Kumbay-ah! Sorry, I couldn’t resist, but that is basically the one-word summation of episode eight of House of the Dragon, “The Lord of the Tides,” which sees one of the most incredible moments in television, as well as one of the most shocking, and the latter is saying something given what has previously happened in the Game of Thrones universe.
The events of this episode unfurl after a six-year jump from the prior episode, “Driftmark,” where Corlys Velaryon is apparently wounded and on the presumption of his death, there is a brewing fight and jostling over who will take the Driftmark throne and become the next Lord of the Tides. There are two contenders: 1.) Rhaenyra and Laenor Velaryon’s “son,” Luke; and 2.) Vaemond, Corlys younger brother, who knows what we all know, which is that Rhaenyra’s sons are not truly Laenor sons and thus, not Velaryon blood.
Vaemond plans to petition the Iron Throne, with the hopes that Rhaenys (Corlys wife) will back him, which is also the fear Daemon and Rhaenyra have. Meanwhile, Queen Alicent Hightower and the Hand of the King, Otto Hightower, are agitating for Vaemond to take over the royal navy on the superficial premise that Luke is still a child, with the actual reason being that they want to continue to stick it to Daemon and Rhaenyra.
Before we get to the petitioning moment, we learn that Alicent’s son, Aegon, who could some day be king, raped one of the servants. The servant confines to Alicent what happened; she pays the girl off to be quiet (I was worried she’d cut off her tongue) and then gives her the plan B tea that this realm uses (I didn’t understand the tea bit in real time, only after Googling, but Alicent saying “we can’t be too sure” makes more sense to me now!). She then accosts her son about it and tells him, “You’re no son of mine.” I think it is another moment to show how monstrous and lousy as a would-be king Aegon is, but also to show the continued troubling spots Alicent is put in and must take care of. What is wild about this episode though is that an off-screen rape scene is not even the top five things of note from this episode.
We learn that Viserys is somehow still alive — it has been, what almost 20 years since he collapsed at Rhaenyra and Laenor’s wedding? — but is basically a husk of a man and certainly, a husk of a king. He’s being kept purposefully drugged by Alicent and Otto, so they can be Queen and Kings in the shadows, if you will. This creates a moment where he doesn’t understand Rhaenyra’s questioning of him when she inquires about the tale of Aegon the Conqueror and the “Song of Ice and Fire.” That is, of course, a reference to the white walkers coming and the realm needing to be united against them. More on that in a moment.
Rhaenyra strikes a deal seemingly with Rhaenys (after assuring her she didn’t have her son killed nor was she implicit in his death), whereby her sons would marry Daemon’s daughters to bring their houses together. If all else fails, marry in the family apparently.
At the petition hearing for Driftmark, Otto, the smug bastard, is sitting upon the Iron Throne. He hears Vaemond make his case and then as Rhaenyra is about to make her case, the aforementioned incredible moment occurs: Viserys, no longer on opiates, emerges through he door in his kingly attire and a mask on his face to hide his wounded flesh. Triumphant music swells, as Otto and Alicent look petrified and Rhaenyra both pleased and saddened, and he hobbles his way to the Iron Throne, ultimately needing his brother’s help to get to the throne (and in a touching, as well as symbolic, gesture, Daemon places the crown upon Viserys’ head). I loved, loved this moment because oddly, with the King physically at his weakest, he never looked stronger. This made me soar inwardly as much as any of the beautiful, powerful dragon flying sequences. That is how well-done it was and how well-done the character has been built up to this point. It also represented yet again Viserys’ desire to support his daughter, Rhaenyra, and assert himself as the King. He reiterates Rhaenyra’s claim to the throne and Rhaenys backs it up, as well as announcing the marriages.
But Vaemond isn’t having any of it and calls Rhaenyra a whore and her children bastards. King Viserys’ unsheathes his dagger as if to take Vaemond’s tongue. Instead, in the aforementioned shocking moment, Daemon (who had previously dared Vaemond to call the children bastards) slices off his head, decapitating him and quipping, “He can keep his tongue.” That made my jaw drop! I expected some sort of violence to happen once Vaemond started running his mouth, but you never expect an outright decapitation before the King!
Thereafter, Vaemond’s body is being prepared for delivery back to Driftwood and we get my favorite line of the episode from Rhaenys, who was warned to not look upon death as it brings back luck; she responds, “The Stranger has visited me more times than I can count and I can assure you, he cares not whether my eyes are open or closed.” Just masterclass acting from Eve Best and the Rhaenys character continues to be one of my sneaky favorites of the series; she really would have made a great Queen!
Finally, we get what Viserys wanted all along, a dinner with his family and for them to put away their grudges before he dies. It’s his “last supper,” if you will. It actually seems merry, with dancing and music and happiness. Alicent and Rhaenyra seem to bury the hatchet. Alas, the children can’t help but quarrel. Fortunately, the King was filling sick and left before it happened. Afterward, as he lays dying in his bed, he is confused about who he is talking to and tells Alicent that she is the one who is to unite the realm against the white walkers and fulfill the prophecy, thinking she’s Rhaenyra. But of course, Alicent hearing what she wants to hear, takes that as a directive that she is going to be the one to unite the realm.
Then, Viserys dies (presumably; we’ve thought that in prior episodes!). I’m going to miss him. He was the only person standing between civil war erupting among the family. Now, all bets are off. But speaking of “off,” my hat is off to Paddy Considine, who over the the last eight episodes has shown he deserves all the acting awards. The arc he was able to pull off to show the devolution of Viserys’ health, but also his will to see his family together, was nothing short of spectacular. That walk to the Iron Throne alone would be deserving of all the awards. I will never forget it.