Because weddings in the "Game of Thrones" universe always go so well!
Weddings are never as joyful of occasions in the world of George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" as they should be, so why should Rhaenyra's grand wedding celebration on "House of the Dragon" be any different?
At it's heart, both "Game of Thrones" and "House of the Dragon" are all about twisted, dark, maneuverings for power and influence over Westeros. But sometimes it gets deeply, deeply personal, too, and that's how things went so terribly wrong this week.
Obviously, beyond this point the spoilers will fly so if you don't want to know, you might want to go watch it all go down and then come back. We'll still be here!
With this episode, the first phase of "House of Dragons" wraps as teasers have already suggested our biggest time jump is coming with next week's episode. It's the jump fans have been anticipating that will bid farewell to several members of the cast.
That's because Milly Alcock, as an example, was only cast to play "young" Rhaenyra. Now that she'll be firmly older and more established in her life, Emma D'Arcy will take over the role next week.
The same for Alicent, with Olivia Cooke taking over for Emily Carey. That means this is our last time to heap praise on both young women for really bringing these characters to life so beautifully in these first five episodes. It will be no small task to fill their shoes, but what beautifully complex templates they've left to follow.
Both women have been heaped with praise by fans and critics alike for their portrayals, making next week a hugely significant episode for the show, as those same fans are going to need to buy these new actresses in these roles and embodying these characters.
Laena and Laenor Velaryon will also be getting new actors to portray their characters -- the third for Laena -- but as we only just got to meet them this week, these portrayals have not been as imprinted in our minds for these characters.
Before we can get to whatever will ensure over the next decade, we must first round out this chapter of the saga with the biggest moves made this week -- and then see how they impact the realm in the next ten years.
This was our opening scene, and one played with enigmatic perfection by Matt Smith as the audience meets his wife, the Lady Rhea of Runestone. She'd been disparaged all season, and yet in meeting her, we find her to be a strong woman, though perhaps not level-headed or insightful enough to realize that taunting Daemon cannot end well for her. Even after he unseats her from her horse, he might well have let her lie there and live. Instead, she goads him one more time and so he bashes her head in, setting it up to look like she fell and split her skull open. The significance of this is that she stood to inherit the Runestone, and as they had no heirs, Daemon declares that he wants that inheritance now. He knows about sidestepping into inheritances.
Lyonel Ascends to Hand of the King
Viserys' most trusted and loyal member of the Small Council, Lord Lyonel Strong ascends to the position of Hand of the King after Viserys stripped Ser Otto Hightower of it in last week's episode. Lyonel appears to be a rare breed in Westeros, as he genuinely seems determined to do this job well and to the best of his abilities. In other words, he's giving us Ned Stark -- and we saw how that wound up for him. Surprisingly, while this is a huge power move, we don't see Lyonel necessarily trying to capitalize on it for personal gain.
Otto Warns Alicent About Rhaenyra
On his way out the door, Otto plants a powerful seed in his daughter's mind. With Viserys determined to leave Rhaenyra as the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, and the first-ever woman to ascend it, Otto warns Alicent that her ascension will throw the realm into war. The only way for Rhaenyra to protect her own lineage and claim would be to take out anyone with a potentially stronger (or equal) claim, and that would obviously be Alicent's children with Viserys. At this point, Alicent has sided with Rhaenyra over the scandal that Daemon sullied her in the brothel. She's right to trust that Daemon didn't sully Rhaenyra, but ...
This is Corlys flexing his own power, which Rhaenys quickly pointed out proved how weak Viserys is in his own power. Clearly, Corlys was playing power games, because not only did he not come to King's Landing, he didn't even greet the king's retinue upon arrival at High Tide, rather awaiting them on his own throne so Viserys could offer the union of Rhaenyra and Laenor, strengthening House Velaryon's ties to the throne. But, as Rhaenys pointed out, Rhaenyra's ascension is sure to be contested, so are they putting themselves in the line of fire? Why do it? Is it worth it? Well, pride and "justice" goeth before the fall, rigth? Or something like that.
Larys Tells Alicent About Rhaenyra's Tea
We talked about how Lyonel appears to be a genuinely decent man, but clearly the apple fell hard enough from the tree to malform his son Larys' body and knock the decency out of him. Lurking around the gardens, he tells Alicent about the tea the Grand Maester took to Rhaenyra's room. He did it in such a way as to play coy (because it's all a game), but making it clear enough that Alicen would start to question Rhaenyra's purity. Was her father right all alone? Did she choose the wrong side in siding with Rhaenyra and Viserys against her own father? Sometimes seeds take root and start to grow.
A Battle Over Names
A small battle, but one that could prove to have significance. With the marriage of Rhaenyra and Laenor, Corlys asks what family name their children would take? Westros custom says they'd take their father's name, but that would mean the end of Viserys' Targaryen name line. So he proposes a compromise that they children will be Velaryon, but when an heir ascends the throne, they will do so as a Targaryen. It's a fair compromise, but it also requires that Rhaenyra and any heirs live long enough to get to that point. We're not so sure!
