TV Review: ‘House of the Dragon’ Season One Episode Seven: ‘Driftmark”
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: Members of the Targaryen and Velaryon families gather on Driftmark for Lady Laena’s funeral. Daemon and Rhaenyra bond over grief and make a life-altering decision. Aemond claims a dragon with disastrous consequences.
Review: It’s like they say when you play the game of thrones, it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)
The opening scene of this episode is quite remarkable, with one of the more moving funerals since the Viking-esque one for Hoster Tully in season three of Game of Thrones. Whereas the Targaryens burn their beloved dead with dragonfire, the Velaryon’s consign their dead to the sea. It is an impressive ritual made even more poignant through Ramin Djawadi’s music. Incidentally, the use of music in this episode is the best it’s been this season thus far, so kudos to him. The austerity of the funeral rites are undercut by the subtext of Vaemond Velaryon’s eulogy. He states, “Our blood runs thick, our blood runs true,” all while looking right at Rhaenyra. It’s a not-so-subtle indicator that he knows Rhaenyra’s children aren’t Ser Laenor’s.
What I really admired about this episode is that it perfectly captured the awkwardness of a wake. No one is sure of the right thing to say, everyone seems uncomfortable, and the emotions are mixed. The awkwardness is compounded by the unspoken rumors about Rhaenyra’s children. The physical differences between Daemon’s children and Rhaenyra’s are so blatantly obvious, you’d have to be a blind man not to see it. The anxiety and stress are palpable.
Additionally, the children understand the significance of the moment more than the adults. When Rhaenyra advises Jace he should comfort his cousins, he throws it back in her face saying, “I have an equal claim to sympathy.” You feel for Jace in this moment because he’s not allowed to grieve for his father. Yet Jace also gets that sometimes grieving means saying nothing as he just holds Baela’s hand to provide reassurance. Luke meanwhile has the perfect response to Lord Corlys when he talks about Luke’s birthright to Driftmark. “I don’t want it,” he says, “If I’m the Lord of Driftmark, it means everyone is dead.” Oh, from the mouths of babes. What is legacy and birthright compared to the ones you love? Even at seven (?) Luke knows that family matters more than titles. If only the adults in this group felt the same way.
(SIDE NOTE. There’s a brief scene where we once again see Princess Helaena obsessing over bugs and speaking in cryptic language. It’s significant because we find out Aegon is betrothed to her per Targaryen custom. Again, she seems like she’s on the autistic spectrum. I don’t know what the endgame is with this character but hopefully the showrunners have something in mind. There’s little known about her personality from the book so it’s unclear how she was like in real life.)
There’s a lot of little moments and brief interactions that define this scene. Laenor is so bereft he looks like he’s going to walk into the sea which inflames Lord Corlys. Viserys implores Daemon to come back home and let the past be the past. Viserys again tries to be the peacemaker throughout this episode, continually having to deal with everyone’s bullshit. Daemon and Otto (guess who’s back as Hand of the King???) also have a brief exchange where Daemon calls him a leech. Otto seems a little more intense than he used to be and is enraged by Aegon’s drunkenness. Otto finds Aegon passed out on the steps at night and is about a dragonscale away from beating his ass. Incidentally, the majority of this episode is filmed at night, and I don’t know if it was my TV or what, but the lighting is absolutely atrocious in this episode. I could barely see anything.
A prevailing theme in “Driftmark” is an end to innuendo and implications. People just start saying things outright rather than hide behind clever words. It begins with the conversation between Rhaenys and Corlys as she states that his devotion to righting the injustice of being passed over for the crown isn’t about her it is about his ambition. Rhaenys goes even further requesting that Corlys announce that Driftmark should pass to Baela not Luke because Rhaenyra’s children aren’t Laenor’s. Despite I think instinctually knowing this, Corlys refuses to acquiesce. “History does not remember blood, it remembers names,” he declares. Ambition and position are more important than relationships and people to Lord Corlys. The desire for the throne is beginning to warp people’s values.
Daemon and Rhaenyra enjoy a walk on the beach and engage in an open and honest conversation that is undoubtedly the most important of the season. She admits that Laenor and her did try to conceive a child several times but there was no joy in it, and she sought comfort elsewhere. It was important for her to feel desired. Although Rhaenyra says she can’t believe Alicent is capable of cold-blooded murder, Daemon rebukes her saying that Otto and Alicent will use the curse of Harrenhal for their own ends to hide any devious action. The overt concept is that EVERYONE is capable of depravity, as this episode bears out. Yet Daemon is also empathetic to Rhaenyra and comments that at least he’s able to grieve his losses publicly, whereas she cannot. Eventually, the conversation turns passionate and the two finally make love. Again, credit where it is due to director Miguel Sapochnik, this isn’t a pornographic or overly explicit lovemaking scene. It’s intimate and tender, something I honestly didn’t think Daemon was capable of.
