TV Review: ‘House of the Dragon’ Season One Episode Eight: ‘The Lord of the Tides’

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: When Corlys Velaryon suffers a grievous injury, his brother Vaemond calls into question the legitimacy of Rhaenyra’s son Luke’s claim to Driftmark. Determined to assail Luke’s legitimacy, Vaemond takes his petition to King’s Landing where Otto Hightower and Queen Alicent rule. Determined to defend Luke’s legitimacy, Rhaenyra, and Daemon travel to King’s Landing. In addition, Princess Rhaenys also travels to King’s Landing although her true purpose remains unclear. King Viserys takes the opportunity to bring his family together for one last meal in the hope of reconciling and healing old grievances.

Review:  Although this episode is entitled “The Lord of the Tides” it easily could have been “The Targaryens Last Supper.” While probably the weakest episode this season that feels occasionally like filler, the pervasive feeling throughout is one of “the calm before the storm.” It is a last-ditch effort to reconcile past pains and strife even though civil war at this point is a foregone conclusion.

A six-year time jump has taken place and we begin the episode with the revelation that Lord Corlys has suffered a potentially mortal wound fighting in the Stepstones (will the Triarchy never relent??) which Ser Vaemond sees as an opportunity to seize the Driftwood Chair. Lord Corlys has been absent six years, and, in his stead, Princess Rhaenys has managed affairs. Vaemond however, believes he’s the only true blood male heir at this point, insinuating that Luke (Elliot Grihault) is no Velaryon. His ace in the hole for his petition is the fact that Otto Hightower and Queen Alicent rule in King’s Landing due to the King’s poor health. It’s a desperate gamble by Vaemond but one he believes will pay off.

Word of Vaemond’s attempt reaches Dragonstone where Syrax has delivered yet another clutch of eggs. It is clear Daemon is stockpiling these eggs in anticipation of the war to come. In the intervening years Daemon and Rhaenyra have been busy (sexual innuendo intended) with Rhaenyra already having given birth to two sons (Aegon and Viserys because why not make things more confusing) and a third on the way. Jace (Harry Collett) has set his focus on being the best future king possible, desperate to learn High Valyrian and please his mother. It’s clear from the outset that Jace has matured into a good man with a kind heart that feels more concerned with the realm rather than personal pleasure. This is in stark contrast to Alicent’s son Aegon who still focuses on the pleasures of the flesh rather than matters of court.

Upon discovering Vaemond’s intentions, Daemon, and Rhaenyra along with their children decide to head for King’s Landing. Rhaenyra’s clearly concerned about not only Luke’s claim but the ramifications to her and her family. If Luke’s legitimacy is called into question and Vaemond wins his petition, it threatens the very foundation of Rhaenyra’s claim. Even worse, Rhaenys plans to attend, and Rhaenyra is justifiably concerned about Rhaenys’ intentions. Does she blame Rhaenyra for Laenor’s death?

Daemon and Rhaenyra arrive in King’s Landing to find things much changed aesthetically and tonally. It’s almost like the High Sparrow from seasons five and six of Game of Thrones redecorated. Gone are the emblems and symbols of the Targaryen House, replaced with images of the seven including the seven-pointed star. The Red Keep appears more like a monastery than the high seat of the entire realm. And in an echo of a previous episode, no one shows up to welcome Rhaenyra and Daemon. Alicent and Otto’s absence indicates a clear message of disdain. Daemon and Rhaenyra feel like strangers in their own homeland and barely recognize the place. The Red Keep couldn’t be more unwelcoming if there was “GTFO Uncle Fucker” welcome mat on the way in.

