House Of The Dragon Reminds Us To Never Attend A Westerosi Wedding In 'We Light The Way’
Traditionally, Westerosi weddings are a violent affair. While blood, death and misery aren't formal elements of the ceremony, they always seem to find their way into the festivities — and if you thought a Targaryen on the throne might change that, then you were woefully mistaken. While it's easy to think of weddings as joyful affairs, they often hold high-stakes significance for Westerosi's highborn. Especially when royal blood is involved. More often than not, marriage in this world is a political maneuver, and the joining of Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) and Laenor (Theo Nate) is no exception.
Their marriage is meant to patch up a few different problems. Most importantly is the one that Viserys (Paddy Considine) has been yammering on about for the past few episodes: secure the line of succession by giving Rhaenyra some kids. Thanks to the King's previous mistakes, this marriage must also solidify the Tararyen's allyship with House Velaryon. This is crucial because, as Corlys (Steve Toussaint) points out, his house controls the realm's navy and half its dragons. United, the joined families could radiate power. Would that be a little easier if they weren't helmed by a decaying King Viserys? Probably. But no amount of leeches, maggots and sponge baths can help him now.
All of this brings us to a "House of the Dragon" royal wedding with some very gloomy consequences. No one dramatically chokes on poisoned wine and wedding guests aren't horrifically slaughtered by the dozens, but what's meant to be a joyous celebration ends up becoming a mournful obligation. Above all, it's a warning sign to the Targaryens that when you sit in the hot seat of power, your problems can't be left to fester.
Keeping It 'In The Family'
When Viserys rejected the offer to marry Laena Velaryon, he knew that Corlys would be pissed. That's pretty much why he skirted the responsibility of having a solo chat and made the announcement at a small council meeting instead. He relied on his own authority having more sway than the Sea Snake's pride ("I am your king") but, uh, that didn't really work out. Along with their dragons, ships, and very cool castle, the Velaryons should also be known for their ability to hold a grudge and seek very quiet vengeance. Using the excuse of having just returned from his wars abroad, Corlys openly disrespects the king by offering no formal greeting when he arrives on Driftmark; instead, the obviously ailing royal has to drag himself to meet Corlys in his castle, High Tide, where he sits on the Driftwood Throne.
I doubt they discussed it beforehand, but I really like the idea of Daemon and Corlys putting their heads together on how best to piss off the king. 'I'll show up wearing a crown, and you make him greet you while sitting on a throne.' It's like a game of treasonous chicken! Ultimately, they both bow before their king, and treason is averted, but everyone in the room is aware of the tension. Luckily, Viserys has arrived at a solution to all of their problems: Laenor and Rhaenyra should get married.
It's a solid proposal, except for one obvious, glaring flaw. Corlys has kinda been down this road before. He married Rhaenys (Eve Best), a potential heir to the throne, only to see that claim be passed over for a man. So if his son married Rhaenyra, would his grandkids actually be next in line to rule? Or is her claim gonna be ignored in favor of Aegon's, like many lords of Westeros keep suggesting? Viserys still holds true to his word — Rhaenyra remains his heir and her firstborn (regardless of gender!) will be next in line after her.
'The Realm Will Not Accept Her.'
When Viserys doubles down on his plans to have Rhaenyra succeed him, he does so without a second thought. He says everything like it's very "matter-of-fact" and I guess in his defense, he's never been unclear about his intentions to have her ascend the throne. But he has been ignoring the bigger problem — how everyone else feels about it. Because despite his crown and throne and silvery blonde hair, other people's feelings on the matter are becoming increasingly urgent.
"House of the Dragon" has never let us forget that Westeros is extremely averse to the idea of having a Queen but Viserys is too busy losing fingers and nursing wounds to see the issue at hand. Others haven't been so ignorant.
On his way out of King's Landing, recently dismissed from his position as Hand of the King, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) makes a point to hammer these harsh truths into his daughter's head: "If Rhaenyra succeeds him, war will follow. Do you understand? The realm will not accept her." Alicent (Emily Carey) does all she can to deny him, but she must find some truth in those words because she spends the rest of the episode searching for answers. Can Rhaenyra still be trusted? Did she tell the truth about her excursion on the streets of silk? Or was Alicent wrong about her?
This dilemma of succession is shared by another Queen: while Corlys is thrilled to have the union hammered out, Rhaenys is rightfully worried about putting their son in danger. She understands how far men are willing to go to stop a woman from ruling — why would she want Laenor wrapped up in that? But there's no backing out now. The engagement is official.
Do You Prefer Goose Or Roast Duck?
After multiple episodes of hearing her chafe against her royal responsibilities, Rhaenyra surprises us by handling her engagement with a level head. Maybe its because she already knows her fiancé so well — they are, after all, cousins. Or maybe it's that she's recently been enlightened to the pleasures of life. Her closeness with Laenor and knowledge of his sexuality gives her a unique opportunity to continue having freedom within her marriage. After a brief stroll along the coast, the newly betrothed duo agree to do their duty to the realm (i.e. produce some sturdy heirs), but they also make plans for a very progressive open marriage, where they can both "dine as [they] see fit." (Their thinly veiled discussion of roast duck or goose might be my favorite sexuality analogy since "Schitt's Creek" chat about wine labels.)