Speaking of subtext, it's already been made clear that in the world of royalty, it's not altogether uncommon to wed for political reasons, and then have whatever relationships you might really want to have. What quickly becomes clear is that Laenor is gay, a fact Rhaenyra knows quite well and alludes to through talking penchants for different dishes at dinner. It all boils down to her suggesting an agreement between them that they will do their duty, but they will also both be allowed to pursue whatever it is that they wish ... on the downlow and on the side.
Criston Invites Rhaenyra to Essos
In what is basically a battle between the entirety of the realm and one man's honor and pride, there really was no contest. And yet, Ser Criston tried his best. He tells Rhaenyra that he has lost his honor by betraying his vow of chastity after she seduced him -- and he barely resisted -- into her bed. His solution is that they both run away to Essos to get married and forget all of this. There is, of course, a certain appeal to that, but there is also the call of the Iron Throne that Rhaenyra cannot quite deny. This decision creates a rift between them, and leaves Criston more torn than ever, as he doesn't want to be her "whore," no matter what arrangement she and Laenor might have.
Criston Confesses to Tryst with Rhaenyra
Alicent may have gotten more than she bargained for when she decided to question Criston about Daemon's night in the brothel. She was hoping to get to the truth of what happened that night, and see if Criston might know if Rhaenyra and her uncle had really done as her father had heard. But, as with everything and everyone, Alicent was not speaking plainly, and so Criston thought she was alluding to know about him and Rhaenyra -- so that's what he confessed. It wasn't the truth Alicent feared, but it was still enough to know that Rhaenyra had lied to her and sullied her virtue ahead of this wedding.
As Rhaenyra is to be the first-ever queen of Westeros, Viserys decided to throw out the playbook and plan a week of festivities and parties and tournaments, all kicking off with the Lords and Ladies of the land invited to a pre-wedding feast. There, everyone is introduced to Rhaenyra and Laenor as a couple, establishing what will become the ruling body whenever Viserys passes. And with how rough he was looking all throughout this episode, we weren't sure he'd make it through -- had we not seen previews for the next episode and him still alive, we'd have believed that each collapse would be his last. Go out with a bang, perhaps? Certainly, he's started thinking about his mortality, asking Lyonel how he might be remembered as king.
Alicent Arrives in Green
Interrupting the king's speech at the grand feast, Alicent arrived with a fashion statement that was more than just that. We're not sure how many people in the room know that green is the color of war to the peoples of Oldtown, but that dress was certainly screaming war, as was her expression. Luckily, Larys was more than happy to let us know, with some glee, just what it was that Alicent was expression, without saying a single word. And she made sure the entire room saw her entrance, too, arriving fashionably and pointedly late.
Laenor Learns Rhaenyra's Secret
In a world of power where everyone is looking for a piece of information they can use to destroy someone else, it isn't great news for Rhaenyra that Laenor learns that the reason she's okay with him having an outside dalliance is that she has one of her own already established. It's Laenor's lover, Joffrey, who quickly figures out that Criston is the guy. He then perhaps overplays his hand by approaching Criston and telling him that they would do best to protect one another by holding onto their secrets. Criston is already worried about what will happen now that Alicent knows -- don't think he didn't notice that entrance, and her very cold looks.
Ultimately, emotionally falling apart, Criston snaps and literally pummels Joffrey to death in the middle of the celebration feast when people were trying to dance and have a nice time -- and just as Daemon and Rhaenyra were again sparring in old Valyrian (we are going to miss Smith and Alcock chewing the scenery together in those scenes) about what he wants (her and her pending throne) and what he's going to do about it. The ramifications of Criston's actions, considering what Laenor just learned and who Criston just killed, will surely carry into the future and not soon be forgiven, if ever. It was, after all, fairly unprovoked.
Rhaenyra and Laenor Wed
With everything falling apart, and himself weakening by the day and starting to bleed from the nose, the pre-wedding celebration suddenly turned into a minimalist wedding. With Joffrey's blood still spilled on the floor, Laenor and Rhaenyra were wed near the front of the table. All they need to do is start making babies to assure her own line -- but previews show complications there, too. The political step is done, but the emotional disaster is just beginning. Will Laenor even be willing to talk to her after this?
Alicent Stops Criston's Suicide
While the wedding was happening, a bereft Criston who couldn't imagine life as a "whore" and who'd violated pretty much every other oath he could have sworn as a member of the Kingsguard, was stopped from committing suicide by Alicent. We don't yet know why it benefits her to keep him alive, but this episode appears to be a turning point for her in King's Landing, and not one that's going to put her on a path of rekindling the girlhood friendship she enjoyed with Rhaenyra. There are very cold days ahead.
"House of the Dragon" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max.