Where’s Alicent you ask? Why she’s leading the small council sitting in the King’s chair no less. However, rather than go to Alicent, Rhaenyra and Daemon choose to visit Viserys. Whereas “Driftmark” accurately captured the awkwardness of a wake, this episode captures what sitting at a loved one’s deathbed is like. Previously, I stated how Viserys looks more and more like the Crypt Keeper with each passing episode. At this point, the Crypt Keeper looks like Harry-fucking-Styles by comparison. Not only is Viserys bedridden, but he’s also covered in sores, he’s lost an eye, he can barely walk, and he’s constantly quaffing milk of the poppy. Viserys has become a truly pitiable character.

Whereas Daemon cuts straight to business, Rhaenyra takes a kinder approach instead introducing Viserys to his new grandsons. Daemon is less than pleased to discover that Viserys is being drugged a fact he expresses vehemently to Alicent. Alicent claims that it is due to Viserys’ constant pain. Daemon clearly thinks it is to keep Viserys’ mind addled. Personally, I think both things can be true at the same. There’s no doubt that Viserys suffers from tremendous pain. At the same time, it is a nice added benefit that Viserys’ lack of lucidity favors both Otto and Alicent. Alicent has conveniently discovered religion stating that she and all men answer to a “higher authority.” It’s a veiled insinuation that Rhaenyra and Daemon are godless and living outside the norm. Her—and by extension—the Red Keep’s devotion to piety is a clear move to appeal to the masses and paint Daemon and Rhaenyra as heathens. That’s pretty hypocritical considering Alicent married Helaena to Aegon and that Aegon is a drunk louse.

Although Alicent’s focus seems to be ruling the kingdom in her husband’s absence, her responsibilities as a mother never end, especially with Aegon. We already knew that Aegon was an insufferable shit but now it seems he’s a rapist as well. One of his servants has brought this to the attention of Alicent who believes Dyana completely. However, she maliciously spins this as other people will not believe it and that they will think she “asked for it” essentially. Alicent chooses instead to buy her off and makes her drink moon tea. To Alicent’s credit, it’s clear by looking into her eyes that she hates herself for doing this. So, it isn’t like Cersei who clearly wouldn’t give a shit. However, it doesn’t absolve Alicent from the fact that she took this action. Also, you get the sense this isn’t the first time.

What makes Aegon even more reprehensible is the fact that when Alicent confronts him he doesn’t deny it and considers rape just having a bit of fun. The fact that he is disrespecting his marriage to Princess Helaena (Phia Saban) and their children is secondary. Only when Alicent says “You’re no son of mine!” does Aegon finally respond saying he never asked for this and that there is no pleasing Alicent or Viserys. I call bullshit because Aegon’s not even making the minimal effort to be a decent human being let alone a potential king. I have zero sympathy for Aegon, unlike Princess Helaena. She’s almost oblivious or uncaring about the whole situation. If “I’m sorry I made you marry your brother” could be expressed via a hug, it would be Alicent’s embrace of her daughter in this scene.

Jace and Luke take a tour of their old haunts, specifically the training yard. Luke’s clearly disturbed by all the stares and knows that it is because he doesn’t look like Laenor. While Jace counsels him to ignore the stares, it is clearly not so easy for Luke. Moreover, in that time Aemond has become a skilled warrior able to best Ser Criston Cole. (Another character who appears unaffected by time.) Aemond seems much like a younger Daemon with zero compunction or tact. You know all you need to know about Aemond when he says, “I don’t’ give a shit about tourneys.” Aemond seeks out real combat, not some artificial nonsense. Before Aemond can challenge Luke and Jace however, Vaemond enters to much pomp and circumstance and is followed by a large retinue. If this was a dick-measuring contest his cock would already be out and a tape measure in his other hand.

Not surprisingly, Vaemond, Otto, and Alicent all meet in secret regarding the inheritance of Driftmark. This just proves how corrupt the two are because if you are unbiased you don’t meet with one of the primary petitioners to discuss the issue ahead of time. While Otto does make a compelling argument (do we want a child in charge of the largest fleet in Westeros) he’s clearly disingenuous. This whole situation is all about exposing Rhaenyra and weakening her claim. It also shores up Otto and Alicent’s position because Vaemond all but states that should the Driftwood Chair pass to him, he will be in their debt. In other words, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Vaemond’s future as the heir to Driftmark is almost assured.

