House of the Dragon: “King of the Narrow Sea” Episode Review

Join Joe Brosnan as he breaks down last week's episode of HBO's House of the Dragon, and all of the delicious moral grayness that ensued.

On the latest episode of House of the Dragon The Bachelorette, we spent the majority of it through the eyes of Rhaenyra. And while she wasn’t loving the initial pack of suitors parading in front of her, she eventually found a couple people worthy of a rose. Daemon got his first crack at Rhaenyra, giving her something she craves: anonymity. You could see just how much Rhaenyra was enjoying her time in the streets of King’s Landing, observing the smallfolk and learning how the other half lives.

Then, after proper titillation courtesy of Uncle Daemon’s favorite brothel, Rhaenyra was officially in the mood. Are we really surprised that with all of Daemon’s “we’re Targaryens, we take what want” speak, he’s not good at giving it? With a taste for carnal delights, nothing was going to stop Rhaenyra from getting it, and who better for a tryst than Criston Cole?

What I loved about this episode—my favorite of the first four—is how it set the audience up to be on different sides, just like we’re about to see happen with our Targaryens. Did Rhaenyra exploit her power over Criston and take away his ability to consent? Or was he a happy, willing participant? Did Daemon set Rhaenyra up to get recognized so he could try to marry her? Or was that a spontaneous connection? Did Otto Hightower revel in being able to tell Viserys about Rhaenyra’s night out? Or was he genuinely heartbroken to tell the King? Did Viserys cross a line by summoning Alicent to his bed at night? Or is she doing the wifely duties that she knowingly signed up for when marrying the much-older Viserys? There are no wrong answers here, let me be clear. When Thrones has thrived, it’s been thanks to its nuance. Jaime Lannister was a villain until he wasn’t. Robb Stark was an intelligent strategic commander until he wasn’t. Daenerys was a mother to the smallfolk until she wasn’t. Jon Snow loyal until he wasn’t. You don’t get 180s like that without spending time in the morally gray middle ground, and House of the Dragon was steeped in cloudy, ambiguous gray this week.

In this post, we’ll talk about the gradual rise of Viserys, the sudden fall of Otto, and Rhaenyra’s fire slouchy beanie fit.

 

Paddy Considine as Viserys Targaryen and Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen in “King of the Narrow Sea.” © HBO.

Riser of the Week: Viserys Targaryen

This was a tough week for our main cast, as many characters seemed to be taking Ls. Viserys, however, has finally gotten what he wanted: a marriage partner for Rhaenyra that comes with a strategic upside. Rhaenrya will marry Laenor Velaryon, solidifying a shaky relationship with the realm’s second most powerful family. He also weeded out the duplicitous Otto Hightower, finally realizing just how much influencing the Hand of the King has been responsible for.

Once again, I just want to applaud Paddy Constantine for his deft portrayal of the single most important character from the early part of this season. Viserys is a tough character to crack: not outright evil or even bad, but also not intelligent. He’s a man swayed by emotions in a job that requires the very opposite. For Paddy Constantine to get us to sympathize with him is nothing short of a miracle, and I will be sad when we inevitably lose Viserys. He’s been a treat to watch.

Honorable Mention: Criston Cole, for doing his very best to rise to the occasion when called upon.

 

Rhys Ifans as Otto Hightower in “King of the Narrow Sea.” © HBO.

Faller of the Week: Otto Hightower

Subtlety, thy name is not Otto. If there has ever been proof that you can play the game of thrones too hard, Otto is it. I enjoyed how Viserys gave the viewers some backstory on Otto before canning his ass, and I especially enjoyed the line about how Otto was the man who taught Viserys how to be a good king. And by all accounts, Otto has done a good job of it. Viserys can be a bit sniffly, sure. But his reign hasn’t been a disaster. (That’s to come…) And you also can’t fault the man for having ambitions. But to undermine the king’s decreed line of succession with the hope of putting your own grandson on the throne, well, yeah that’s problematic. For a man as cunning as Otto, he just needed to be more patient. As we saw from the crowd at the play attended by Daemon and Rhaenyra, the smallfolk aren’t enamored with the idea of a female ruler. All Otto needed to do was wait it out a bit longer and I have a feeling he’d have gotten what he wanted. A rare misplay from the game’s best player. Let’s see how he rebounds.

Honorable Mention: Daemon, for once again being banished from King’s Landing – the second time in four episodes!

 

Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen and Milly Alcock as Rhaenyra Targaryen in “King of the Narrow Sea.” © HBO.

Item of Power: Rhaenyra’s Slouchy Beanie

Do you remember in the third Harry Potter movie when they started dressing the characters in normal clothes, rather than formal wizard robes? It was more than a bit jarring, and that’s exactly how I felt watching Rhaenyra wear her plain clothes disguise. Between the skinny pants, the flowy top, and the slouchy beanie, I couldn’t help but think that we’d been transferred from King’s Landing to Park Slope.

 

Backstory of the Week: Moon Tea

Being that we ended the episode with a slow pan on Rhaenyra’s tea, I thought I’d give it some context from the books. Moon tea is a medicinal herbal tea that is used to prevent or abort pregnancies. In the books, it pops up more than a few times. In A Storm of Swords, we learn that Lysa Arryn drank moon tea after sleeping with Petyr Baelish. And in A Feast for Crows, Cersei Lannister suspects that Margaery Tyrell is actively drinking moon tea, which proves that she has a secret lover.

 

Maester’s Musings:

  • I firmly believe that Daemon knew exactly what he was doing in bringing Rhaenyra to the brothel. He removes her hat right before they enter, and as we know from the first time he was kicked out of King’s Landing,  he’s aware that the brothel is being watched by Otto’s people. He wanted the rumors to start, as he saw it as his way to secure a marriage with Rhaenyra. At least, that’s my opinion.
  • I really enjoy the fluctuating relationship between Rhaenyra and Alicent. Their sad, heartfelt conversation was carefully spoken, and I love the way they are heading down opposite paths. Will their friendship survive their widening rift?
  • Kudos to that little lord who killed that heckling asshole. The Blackwoods and the Brackens are almost a running joke at this point with how much they hate each other, so it was a fun bit of fan service to the die-hards in staging that fight.
  • My single favorite detail was how Rhaenyra stopped wearing Daemon’s necklace after he ran out on her in the brothel.

Favorite Shot: Watching Rhaenyra on the beautiful black Targaryen boat when the dragon soars out of the clouds and nearly capsizes the vessel. It was another stark reminder of just how much of a cheat code these dragons are. They’re unparalleled.

Favorite Scene: Rhaenyra watching the play, and slowly realizing she doesn’t have the support of the people in the way that she assumed. It’s going to be a bumpy road to the Throne, and she’s going to face opposition from every possible angle. And Daemon was right — if she’s going to rule, she needs the people on her side.

Favorite Line: “I will do my duty and marry Ser Laenor, but you must do your duty as king.” One of this episode’s themes was Rhaenyra and her adulthood. Losing her virginity was an on-the-nose sign that she’s no longer a child, but for me, it was this line that proved she’s matured. She’s finally admitted that marriage is inevitable, but she doesn’t do it for free. She knows Otto stands firmly in her way, and now she’s removed her most powerful opponent from the game.

Read More: Series reviews of HBO’s House of the Dragon

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