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House of the Dragon episode 3 review: Viserys the ‘Bad King’

House of the Dragon episode 3 takes the time too look at Viserys and examines whether a good man can ever be a great king while Daemon takes to the battlefield

House of the Dragon episode 3 review: Daemon Targaryen

Our Verdict

Second of His Name manages to be another winner balancing action and intrigue like the finest episodes of Thrones.

Warning, spoilers for House of the Dragon episode 3 ahead. Set three years after the events of House of the Dragon episode 2 – when Viserys (Paddy Considine) decided to wed Lady Alicent (Emily Carey) instead of Laena Velaryon – ‘Second of His Name’ is a 60-minute reminder of George RR Martin’s ethos that being a good guy doesn’t make you an effective ruler.

The episode begins on the Stepstones, where Daemon (Matt Smith) and Corlys’ (Steve Toussaint) war against the Crabfeeder is proceeding slowly. The pair have made surprisingly little progress against the piratical admiral, especially when we see what short work a dragon makes of his corsairs, but hey ho, it’s an excellent excuse to see a fire-breathing lizard turn people into candles, so we shouldn’t complain too much.

However, one person who should be complaining is Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock). Court is abuzz with Viserys’ plans to hold a great hunt to celebrate his new son Aegon’s second birthday. Still, the dragon princess excuses herself from proceedings, preferring to sequester herself in the Godswood away from the party planning.

Poor, clueless Viserys doesn’t really understand why Rhaenyra won’t attend the name day of a potential political rival and starts making a fuss about things. Eventually, Alicent orders Rhaenyra to attend, and we’re off to the King’s Wood for a grand hunt. What should be a fun trip for the royal family quickly becomes a headache (literally for Viserys) when the intrigue of the king’s court follows them.

As the various lords and ladies of the realm start politicking, it soon becomes clear to Rhaenyra that Viserys is trying to wed her off for political reasons, while the king has to deal with various nobles telling him to name Aegon heir. The relationship between father and daughter forms the crux of the latest episode of the historical drama series.

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Viserys has been shown consistently to be a fundamentally good man, but a weak one. He cannot make effective decisions and is more concerned with appearance than duty. As such, the crown weighs heavy on his head. The secret he impulsively shared with Rhaenyra while trying to do the right thing has trapped him.

He cannot name Aegon heir, and he knows there’s good reason for this, but he’s tortured by his decision and turns to his wine cup for solace. Drowning your sorrows may work for a night, but Viseys is king, and his steadfast refusal to grapple with the problem head-on is reflected in how he hunts. His lackeys simply snare a deer and bring it to him; there’s no skill or honour in it.

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Considine is on top form in this episode, his face wracked with indecision and doubt. There’s even almost a moment of clarity when he sees his courtiers have prepared him a deer where he looks mildly disgusted with himself, briefly realising how low the House of the Dragon has come.

All of this is contrasted with Rhaenyra, who does not care for appearances, skips necessary parties, and refuses to do the accepted thing and marry a man her father selects. Her decisions may alienate her from her family and former friends, but Rhaenyra believes she’s doing the right thing. So, when she’s confronted with a boar, what does she do? She helps her Kingsguard protector kill it because she understands what’s important.

House of the Dragon episode 3 review: Rhaenyra Targaryen

It’s what separates Viserys and Rhaenyra. Viserys is weak in spirit and body, desperate for validation and praise, while Rhaenyra is the opposite. She’s bold, determined and utterly unconcerned with appearances.

Unfortunately for Rhaenyra, Viserys may be a dragon-sized douche at times, but he is a progressive man (for the time), and it’s clear by the end of the episode that the future may not be so bright for the princess when he’s gone. All around, court lords plot to have Aegon named heir, and across the Narrow Sea, another threat looms.

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Yes, to bookend the episode, we go back to the Stepstones, where Daemon’s campaign against the Crabfeeder comes to a surprisingly dramatic end. It took Game of Thrones until the final few seasons to show us large-scale battles, but House of the Dragon is wasting no time in splattering the camera with gore.

Incensed with the news that Viserys has finally decided to help him in his war, Daemon heads to the Crabfeeder’s fortress alone, seemingly to surrender, but it’s a trap. Corlys’ forces followed the rebellious prince, and with the cruel crustacean feeder out in the open, they make short work of him.

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It’s a really effective battle scene that focuses almost entirely on Daemon’s experience as he slashes, burns, and crushes his way across the battlefield. It took me back honestly to Battle of the Bastards – even if it lacked the cathartic murder of Ramsay Bolton.

In fact, that’s probably my only real complaint about the episode. I wish we’d gotten a bit more of Crabfeeder, but he’s a symptom of a broader problem I have with House of the Dragon.

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The shifting timeline means we don’t quite have the same connection to the characters as we did in Game of Thrones. There are moments when you feel like you’re missing part of the puzzle because you haven’t seen them happen. I credit the show for not resorting to literal exposition dumps, but I do miss Thrones’s coherence.

Still, ‘Second of His Name’ manages to be another winner, balancing action and intrigue like the finest episodes of Thrones.