To misquote the title of an eleven-year-old movie, we need to talk about Aemond. Up until this episode, I had some sympathy for Aemond because he’s constantly bullied and teased for not having a dragon. Well, Aemond finally had enough. In a daring move, Aemond decides not only is he going to choose today as the day to claim a dragon but he’s going to go after the largest dragon in the world—Vhagar. If Aemond existed in our world the two things that would be visible from space would be the Great Wall of China and Aemond’s balls. This sequence is nothing short of phenomenal. Vhagar makes Aemond earn it and it was amazing to watch him go from barely hanging on and terrified out of his mind to exerting control and expressing full unadulterated joy.
You would think that claiming a dragon, let alone Vhagar would shape Aemond’s personality for the better, but you’d be wrong. He, unfortunately, turns into a total dick and confronts Jace, Luke, Baela, and Rhaena. Aemond shows absolutely zero empathy or tact stating that their mother is dead and Vhagar has a new rider now. After throwing personal insults at the twins, Aemond then calls Jace and Luke bastards and addresses Jace as Lord Strong. After that, all Hell breaks loose. The exchange (between children!) is shockingly violent, resulting in Aemond losing an eye.
Subsequently, all of Driftmark has a come to Jesus meeting. Viserys, Alicent, Corlys, the children – it’s a party in the middle of the night and not a good one. Here is where all pretenses are finally dropped. No more tap dancing. People are just speaking their minds. Viserys questions where Aemond heard that Jace and Luke are bastards and after looking at his mother he names Aegon. When Viserys asks the same question, Aegon brazenly states that everyone with eyes can see that they are Harwin Strong’s children. “We know father. Everyone knows. Just look at them.” Essentially open your eyes dude. Of course, Viserys can’t openly admit this so he says everyone needs to make nice and say they are sorry and that anyone else who says these “lies” going forward will lose their tongue.
And for Alicent this is where she finally breaks. She plays by the rules, is loyal to faith, duty, and honor while Rhaenyra gets away with everything. Alicent’s fuck field is empty. She has zero left to give. Alicent demands that Luke give up his eye to balance the scales. In fact, she requests Ser Criston do the deed. To his credit he refuses, reminding her that he is her sworn shield and that alone. That’s when Alicent steals Viserys’ knife and attacks Rhaenyra. It’s violent and honest. Rhaenyra taunts Alicent saying it must be a relief to stop “hiding beneath the cloak of righteousness,” and that now “they see you as you are.” After cutting Rhaenyra the two are finally parted but the lines are now clearly drawn. Even Aemond sees this as a declaration of war telling Alicent not to grieve because losing an eye is a fair exchange for Vhagar.
In the aftermath Otto confronts Alicent but rather than rebuke her, he expresses his pride. Otto didn’t think Alicent had it in her and that she shouldn’t worry about what she did because they are playing an ugly game. Otto advises her to make peace for now and that eventually they will prevail. Otto still hasn’t changed though. In fact, if anything he’s grown more ambitious, commenting that Aemond made a great move by gaining Vhagar to their cause. The implication here is that in the coming war dragons will be part of the battle.
What I found the most surprising was Ser Laenor’s response to the incident. He admits that he has been a horrible husband and father and laments that he was born gay. Rhaenyra chastises him for thinking so and says he’s an honorable man with a good heart. Laenor recommits himself to Rhaenyra and vows to be a loyal husband and good father to their children. Ironically, this is no longer something that Rhaenyra desires as she clearly wants Daemon.
If anything, Alicent’s actions have made Rhaenyra fully aware of what’s at stake and in order to shore up her position and battle the “Greens” she needs Daemon on her side. She proposes they marry because if they do her claim won’t be easily challenged. What is proposed and ultimately executed next is a malicious masterstroke. Rhaenyra states that Laenor, this “honorable man with a good heart” must be removed from the chessboard. It is a cold and deliberate action that paves the way for Daemon and Rhaenyra to get married, but it serves a secondary purpose. People will whisper that Laenor’s death was by Dameon and Rhaenyra’s hand which will make their enemies fear what the duo are capable of. Daemon pulls an okeydoke and helps to fake Laenor’s death so he can escape with his lover. I LOVE the fact that the writers of House of the Dragon made this choice. Killing Laenor would just be a repeat of Laena’s death. And not for nothing, at least Laenor gets a happy ending.
(SECOND SIDENOTE: While Lord Larys doesn’t feature prominently in this episode, we nonetheless are reminded what a snake he is. On the voyage home, he offers to Alicent the opportunity to take Luke’s eye which she declines. However, she does tell him that she may call on his talents soon. Make no mistake, some of the undoubted chaos and carnage yet to come will lie at his feet.)
I don’t think it is a coincidence that this episode begins with a funeral but ends with a wedding. Daemon finally has what he wants – Rhaenyra and a clear path to the throne. The wedding ritual itself was a thing of pageantry. Rather than the traditional ceremony conducted by a septon the two elect to be married in the traditional Valyrian manner. It is quite actually a blood rite and comes off more as a dead man’s pact than a wedding. The combination of Daemon and Rhaenyra is going to be a force to be reckoned with.
All in all, another solid episode from a show that’s proven to be must-see television. Too bad we only have three episodes to go.
House of the Dragon Episode Seven ‘Driftmark’ rates: 8.5/10 Balerions