TV Review: ‘House of the Dragon’ Season One Episode Three: ‘Second of His Name’
Series Plot: Set approximately 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon chronicles the events of The Dance of the Dragons, the Targaryen civil war that nearly tore the entire Seven Kingdoms apart.
Episode Plot: Three years have passed since King Viserys wed Alicent Hightower. In that time Viserys finally has a son in Aegon II and another on the way. King Viserys and his retinue descend upon the Kingswood to celebrate Aegon’s second nameday. Meanwhile, Otto plots to have Viserys name Aegon his successor and Rhaenyra languishes in obscurity feeling lost and forgotten. Additionally, in the Stepstones Lord Corlys and Prince Daemon’s war fares poorly with Drahar the Crabfeeder and his lot slowly wearing their army down. Drahar’s actions force Prince Daemon to take desperate measures that may result in his death.
Review: For those complaining that House of the Dragon seems light on action, I think they can put those concerns to rest. The third episode of House of the Dragon, “Second of his Name,” comes in hot (pun intended) with an epic skirmish in the Stepstones as Prince Daemon unleashes Caraxes on the Crabfeeder’s Triarchy. Unfortunately, the effort seems for naught as Drahar’s troops are much more guerrilla oriented, striking from the shadows. This was the one section of the episode where I thought the acting was weak. Daemon calling for Drahar to come out and face him felt juvenile and forced. Fortunately, this was the only part of the entire episode that I didn’t like as the rest was straight fire. (Again, pun intended).
What I like about House of the Dragon is how well they are handling the time jumps, something that wasn’t part of the original show. We know from the fact Viserys now has a son and that it is second nameday, that three years have passed. In Aegon, Viserys has the son he’s always wanted. He’s yet to name Aegon his successor however, and Otto’s older brother Hobert (Steffan Rhodri) stresses to Otto that it’s on Otto to make that happen. It’s an interesting new facet here as you tend to forget that Otto is the second son in House Hightower. While the goal is to elevate the status of House Hightower, this interaction is also a reminder of Otto’s lower station. It really hammers home the concept of jealousy when it comes to Otto. He’ll never be the head of House Hightower, so having his grandson on the throne is the next best thing.
In the intervening years, Viserys has soured on politics. Even though Jason Lannister (Jefferson Hall) presses his concerns regarding the Stepstones, Viserys brushes him off. Viserys is clearly heavier, more inclined to drink, and more interested in hunts, balls, and tourneys as Lord Corlys previously claimed. Even though Ser Vaemond (Corlys’ brother) implores Viserys for assistance, the war in the Stepstones is unsanctioned and Otto, and by extension Viserys, believes it will make the crown appear weak.
Not surprisingly, Viserys’ relationship with Rhaenyra has deteriorated as has Rhaenyra’s relationship with Alicent. There’s an excellent scene where a singer (incidentally playing the ballad of warrior queen Nymeria) must choose between obeying the Princess or obeying the Queen. In the end, he obeys Alicent, but you get the taste of the power struggle that is already beginning to form.
As wise and capable as Rhaenyra has been shown to be, this episode demonstrates Rhaenyra’s petulant side. Everything is a battle, or an argument and she can often come off as a whining child. She’s forced to come on the hunt in honor of Aegon’s nameday. While she’s riding to the Kingswood, she delivers one of the best lines of the whole episode where she states, “No one’s here for me.” The overt text is that this whole hunt is in honor of Aegon, but the subtext is that no one, especially Viserys, has been there for Rhaenyra over the last three years. It’s a reminder that Rhaenyra, despite her ability, is still a teenager. In fact, she’s so childish at times that she can’t even recognize when people champion her, as Alicent does when she tells other Ladies that Rhaenyra is more capable than Daemon.
