by Westerosi standards). In a shady spot in the palace grounds, that dance ramps up a notch. “You do seem changed by your adventures,” Rhaenyra tells her uncle, “more mature perhaps…” He looks her up and down and responds, “you’ve matured yourself these last four years, princess.” Uh oh.
That evening Rhaenyra finds a mystery note in her room and, in a sequence too hammy for the early seasons of Thrones, is led through a secret passage to the city streets, where her uncle is waiting. Downtown King’s Landing is a strange place, where people shag in doorways, flanked on all sides, for some reason, by fortune-tellers, fire-breathers and tightrope-walkers. But Rhaenyra is loving it – she’s even told to “f*** off, boy,” by a passing drunk, giving the character her first true Arya moment. “For one night, I wish to be free of the burdens of my inheritance,” she tells Daemon, who seems to read “inheritance” as “genetic ties”. He starts macking on his niece in a brothel, and gets quite far through the process – her trousers are around her ankles – before being struck by buyer’s remorse.
The “Hand” Job
Left in the sexual lurch, Rhaenyra returns to her rooms and decides she wants Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) to finish the job. How can two such attractive people have such awkward sex? Well, they manage it. The problem with this evening of debauchery is that whispers of the princess’ behaviour have got back to Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), the Hand of the King – who is not without a dog in the succession fight: his daughter Alicent, is mother to the alternate heir, Aegon. “It is no easy thing to tell a father of his daughter’s exploits,” he mumbles at the king, who, it should be said, we’ve just witnessed in a deeply unsexy threesome with Hightower’s own daughter and the enormous oozing pustule on his arse.
The Hand job is a tough job, and Otto has blown it. By pushing his daughter into the king’s bed, he has consolidated power only to find himself too invested for dispassionate counsel. Rhaenyra denies the allegations that she lost her virginity to her uncle (“I am the princess,” she tells Alicent, “to question my virtue is an act of treason!”; “You Targaryens do have queer customs” her BFF-cum-stepmother replies). While that part may be true, Rhaeynra does lie, swearing on her mother’s memory that Daemon never even touched her. Daemon takes a more pragmatic approach, asking Viserys for his niece’s hand. Fat chance.
“I have spent a lifetime defending you, but your heart is even blacker than I thought,” declares Viserys, bitterly, banishing his brother to the Vale. Rhaenyra, meanwhile, is to be wed to Laenor Velaryon, to appease the Sea Snake. And Otto is stripped of his badge. See kids, your parents and teachers were right: nothing good comes of sex before marriage.