House of the Dragon, Episode 3: “Second of His Name” is a moody treat

House of the Dragon episode 3
House of the Dragon episode 3 /

House of the Dragon is having a grand old time sinking into itself. We know the players. We know the board. Now the show is moving the pieces and flirting with theme. And the whole thing ends with a pleasantly ridiculous battle scene! This was a good one.

The episode is bookended by the adventures of Corlys Velaryon and Daemon Targaryen in the Stepstones. The first scene is notable not so much because it features Daemon’s dragon Caraxes burning a bunch of guys on a beach — frankly, the special effects are a little underwhelming; dragons are expensive, y’all — but because there’s a bit where a soldier, tied to a post by the Crabfeeder, rejoices in Daemon’s arrival and begs for his prince to save him…and then Caraxes steps on him.

House of the Dragon is a pretty serious show, so it’s nice to see some humor once in a while, even if it’s pitch black.

Rhaenyra Targaryen goes through her rebellious teen phase

The main bulk of the story is set in the Kingswood outside King’s Landing, where Viserys and his court have gathered for a hunt in honor of his son Aegon’s second birthday. Yes, Viserys has a son now, the firstborn of Queen Alicent Hightower. It’s been three years, and once again the show manages to convey that information without being obnoxious about it.

Naturally, Rhaenyra is not happy that she now has a squealing little competitor for the Iron Throne. In fact, she’s not happy in general. It’s bad enough that she’s going through her rebellious teen phase — Viserys comments that if he forbade her from marrying into a certain family she would do it just to spite him — but she has to do it while watching her hopes for rulership slip through her fingers, or at least, that’s what it feels like. Why else would her father try and match her up with Jason Lannister, who certainly seems under the impression that she would come live with him at Casterly Rock rather than travel to King’s Landing to rule beside her as king consort?

On the one hand, Rhaenyra’s petulance borders on grating; who wants to hang out with someone who complains all the time? On the other, how would you act if your dad married your best friend and then took steps to disinherit you?

The inscrutable Alicent Hightower

Speaking of her best friend, we get a little more insight into Alicent here. Now that she has given the king a son (and has another baby on the way), she seems settled, and still sympathetic to Rhaenyra, who clearly hasn’t forgiven her for the whole marrying-her-dad thing. Part of me wants the show to sit down with Alicent and have her lay out exactly what she’s thinking; exactly how much of her actions are inspired by her father and how much are of her own choosing?

But there’s also value in keeping Alicent at a distance and letting her actions speak for themselves. She wants to be a good friend to Rhaenrya and a good daughter to her father, but she can’t be both. Her talk with Viserys towards the end of the episode, where she leans on him to send aid to Daemon in the Stepstones, suggests a third option: thinking for herself.

Meanwhile, Rhaenyra spends most of the hunt off on her own, brooding over her sinking fortunes and bonding with Criston Cole, who follows her lest she wander the forest unprotected. The show has left Criston’s development on a low simmer, which pays off here. When he tells Rhaenyra he owes everything he had to her, we believe him, because we saw her choose him for the Kingsguard just an episode back. Their chemistry develops naturally.

House of the Dragon episode 3
House of the Dragon episode 3 /

The agonizing internal life of King Viserys Targaryen

But King Viserys is definitely the star of the show. He clashes with Rhaenyra, of course, at one point doing that thing where you get too heated at a party and yell too loud and everybody notices and it’s awkward. And that’s just part of his hit parade. There’s a nice early bit where he puts on a show of being uninterested in news from the Stepstones in front of people, but eagerly asks after Daemon when no one’s listening. That brotherly relationship is a highlight even when they’re not onscreen together; I can’t wait for them to share a scene again.

Worried about his daughter and sick of sycophants like Otto needling him about moving Aegon up in the line of succession (remember, Otto is Aegon’s grandfather), Viserys gets drunk during the festivities and wanders outside to stare into a bonfire, where his wife joins him. He gives a passionate monologue about the vision he once had of a son he put on the Iron Throne, how he never intended to remarry, how he named Rhaenyra heir out of guilt for killing her mother, and how he may have been wrong. It’s an effectively wrenching portrayal of a man being torn apart on the inside. Matt Smith and Milly Alcock have been justly praised for their work as Daemon and Rhaenyra, but I think Paddy Considine is the show’s acting MVP.

