Dear readers, if you are here, I hope I have something to add to the tiresome number of recaps, podcasts, YouTubers, and “explaining” or “what you missed” posts on House of the Dragon. I dare not think that I got here because I want to teach something, just share my thoughts on content that I love. I make this introduction out of respect for your time! Stick with me and I hope to really share something to think about and evaluate. Shall we go to the second episode?
The opening credits: continuity
We had our opening credits and if anyone still had any doubts, they ended up here. House of the Dragon is fan-pleasing, it’s respectful and plays a total security strategy. The opposite of what went “wrong” at the end of Game of Thrones, which was the “subversion of expectations” as motivation.
In order to please, they kept a similar sequence of maps unfolding and even used the same music. I am part of a team that expected a new theme but was deeply moved by respect and tradition.
Paddy Considine, Matt Smith, and Rhys Ifans are the main names of the cast, listed with “and” between them to define the hierarchy. We know that Paddy doesn’t follow in the second part of the story, so the fight is between the characters sold as antagonists in the book and who are three-dimensional villains in the series so far, Daemon Targaryen and Otto Hightower. The fact that these two power-hungry men use everyone around them to not only gain absolute power but prevent the other from achieving it as well, is fascinating. The openness characterizes this without a doubt.
Rhaenyra: in the position that she was never meant to be
We found the story six months after where we left it last week. We know that Daemon has taken Dragonstone and continues to ignore his niece’s choice as heir. Rhaenyra may be the heir to the throne, but as a woman, all she does is pour wine at meetings and be ignored by all men when she dares to participate in the decisions of the kingdom that will one day be hers. Nor does her father, Viserys, respect her.
The anguish is clear and the princess is irritated when Rhaenys warns her of the obvious: all the king’s initiative was for nothing. She may be in the position right now, but it’s symbolic. Of course, it’s not pleasant to have your worst fears read so clearly by a woman who’s become a joke for insisting on trying to have what was rightfully hers (The Queen That Never Was) and Rhaenyra is blunt about putting herself in a different position. “They didn’t want you, but they bent the knee to me and proclaimed me heir”, she remembers what we saw at the end of the 1st episode. The unshaken Rhaenys remembers that Viserys is not only in good health and alive, but he will certainly remarry, with chances of having the dreamed son. Damn, straight to the heart.
Since the death of her mother, Rhaenyra and Viserys have maintained a distant relationship. Both share their anxieties with the ever-so-helpful and frankly suspicious Alicent, but Rhaenyra doesn’t suspect that by now her best friend is also the King’s confidant in an increasingly romantic friendship. Alicent does little to unite the two, keeping herself on the fence. After all, she already knows about her father’s plans, not discreet, so she can make her friend’s nightmares come true.
Not suspecting that the worst is happening before her eyes, Rhaenyra is hurt and worried by her uncle’s revolt. Disrespecting her father, but especially Otto (a second time, after refusing to listen to him in choosing who would join the Kingsguard), she seals her fate with the worst of enemies, and it’s not Daemon. She has a frank conversation with her uncle that he is weakening her by denying acknowledging her as an heiress, even putting her life at risk. Angry but still loyal to the family, he concedes. Too bad this wasn’t the main battle for the princess…
Like everyone else, Rhaenyra knows that Corlys and Rhaenys want to repair the hereditary snub to the true heir to the throne by proposing that forty-year-old Viserys marry 12-year-old Princess Laena Velaryon. Like later Tyrion Lannister marrying a pre-teen Sansa Stark, out of obligation, Viserys can face incest but rape is off his list. Rhaenyra, not knowing what she was doing, supports her father in moving on with his life by remarrying, but when she discovers that Otto and Alicent were ahead of the game, she doesn’t hide her disappointment. The kingdom is now divided.
Viserys I: More Tommen Baratheon Than Ned Stark
Critics compare Viserys to the honorable Ned Stark, who made bad choices and lost his life in Game of Thrones season 1. I disagree. If there’s one character who looks like Viserys, it’s Tommen Baratheon, who was torn between listening to his mother, Cersei Lannister, or his wife, Margaery Tyrrell. Neither of them exactly had him in mind first, well Cersei as a mother yes, but as she is evil nothing that comes from her side is good. Weak, manipulated, sensitive and confused, Tommen ends up taking his own life. Not before leaving Westeros in chaos.
Viserys is even worse than Tommen. Prince Baratheon never wanted the crown, he inherited it after Joffrey was murdered. Viserys, on the other hand, inherited the throne after a vote that excluded Rhaenys, but, as we see in the premiere, he celebrates the choice. Viserys is the worst of the weak because he has ambition but is ashamed of it. He also wants the best for everyone, but he wants popularity. He’s completely in Otto’s pocket, who reads him better than he does himself.
The decision to put Alicent to “comfort” the sad King from the first moment gave Otto the advantage in the game. When it comes down to marrying to have new heirs, Viserys ends up preferring the girl who took his wife’s place as his friend, not the child that all the twisted logic of politics determined was the best choice. Ned would never do what his heart told him to do, which was why he was as unpopular as much as he was adored. It’s an offense to compare Viserys to him. Viserys I is like his relative 100-odd years later, the brother of Daenerys named after him. Weak, insecure, vain, and chaotic. At the same time, he managed to offend his brother and daughter and lose important allies such as the Velaryons. That takes high (wrong) skills.
Daemon: ambition and arrogance
Historians of Westeros always question Daemon Targaryen‘s motivations. Viserys knows he is too fickle for what it really is to rule, but Daemon also knows he has the strength of personality not to worry about popularity, which is essential to being king. He wants to be King, to have a defined role. The heir’s alternate is, as you saw, fragile. But he is really proud of his house, not able to do the unthinkable for the crown. Something like killing the King (and that will always rest on Alicent and Otto’s shoulders when Viserys conveniently suddenly dies).
He has a bond with Rhaenyra and has recoiled from his rebelliousness out of love for his niece. He and Corlys are now together for a great battle. It didn’t appear in the trailer, which only shows Rhaenyra’s revolt at being charged with getting married, but he’s going to build a family and it’s not with Mysaria or his current wife.
So, Daemon will be widowed in an accident (for him, fortuitous). His second wife will be none other than little Laena, despised by Viserys. By joining the Velaryons, Daemon will have an important alliance that is now even more threatening to his brother and the Hightowers. But that’s a topic for future episodes.
Great debut season
In just two episodes House of the Dragon is right on target. It will start to have competition from next week, but, clearly, it is already a winner.