Princess Rhaenyra rightly figures out that Princess Rhaenys has come to King’s Landing not to side with the Hightowers or with Rhaenyra but to press Driftmark’s claim for herself. Considering she’s done the job for six years and is more than capable, it is not a bad idea. The two finally confront each other after six years with Rhaenys accusing Rhaenyra of being complicit in Laenor’s death and Rhaenyra vehemently denying it. Rhaenyra even goes so far as to propose Jace marry Baela and Luke marry Rhaena. An ingenious move as the children of the first would inherit the Iron Throne and the children of the second would inherit Driftmark. However, Rhaenys is not fooled and states that it doesn’t matter anyway as tomorrow the Hightowers will strike the first blow.

Later that night Rhaenyra speaks to her father and asks him if he truly believes Aegon the Conqueror’s dream was true. Is the Song of Ice and Fire real? She questions why Viserys even named her heir in the first place because if the House of the Dragon is supposed to be united against this foe why would he divide the realm in half with his actions? This is Rhaenyra at her most vulnerable and surprisingly she even has a moment where she questions if she even wants the throne. The fact that she has doubts, that the burden is too heavy, implies that she’s not as ambitious as we thought and that maybe she’s more suited to the Iron Throne. Rhaenyra entreats Viserys to defend her if he truly wants her to be Queen. Perhaps Viserys truly heard Rhaenyra as the next morning he denies all offers of milk of the poppy and requests Otto set up a private dinner that evening.

And so, we come to the hearing itself.

Vaemond is the first to be allowed to speak. He talks about blood and history and the glory of the House Velaryon. He claims to have true and unquestioned Velaryon blood. If you heard the “wah wah wah” of the adults from Peanuts while he was talking, you’re not alone. However, before Rhaenyra can so much as call the proceedings a farce, King Viserys enters the throne room. It is a truly powerful moment, one where I felt the utmost respect and empathy for the King. He chooses this moment to stand up and support his daughter against these jackals. His dramatic entrance mimics Alicent’s entrance at the end of “The Princess and the Queen.” Even more touching is when Daemon kindly helps Viserys to ascend the steps to the Iron Throne. It is a sweet moment of brotherly love that we’ve rarely seen.

Despite his obvious pain, King Viserys clearly has his wits about him as he questions why this petition is even happening. Even if Lord Corlys never stated it outright, by all the standards of law the seat of House Velaryon should pass to Luke. The only person who might be able to offer more insight is Princess Rhaenys who Viserys invites to talk. This is a tension-filled moment because it is at this moment that Rhaenys has all the power. Her words could easily determine Rhaenyra’s fate. In a surprising move, Rhaenys backs Rhaenyra stating that it was always Corlys’ intention for the seat to pass to Luke. Moreover, she even confirms Rhaenyra’s proposals of marriage. At this moment Rhaenys draws a distinct line. Her choice forever aligns her and House Velaryon with Princess Rhaenyra and the Blacks against the Greens. In response, King Viserys once again reaffirms Luke’s position as the heir to Driftmark.

Vaemond unfortunately isn’t having it. On some level I kind of respect his next course of action because he’s willing to say the truth no matter the consequences. Vaemond states that Luke is no nephew of his and loudly proclaims that Rhaenyra’s children are bastards, and she is a whore. Before Viserys can hobble down the stairs to take his tongue, Prince Daemon cuts Vaemond’s head off quipping, “He can keep his tongue.” It will be interesting to see how Lord Corlys will respond to this action. Then again Lord Corlys’ ambition and pragmatism have always been at the forefront, so I suspect it won’t upset him too much.