It works out perfectly because they both have an unsuitable paramour that they would otherwise never have the opportunity to spend their lives with. Joffrey Lonmouth (said paramour) is the one who points this out to Laenor, curiously wondering what relationship Rhaenyra is hoping to maintain. By the episode's end, he'll have the misfortune of finding out. But before the wedding, we sail back to King's Landing with Rhaenyra and her poor, tortured protector Ser Criston Cole.
The Plight Of The White Knight
In the hopes of salvaging his honor, Ser Criston makes an adorable proposition: Rhaenyra should run away with him. Together they can escape to Essos and live a nameless life without responsibilities! It's sweet and oh so naive of him to suggest. Rhaenyra has spent the past few years endlessly complaining about what's expected of her, but that doesn't mean she's blind to the value of her life. He would be sacrificing an esteemed position in the Kingsguard, but she would be sacrificing her identity as a Targaryen. "I am The Crown," she tells him. She is the continuation of a dynasty and that's not something easily abandoned — especially since she knows the truth behind Aegon the Conqueror's vision. Riding away from a hunt is one thing, but her inheritance has never been something she could leave behind.
Sadly, that's not the answer that Ser Criston was looking for and the truth is a little too hard to swallow. He wasn't just acting on affection here: the fact that he broke his vows is tearing him apart so thoroughly that running away seemed the only possible solution. Rhaenyra's rejection and suggestion that he should continue dishonoring his white cloak is too much to bear. He cracks, not just in that moment but in one that's much more significant. Under the light pressure of some timid questioning from Queen Alicent, he reveals the dangerous truth that sets both of them on a dark path.
Ser Criston expects to be punished when he's found out and — the honorable man he is — he might've preferred it. In fact, he makes a plea for Alicent to have him killed rather than castrated and tortured (the Westerosi punishment for breaking a vow of chastity). But she simply dismisses Ser Cole, too caught up in the truth to consider her next move. Meanwhile, that mercy eats away at him. The final blow cones from the unfortunate Joffrey Lonmouth, who connects the dots after catching a few glances between Rhaenyra and her white knight.
A Wedding Night To Remember
Is Joffrey threatening Ser Criston when he corners him with the truth, or just proposing an alliance? It feels like a bit of both, but it doesn't matter. Intentions be damned, he touches a nerve and pushes the knight over the edge. Absolute chaos erupts: Laenor gets punched, Ser Harwen Strong leaps to Rhaenyra's rescue, and Joffrey is killed. The wedding celebration comes to an abrupt close after some literal gay-bashing from Ser Criston who, to the horror of everyone in the vicinity, smashes in Joffrey's face. While the wedding guests reel from the fallout, with Laenor publicly mourning his love, Ser Criston goes to the Godswood to end his suffering. But once again, Alicent offers him mercy — stopping him in the act.
This is definitely the most memorable moment of the wedding, but it was otherwise an extremely eventful party. Foreseeing the significance of this night, Daemon got busy way before the festivities started: he finally returned to the Vale, not for the sake of obedience but to murder his wife. We only knew Rhea Royce (Rachel Redford) for one brief hunting trip but she saw Daemon for what he was. She poked at his sore spots and realized his intentions just a moment too late. No wonder their marriage didn't work out: he hates when women read him for filth
With his dance card free, Daemon has ample time to speak words of temptation to Rhaenyra. In their love language of High Valyrian, he tells her that Laenor will "bore [her] senseless" and she meets him with a challenge — "Take me to Dragonstone and make me your wife." Then they all but kiss in public, an unhinged thing to do at her wedding but I'd expect nothing less from this disastrous power couple. Notably, Daemon also makes time for another young relative of his: Laena Velaryon is thankfully older than the last time a middle-aged Targaryen man tried flirting with her, but it's still pretty damn icky!
That Targaryen Dynasty Is Put To The Test
Second in line for the biggest moment of the wedding is the entrance of Queen Alicent in Hightower green. There is a shift so palpable that everyone in the room takes note, especially the resident spider of the HotD, Larys Strong. He points out that when Old Town goes to war, the beacon on the Hightower glows green. Now that she knows the truth about Rhaenyra, Alicent is making a quiet declaration of war.
Things are moving along sharply. Whatever has been looming on the horizon for the past five episodes is quickly approaching and everyone seems to realize it. Daemon prepares himself by murdering his wife, Rhaenyra comes to terms with her duties as heir, Alicent solidifies a schism in their friendship, the Velaryon's return to court in style and even the Strong's are quietly seizing power. The only person who misses the signal is, unsurprisingly, King Viserys.
Midway through the episode, while suffering in the shadow of Old Valyria, Viserys makes the absurd assertion that he was never tested during his regency. He believes that because he never oversaw any great wars, suffered significant losses or won huge honors, his reign will be insignificant. He fails to realize that he has been tested, time and time again. From the moment we've met these characters, there have been nonstop tests: the birth of Baelon, the choice of a new wife and even the way he handled Daemon's betrayals. These were momentous decisions with unthinkable consequences. They will shape the next era of his kingdom, whether or not he's there to see it.
