At the end of the day, house of the dragon is a family show. Not in the sense that it’s “safe for the whole family,” of course – but most importantly, it is around a family, and how the Force begins to distort them beyond recognition. After the big spectacle of last week and the national politics of the previous episodes, house of the dragon slows down and narrows its focus on the three Targaryens at the center of its grand story and the people closest to them. And given the time to watch them closely, the series makes it clear that they’re all unprepared for how quickly things are changing, and it’s altering them in disturbing ways.
house of the dragon has a lot to do, so it’s a bit surprising that it can devote almost an entire episode to a tour. After Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) spends a day doing her least favorite pastime – granting audience to an endless stream of suitors from across Westeros – her uncle Daemon (Matt Smith) returns with a crown for his exploits against the Crabfeeder in the Stepstones.
It’s a provocative performance for a man who absolutely loves drama, but it’s also a ruse. Daemon bows to his brother Viserys (Paddy Considine), who welcomes the wayward Targaryen home with open arms. This sets the stage for the majority of the episode when, later that night, Daemon smuggles a pair of civilian clothes to Rhaenyra so they can embark on an adventure through the seedy streets of King’s Landing. Together the two wander through a crowd of people where street performers, vendors and sex workers ply their trades and what starts out as a bit of a thrill takes a dark and strange turn when Daemon leads Rhaenyra to a brothel and the two almost have sex. before Daemon leaves in frustration at the last minute.
It is from that scandalous moment that house of the dragon finally starting to bring to the fore the convincingly fucked-up family dynamic it’s been quietly building. The first, of course, is Daemon and Rhaenyra, a couple who liked each other from the start, although they are also rivals for the succession. Rhaenyra’s side of the equation is simple: she is someone who would have come so close to her destiny as a woman in medieval society as the named heiress of Viserys, but is in constant danger of being taken from her. She’s also a teenager desperate to get her way and get her wishes – something she, as a princess, can’t do.
Daemon is a bit more complicated, but not very complicated; He’s wildly selfish, but also too cowardly to take what he wants. This makes it difficult to read him definitively: does he really have romantic feelings for Rhaenyra? (Probably not, although his affections are likely genuine.) Was his ultimate goal to seduce her, have her seen in a brothel (mission accomplished), or was he just organically bringing her to the place where he spends his days? Is he manipulative or just pathetic? The power dynamics are clear, the motivations less so.
Later, when Viserys learns what happened between the two, Daemon gives a Hail Maria that may or may not have been the goal all along: asking for Rhaenyra’s hand. The angry king disowns him and the two are on the run again.
As it turns out, every relationship is about that one night. Alicent’s (Emily Carey) friendship with Rhaenyra – one of them so far house of the dragonThe most compelling and yet untapped dynamic of Rhaenyra, who is now Rhaenyra’s stepmother and such, is unsuccessfully trying to force Rhaenyra to conform like her, to get married and to stop courting scandals at every turn. Her father, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), loses his job as Hand of the King shortly after breaking news of the scandal to Viserys. This isn’t because the king shoots the messenger (at least not entirely), but because Viserys is finally beginning to realize that his infatuation with Alicent may have been a manipulation, that his loveless nights with his new queen are the product of political shenanigans .
Here’s what happens when you’re on top of the world, sitting on the throne everyone covets: friendship is suspect, but family is also warped. In Westeros, however, family is the way to build and maintain power, and it must be forged with purpose. This is the paradox that each character struggles with: family as a means of meeting human needs and family as a means of securing power. The reconciliation of the two, it seems, can always be a conflict.
All of this is less obvious than a dragon rushing into a beach battle, but it’s just as tense because that’s what drives those battles matter. It’s worth repeating that other than in game of Thrones, this show is set in a time when humans have dragons. It’s about the machinations of the nuclear powers, and no one, no matter how powerful, wants to go to war against someone who can scorch the earth around them, win, lose, or be undecided. So battles got to fought elsewhere: in brothels and bedrooms and very dry meetings. Relationships are reduced to tools and proxy wars – making them all the more volatile and a family conflict all the worse.
It makes sense that if this conflict is allowed to deepen long enough, it could plunge the world into war.
https://www.polygon.com/23344676/house-dragon-episode-4-review-targaryen House of the Dragon Episode 4 Review: Oh no, incest