As dramatic and engaging as the hearing was, the dinner that evening was maybe more so. Viserys takes the dinner as an opportunity to stand up and address his entire family. He takes off his mask to reveal how wasted and misshapen he looks. It’s an indictment of the actions of his family and how much their infighting and bickering have affected him physically. It is an invitation for them to see Viserys as he is—a brother, a husband, a father, and a grandfather, not just a King. He implores them to set aside their ill feelings as Viserys knows that a divided House Targaryen could mean disaster for the realm. And if they can’t do it for the realm, do it for an old man who loves you and isn’t long for this world. I have to say that this is Viserys at his most Kingly and most poised. It is a Hail Mary that is doomed to fail but at least he made the effort. I and others have rightly pointed out King Viserys’ flaws throughout this season yet credit where it is due, he’s kept his predecessor’s peace for over two and a half decades. That is an accomplishment worthy of any King.

Viserys’ actions prompt Princess Rhaenyra to toast Alicent and proclaim that she’s been an excellent wife to her father. Alicent in turn remarks how they have more in common than they let on and their actions often stem from how much they love their children. She even goes as far as to say that Rhaenyra will make a good Queen. There’s a spark of friendship that’s clearly still there.

The children’s toasts don’t’ fare as well. While Jace toasts his uncles despite Aegon’s insults, Princess Helaena says marriage isn’t so bad because he (Aegon) mostly ignores you except when he’s drunk. This not only is an indictment of Aegon, but damn did I feel bad for Helaena in that moment. The fact that that is her only concept of what marriage is, is heartbreaking. Jace, in a moment of gallantry, takes it upon himself to dance with Helaena. I feel like this act operates on two levels. One is that it publicly shames Aegon but also it demonstrates Jace’s good heart. The act is a statement that he cares about his aunt and if Aegon is going to ignore her, at least he can give her some joy in this moment. Helaena clearly loved it as it is the happiest and most engaged we’ve seen from her thus far.

And then everything just turns to dragonshit.

In a cataclysmically ill-timed moment, the cooks bring out a pig and set it right in front of Prince Aemond. Luke can’t help but laugh which prompts Aemond to propose a toast to his nephews. Aemond calls them handsome, and wise, and…strong. “Good, strong boys,” he calls them which is an obvious insinuation that they are Harwin Strong’s children. A fight ensues and the children are dismissed. Honestly, half of the blame here can be attributed to the parents. Years and years and years of constantly telling your children that their relatives are the enemy have finally come how to roost. Even if the adults are willing to let the past die, their children clearly are not.

The whole situation is underscored by a beautiful moment between Alicent and Rhaenyra where Alicent holds Rhaenyra’s hand in friendship. Rhaenyra plans to take her children home and then return on dragonback to be at her father’s bedside, something Alicent sincerely desires. You get the sense that mending fences is possible, that their friendship can be rekindled. Yet this little moment made me think of when Anakin and Obi-Wan said goodbye for the last time in Revenge of the Sith. You know at this moment that this is the last time the two will part as friends.

Despite King Viserys’ attempt to set his house in order before he dies, his illness and milk of the poppy ultimately work against him. Believing that he is continuing his earlier conversation with Rhaenyra he tells Alicent that he believes in Aegon’s dream of the Song of Ice and Fire. However, Alicent takes everything out of context grasping at words like “Aegon” and “The Prince that was Promised.” She believes this is a greenlight by Viserys to put Rhaenyra on the throne. The episode ends with Viserys finally passing away and (I think) seeing his late wife Aemma in his final moments.

Well, the shoe has finally dropped, the dragon has turned, the die is cast—whatever saying you want to employ, the last wall against civil war has been knocked down with the death of Viserys, First of His Name. As next week’s episode implies, lines are about to be drawn and sides chosen. A coup is on the horizon and the Dance of the Dragons is about to begin.

House of the Dragon Episode Seven ‘The Lord of the Tides’ rates: 7.5/10 Balerions