Two Murders And A Wedding

Murder most foul is the theme of Sunday night’s episode of House Of The Dragon, “We Light The Way.”

The episode opens with a murder and ends with a murder and a wedding. When it comes to George R.R. Martin’s fiction, weddings rarely take place without a murder, after all. Perhaps that’s why the wedding of King Viserys (Paddy Considine) and Queen Alicent (Emily Carey) was cut from the show: It simply wasn’t bloody enough.

The first murder takes place in the Vale near Runestone. Daemon (Matt Smith) has traveled to the home of his wife, Rhea Royce (Rachel Redford, who oddly shares the same initials) and finds her out hunting. She’s alone, having refused the company of one of her cousins earlier that day.

This is bad luck for for Rhea and the perfect opportunity for her husband. They trade verbal blows. “Perhaps your brother has at last has had his fill of your company,” she sneers at him. “Cast you aside in favor of a little girl.”

Daemon approaches her horse, his hand up, a smirk on his face. “What will you do now?” she asks. “Will you strike the child down or—” Suddenly, she realizes exactly what Daemon intends to do and you can see the fear in her eyes. She’s let him get too close to her mount and when she goes for her bow, he leaps toward her. The horse rears back and throws its rider, and Rhea lands with a sickening crunch.

She lays paralyzed on the ground, unable to feel Daemon’s boot as he presses it into her arm. As he walks away she shouts “I knew you couldn’t finish, craven!”

Daemon picks up a large rock. The scene cuts to a fish’s head being chopped off by a cleaver. The king and his entourage are sailing on stormy seas to Driftmark to make a royal match and we see Viserys vomiting over the side of the ship. He’s always sick in some way or another.

The Seeds Of Doubt

Back in King’s Landing, Alicent remains at the keep while her husband makes his voyage. She finds her father, Otto Hightwower (Rhys Ifans) at the gate. “I do not wish to see you go,” she tells him. He tells her that she’s the reason he’s leaving in the first place. “You chose Rhaenyra,” he tells her. “She swore her innocence and I believed her,” Alicent replies, clearly distraught.

Otto tells Alicent that someday Viserys will die and if a woman takes the Iron Throne war will soon follow. He warns her that in order for Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) to secure her claim to the throne, she’ll be forced to kill Alicent’s children. Prepare Aegon to rule or “cleave to Rhaenyra and pray for her mercy.” It’s an unsettling message to leave his daughter with, but not necessarily untrue.

Later, in the Godswood, Alicent meets Ser Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) the crippled son of Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes) the new Hand of the King. Unlike his brother, Larys is no fighter and does not embody his family name.

Larys tells her that her father was a good man. “The manner of your father’s departure feels something of an injustice,” he says, hobbling over to her. “What do you know of the manner of his leaving?” she replies. “When was is never invited to speak, one learns to observe,” he says. “You are in perhaps in need of an ally?”

“I am the queen,” she says impatiently. “I have no shortage of allies.”

“To be sure, your grace,” he says. “Like the princess Rhaenyra?”

“State your purpose,” she says.

Larys wonders if Rhaenyra is reliable now suffering in her “condition.” Alicent is confused. He tells her that the Grand Maester brought Rhaenyra a tea on the same night her father was dismissed. The night after her rumored coupling with her uncle, Daemon. “A tea?” she asks, clearly troubled. “That the Grand Maester himself brought.”

“I do hope she’s well,” Larys says. Alicent tells him that she sails with her father to Driftmark.

“Oh well, good news,” he replies. “I must have been in error. A relief. I thought for Mellos himself…her condition must be very serious. What happiness it is . . . to have been wrong.”

It’s clear he means none of this and is planting a thought directly in Alicent’s brain. Two seeds of doubt now, planted in the queen’s heart: Her father and this odd cripple, both pushing her away from her loyalty to Rhaenyra.

A Royal Flush

The king and his entourage arrive in Driftmark and the home of Lord Corlys (Steve Toussaint). Viserys suggests a union between his daughter and their son Laenor (Theo Nate). It’s the alliance Corlys has been after since he offered his daughter to the king years earlier, but now he’s less eager.

He wonders if the children of Laenor and Rhaenyra will take their father or mother’s last name, which Viserys at first bristles at but quickly propose a solution to instead. At birth, they’ll take their father’s last name. When their child ascends the throne, however, he will be renamed Targaryen. It’s something all parties agree to, though princess Rhaenys (Eve Best) warns her husband later that they’re sending their son into danger. Rhaenyra’s claim to the throne will be challenged, she tells him. She doesn’t realize how soon danger will actually descend.

