King of the Narrow Sea breaks down the sex lives of the Targaryen royal family and sets the pieces up for the latter half of the season.
For as much as Game of Thrones was a show about the power of kings, queens, and dragons, the TV series was also about sex. Specifically, it was about how important sex can be as a political tool in a society based on the inheritance of legitimate children and powerful familial houses.
Or at least this was the original idea. It’s undeniable that the fantasy series enjoyed revelling in its sex scenes a little too much. George RR Martin’s original texts weren’t exactly prudish, but the show took things to a whole new level and could sometimes come across as exploitative.
Unlike its horny predecessor House of the Dragon has shied away from showing acts of “congress” revelling instead in fire and blood. However, Westeros without sex is like a cake without flour. You’re missing a fundamental ingredient. Unsurprisingly, episode 4, ‘King of the Narrow Sea,’ brings “copulation” to the fore and finally addresses the elephant in the room, the Targaryen’s fondness for ‘keeping it in the family’.
The episode begins with Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock) vetting would-be suitors. However, none of the men brought before her impress the young dragon, and it’s not long before she’s back in King’s Landing.
Rhaenyra isn’t the only Targaryen back in town, though. Daemon (Matt Smith) has also returned, and he’s been crowned King of the Narrow Sea. You might expect Daemon, who’s finally got a crown of his own (although it’s made from driftwood rather than gold), to rub his success in Viserys’ (Paddy Considine) face, but he’s surprisingly submissive.
Considine and Smith have wonderful fraternal chemistry. We’ve written about how Considine makes Viserys a likeable but tragic character, and you can see the joy of having his brother back on every line on his face.
As the royal brothers restore their broken bond, it soon becomes clear that Daemon may have ulterior motives for returning. That night he secrets Rhaenyra out of the Red Keep, taking her to Flea Bottom to enjoy the revels of the common folk and here’s where things get squicky.
The pair go to a ‘palace of the flesh’, and Daemon goes in for a kiss. The dragons then get down to the thing that Targaryens do better than any other family in Westeros. Daemon, however, seems to come to his senses and leaves Rhaenyra before he commits the greatest of sins.
At this point, I had to question if this was really why Daemon had returned to King’s Landing. It’s difficult to say. Smith plays the character with such reckless abandon it’s impossible to say for sure.
He seems too consumed by instinct and base desire to be a plotter. Still, his final words to Viserys in the episode – who discovers what happened through Otto Hightower’s spies – imply he knows Rhaenyra’s political value.
This strange duality makes him easily the series’ most entertaining character, he’s a wildcard, and you never know what he’s going to do next. Even as Viserys has him dragged before the Iron Throne and beaten, wearing nothing but his undershirt and a smug smile, you get the feeling Daemon is winning the political cold war he’s waging against his brother.
But it’s been three paragraphs without talking about sex. Let’s get back to it. After being left in the brothel by Daemon Rhaenyra, she returns to the Red Keep, where her loyal Kingsguard Ser Criston Cole awaits. And it’s during this scene that we learn why Daemon returned. It wasn’t to dishonour the future queen; it was to teach her a lesson that the dragon can take what it wants.
And Rhaenyra does. She undresses Cole, and the pair consummate their unspoken attraction. It’s a strange scene and almost a complete reversal of the sex scenes we’ve seen in Game of Thrones. Here Rhaenyra has the power. She’s the one seducing Cole, and it’s clear during the ‘act’ that she holds all the cards.
It’s an uncomfortable scene to watch (Although not as awkward as the incest). Rhaenyra is a teenager, and Cole is, effectively, her servant. While he may be a willing participant by the end, his initial reaction to her seduction is tinged with a reluctance that serves to remind us who’s really in charge here, and it’s not Cole.
Making things even grosser is the way the sex scene is intercut and contrasted with Viserys rutting away over a dead-eyed Alicent (Emily Carey) who’s doing her queenly duties. The dragon takes what it wants indeed.
I’ll say this about House of the Dragon, though: these scenes aren’t meant to be a titillating fantasy. They’re nothing but a grim reminder of the ultimate authority the Targaryens have over not just the land but their subjects’ bodies as well.
Unfortunately for Rhaenyra, while she may have power, she’s still not the monarch, and the episode reminds us that despite her ability to take what she wants, in the world of Westeros, her body is not her own either. It belongs to the king, who finally demands she marry the son of Corlys Velaryon.
If there was anything to criticise in the episode, it was probably this final twist and Viserys’ growing paranoia about Rhaenyra’s virtue. The timeline’s been so compressed that characters don’t have room to breathe, and their behaviour can sometimes seem a little maniacal. It’d be nice if we had time to speculate on the drama.
King of the Narrow Sea may seem like an aimless episode about the sex lives of the Targaryens, but it’s actually quite an important episode. It’s setting up the game pieces for a dramatic final act. We can see now the factions forming, and when Viserys dies, the Dance of the Dragon will truly begin.