Just because the impact isn't clear now, doesn't mean he hasn't doomed Westeros in his own way. The man is openly decaying and so is his kingdom. It's happening slowly and a hell of a lot more subtlely, but if this royal wedding is any indication — a mournful affair with blood unnecessarily spilled — then Viserys will surely be remembered for the choices he's made.
Never mind the fact that Rhaenyra rejects him — I can't believe that Criston had the gall to suggest they run away together. Can you imagine how quickly Daemon would hunt him down and feed him to Caraxes?!
Ser Harwen Strong is absolutely obsessed with Rhaenyra, which is good because now that Alicent and Ser Criston have both resigned the post, I think there's an opening for her new flirtatious bestie.
"WANTED: New sworn protector for Princess Rhaenyra, heir to the Iron Throne. A Prince Caspian type is preferred, but not required. Must have moral flexibility and a thing for blondes. Must be submissive and good with a sword (in all senses of the phrase)."
Never thought that I'd mourn a man named Joffrey, but I'm pretty damn sad about the Knight of Kisses. He wasn't the most tactful guy in the seven kingdoms (read the room, Joffrey, Criston was obviously on the verge of a mental breakdown) but that's no reason to smash his face in! Mostly, I was just really excited about the idea of a Laenor, Joffrey, Rhaenyra and Criston being hot and cool and progressive in their open marriage situationship.
I feel like we're being cheated out of dragons on this, a show called House of the DRAGON. Not only have we had yet to formally meet Laenor's dragon Seasmoke, (who briefly popped in a few episodes ago to wreck the Crabfeeder) but now we get only a passing glance at Rhaenys' incredible dragon, Meleys. Now that the Targaryens and Velaryons will be spending a lot more time together, I hope to see more time spent talking about dragons, thinking about dragons, identifying dragonriders, etc.
Alicent and Rhaenyra have clearly been pit against each other as a pious woman of tradition vs a progressive, rebellious Princess. But something they seem to have in common is the place they go for solace: the Godswood. Back in "Game of Thrones" when she was mourning the loss of her entire family, Sansa admitted that she hides there because "it's the only place I can go where people don't talk to me." Our new royal ladies seem to share a similar sentiment: they both end up there in moments of frustration and quiet contemplation.
"A Dothraki wedding without at least three deaths is considered s dull affair." Technically, Laenor and Rhaenyra's wedding only has one actual death — RIP Joffrey, we barely knew ye — but surely we can count some of the metaphorical instances. The death of Alicent and Rhaenyra's friendship? The death of Ser Criston's honor? The death of subtlety because why the hell are Laenor and Joffrey openly nuzzling each other in public?! Also, uh, someone should check on Viserys because he might be dead too.
Who Is Winning The Game Of Thrones?
The world of Westeros may be continuing under a different title, but we are still playing a game of thrones. So let's take a moment to reflect on the episode's most prominent players:
WINNER: Alicent Hightower - Alicent once told us that she was quite content as a spectator, but she's come a long way since then. She's been a great player since the very start — sidling up to Viserys with ease and quickly becoming a trusted advisor without him even realizing how influential she can be. But something has changed. In the wake of learning the truth about Rhaenyra, Alicent's faith in her friend is shattered and her father's words are likely ringing in her ears: "Prepare Aegon to rule." She has donned the infamous Hightower green and she's making powerful friends in Larys Strong and even Ser Criston Cole. Now that she actually has a stake in the game, Alicent will be a formidable player.
LOSER: Viserys Targaryen - Technically speaking, not much has changed for Viserys: he's still king, has a wife, multiple heirs and no major conflict within his kingdom. But also, everything has spiraled way out of his control. The look on his face when Rhaenyra and Daemon share a moment on the dance floor? He can't even get his house in order, how the hell is he in charge of seven kingdoms?! Also, uh, that nosebleed looks pretty bad.
WINNER: Corlys Velaryon - Well. Corlys wanted the Targaryens and the Velaryon's joined by marriage and the mission has officially been accomplished. If Laena keeps getting to know Daemon, maybe it'll be accomplished in more ways than one. But you know what they say — be careful what you wish for.
LOSER: Ser Criston Cole - This what rock bottom looks like. It can't get much worse than seppuku in the Godswood. But maybe that means something better looms on the horizon?
WINNER: House Strong - Harwen Strong is the brawn and Larys Strong is the brains. They have solidified their place at court and with Lyonel now in high command as Hand of the King, they are in very close proximity to power.
STILL IN THE GAME: Rhaenyra Targaryen - Is this a win? That was the saddest wedding ceremony I've ever seen and it ended with her father collapsing on the floor. But Rhaenyra is one step closer to solidifying her line of succession. And she herself has come to terms with her responsibilities as heir, which is a big step up. But the betrayal of Ser Criston and potential loss of Alicent looms dangerously.
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