It’s only been one week since we watched Princess Rhaenyra, heir to the Iron Throne, wed Laenor Velaryon to strengthen both houses and her future rule. But for Rhaenyra, King Viserys, Queen Alicent, and everyone else in House of the Dragon, it’s been a long 10 years since then—and it’s almost impressive how much worse things have gotten without ever managing to finally erupt into a full war.
So yes, “The Princess and the Queen” begins with the time-jump we all knew was coming, and Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke have finally stepped into their respective roles. Rhaenyra is wiser, more pragmatic, and vastly irritated that Alicent is trying everything in her power to discredit her. Alicent has come into her own, bossing Viserys (Paddy Considine) around with impunity at times, babying him like a doddering old man at others, and getting increasingly angry at people who don’t hate Rhaenyra as much as she does. (Which means the Rhaenyra-loathing Criston Cole, still played by Fabien Frankel, is her current BFF.)
There was some classic, Game of Thrones-style scheming and political intrigue—even an assassination or two!—in “The Princess and the Queen,” which would have made it a perfectly wonderful episode if I hadn’t found the entire thing so unbearably tense. The problem is the children. A lot of kids have been born over the last decade in Westeros and well before Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) rhetorically asks, “What are children but a weakness?” House of the Dragon has revealed they can be many things: Pawns. Threats. Victims. Liabilities. Weirdos. Duties. Inheritors of their parents’ grudges. And they can be killers, too.
For simplicity’s sake, let me list off the next generation of Targaryens, because they’ve already been dragged into the war to come by the simple virtue of just existing.
• Queen Alicent and King Viserys have three children: Aegon (Ty Tennant) is the eldest, and looks to be shaping up into a pretty fine swordsman and a teen who likes masturbating out of windows. His younger sister Helaena (Evie Allen) is next, and it appears she’s into very gross bugs and being weird. Finally, there’s Aemond (Leo Ashton), an unlikable, sullen boy who gets made fun of by Rhaenyra’s kids.
• Rhaenyra and ostensibly Laenor Velaryon (now played by John MacMillan) have two sons, both younger than Alicent’s kids. There’s Jacaerys (Leo Hart), Lucerys (Harvey Sadler), and Joffrey, who is born in the opening minutes of the episode.
• Meanwhile, Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) has had two daughters with his new wife Laena Velaryon (now played by Nanna Blondell), Laenor’s sister. They’re named Baela (Eva Ossei-Gerning) and Rhaena (Shani Smethhurst), and Laena has another baby on the way.
There’s something powerful and heartbreaking when Emma D’Arcy’s adult Rhaenyra is introduced screaming in pain as she’s giving birth to Joffrey. Even before we know this is her third child, Rhaenyra has fallen into the same, inevitable trap Alicent did—she’s now “popping out heirs” and worrying each new pregnancy will kill her like it eventually killed her mother. She may be the declared heir to the Iron Throne, and soon to be the most powerful woman in Westeros, but she had no more chance to avoid this fate than Alicent did (or Laena, for that matter).
Of course, Alicent is still dead set on making sure Rhaenyra never gets her chance to become Queen. Part of this is because she’s worried that Rhaenyra will have her children killed to eliminate their claims, as her father Otto Hightower told her, but most of her hate for the princess is just… hate. She’s still furious she was lied to, that Rhaenyra ever enjoyed a taste of freedom while she was having miserable sex with the increasingly gross Viserys. Rhaenyra is still enjoying that freedom, to a degree, and it’s driving Alicent mad.
Remember how I mentioned Rhaenyra’s kids are “ostensibly” Rhaenor’s? It’s a funny thing, because none of the three have the white-gold hair of the Targaryens or the white locks of the Velaryons. Instead, they all have black-brown hair, much like Rhaenyra’s close friend and captain of the city watch, Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr). While I assume Laenor tried to do his royal duties, at least on occasion, pretty much everyone in King’s Landing assumes Strong is the real father. Rhaenyra outright denies it, even to Rhaenor, but it’s hard to believe her when we eventually check in with Daemon and Laena in Lys, and their daughters are unquestionably a product of the two Valyrian houses joined together.
