Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke take over as Rhaenyra and Alicent, respectively, after a 10-year time jump shows just how much the former childhood friends’ combined family has fallen apart.
The faces may have changed, but the enmity between childhood friends Rhaenyra and Alicent is ever the same … and getting worse as “House of the Dragon” jumps ahead by a decade.
It’s by far the biggest time jump of the season so far, with some of the actors being recast along the way, including the two female leads. Emma D’Arcy takes over for the sensational Milly Alcock as Rhaenyra, while Olivia Cooke looks just like an older version of Emily Carey’s Alicent.
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While there was a youthful energy in the younger actress’ performances, there is far more gravity and weight in their elder counterparts, though the characters are totally recognizable and believable as the same person. It’s a testament to the stellar casting of the whole series, and the work these four women must have done to line up their performances.
What had only begun to simmer in the first half of this season is slowly reaching a hard boil between the queen and her “daughter,” the princess and heir to the Iron Throne. Technically, they’re all one family now, but they also represent two possible lines of succession.
War is all but inevitable, as Alicent’s father Otto told her when the king banished him a decade ago. When Rhaenyra ascends the Iron Throne, the realm will be thrown into turmoil because girl in power, ew! Alicent’s son is King Viserys’ first-born son, so traditionally the thrown would be his.
As we see in this episode, Rhaenyra has been shoring up her own line of succession by having sons of her own — only there’s one big difference. They don’t have that platinum hair like she does and all those of Valyrian stock. Is this that pesky Ser Criston?
Well, turns out that situation took an unexpected turn, too. We may have missed a lot of big moves in the past ten years, but it looks like we stepped back into the narrative just in time for all hell to break loose. The breaking began here.
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Alicent and Rhaenyra Posture Over Baby
Our first glimpses of Rhaenyra and Alicent are as Rhaenyra gives birth to her third son and the Queen immediately demands to see the child right now. RIght away, we also see that these two very proud women are basically at war with one another, in the most passive-aggressive way. Alicent by demanding to see the child seconds after it is born, and Rhaenyra for taking him to her herself just seconds after having birthed him. She even had to pause while getting dressed for the afterbirth. Let’s just say she wasn’t looking her best, but it was definitely a strong statement. Poor Viserys was just delighted to meet his new grandson (yes, he’s still around and he looks worse than ever, down an arm and looking like he’s aged half a century).
Alicent Provokes Laenor About Baby’s Father
While Rhaenyra’s husband Laenor helped escort her to see the Queen, all she cared about was the new baby’s hair color. As expected, and as with Rhaenyra’s previous children, the hair is dark and doesn’t align with Rhaenyra’s or Laenor’s. Alicent, cattier than ever, goads Laenor that maybe if he keeps trying, one of these babies will come out looking like him. It’s ten years later, and she still can’t get over the fact that Rhaenyra was sullied by Criston before her wedding day. It doesn’t help that Rhaenyra clearly continues to cat around while she’s married. Alicent doesn’t know about the deal Rhaenyra and Laenor made about his homosexuality, but that deal also included doing their duty to the realm, which would mean having children together.
Aegon Taunts Aemond About Not Having Dragon
While the parents are having their cold war in the castle, their children are having childhood wars of their own. It’s clearly Alicent’s older children versus Rhaenyra’s younger sons, but it’s also more complicated than that, as it always is. Aegon works with Rhaenyra’s boys, Jacaerys and Lucerys, to taunt his own younger brother Aemond about not having a dragon. Not all Targaryen dragon eggs hatch, so not all Targaryens get to raise a dragon of their very own. Aemond, though, creeps down into the Dragonpit, clearly fascinated, so we’ll be keeping an eye on that one. We definitely got hints of Joffrey Baratheon as a little jerk with how Aegon interacted with pretty much everyone in the episode, not to mention him pleasure himself out the window! This is the other possible line of succession that’s better than Rhaenyra’s?
