Recap of House of the Dragon: Episode Six – It couldn’t be more horrible that there are deaths on television

Spoiler alert: This recap is intended for people watching House of the Dragon. Don’t read any further if you haven’t seen the sixth episode.

Let’s put these childish arguments aside

It would always come to that. After five hours of at times tense, occasionally bombastic courtly drama, HBO has pulled its big switcheroo. It will come as no surprise to many. The producers didn’t exactly advertise the fact that a major time jump was imminent (10 years, it turned out) or that key young cast members were about to be swapped out for older actors. But they didn’t hide it either. The question was: would this risk pay off? Would a new cast breathe new life into the process, or would it feel weird and off-putting?

The episode begins with a painful delivery – and it won’t be the last. This time it’s Princess Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) in the birthing bed, surrounded by midwives as she squeezes out what we’ll soon learn is her third son, rumored to be by her hand-wringing husband Laenor Velaryon (John Macmillan). But she hasn’t survived the afterbirth when a summons comes: Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke) wants to examine the child right away. Rhaenyra doesn’t want to take her eyes off him, so it’s through the Red Keep, step by step, with the child in her arms and Laenor fussing at her side.

I think he has his father’s nose.

Emma D'Arcy as the older Rhaenyra.
Summoned to see the Queen within seconds of birth…Emma D’Arcy as the elder Rhaenyra. Photo: HBO

Already things feel different. Milly Alcock was a magnificent young Rhaenyra, but D’Arcy is a force of nature, determined and relentless. But every unstoppable force needs an immovable object, and that’s Cooke as Alicent. As the pair face each other in the Queen’s chambers, we can feel every minute of those intervening years, a decade of distrust, slander and struggles for position. Not that the treacherous King Viserys (Paddy Considine, in disturbingly convincing age make-up) notices any of this; He’s just delighted to meet his newest grandson and proud that his beloved daughter will one day soon succeed him to the Iron Throne, and her eldest son after her.

And here is the boy in question: young prince Jacaerys Velaryon (Leo Hart) with his little brother Lucerys (Harvey Sadler), escorted by a strapping swordsman who bears a distinct resemblance to both. This is the commander of the City Watch, Ser Harwin “Breakbones” Strong (Ryan Corr), who has been Rhaenyra’s lover since the tragic end of her affair with Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel). Royal children of dubious parentage were of course a common thread in Game of Thrones, and this program seems to be following suit – maybe a bit repetitive? Given that a common bone of contention for dragon haters has been that this show isn’t quite like its predecessor, maybe that’s a good thing.

You are the challenge, Aegon’

The new Joffrey Batatheon?  … Ty Tennant as Prince Aegon Targaryen with Fabien Frankel as Ser Criston Cole in House of the Dragon.
The new Joffrey Baratheon? … Ty Tennant as Prince Aegon Targaryen with Fabien Frankel as Ser Criston Cole in House of the Dragon. Photo: HBO

It doesn’t take long before we meet another character that exudes powerful GoT vibes: Alicent and Visery’s son Prince Aegon Targaryen (Ty Tennant). With his ice-blonde locks and mischievous temper, he is reminiscent of both the stubborn exile prince Viserys Targaryen and the child tyrant Joffrey Baratheon, whose untimely death robbed the show of its best villain. After teasing his dragonless younger brother Prince Aemond (Leo Ashton) by fitting wings on a pig, Aegon next appears proudly masturbating from his bedroom window overlooking the rooftops of King’s Landing. For the doubters, this has to be the series’ most comforting GoT scene yet, simultaneously shocking, hilarious and wonderfully insightful when it comes to the character.

We learn more about Aegon later in the training yard, where both sets of boys are put through their paces by Ser Criston – who, it seems, suffered no punishment for his brutal murder of Ser Joffrey Lonmouth one episode and 10 years earlier. Was that thanks to Alicent’s patronage, or did he make up a story to excuse his behavior? However, the years have made Ser Criston bitter: he loathes Rhaenyra with the passion of a scorned lover, and that hatred extends not only to her children but to stubborn Ser Harwin as well. It’s another great character building scene, with the presence of the king on the battlements mirroring that of Ned Stark in the very first installment of Thrones. But where Ned was a wise, thoughtful father, Viserys is just a clueless old man hoping these very different boys all get along.

The wise sailor flees the storm when he contracts.