The only other person in Westeros who refuses to admit the truth is Viserys, who won’t hear of any accusation of Rhaenyra’s infidelity, even from his wife. But things come to a head when Harwin observes Criston teaching Alicent’s two boys to fight while ignoring Rhaenyra’s kids. Criston, who has become an even bigger asshole over the last decade, has Aegon attack the much smaller Jacaerys, giving him implicit instructions on how to maul the child, including beating him while he’s laying on the ground. Harwin pulls Aegon off and helps Jacaerys to his feet, which allows Criston to comment about how caring Harwin seems of his charge… almost as if the prince were his own son.
Harwin very satisfyingly beats the hell out of Criston for the insult until four knights pull him off, but Criston is nothing but pleased. Harwin Strong is expelled from the City Watch, and his father Lyonel (Gavin Spokes) tries to resign as Hand of the King but is unwilling to expose Rhaenyra’s not-so-secret secret. So Viserys does not accept the resignation and tells his Hand to get Harwin instated at Harrenhal and come back. Rhaenyra leaves too, but to take her family to the Targaryen’s ancestral home of Dragonstone, where everyone won’t be whispering behind their backs.
Alicent complains bitterly that Lyonel didn’t have the courage to tell the king the scandalous truth, which is when Larys Strong—the obvious schemer—takes matters into his own hands, and by “own hands” I mean he finds a bunch of criminals about to be executed, offers them freedom, cuts out their tongues, and has them set Harrenhal on fire to kill Larys’ brother and father. Thus, he paves the way for Alicent to call her father Otto Hightower, former Hand of the King and a man who will tell Viserys harsh truths (as we have seen), back to King’s Landing. Alicent has the decency to be somewhat horrified that Larys murdered his own family to help her, but not nearly horrified enough to not take the opportunity.
What made “The Princess and the Queen” so tense for me was how clearly all of these kids are being dragged into a fight that will blow up their lives and engulf the entirety of Westeros. And it’s primarily Alicent’s hate that’s doing it. She hates Rhaenyra so much she hates Rhaenyra’s children. She tells Aegon that his life and his siblings’ lives will basically be forfeit if Rhaenyra takes the throne, all to sow distrust and hate between the two groups of kids. Criston Cole hates Rhaenyra so much he wants her children physically harmed. It’s awful, and what makes it worse is that if you know anything about historical wars of succession or just watched Game of Thrones, you know some of these children will die. Not as children, hopefully, but not all of them will survive the inevitable civil war. They will hate and fear each other and try to kill the others and some of them will probably succeed.
“What are children but a weakness?” Larys asks the queen. “A folly, a futility. Through them you imagine you cheat the great darkness of its victim, that you’ll persist forever in some form or another, as if they would keep you from the dust. But for them, you surrender what you do not. You may know the right thing to be done but love stays the hand. Love is a downfall.”
So is hate, and it will be the downfall of so many of these children, sooner or later.
- I have of course not mentioned Laena, who has the same immensely difficult, painful birth that Aemma suffered in the first episode, and again it’s the man who decides whether to perform a medieval caesarian section that may save the baby but will definitely kill the mother. But Laena chooses her own fate. She staggers in agony to her dragon Vhagar, and commands him to expel his fire breath and end her suffering. The dragon is reticent to destroy his beloved rider, but Laena begs to be put out of her misery. Daemon arrives just in time to see his wife engulfed in flames. It’s absolutely gutting to watch, and it made me retroactively anxious about Rhaenyra’s birthing scene at the beginning of the episode.
- Daemon seems to have had a healthy relationship with his wife and kids before the tragedy, maybe? He seems to have genuine affection for all of them, and he seems to want to stay away from all the royal drama in Westeros by staying in Lys in Essos.
- Alicent summoning Rhaenyra immediately after she gave birth—I mean immediately, the umbilical cord hadn’t even been snipped yet—is such a jerk move even before Rhaenyra trudged across the keep, in major pain, only for Alicent to immediately say, “Oh, you should be resting!”
- Most of these kids will eventually grow up and also be played by other actors, by the way.
- I truly did not need to see a naked teen jerking off out a window, but I did laugh when Alicent says, “I have to believe honor and decency will prevail!” referring to her son Aegon taking the throne, only to instantly walk in on that son jerking off out a window.
Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel and Star Wars releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about House of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.