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Viserys Forbids Alicent About Rhaenyra
Clearly it’s a conversation that she’s tried to have before, but the birth of a third dark-haired child has spurred Alicent to again convince her husband that his daughter is making a mockery of her own line of succession, not to mention her father, their family and House Velaryon, by having babies with someone who is clearly not her husband. But just as he refused to see or hear it before Rhaenyra was married, he won’t acknowledge it now. Deep inside he may, but this show is ever about those things never said and the lies said to cover up those buried truths. Everything, after all, is a “Game,” is it not? Alicent is playing this one hard, trying to discredit Rhaenyra at every turn and convince Viserys she’s not morally worthy to hold the throne. If Rhaenyra had settled down her wild ways now that she’s heir, or at least had children with her actual husband who is the proper stock, such as it is, this feud may not have bubbled for so long, but each child is a new match to the flame.
Alicent Warns Aegon About Rhaenyra
Clearly unable to get anywhere with Viserys, and with his health failing more and more, Alicent tried to get through her son’s head that his very life could be in danger if Rhaenyra becomes queen. Spending his time taunting his brother and acting the fool isn’t going to do him any favors. He’s arrogant and shirks the rules much like … well, a lot like his older half-sister, except that she doesn’t seem to have quite the nasty streak that he has. It’s looking more and more like that trait might come from his mother’s side.
Daemon Offered Manse in Pentos
All this time, after securing the Stepstones, Daemon and his wife Laena apparently left Westeros altogether and went traveling, landing in Pentos. They’re been living a life of luxury there, growing their family and even raising dragons. The prince thinks this is pretty swell and he likes the idea of dragons being able to offer protection from the growing alliance between the Triarchy and Dorne that’s apparently also a growing threat on the very Stepstones Daemon abandoned when he was exiled — and Viserys did nothing to shore up that hard-fought victory in the ensuing years. Laena wants nothing to do with the offer, wanting instead to go home finally, but Daemon says he has no inclination to go home. Could he finally have found some peace away from all the machinations for the Iron Throne? Or does he hear its call yet?
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Criston and Harwin Spar
It turns out that that closing moment of the last episode where a younger Queen Alicent walked up on Criston about to commit suicide after he killed Laenor’s lover was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. And with Alicent’s own animosity to fuel him, Criston dropped the c-word quite casually in talking about Rhaenyra. The fact he could is indicative of how close he and the queen are, and it’s also proof that he and Rhaenyra are clearly over and he never got over her offer for him to be her “whore.” As it turns out, Rhaenyra’s new guy is Ser Harwin Strong, the Commander of the City Watch and son of Lyonel Strong, the Hand of the King. Criston, obviously, knows the lineage of Raenyra’s kids, so he’s especially hard on them during sword training. When Harwin calls him out on it, the men fight through the children at first — typical — and finally come to blows themseleves when Criston questions why Harwin is so interested in the boys … it’s almost as if he’s related to them. Criston was trying to goad an attack/confession, and he certainly got that. Fists said what words cannot.
Rhaenyra Apologizes to Alicent
As the rumors again start to reach a fever pitch, and the animosity between Rhaenyra’s kids and Alicent’s kids shows its already carrying into the next generation, Rhaenyra appears ready to try a new tactic. She forbids her husband to leave — he’s ready to flee the coming tempest — and instead offers a very public apology to Alicent and asks if they could put an end to their feud. She proposes she wed her son and heir Jacaeryn to Alicent’s daughter Helaena and the next available dragon egg for Aemond. It’s a good offer, and one that Viserys enjoys, but after they depart, she tells her husband he can do as he pleases after she’s dead and cold. She will not back down from her cold hatred of Rhaenyra. It’s bizarre how deep her hatred of her childhood friend goes at this point, though we think some of that comes from shame. Alicent siding with Rhaenyra and Viserys with the first batch of rumors is why Alicent’s father was banished, so she has to own some of that responsibilty after she found out her father was right all along.
