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House of the Dragon episode 5 review: The Red Wedding

Game of Thrones fans are terrified of weddings and House of the Dragon episode 5 proves nothing good comes of marriage in Westeros

House of the Dragon episode 5 review:

Our Verdict

Murders, matrimony, and plots make House of the Dragon episode 5 one of the most entertaining yet

Weddings are supposed to be a celebration of love, yet, mostly thanks to the machinations of Tywin Lannister, they send a cold shiver down the spines of Game of Thrones fans. House of the Dragon episode 5, ‘We Light the Way,’ continues that grand tradition focusing on murmurs, murder, and matrimony. Warning spoilers ahead!

The episode begins as it means to continue, with Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) committing his foulest act yet – which is saying something considering his track record – and murdering his “bronze bitch” of a wife. I wish we’d gotten a little more of Lady Rhea Royce (Rachel Redford); she was so cool in the face of her own demise, managing to get under Daemon’s skin in a way few other characters have.

I think this is yet again probably a symptom of House of the Dragon’s biggest problem its decompressed timeline. We’re constantly zipping weeks and years ahead in the timeline, so don’t get to meet some of the fascinating ancillary Game of Thrones characters who inhabit the Seven Kingdoms. It’s a shame because the Game of Thrones characters who went on to become fan favourites (Lyanna Mormont springs to mind) were often introduced as tertiary players in the story.

Still, there’s little time to mourn Rhea as Viserys (Paddy Considine) is making good on his promise and shipping Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) off to Driftmark, where she’ll meet her betrothed Laenor Velaryon (Theo Nate). While the royal trip to their closest allies lacks the pomp and ceremony that Viserys may have preferred, it turns out to be a fruitful meeting.

Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) agrees to the marriage proposal but bluntly asks Viserys whether he intends to have Rhaenyra inherit the Iron Throne. Throughout the series, Viserys has been portrayed as an ineffectual fop more interested in having a good time than ruling Westeros.

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In his confrontation with Corlys, we get a glimpse of the dragon he could have been. Showing a canny degree of statesmanship, he informs Corlys that Rhaenyra shall be queen and that any children she and Laenor have will take the surname Velaryon. However, when they ascend to the throne, they will take the name Targaryen.

Considine’s Viserys has been the bedrock of the fantasy series since episode 1. He’s likeable and pitiable at the same time, so to see him switch gear into an authoritative king is a brief but brilliant treat. Unfortunately, while House Velaryon is happy to wed into the royal family and finally get a chance on the Iron Throne, they have a skeleton in the closet.

House of the Dragon episode 5 review: Lord Corlys Velaryon

Laenor is not interested in women; instead, preferring the company of men. Specifically, he’s taken Joffrey Lonmouth (Solly McLeod) as a lover, not that Rhaenyra’s bothered. She knows that Laenor, to paraphrase the princess, “prefers goose to duck,” and she’s happy for him to eat goose as long as he returns the favour. Basically, she wants a show marriage to please their fathers.

One of the best things about House of the Dragon is the way our sympathies are played with. When the TV series began, I presumed that Rhaenyra was the main character and the moral centre of the show. However, as time has gone on, we’ve seen that Rhaenyra is far from ‘good’. She’s manipulative and slightly callous, and her treatment of Laenor isn’t progressive. It’s selfish. She knows what would happen to the King’s consort was he found in another man’s bed chambers but doesn’t care as long as she gets what she wants.

House of the Dragon episode 5 review: A Targaryen wedding

It’s a credit to Alcock’s charm and skill as an actor that Rhaenyra remains likeable despite her clear ambitions, and it’s a shame that the cast will be ‘aged up’ in the next episode; we definitely could have done a full series with Alcock. Speaking of the younger cast, though, Emily Carey’s Lady Alicent has spent the time her husband and step-daughter spent in Dritmark investigating the claims that Rhaenyra and Daemon made the dragon with two backs.

This eventually leads to Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) – Rhaenyra’s personal guard – breaking down and confessing that it was he, and not Daemon, who slept with the princess. Poor Criston seems very lost in this episode, he asked Rhaenyra to run away with him, but she shot the idea down in dragon fire, refusing to be a sellsword’s wife.

House of the Dragon episode 5 review:

Adding insult to injury, Rhaenyra does say Criston can continue to serve her (if you know what we mean), and he’s left distraught. As the Kingsguard spills the beans to Alicent, we see the queen harden against her former best friend. Honestly, I loved this moment. Alicent’s been nothing but a pawn in the Game of Thrones so far, and when she realises how she’s been played, it’s a delightfully cathartic and heartbreaking mix.

All of this leads to the wedding feast. Viserys, always the people pleaser, planned on seven days of feasting and tournaments to celebrate the wedding, but it all comes crumbling down around him. It begins with Daemon turning up and making a jackass of himself, and the Alicent wears green, the traditional colour of House Hightower.

House of the Dragon episode 5 review: Lady Alicent

These embarrassments pale in comparison to the feasts denouement, however, where an apoplectic Ser Criston beats Joffrey Lonmouth to death. It may be the most grisly death since the Mountain got his massive mitts on Oberyn Martell, and Joffrey’s left looking like he’s got a dropped watermelon for a head. In the episode’s closing moments, a distraught Rhaenyra and Laenor are wed while rats lap up Joffrey’s blood.

As Viserys watches on, he collapses – having grown sick through the episode – and his plans for a hundred years of Targaryen rule after his death have never looked less certain. We Light the Way is a funny episode; it gives the characters a lot of room to breathe, and explores places and characters we haven’t met before.

All of this is brilliant, I love the people of Westeros, yet it does make me wish the series was more thoughtfully paced. Still, it gave me everything I wanted, plots, death, and Matt Smith calling people the C-word. What’s not to love?

If you love Westeros, check out our list of the best fantasy movies.