House of the Dragon hasn’t captured my attention much. Sure, it’s well acted with an interesting story, but I haven’t finished an episode going “now that was good” and the characters haven’t grabbed my attention that much. That changed after watching the fifth episode, which was the best the show had the offer thus far while also serving not only as the halfway mark for the show, but the final episode for two of the series leads before next week’s time jump.
The theme for We Light The Way was definitely about marriage and everything surrounding that. The episode opens with Prince Daemon murdering his wife, making him not only heir to her titles and such, but also a newly eligible bachelor with eyes on his niece and by association, the throne. King Viserys has taken ill this episode, appearing sweaty and clammy with an awful coughing fit. Things aren’t looking good as the Targaryens sail across the Narrow Sea towards the Stepstones and Driftmark, where they hope to wed Princess Rhaenyra to Ser Laenor Velaryon. This act would unite the two great houses of Valyria.
Despite being a marriage, their union is purely a political arrangement and as such, the two newly engaged royals agree that while they’re duty bound to the Realm, they won’t be bound to each other, as Laenor isn’t interested in women and somewhat secretly already has a paramour. She presents this revelation to Criston Cole, who is mortified at the news. He wished to run away from duty and titles with her, but to be relegated to the princess’ whore was too much of a blight for him. When he saw Joffrey, the prince’s “companion” at the banquet that capped off the episode, Ser Criston went off the deep end and murders him in front of all the guests. He saw himself in this total stranger and was disgusted with what he represented and how he could flaunt it so casually. Criston has felt sullied and dirtied, a violator of his oath of chastity and wanted to kill that wickedness before killing himself.
Interestingly, he’s told to stay his hand from Queen Alicent. Alicent is now privy to the revelation that Rhynerna has indeed slept with someone outside of the confines of marriage, but is amazed to learn that it was Cole and not Daemon as she suspected. A lot has been building under the surface for Alicent, whether it be dissatisfaction, resentment and fear and all of those emotions are finally starting to pour over. How could her former friend get away with breaking the rules and also be heir to the throne while she’s the obedient wife and also a prisoner in her own home? I’m guessing she’ll try and get an official confession out of Criston Cole, which will shock the Realm and perhaps be the spark that starts the Targaryen Civil War known as the Dance of Dragons. Or perhaps she’ll recruit him as a potential ally in the war to come and use his anger against the Throne.
On a technical level, this episode was leaps and bounds above what’s come before. I think a big part of that was that there were a lot of outdoor shots. We commented on Film & Spirits that House of the Dragon has felt a little boxed in, that the sets and scenes feel like they’re often in dark boxes, but that felt different this episode from the opening shot. There was also a lot more grandeur and wonder, whether that be in the form of the banquet, complete with dancing and music and lots of sinister gazes, to the Velaryon fleet sailing to King’s Landing, heralded by two dragons. Ramin Djawadi’s score also stood out as being exceptional this week and brought to mind “The Light of the Seven” from season six of Game of Thrones, arguably his best piece of music written for the show outside of the main theme.
I felt the intrigue and the payoff from the somewhat slower last four episodes finally paid off in this one. Taking the advice from Daemon, Princess Rhaenyra knows now that she’ll have to marry for political reasons, but that doesn’t mean she’ll marry for love. Cole chastizes her for becoming the very thing she was adamant about never becoming, but Rhaenrya states that in the end, the Throne comes first and she has an obligation. She’s definitely evolved and perhaps not in the way we anticipated. It’ll be curious to see if this change of heart is genuine or emotional manipulation from Daemon. At the banquet, he approaches his niece and lets it be known he still has eyes for her (and the Throne by association) and I’m sure that we haven’t seen the last of him, despite her marrying a heartbroken Laenor mere hours after his lover was brutally murdered on the banquet floor. Weddings in Westeros, amiright? I’m very curious to see where this show goes next week now that we got the “setup” out of the way and that the King is on his way out.
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