Kids fighting doesn’t sound like the most enthralling television for an adult show and yet, when that adult show is House of the Dragon, it is exactly that. The episode, “Driftmark,” felt like everything that was teased at for the prior six episodes and however many years finally came to tense, bloody, eye-gouging fruition.
At the funeral of Laena Velaryon, who committed suicide via her dragon, Vhagar, it is more a funeral than a funeral. Everyone is casting daggers with their eyes, or in the case of Daemon, smirking, or in the case of Aegon, drinking until he’s passed out.
Afterward, when everyone is distracted as night descends — Rhaenyra and Daemon renew their incestuous relationship; and Corlys and Rhaenys are arguing about power and legacy again in a wonderful scene where Corlys firmly believes nobody remembers blood, only names; legacy is everything in such a brutish, short life, whereas Rhaenys is sick of her children’s blood being spilled — Aemond, who is one of the King and Queen’s sons, sneaks off to go ride Vhagar. Vhagar, I need to emphasize, is gigantic and sleeping when Aemond rouses him to go for a spectacularly beautiful joyride. When he comes back, the children fight: Aemon in a one-on-four scenario, with Jayce and Luke (Rhaenyra’s black-haired sons) and Baela and Rhaena (Daemon and Laena’s daughters). It’s actually a brutal fight that sees Aemon punch the girls, the four gain the upperhand due to the numbers game momentarily, Aemon threaten one of the boys with a rock, and then Jayce responds by slicing Aemon across the eye (okay, so it wasn’t an exact gouging, but the eye is still unusable thereafter). The fight centered around the girls being jealous at Aemond riding what they believe to be their dragon and Jayce and Luke defending their honor after Aemond calls them bastards. Remember, everyone knows they aren’t the sons of Rhaenyra and Laenor Velaryon, even the children.
That sets the stage for the adults to become protective, albeit quarreling, parents. Alicent, the Queen, seeks an eye-for-an-eye, where she truly shows off how far she’s fallen since the beginning of the show. In other words, she wants to take the eye of either Jayce or Luke! Obviously, Rhaenyra will not allow this to happen and counters that Aemond called her sons bastards and that whomever told him such a thing is committing treason.
In a moment that perfectly illustrates how much King Viserys has lost the control of his kingdom, when he questions Aemond about where he heard it and Aemond points to his older brother who shall inherit the Iron Throne one day, Aegon, he goes, “Duh, everyone knows, because I mean, look at them.” Eek!
Instead of removing the wool from his eyes, Viserys thinks the matter is settled and orders peace within the family. Instead, Alicent, who again has lost her mind, takes Viserys’ dagger and goes after Rhaenyra. They stand almost frozen in time encircled by everyone with the tip of the dagger near to Rhaenyra. In an episode with memorable, cut-to-the-bone lines, Rhaenyra might have had the line of the night when she whispers to Alicent, “Exhausting, wasn’t it? Hiding beneath the cloak of your own righteousness. But, now, they see you for what you truly are.”
Alicent does end up cutting Rhaenyra, but it’s just a flesh wound. And she faces no consequences for it. For his part, her father, Otto, who I guess is back in as The Hand of the King — just another mark in the weakness of Viserys column — loves it! He loves that Alicent showed her mad side and that she’s willing to do what it takes to “win” the Iron Throne.
After all this transpires, the incestuous couple we’re rooting for, as far that goes compared to the others, Rhaenyra and Daemon, have come up with a plan, as proposed by the former: They ought to marry to fortify their claim and ensure nobody can threaten them. Now, Laenor had just talked to Rhaenyra about how he is going to re-double his efforts at being a good husband and a father. So, I’m thinking, “What the heck, Rhaenyra? I like you, despite the incest, don’t ruin it!” Because in order for her and Daemon to marry … Laenor would have to be dead.
It turns out to be a ruse, though! Daemon kills a guard and they make it seem like it was Laenor burned alive. Or maybe the original plan was for Laenor to die and Qarl (who Daemon put the plan to) changed the plan. It is left ambiguous. Nonetheless, that gives Laenor a chance to go off with his lover Qarl (and I guess, whoops, sorry mom and dad for tricking you into thinking I’m dead), and for Daemon and Rhaenyra to get married.
This episode was wild, folks. I love the talking. The talking and corresponding acting are simply top notch. I can watch an hour of talking if it’s good like this. But there is also fun dragon flying, and children and adults fighting. What’s not to love?
I saw people complaining afterward that this episode’s lighting was atrocious, making it hard to see anything. HBO apparently says the dark lighting was an intentional creative decision. Whatever the case, for my part, I will always prefer well-lit scenes to scenes that aren’t well-lit, creative decision or not, merely because I have bad eyes (I have one eye like Aemond) and I like to see everything. But also, despite my bad eyes and worse, little television, I didn’t find it difficult to see what was going on last night. Did you have trouble seeing what was going on?