Things come to a head when Jason Lannister approaches Rhaenyra about being his wife. In a fit of pique, Rhaenyra then confronts Viserys in front of everyone, claiming that he’s using her as some broodmare to increase another man’s station. This isn’t the act of someone who considers her their heir. It leads to a full-blown fight where Viserys states Rhaenyra must marry and that neither of them is above duty. In a huff, Rhaenyra grabs a horse and rides away with Ser Criston Cole in pursuit. It’s important to note here that these are not your grandfather’s Lannisters. (Or in this case grandsons). Ser Tyland comes off as obsequious and nagging while Lord Jason appears to be a drunken lothario. It will be interesting to see how this dynamic plays out considering they are still one of the wealthiest houses in the realm.
Rather than returning to camp, Rhaenyra compels Ser Criston to stay in the Kingswood while they explore it. It’s clear that the two are friends as Rhaenyra feels comfortable discussing personal topics with Ser Criston. Rhaenyra expresses how she feels that she has no say in her own life and is “toothless.” Ser Criston remonstrates her, saying how she had power enough to get him on the Kingsguard and that many in the realm would gladly switch places with her.
As the King’s attendants track down the white hart that’s been seen in the Kingswood, Viserys informally holds court getting drunker and drunker. It feels very much like something Robert Baratheon would do. Viserys is extremely confrontational and almost paranoid with Lord Jason when he questions Viserys’ choice of heir, going so far as to suspect rebellion from Lord Jason’s bannerman. There’s strong Mad King energy in this scene. Otto then exacerbates the problem, proposing that Viserys betroth Rhaenyra to Aegon, even though Aegon is only two years old. It pisses off Viserys and he laughs it off, leaving Otto spurned. Master of Laws, Lyonel Strong once again gives sound advice to Viserys, suggesting he wed Rhaenyra to Ser Laenor, Lord Corlys’ son. Not only would it mend fences, but it would give Lord Corlys a direct line to the throne, bring the fleet back into the fold, and align House Targaryen with one of the richest Houses in the realm. Of all the people around Viserys, Lyonel Strong comes across as the only guy not working an angle.
Meanwhile, in the Kingswood, Rhaenyra decides to spend the night and asks Ser Criston whether the kingdom will ever accept her as ruler. In an almost foreboding reply, Ser Criston states that “they’ll have no choice.” A boar subsequently attacks the two of them with Rhaenyra forced to kill it. This is a significant moment as all of Rhaenyra’s pain and anguish get released. It’s probably also the first time she’s come this close to death.
Alicent confronts Viserys about what’s troubling him. You can clearly see that Alicent sincerely loves Viserys. There’s no artifice or guile about her. She just wants him to be happy. Viserys admits that because of his “prophetic dream” of putting his male heir on the Iron Throne, he believed himself to be a Dreamer like Aegon the Conqueror or his ancestor Daenys who predicted the Doom of Valyria. Viserys believed it so much he forced Aemma to keep having children in pursuit of a son. The guilt clearly has been tearing him apart for years and even though he says he named Rhaenyra to put things right, he wonders if it was more about punishing Daemon, and if naming Rhaenyra heir was the right thing to do. I have to say this is the episode that Emily Carey really impressed me as the young Alicent Hightower. Alcock has of course been the standout, but she holds her own against Paddy Considine.
When the stag is finally chased down it turns out to not be a white hart at all. You can almost see the relief on Viserys face. You almost get the sense that if it had been a white hart, he would have taken it as a sign or portent and named Aegon his successor. The scene juxtaposes nicely with the one where Rhaenyra killed the boar. Whereas Viserys has other people do the hard work, Rhaenyra must do it on her own. (With a little help from Ser Criston.) Also is it a sign that the white hart appeared to her? Is she truly supposed to be the one to rule the Seven Kingdoms?
After the hunt, Otto meets with Alicent and presses the issue that Aegon should be named heir and that Alicent needs to make that happen. You can see Alicent’s growth here as she stands up to her father a bit stating it would be a disgrace to raise her son to steal his own sister’s birthright. Otto insists that the realm will burn if Rhaenyra becomes Queen saying, “The road ahead is uncertain, but the end is clear.” Fire and blood? Or a peaceful transition of power? Otto may be right, but this is much more about self-interest than it is concern over the realm.
Later Viserys and Alicent talk once again with Alicent commenting on something that seems obvious to everyone but him. Namely, that Rhaenyra needs to marry but it needs to come across as something Rhaenyra desires, not something she’s being forced to do. When Viserys laments that assisting his brother Daemon in the Stepstones will seem weak, Alicent again puts it into perspective asking what would be better for the Seven Kingdoms, that the Crabfeeder prevail or that he be destroyed. In a reversal of course, Viserys agrees to send aid to Daemon. This whole scene (and others throughout the episode) proves what a deft, intelligent, sensitive, and perceptive character Alicent is. She’s just as adept at playing the game as anyone else…and she just so happens to have the ear of the king.
If you’re going to resolve internal family issues, difficult conversations are a necessity and thankfully, Viserys and Rhaenyra finally hash it out. Viserys expresses frustration that everything must be a battle and contentious and Rhaenyra reveals that it’s because she thinks Viserys has no use for her, that now that he has the son he’s always wanted, he’ll put her aside and shore up whatever alliances he can with Rhaenyra’s marriage. Viserys reinforces that he’s not looking to replace her as an heir but notes that marriage is necessary for her to propagate the line and ensure more heirs. It is a defense against those who would seek to usurp her power. In a brilliant riposte, Rhaenyra counters that Viserys did not marry for advantage when he married Alicent, something he admits to. In a shocking move, Viserys gives Rhaenyra the permission to marry whoever she chooses and swears to her that he will not supplant her.
The final act (and oh what an act!) involves the war in the Stepstones between the Triarchy and the forces of Daemon and Lord Corlys. To say it’s going poorly is an understatement the size of Balerion. People are losing faith in Daemon and he’s losing confidence. The war council is quite the scene as the reality is that they have a few weeks left before all is lost. We also get a look at Ser Laenor, Corlys’ son. Although young, he seems a confident and capable tactician and a dragonrider in his own right. In fact, he’s the one that suggests someone needs to serve as bait to draw out the Crabfeeder and his men. It is the only way to expose and destroy him.
What’s fundamentally mind-blowing about these concluding scenes (besides the action and VFX) is how Matt Smith’s performance contains zero dialogue. His Daemon is quiet throughout everything. Daemon doesn’t even speak when he receives the missive from the King, instead beating the messenger to death. Daemon knows in that moment that if Viserys’ reinforcements arrive and they succeed in the Stepstones, it will be Viserys’ victory not his. Knowing this, Daemon decides to take an action that is equal parts desperate, brave, and certifiably insane.
Daemon goes alone to the Crabfeeder’s lair bearing a white flag and presenting his sword in surrender, just like Laenor suggested. This draws out Drahar’s foot soldiers and bowmen. Prince Daemon then pulls a Braveheart and absolutely wrecks everyone in his path. This is a suicidal act. Daemon knows there’s a good chance he’ll die but he’d rather do that than allow Viserys the victory. It’s important to note though that Daemon isn’t invincible here as he gets hit by arrows three times. Also, if it wasn’t for Lord Corlys’ cavalry and Ser Laenor’s dragon Seasmoke, he’d be dead. Incidentally, this now makes the third dragon we’ve seen in this series, and it was a pleasure to watch Seasmoke, well, smoke these fools. With their aid, Daemon slays the Crabfeeder and displays his body for all to see.
All told another fantastic episode that focused a lot on choice and the guilt and regret that sometimes comes with those choices. I also feel like this episode represents an end to childhood for a lot of characters. Rhaenyra finally gets the validation she needs from her father which hopefully spurs her to be a capable leader. Daemon is finally able to succeed in a meaningful way that demonstrates his ability to the entire realm. He’s not just the rogue prince anymore but a force to be reckoned with. Lastly, Alicent recognizes that she has her own degree of influence and power, and she can use it to her and the realm’s advantage. Three episodes in and House of the Dragon is cooking with grease.
House of the Dragon Episode Two ‘First of his Name’ rates: 9/10 Balerions