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Alicent Wishes Otto Were Hand
After Lyonel confronts his son about fathering Rhaenyra’s children and the impossible position he’s putting him in and the damage he’s doing to his family. An honorable man, Lyonel attempted to resign, but when he refused to describe the black cloud over his family (and boy was Alicent eagerly hoping he would), Viserys refused to accept his resignation. Lyonel had to accept the consolation prize of at least escorting his son back to Harrenhall as Ser Harwin is his heir — and it will at least physically separate him from the princess. After Viserys rejects his resignation, Alicent joins Lyonel’s other son, Larys, for dinner. This is another relationship from Episode 5 Alicent has fostered the past ten years, and one with far more sinister undertones. Larys is just creepy. She reveals to him that she wishes her father were back as Hand because even if he wouldn’t be unbiased, at least he’d be biased toward her!
Laena Chooses Her Own Death
Whatever life Daemon was beginning to imagine for himself came to a screeching halt when his wife started suffering the exact same problem as Queen Aemma in the premiere. The baby simply would not come, and Daemon was made the same offer as his brother. They could cut the baby out. But Laena is of different stock. She’d already said she craved adventure and wanted to die as a dragonrider. So in a heartbrekaing scene, she made her way out to Vaghar and begged him with repeated “Dracarys!” shouts to end her life in fire. As Daemon finally emerged, though it’s not clear if he was trying to stop her or not, Vaghar honored her wishes. The final shot we had was while Viserys was talking about children being a weakness, folly, futility. We saw Daemon standing with his two daughters and then walking away. We don’t know if he felt love for Laena, or even if he can feel love, but clearly her death has left him rattled and uncertain what his next move is. We suspect Westeros will call to him, after all.
Jacaeryn Asks If He’s a Bastard
Ser Harwin certainly made a big to do about him leaving for Harrenhall with Rhaenyra’s children for a man pretending not to be their father. It doesn’t appear to be the first time, either, as after he leaves, Jacaeryn pretty quickly asked Rhaenyra if Harwin was his father, making him a bastard. Her only response wasn’t much of one as she told him, “You are a Targaryen. That’s all that matters.” The best way to maintain a lie is to actually maintain the lie. You have to say the words, rather than dance around and just avoid saying the truth. She’s not very good at this.
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Rhaenyra Decides to Leave
Perhaps because Jacaeryn asked about his father or perhaps because Alicent was clearly so cold on her offer to wed Jacaeryn with her daughter, Rhaenyra decided that it was time to leave King’s Landing. For ten years, she has tried to mend her family one way or another, without quieting her own appetites which is probably the only way she could have succeeded. And so, with Viserys’ health declining, she decided to heed Laenor’s sailing advice and get the f— out before the storm comes. Yes, it means she won’t have her father’s ear and Alicent will have full influence over him to convince him to change his line of succession, but clearly she’s decided that after this third child and the growing rumors around town, she’d finally taken as much as she could.
Larys Fulfills Alicent’s Wish
In an extremely disturbing sequence of events, after his dinner with Alicent, we see Larys down in the dungeon making a deal with some criminals on their way to the hangman’s noose. If they’ll make one concession, he can free them. That concession, apparently, is to allow him to cut their tongues out. After all, loose lips wag but missing tongues can form no words. What he had planned was beyond what anyone could have fathomed. After his father and brother made it back to Harrenhall, Larys’ men set fire to the place, killing both men. Larys explained to Alicent that as a good subject, he was fulfilling her wish. Horrified, she said that she did not wish for that. Her wish, though, was that her father could be the Hand, so Larys disposed of the current Hand, his own father, and Rhaenyra’s lover in one blaze. He then said he feels certain she will reward him when the time is right, setting himself up in a position of power. As dark and disturbed as we’ve been by Daemon and even Alicent and Criston this week, Larys is by far more terrifying. This is family and maiming and freeing criminals to kill them meant nothing to him. He may be the one we should watch out for most!
“House of the Dragon” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max.