House of the Dragon episode 6, ‘The Princess and the Queen’, may have jumped forward a decade or so, replacing its two lead actors in the process, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. Yes, some characters may have new faces, but the fantasy series is still the entrancing political thriller/soap opera with dragons that we all know and love.
The episode begins by introducing us to the new Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) and Alicent (Olivia Cooke) when the Queen demand’s to see her stepdaughter’s new baby. Not an unreasonable request, or it wouldn’t be if Rhaenyra hadn’t quite literally just given birth to the child.
D’Arcy and Cooke are great. You believe these are the same Rhaenyra and Alicent we’ve spent the last 5 episodes with, although I admit I did slightly miss Milly Alcock and Emily Carey. Anyway, Cooke’s just as sharp as Carey, and upon seeing Rhaenyra’s new son, she lands a cutting blow on poor Laenor (John Macmillan) when she mentions the baby looks nothing like the supposed father.
Yes, it seems that Ser Criston Cole may be out of favour with his princess, but that doesn’t mean Rhaenyra’s changed her ways. Harwin Strong, the city watch commander, appears to be Rhaenyra’s new lover and the father of her three children – Jacaerys, Lucerys, and Joffrey Velaryon.
All three of her sons have the dark brown hair of the Strongs, something that brings Hawrwin’s father, Lyonel, the current Hand of the King, a degree of unease. Indeed the parentage of Rhaenyra’s children appears to be an open secret in court, with everyone but King Viserys (Paddy Considine) aware of the princess’s dalliance.
Speaking of Viserys, Considine continues to knock it out of the park. While watching, without the script telling you, you’re under no illusion that he knows what his daughter’s been doing, but he refuses to acknowledge it, not out of stupidity or ignorance, but love. After all, how could he expose his own grandchildren as bastards and ruin his daughter’s reputation?
Meanwhile, in the Dragonpit, trouble is brewing. Viserys and Allicent’s sons Aegon (Ty Tennant) and Aemond (Leo Ashton), as well as Jacaerys (Leo Hart) and Lucerys (Harvey Sadler), are getting to know the animals that named their house. All the kids have a dragon except Aemond, and the other boys, led by Aegon, mock the young Targaryen by sticking wings to a pig’s back.
Annoyed at his family’s jokes, Aemond heads into the tunnels under the pit where the dragons live, where he nearly gets burned alive. It’s a nice bit of foreshadowing for those who know that Aemond goes on to become a powerful dragonrider but not much else. The real meat of this scene and a later training scene is to set up the rivalry between Alicent’s sons and Rhaenyra’s.
It’s clear that both women have poisoned their sons against each other, and their dislike is palpable. Viserys thinks it’s just boys being boys and that they’ll learn to love each other as brothers, but the king’s precognitive powers have failed him here.
Particular praise should be given to Tennant here, who captures teen petulance with veteran experience. However, the boy’s enmity eventually boils over, and Criston Cole, who’s training them, ends up pushing things too far, forcing Harwin to step in and protect his bastard sons. His attack on Cole does nothing, though, other than get him thrown out of court.
Realising she’s short of allies, Rhaenyra attempts to broker peace between herself and Alicent during a privy council meeting. She offers to marry Jacaerys to Alicent’s daughter Helaena, which should, in theory, end the brewing civil war by uniting both factions. Alicent, sensing weakness, refuses despite Visery’s cheering on the idea.
Smelling blood in the water, Alicent meets with the creeptacular Lord Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), and the pair hatch a plot to further weaken Rhaenyra’s position at court. Larys despatches a group of cutthroats to the stong’s family home, Harrenhall, and has them start a fire which kills Harwin and Lyonel.
While the news that Larys will happily murder his brother and father shocks Alicent, it does pave the way for Otto Hightower to return as Hand of the King. Afraid of her crumbling support and tired of the constant battles at court, Rhaenyra takes her family away to Dragonstone.
Meanwhile, across the Narrow Sea in Pentos, Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) has married Laena Velaryon (Nanna Blondell), who’s given him two children. Daemon seems surprisingly happy away from the intrigue of King’s Landing and the game of thrones, despite his wife’s protestations that they return to Westeros.
Daemon’s happy little life is brought to a fiery end, though, when Laena (in a horrifying replay of what happened to Aemma Arryn) cannot give birth to her baby. Knowing she’ll die anyway, Laena goes outside and has her dragon burn her alive to spare her the agony of a drawn-out death.
A lot happens in ‘The Princess and the Queen’ as the TV series rushes to set up its next act. I’ll be honest the same problems that have dogged House of the Dragon continue to be an issue. The pacing is all over the place, and characters are too quickly introduced and then killed, so their deaths never really have an impact.
I wish the show had a bit more room to breathe; the timeline’s so compressed you never know who’s a walk-on part or a major player in the series moving forward. Still, House of the Dragon is a wildly entertaining must-watch TV with a great cast and even better production values, so I can’t complain too much.
If you love the gossip in the Red Keep, then check out our guide to the best Game of Thrones characters, or if you just can’t get enough fantasy goodness, we have a guide explaining Sauron’s Rings of Power.
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