It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a kingdom, must be in want of a wife. It proves true, once again, in this second episode of House of the Dragon. After the thorny question of the King’s succession was resolved – for now – attention must turn to which inappropriately aged heiress he will invite into his bed chamber.
If you were afraid that House of the Dragon might be a watered-down version of its predecessor, the sight of scuttling little crabs eating men alive ought to allay that concern. Jane Austen, this is not. “The Stepstones have now grown into a conflagration, yet you sit here and dither about court business!” yells Corlys Velaryon (the famed seafarer and richest man in Westeros played by Steve Toussaint) at a small council meeting. His crabbiness – fair enough, given that his men currently have pincers snapping at their eyeballs – is illustrative not just of his clout in court but of King Viserys’ weakness. Can you imagine Daenerys or even Joffrey allowing an advisor to speak like that? And in Westeros, weakness breeds turmoil. The threat in the Stepstones – an important shipping lane between the Free Cities and Westeros – comes from marauding pirates who, rumour has it, are funded by merchants and bankers trying to weaken the power of the Seven Kingdoms. It’s hard not to suspect, however, there may be a whodunit element still to come.
As to the question of the next queen: the King (Paddy Considine) is boring Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey), daughter of the Hand and best friend of Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), to tears with his miniature cities. It is a truly withering portrait of masculine obsession; the middle-aged man unable to see that his teenage suitor may not be as interested in scale-model urban landscapes as he is. But it is not just Alicent who’s sniffing around the King. Mr and Mrs Velaryon (the latter being Viserys’ cousin, Rhaenys, played by Eve Best) are pimping out their 12-year-old daughter to the grieving widower. “The realm expects you to take a new wife sooner or later,” Rhaenys declares, “to strengthen your line and produce more heirs.” But a perambulation around the castle grounds thankfully yields no sparks. “I would give you many children,” offers this tiny girl – only for the King’s eyes to cast back to the keep where Alicent, his marginally more age-appropriate alternative, is waiting.
The bad egg
But this episode is, after all, titled “The Rogue Prince” and it’s Matt Smith’s Daemon who takes centre stage by the denouement. Daemon has stolen the fossilised dragon egg reserved for little Baelon – the dead nephew he labelled “heir for a day” in the season opener – and smuggled it away to Dragonstone as a gift for his unborn (and, at present, unconceived) child.
“Daemon is without limit,” comes the adjudication of Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) who is discharged to Dragonstone to smooth out the fraternal friction. Daemon and Otto square off on a misty bridge (real shades of Euron Greyjoy’s return to the Iron Islands here), but it takes the surprise arrival of the heir presumptive, Princess Rhaenyra, astride her dragon Syrax, to break the stalemate. “If you wish to be restored as heir, you’ll need to kill me,” she tells her uncle. “So do it and be done with all this bother.” Naturally, as a man faced with a 300-tonne flying flamethrower, Daemon backs down.
Back home in King’s Landing, Viserys opens up to his only child (“I struggled to realise that my daughter had so quickly become a woman grown”) but this is perhaps just nonce inoculation, given that he then immediately announces his intention to wed her BFF, Alicent. And with that, Viserys gains a wife but makes an enemy of House Velaryon, the only family capable of challenging Targaryen supremacy. If Game of Thrones taught us one thing, it’s that you can never marry for love. Admittedly, marrying for political gain carries its own risks – perhaps better not to marry at all.
At the episode’s close, Corlys strikes a pact with Daemon (could this be House of the Dragon’s first backroom deal? Varys and Littlefinger would be so proud!) to handle the revolting, masked character who is genuinely being referred to as “The Crab Feeder”. “Waiting in the Stepstones is a chance for you to prove your worth to anyone who might yet doubt it,” Corlys advises the rogue prince. And with that, a glint enters Daemon’s eye and the wheels of plot start turning in earnest.