That will never happen, because Aegon is not only a tyrant, but his mother always has his back. Alicent has become a master of whispers and is spreading the word at court that Laenor is not the father of Rhaenyra’s children. Her co-conspirator is Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), brother of Ser Harwin and son of Lord Lyonel, Hand of the King, who tries to resign when ugly rumors spread. But Viserys refuses to let him go, so Lyonel takes the next best step, removing Harwin from court and returning him to the Harrenhal family home: a chance for the show to stretch its legs with a welcome visit to a familiar location.

Not that this episode is as tied to Red Keep as its predecessors. Because eventually a proper side story develops: the travels of Prince Daemon (Matt Smith), who seems to have spent 10 years toiling up and down the straits and poring over old books and selling in the mansions of various free-town nobles his flying, fire-breathing services to the highest bidder. He even has a family in tow: the dreaded Laena Velaryon (Nanna Blondell) and her two daughters – one, Baela, a dragon rider; the other, Rhaena, hoped to be.

There is more than one way to bond with a dragon.

Laena Velaryon (Nanna Blondell) in House of the Dragon.
Choosing a Way Out… Nanna Blondell as Laena Velaryon in House of the Dragon. Photo: HBO

The issue of dragon riding will clearly be another important thread, and it’s an intriguing one: who proves worthy and who doesn’t, and how does that affect their self-image? It remains to be seen whether little Rhaena wants to follow the fate that awaits her mother. This is the episode’s second and much darker birth as Laena realizes that neither she nor her unborn child will survive the birth process and decides to die quickly by dragon fire.

It’s a brutal scene, but not quite as shocking as what happened half a continent away in Westeros, when three speechless ex-convicts set fire to one of Harrenhal’s towers, burning both Ser Harwin and Lord Lyonel on his own orders Son Larys, who will presumably now inherit the property. Alicent’s shock at this development is telling – she’s a schemer, sure, but she’s not quite Cersei yet, and the fact that her closest associate just killed his entire family is still encouraging news.

All that remains for Rhaenyra is to take her family and smuggle off to Dragonstone, enlisting supporters for her cause and setting the stage for the wars that are truly to come. It’s a wonderfully auspicious conclusion to the most entertaining episode of House of the Dragon yet, and a thoroughly convincing testament to the showrunners’ time-hopping concept.

Additional Comments

It should be noted that this quiet is not the final cast of the show. Some of the younger actors, particularly Rhaenyra and Alicent’s children, will make a switch again at some unspecified point in the future.

There’s been some grumbling about the VFX in the series so far, but the dragons in this episode looked incredible, from a breakneck how to train your dragon with the scaly, teenage Vermax to Laena’s giant, swooping monster woman, Vhagar.

His role may have been to lurk in the shadow of his wife, Rhaenyra, but Laenor promises to be a fascinating character himself, a once-proud man crushed by his years at court and desperate to return to the field . Excellently played by Macmillan as the ultimate third wheel, he was pathetic in both senses of the word.

The death of Ser Lyonel and the departure of Rhaenyra leave the door wide open for the return of this matchless conspirator, Alicent’s father, Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), as the King’s Hand. Larys also seems eager to get the old dog back, but how will these two ruthless strategists play off against each other? Are Larys’ methods too bloodthirsty even for Otto?

count nudity

A brief flash of Prince Aegon’s royal buttocks aside, everyone was a little too busy making plans to engage in recreational pursuits.

count violence

Matthew Needham as Larys Strong in House of the Dragon.
Makes Daemon look like a responsible member of society… Matthew Needham as Larys Strong in House of the Dragon. Photo: HBO

Some heated prince-on-prince tussles in the training yard were followed by a nasty scuffle between Ser Harwin and Ser Criston, but the real culprit this week was Larys Strong. Not content with pulling the tongues out of three jailbirds, he then sent them off to finish off his own brother and father. In comparison, even Daemon seems like a responsible member of society.

Random Brit of the Week

If the cast changes again, I’ll be sad to see Ty Tennant from behind as Prince Aegon. He was an absolute delight here, grinning and self-possessed in the very best GoT tradition. Tennant will be fine, though: not only is his father David a former doctor, but he’s already a regular in an Anglo-French adaptation of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds (starring Gabriel Byrne), which is apparently on its third series . Is it just me, or has this show flown completely under the radar? It sounds fun!

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