‘House of the Dragon’ Recap: Betrothals, Betrayals & Spilled Blood
[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for House of the Dragon Season 1 Episode 5, “We Light the Way.”]
Love hurts. But when the Targaryen family is involved, love also bleeds.
Some might call this episode House of the Dragon’s “Red Wedding,” although there’s only one death at the party. (In Westeros, it seems royal weddings are very bad for characters named Joffrey.) But plenty more deaths are either metaphorical or soon to arrive, it seems. Alicent (Emily Carey) and Rhaenyra’s (Milly Alcock) friendship breathes its last breath, Viserys (Paddy Considine) continues to rot away before the realm’s eyes, and Criston’s (Fabien Frankel) honor deteriorates in shocking, violent fashion as he suffers heartbreak. Here’s how it all happens.
Daemon (Matt Smith), everyone’s favorite morally complicated servant of chaos, starts out the episode by committing murder. He goes to the Vale, where he finds his wife, Rhea (Rachel Redford), out on a hunt by herself. He startles her horse so it lands on top of her, crushing her chest—and then when she taunts him about “not finishing,” he picks up a rock before the scene cuts (it’s later stated that he smashed her skull). The wording of her insult is significant, considering that we learn he and Rhea never consummated their union; it would seem Daemon has issues with performing. Could that have been part of the reason he left Rhaenyra at the pleasure house?
Speaking of Rhaenyra, she continues to have her own romantic drama. Viserys manages to secure her marriage to Laenor Velaryon (Theo Nate), after a bit of back and forth with Corlys (Steve Toussaint) and Rhaenys (Eve Best) about titles and whose surname the duo’s children would take. (Velaryon at birth, Targaryen once they inherit the throne.) But there’s an open secret complicating things—Laenor is gay, so despite the benefits of the match, he won’t be interested in Rhaenyra romantically. However, Rhaenyra doesn’t care. As she and cousin Laenor walk on the beach, she tells him they’ll have to “perform their duty,” but once that’s done, they can each pursue their own interests.
And what of those “interests?” Rhaenyra sees Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) aboard their ship, where they have an extremely tense talk. He proposes that he and Rhaenyra might run away together to Essos, where they could abandon their names and titles and truly be free. Rhaenyra turns him down, saying the “Iron Throne looms large.” She reminds him that just because she has commitments doesn’t mean they can’t still be together, but Criston sees this as her wanting him to be “her whore” (yikes!) and he storms away.
Back in King’s Landing, poor Alicent continues to go through it. She says goodbye to her recently fired father, who parts from her with some foreboding words. He believes that Rhaenyra should inherit the throne, war is inevitable, and that she must prepare her son to rule. Later, Alicent happens upon Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) in the Godswood, and after a bit of mysterious back-and-forth (his father is now hand of the king), he tells her about the tea that was brought to Rhaenyra’s chambers at the end. Alicent puts two and two together and realizes her pal was, indeed, lying. When the group returns, she summons Criston, and he winds up telling her the real truth: that he broke his vow of celibacy with Rhaenyra. As punishment, he asks for a quick death. Alicent lets him go, much to his surprise.
Letting him go might’ve been a grave mistake, but there’s more to unpack before that. There’s some dragon-sized drama at the pre-ceremony feast, where a recently exiled Daemon strides into the hall like nothing ever happened (did Rhaenyra invite him? How did he get there? An increasingly ill Viserys doesn’t have the energy to argue), and Alicent’s running very late. When she finally makes it to the ceremony in the middle of the king’s speech, she’s wearing a green dress. It’s more a political statement than a fashion statement; “The beacon on the high tower—do you know what color it glows when Old Town calls its banners to war?” Larys muses. The answer, of course, is green.
Rhaenyra and Laenor dance, and for a few blessed minutes, it seems all might work out. And then Joffrey (Solly McLeod), Laenor’s lover and sworn protector, makes the massive error of going to talk to Criston. The guy might as well have been wearing a sign that read “I object!” considering how moody he’d been the whole evening, and his ill temper makes him a prime target for blackmail. Joffrey walks over to him and delivers a snide few lines about their shared closeness with the royal pair—and a veiled threat about keeping their secrets for “everyone’s safety.”
Meanwhile, Daemon continues to do what he does best: he stirs the pot. He’s approached by the lords of the Vale about Rhea’s death, which he waves away, although he does tell them that they’ll be seeing him to work out the details of his inheritance (since Rhea died without any heirs, her title and lands will pass to him). Daemon, you delightfully devilish master manipulator! He flirts with an older Laena Velaryon, but the real tension arrives when he cuts in to dance with Rhaenyra.
As with last episode, the chemistry is (uncomfortably?!) lightning-storm electric. Both speaking High Valyrian, he asks her if this is truly what she wants. “I wasn’t aware what I wanted mattered to you,” she snaps. He tells her Laenor will bore her and makes her aware he’s no longer married. Hearing that, she issues him a dare: cut through her father’s guards and take her away to Dragonstone. She’s clearly joking… or is she? He grabs her and pulls her dangerously close—are they going to kiss right there, in front of everyone?
And then someone screams.
The hall dissolves into chaos. Daemon disappears, Viserys shouts for Rhaenyra, and Criston? Yeah, Alicent maybe should’ve killed him, or at least disinvited him from the wedding. As the onlookers watch in horror, the knight beats Joffrey to a bloody pulp (like, pummels his face down to the bone), leaving him dead on the floor. He then flees, leaving a bereft Laenor sobbing and holding his lover’s body.
The actual wedding, then, is a mightily somber affair witnessed only by a handful of people—poor Laenor is still crying during the ceremony! Out in the Godswood, Criston removes his cherished white cape and sword and positions himself with a dagger at his abdomen. Before he can stab himself, Alicent intervenes. And as the union of Rhaenyra and Laenor is made official in the sept, the palace rats lap up Joffrey’s blood.
House of the Dragon, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO