TV Review: ‘House of the Dragon’ Season One Episode Five: ‘We Light the Way’

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: King Viserys and his retinue sail to Driftmark to propose a marriage between Ser Laenor and Princess Rhaenyra. Rhaenyra and Laenor discuss the duty of marriage and the desire of their own hearts. Prince Daemon makes an unexpected appearance at the welcome feast for Laenor and Rhaenyra. Ser Criston Cole reveals a devastating secret to Queen Alicent. A shocking act of violence moves up Rhaenyra and Laenor’s nuptials.

Review: It’s always a pleasure to experience a show that is consistently great week to week. House of the Dragon is that show with episode five “We Light the Way” a delightful slow burn that irrevocably alters the political landscape and culminates in a horrific act of violence.

We begin with the introduction of Lady Rhea Royce (Rachel Redford), Prince Daemon’s wife. Daemon’s “Bronze Bitch” is a character we’ve heretofore only heard about. In a very Game of Thrones-esque move, the showrunners introduce her to the audience only to have her immediately killed by Daemon. Once again, we are never quite sure what’s going on in Daemon’s mind. Did he intend to kill Rhea? My gut says yes because honestly, Daemon has proven to be a psychopath. He sees people as merely a means to an end and Rhea is just an obstacle in his way. If he can remove Rhea, the path to Rhaenyra and the Iron Throne becomes much clearer. I can’t express how well done this scene is. What a harrowing experience and I love how we don’t see Daemon crush Rhea’s skull with the rock. Instead, we get a masterful edit that cuts to a person chopping a fish’s head off.

That fish head exists on King Viserys’ flagship which is sailing to Driftmark to propose a marriage between Ser Laenor and Rhaenyra. Viserys’ constitution seems to be doing just as well as mine when I went on a whale watch in Boston. By that I mean we both were throwing our guts up. One thing to note here is that as I predicted, Lord Lyonel Strong has been named Hand of the King.

Meanwhile back at King’s Landing the former Hand of the King, Otto Hightower, says his goodbyes to Alicent. This is a devastating goodbye as Otto both condemns Alicent and embraces her lovingly. He blames Alicent for confronting Rhaenyra and vouching for her. It proved to be Otto’s demise as she went immediately to Viserys who then dismissed Otto. Otto is vehement in his farewell stating Alicent better prepare Aegon to rule or hope for Rhaenyra’s mercy. The former Hand believes that to secure her succession Rhaenyra will put Alicent’s children to the sword. Before, Otto’s warnings have always been societal based (no one will accept Rhaenyra, the realm will burn, etc.) but this one makes it very personal. It’s a warning to Alicent yes, but it’s also I think a desperate move by Otto to break through to her. At this point, Alicent is now truly alone and the question is will she rise to the occasion or be consumed by dragons?

Last week audiences were exposed to (possibly) this show’s version of Varys as Mysaria swapped whoring for the secret trade. This week it looks like we got this show’s version of Littlefinger. Larys Strong (Matthew Needham). Lord Lyonel’s second son approaches Alicent and spills the Moon Tea (pun intended) that Grand Maester Mellos gave Rhaenyra a concoction to abort a potential baby. Of course, this is never spoken of outright, it’s all implications and allusion that make for a brilliant scene. Alicent is smart enough to realize what’s going on and you can see the emotions playing out on her face. At this point, Alicent suspects that Rhaenyra lied, and that Daemon did sleep with her. Tip of the helm to the dialogue here as Larys utters the great line, “When one is never invited to speak one learns to observe.” Looks like a new snake in the grass has emerged. Funny that it should be the son of one of the few honorable people at court.

One of the highlights of House of the Dragon (and Game of Thrones for that matter) is the constant power plays that occur. Lord Corlys is no different as not only does he not greet King Viserys when he arrives, but like a BOSS is sitting on the Driftwood Chair when Viserys walks in and takes forever to approach the King and kneel before him. I also love how he keeps asking if Viserys wants a chair. It’s a not-so-subtle statement, “I know you’re weak and feeble.” Viserys cuts right to the point and proposes the marriage between Laenor and Rhaenyra. Of course, Lord Corlys wants clarification, namely what’s the succession situation and will the children of the union have a last name of Velaryon. Viserys assures them they will but any first-born child that ascends the throne must change their name to Targaryen.

Ser Laenor and Rhaenyra discuss their impending nuptials. Again, the dialogue and subtext here are masterful. The two are discussing their “dining” preferences but it’s clear they are referring to Laenor’s homosexuality and the implication that Rhaenyra has her own paramour. In a startlingly progressive move, the two agree to “do their duty” but once they are married, to pursue their own interests. The real question here is does that mean consummating the marriage as needed for procreation OR does it mean no intercourse at all? It’s open for debate.

What fascinates me about this episode is the intricate relationships between parents and children and the weight of duty against desire. There are a lot of assumptions about what other people want as evidenced by Lord Corlys and Princess Rhaenys’ discussion about Laenor’s upcoming wedding. Lord Corlys sees this as a path to the throne and a way to right past wrongs as he believes Princess Rhaenys should have been Queen. Surprisingly, Rhaenys says she’s moved past it and is more concerned about her son. Much like Otto, she believes Rhaenyra’s succession will be challenged and that the knives will come out not just for her but for Laenor and their potential children. The fact that Laenor is in fact a homosexual seems secondary. It’s amazing to me how obtuse Corlys is about that last fact and how he’s cloaking his ambitions in the shroud of justice for Rhaenys. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, Steve Toussaint is just dynamite in this role as is Eve Best.

The next two scenes are an excellent study in contrast. Whereas Ser Joffrey Lonmouth and Laenor are ecstatic at the news and couldn’t have asked for a better outcome, Ser Criston Cole reacts quite differently. The scene between Rhaenyra and Criston Cole comes off truly heartbreaking. Ser Criston bears his soul and offers to run away to Essos with Rhaenyra so that they can marry for love away from, as he puts it, “the burdens and indignities of inheritance.” Unfortunately, for Ser Criston, the Iron Throne has become foremost in Rhaenyra’s mind. She’s even so bold as to say, “I am the Crown.” Rhaenyra is naïve enough and presumptive enough to think that Criston would be willing to just carry on as they were. But Ser Criston refuses to be her whore and rebuffs her suggestions. You can see the violent internal struggle for Ser Criston between love and duty. He’s in agony that he forsook his vows and yet he’s willing to move past that if they can be together.

Shortly after the King and his retinue return to King’s Landing, Queen Alicent summons Ser Criston to ask about the rumor between Rhaenyra and Prince Daemon. Ser Criston confesses his tryst with Rhaenyra and asks to be mercifully put to death. This scene is a defining moment for Alicent, this is the moment where everything changes. Not only has Rhaenyra lied to her about her virginity, but she also held back the fact that she made love to a knight of the Kingsguard. You can see the emotions warring on Alicent’s face and kudos to Emily Carey for an excellent performance here. If Rhaenyra would lie to Alicent, have the audacity to have sex with a member of the Kingsguard, and conspire to have her father dismissed as Hand of the King, then that means Rhaenyra is capable of anything, including putting Alicent’s children to death. You can see the look of irrevocable resolve at that moment. She’s going to put her children and herself first going forward and damn the consequences.

Also, another week and more evidence of King Viserys’ body devolving into a never-ending shit show. He’s absolutely covered in sores and must have constant leeching to find relief. Moreover, it feels like he’s beginning to question whether being a King is even worth it. Viserys expresses to Lyonel that he wishes he’d been tested in the crucible as he’s had no great defeats but no great victories either. Once again Lyonel refuses to flatter the King and says that often people who have been tested wished they had not. Lyonel Strong continues to be a shining example of virtue in this show. He never bullshits anyone, and I honestly believe he has the best interest of the crown and the realm at heart.

The remainder of “We Light the Way” devotes itself to the welcome feast that will mark the beginning of a week of celebration before Laenor and Rhaenyra are wed. The final twenty minutes or so of this episode are a master class in building tension. It’s a slow burn that had me visualizing the beginning of Mission: Impossible. The whole section feels like a giant powder keg that’s ready to explode, which of course it eventually does.

Lord Corlys and his retinue walk in like they own the palace to much fanfare and rejoicing. Not to be outdone but who walks in next like a pimp? Prince Daemon. For a moment it seems like there’s going to be a confrontation, but Viserys just gestures to have a chair added to the table. The confrontation ends up being between Ser Gerold Royce and Prince Daemon. Royce straight up accuses Daemon of killing Rhea but of course, Daemon is his usual dismissive self and even has the balls to say that he’ll be coming to the Eyrie soon to claim Runestone. If Daemon could bottle arrogance, he’d make a fortune.

The absolute best entrance however is Queen Alicent. She walks in dressed to kill, decked from head to foot in green. As Lord Larys Strong notes, when House Hightower calls its banners to war, they light a candle with green flame in their topmost tower. This is exactly what it appears to be—a pure declaration of war between Rhaenyra and Alicent. Alicent even refers to Rhaenyra as “stepdaughter” so it’s very clear the friendship is over. I noticed that Daemon did not stand for Alicent, so his feelings are clear. I also loved that when Alicent approached her Uncle Hobert Hightower, he remarks how proud of her he is and that essentially House Hightower has her back.

Although Laena and Daemon briefly flirt, Daemon has his eyes on the prize and directly approaches Rhaenyra. They speak in High Valyrian, and he asks her directly if this is what she wants, stating that Laenor will be boring. For about the umpteenth time Rhaenyra cuts right through his bullshit, saying if you want to marry me you better act now. Cut through these people, steal me away to Dragonstone, and marry me. This is an extremely nuanced scene because it feels like Rhaenyra is calling Daemon’s bluff, but it also feels like she wants him to do it.

While Daemon and Rhaenyra’s interaction takes place, Ser Joffrey Monmouth makes a colossal mistake and approaches Criston Cole. The dialogue and delicate wordplay is again stunning as Monmouth says that he knows Criston and Rhaenyra’s situation just as Rhaenyra knows Laenor and Joffrey’s situation. The implication/threat is that it is mutually beneficial for the two of them to protect the interests of their respective lovers.

Ser Joffrey’s act is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back as Criston Cole absolutely loses it and beats Monmouth to death in a fit of rage and hurts Ser Laenor as well, before departing the feast.  Ser Laenor is of course left bereft and in an agony of grief. The consequence ends up being that King Viserys orders a shotgun wedding and Rhaenyra and Laenor are married immediately before King Viserys collapses. What a monumental punch to the dick for Laenor. Not only does he lose the love of his life in an extremely violent manner, but he’s forced to marry a woman he does not love mere hours later. Not the way you want to start your marriage.

In a fit of pique, Ser Criston Cole heads to the Godswood fully intending on killing himself, but just before he can do that, Queen Alicent stops him. Even though Ser Criston beat someone to death AND struct the future King Consort, I’m convinced that somehow Queen Alicent will somehow get him out of this mess—in exchange for total devotion, I’m sure.

The episode ends with an excellent shot of rats drinking Viserys blood off the feast floor. Ain’t no wedding like a Westeros wedding because a Westeros wedding…never ends well.

This is easily the best episode of the season so far and it sets up what’s to come beautifully. It’s a little bittersweet however because this is the last time, we will see Milly Alcock as Rhaenyra and Emily Carey as Alicent. Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke have big shoes to fill but I’m intrigued about what comes next. Here’s hoping the second half of House of the Dragon is just as exciting as the first.

House of the Dragon Episode Five ‘We Light The Way’ rates: 10/10 Balerions