As their parents talk shop, Rhaenyra and Laenor discuss their upcoming marriage—which both agree is a good match—and Rhaenyra brings up Laenor’s “taste.” The young Velaryon doesn’t like girls, it turns out, but this isn’t a problem for the princess. She suggests a plan that will work for both of them: They’ll perform their marital duties to the realm on their wedding night, but after that each will “dine as we see fit.”

We meet Laenor’s lover, Joffrey (Solly McLeod). The two are very much in love, it seems, and Joffrey accompanies the Velaryons to King’s Landing for the wedding—a decision that he will not live to regret.

On the voyage home, Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) asks Rhaenyra to elope with him and to leave Westeros behind and travel to Essos where they can be free and start a new life together. “You could marry me,” he tells her. “A marriage for love, not for the crown.” It’s a romantic notion and one that he’s clearly passionate about. Rhaenyra smiles at the thought, but quickly pushes it aside.

“I am the crown, Ser Criston,” she replies, her voice hard. “Or I will be. I may chaff at my duties, but do you think I would choose infamy in exchange for a bushel of oranges or a trip to Asshai?” Sheesh, Rhaenyra, let him down gently.

“It is my duty to marry a noble man from a Great House and Ser Laenor will make a fine husband. But my marriage does not have to be the end,” she says, a knowing smile on her face. “Ser Criston, Laenor and I have an understanding. I’ve granted him leave to pursue his own interests and in turn he’s granted me the same.”

She’s clearly not expecting the knight’s reaction.

“So you want me to be your whore?” Ser Criston replies, angry and wounded.

We can continue the way things were before, she tells him, obviously surprised by this turn of events. It never occurred to her that he might have fallen in love or that he would not understand that she has a duty to the realm. But it’s more than just his wounded pride. It’s his honor at stake.

“I took an oath of chastity,” he says. He’s soiled his White Cloak, the only thing he has to his name. He thought, somehow, that marrying her would restore his honor, make his broken vow less of a weight on his shoulders. It’s unclear how much of this is him genuinely falling in love with her and how much is the matter of honor. I suspect it’s both.

The Iron Throne, she tells him, is bigger than her and bigger than anyone in her family. How could she give that up? She doesn’t have a choice in the matter. But he simply turns his back on her and storms off. A darkness has entered his heart in this moment, and the young chivalrous protector and champion of the tourney will never be the same again.

When they return to King’s Landing, the young knight is summoned to Alicent’s chambers. Recently spurned, the timing could not be worse. She hints at Rhaenyra’s promiscuousness but isn’t prepared for the knight’s confession: That he is the one that Rhaenyra slept with—something that the princess left out when swearing that she never had sex with Daemon.

“If, as a clement queen, you are inclined to pity,” Ser Criston says, “I would ask only this: That rather than having me gelded and tortured, you would sentence me mercifully to death.”

But Alicent isn’t even thinking about the knight’s dishonor. Her mind is racing. The words of both her father and Ser Larys echo in her head. She and Rhaenyra have had their secrets from one another in the past. Only now, as she considers her father’s words, the deadly seriousness of her position and the safety of her children seems, for the first time, to be a clear and present danger.

The Green Wedding

At the wedding feast, the queen is nowhere to be seen. But an uninvited guest does appear: Daemon, banished twice over, has returned for his niece’s wedding, and while it’s scandalous and clearly perturbs his brother, Viserys allows him to stay.

The king gives a speech, toasting the union of the two most powerful Houses, but midway through it the queen makes her bold entrance.

Alicent enters wearing green, the colors of her House rather than her husband’s. It is a clear and pointed statement. “Do you know what color the Hightowers’ banners are when they call their men to war?” Larys asks.

Green.

The king loses his train of thought as the crowd murmurs, but soon finds his place and finishes the speech in good humor. But the night feels less like a joyous occasion now, and more like the calm before the storm.

Daemon sits smugly at the high table near his brother, when Rhea’s cousin approaches and accuses the prince of killing his wife. Daemon laughs off the accusations and tells him that he’s glad he found him. There’s the matter of his inheritance to discuss. He’s going to inherit Runestone and all of Rhea’s wealth. Viserys looks deeply troubled, an expression he wears for the rest of the evening.

Daemon approaches Laenor’s sister, Laena Velaryon (Nanna Blondell) who has grown up quite a lot faster than anyone else on this show. Gone is the little girl that Viserys declined to wed earlier this season. She’s now a young woman who looks older than Rhaenyra or Alicent now—and the first of several characters to be recast mid-season (followed next week by Milly Alcock, Emily Carey and Theo Nate). Daemon says “Did anyone ever tell you you’re almost as pretty as your brother?”