And then there’s a grimly beautiful scene where Viserys spears a hart, tied up by his hunters and made ready for his blade. Viserys doesn’t want to fight with his daughter, or his brother. He doesn’t want to go to war, and may not even want to be king. And he doesn’t want to kill this majestic creature, but he does, because he must, and another little part of him dies.

This is contrasted with Rhaenyra and Criston coming across a white hart — much sought after by the king’s party — by chance. Rhaenyra, left alone but for her lone protector, chooses to spare it, even though she could win favor by killing it and bringing it back to camp. I found that moving. Rhaenyra is holding onto herself in a way her father has not, but is that something she can afford to do with the weight of Seven Kingdoms on her shoulders?

In the end, Viserys sobers up, shakes off his doubt about naming Rhaenyra heir, and assures her that she will not be replaced. Although I should know better, I want the two to have a real reconciliation, because the episode has been full of stony silences between people who could be close if only circumstances allowed it, but I may have to be satisfied with Rhaenyra’s respectful nod. The show is starving me for affection and I’m falling for it.

House of the Dragon
House of the Dragon episode 2 /

The Crabfeeder dies as he lived: anonymously

The final sequence involves taking down the Crabfeeder, whom the show did a good job with in the end. I was afraid he wasn’t going to be a compelling villain, but House of the Dragon was one step ahead of me: he was never meant to be. He’s a masked cypher who never speaks once, and exists purely to set up an operatic battle sequence at episode’s end.

The drama begins when Daemon receives a letter from his brother in King’s Landing: Viserys is sending him backup. Naturally, this enrages Daemon and he beats the crap out of the messenger. It’s a credit to the writing and acting that I knew exactly what was going through his head despite there being no dialogue: he undertook this war in the first place to prove himself worthy to his big brother, and now his big brother has to bail him out, and he’s pissed.

In fact, he’s more than pissed; he’s damn near suicidal, and becomes willing to act as bait to lure out the Crabfeeder and his army. I’m not sure how sound this scene is from a military perspective (Where’d Corlys’ army come from? Where’d that dragon come from?), but I loved how it was shot, paced and scored. Daemon cuts a bloody swath through, like, 25 guys before getting pinned to the beach with arrows, only for reinforcements to arrive. I also liked that he killed the Crabfeeder offscreen (and maimed him, for good measure), underlining what a non-character the guy was.

Overall, this episode was bloody brutal moody mission accomplished.

House of the Bullet Points

  • We get a brief conversation between Otto Hightower and his older brother Hobert, the leader of the Hightower family. As domineering as Otto is, he shrinks before his big brother, who all but orders him to see Aegon II set on the throne. This was a great detail because it gave us insight into why Otto acts as he does: as his brother manipulates him, so does he manipulate his daughter, passing down the dysfunction. We don’t have to excuse what Otto does, but understanding him makes him a richer character.
  • Speaking of Otto Hightower, he may be on the outs as Hand; King Viserys is not pleased with Otto’s obvious attempts to maneuver his grandson into a better position. On the other hand, Lord Lyonel Strong is the only guy who gives Viserys advice about whom Rhaenrya should marry that isn’t obviously self-serving. Time to make a switch?
  • The opinionated Lady Redwyne, the woman Rhaenyra skewers for whining about her dad, is an ancestor of Lady Olenna Tyrell from Game of Thrones. Sharp tongues run in the family. And twins run in the Lannister family, it seems.
  • At one point, Rhaenyra and Criston Cole are hanging out in the forest at night and a boar comes barreling out of the underbrush. It knocks Criston Cole clear into the air. Did that look weird or are boars really that strong? How afraid do I have to be of boars?
  • That other dragonrider who helps out during the battle with the Crabfeeder is Laenor Velaryon (Theo Nate) on his dragon Seasmoke. Nice to see them getting a moment to shine!
  • We also got introduced to Larys “Clubfoot” Strong in this episode, played by Matthew Needham. Keep on eye on this guy; we’ll be seeing him more in the wars to come.
  • So…the Crabfeeder. He’s very unimportant in the overall scheme of things, but I found it kind of odd how they changed him from the book, where he’s a military commander working for the Triarchy, not a pirate being discreetly supported by them. Also, in the books, the reason he ties people up on the beach is so they’ll drown when the tide comes in, not so they’ll literally be eaten by crabs. I guess HBO just really wanted to spend some money on little CGI crabs.

Episode Grade: A-

Next. Thank Eru, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is actually good. dark

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