The wedding pulses with intrigue. Joffrey and Laenor stand talking and the former tells his lover that he’s deduced who the princess’s paramour is: None other than the dour-faced, gloomy-looking Kingsguard, Ser Criston Cole. It’s a good guess, but one that Joffrey probably should have kept to himself.

He approaches the knight. “They make a handsome match, don’t they?” he asks.

“What?” Ser Criston replies, irritated and moody.

Undeterred, Joffrey introduces himself. “The Knight of Kisses,” he says smugly, “Or that’s what they call me—though I don’t know why.”

Criston suggests he get to the point.

“Ser Laenor is quite dear to me,” Joffrey replies. “As I know the princess is to you.” He suggests that they swear to protect them and their secrets. “Because if those are kept safe, then so are we all.” It’s an admission of dangerous knowledge—not quite blackmail, but not quite not blackmail, either, and you can see the rage in Criston’s eyes. Even if it’s meant in good faith, you can see how Criston would take it the wrong way—though what he does next is truly horrific.

Because no wedding is complete in a story by George R.R. Martin without some kind of bloodshed, that rage soon turns to one of the most gruesome murders we’ve seen here or on Game Of Thrones.

Before the blood is shed, Daemon approaches his niece. He tells her that Laenor is a good man that will bore her to death. Well then why don’t you marry me? she tells him in High Valyrian. “I am not yet married. But the hours pass swiftly,” she says. “Surely you are armed. Cut through my father’s Kingsguard. Take me to Dragonstone and make me your wife.”

As Viserys watches them with a look of grave concern on his face, we see Daemon take her face in his hands, but his view is blocked by the crowd and we don’t see what happens. Just then, the screaming begins. Something is wrong. There’s a commotion and people start running. A fight has broken out.

Ser Criston has attacked Joffrey. When Laenor attempts to intervene, the knight throws him out of his way. Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr) fights his way through the crowd and grabs the princess, hauling her over his shoulder and carrying her from the crowd (I suggest you remember this when you watch next week’s episode for reasons I won’t go into here because of spoilers).

As he rushes her from the hall, Cole beats Joffrey to death viciously with his bare hands, leaving Joffrey’s face a caved in mess of blood and bone. It’s a hideous and shocking death, and Laenor is left weeping over his lover’s body. The feast is over, but the wedding still has to take place.

Later, in the same hall, Rhaenyra and a deeply distraught Laenor are wed in front of their parents in a small, somber ceremony.

In the Godswood, Ser Criston takes a dagger and places it over his belly, about to kill himself in shame when Queen Alicent appears. “Ser Criston,” she says, stopping his blade with her voice.

At the wedding ceremony, Viserys collapses. A single rat runs over to the pool of new blood that still mars the stone floor. The credits roll.

This was another excellent episode of House Of The Dragon, and the last we’ll see with these versions of Rhaenyra, Laenor and Alicent. Next week’s episode jumps an entire decade into the future with new, older actors in all three of these roles and a whole new chapter in the lives of these people.

In many ways, this episode illustrates both the strengths and shortcomings of the Game Of Thrones spinoff. We are watching a show that gives us only the punctuated moments. There’s tons of character development, but it skips ahead rather abruptly at times, and while our main characters get lots of screen-time, support characters are sometimes given short shrift.

We barely get to know Lady Rhea, for instance, before Daemon kills her. This is a shame. I’d have liked to have more of a connection with her before the murder, though I suppose we’re only really supposed to learn more about Daemon here, not Rhea at all. The same goes for poor Joffrey, whose death is ultimately less about him and more about Ser Criston’s turn to the Dark Side.

But it’s all very powerful stuff regardless, and while this was not the shocking betrayal of the Red Wedding, and while the Joffrey who died here hadn’t spent the last few seasons making us despise him like the Joffrey who dies at the Purple Wedding, the Green Wedding (as I’m calling it, anyways) still manages to be one of the show’s best and most gruesome scenes.

I’m sad we’re losing these young actors after just five episodes. It feels a bit like a waste given how excellent both Alcock and Carey have been up to this point. It’s hard to really believe that they’re off the show entirely going forward (unless we get flashbacks). Hopefully both Olivia Cooke (who will play an older version of Queen Alicent) and Emmy D’Arcy (who plays older Rhaenyra) do as excellent a job.

Let me know your thoughts on Twitter or Facebook.

Here’s my video review of the episode:

I also wrote a post about the recasting if you want to know more about that.

Leave a Comment