House of the Dragon: “The Princess and the Queen” Episode Review

A major time jump, a new cast of characters, and this week's Risers and Fallers. Read our review of "The Princess and the Queen" episode six of House of the Dragon.

Remember last week when I praised House of the Dragon for not holding our hands while it zoomed through the story? Well, I’m afraid we’ve discovered the other side of that coin, as this week’s 10-year jump felt a bit too jarring. I want to be clear: this doesn’t have anything to do with the new actresses playing Rhaenyra or Alicent. Both Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke looked every bit the part and I am excited to watch them as the story unfolds.

Rather, it was the loose ends left behind and the romances skipped over that left me wanting more, wanting a bridge episode. I wanted to see how Alicent convinced the crown not only that Criston Cole was innocent after brutally killing Joffrey, but that he should also retain his job on the Kingsguard. I wanted to see how Rhaenyra and Harwin Strong developed their romantic relationship and how Rhaenyra arrived at the decision that she didn’t care that her children were very clearly bastards. With the 10-year jump stripping us of nuance and romance of their relationship, it leaves Rhaenyra looking dumb and arrogant. Similarly, I wish we got to see more of Daemon and Laena. In the first five episodes, we saw Daemon interact with more than a few women, and every time, he was unable to connect with them. Yet here we are ten years later and Daemon seems relatively happy with Laena. How did that happen? How did she crack his dragonskin? We deserved to know.

And then you can combine Harwin and Laena for this last point. They died while barely having lived on our screens, and it seems like a huge missed opportunity for us to not be given the chance to fall in love with these characters. Their deaths should have wrecked us, but instead, I was just like “oh, dang.”

Up until this point, I haven’t had any reason to be critical of House of the Dragon. It’s been epic, sprawling, and beautifully shot. The story is riveting, and it’s helped the world fall back in love with Thrones. This show is allowed to stumble as long as it regains its balance. A 10-year time jump was always going to be a tricky situation to navigate, so I can cut the writers some slack. But they better find that balance moving forward. I’m excited to further meet all of these prince and princess children, to see how much more evil Larys can be, and to watch as the rift between Alicent and Rhaenyra brings the realm to the brink of war.

In this review, we’ll discuss the chaotic evil of Larys Strong, the stubbornness of Rhaenyra Targaryen, and we’ll take a look back at the cursed history of Harrenhal.

 

Matthew Needham as Larys Strong in “The Princess and the Queen.” © HBO.

Riser of the Week: Larys Strong

A few weeks ago I talked about how much I was enjoying the moral greyness of House of the Dragon. You could root for any of the characters, and there was no true good or true evil. Well, I think that’s gone out the window after this episode. Larys showed no hesitation when presented with the opportunity to kill both his father and brother. Thus far, I’ve enjoyed the way both Alicent and Rhaenyra have volleyed for power by having different Hands of the King removed. Rhaenyra drew first blood by having Otto sent away, and now Alicent returned serve by giving Larys enough slack to feel comfortable killing Lionel. If I had to guess, Otto Hightower will be returning to King’s Landing asap, but other possible Hands could be Corlys Velaryon or even Daemon! Larys undoubtedly has no wish to be the Hand. Like our smarmy small council members of the future—Littlefinger and Varys—Larys much prefers to operate from the shadows. I can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.

Honorable Mention: Alicent Targaryen, for proving she has more and more sway over the ailing King’s decisions.

 

Emma D’Arcy as Rhaenyra Targaryen in “The Princess and the Queen.” © HBO.

Faller of the Week: Rhaenyra Targaryen

If there was one thing Cersei Lannister understood, it was that if she wanted to preserve her family’s claim to the throne, she needed to remain in King’s Landing. With Rhaenyra leaving for Dragonstone, it’s hard not to feel like Rhaenyra’s path to being Queen just got a lot more difficult. We know Viserys is going to die sometime soon. And we know that Alicent will do whatever it takes to make sure Aegon, her eldest son, sits on the throne. With Rhaenyra out of the city, that task just got a lot easier.

And the reason Rhaenyra is leaving the city is entirely her own fault. I’m not faulting her for sleeping with Harwin. Her mistake was not making sure her children were conceived with Laenor. It’s an open secret that Laenor is not the father of these children, and even though no one has the courage to formally accuse Rhaenyra, the seeds of doubt are growing strong.

Honorable Mention: Laena Velaryon, we hardly knew ya.

 

 

Backstory of the Week: Harrenhal

You might be surprised to learn that Harrenhal is the largest castle in all of the Seven Kingdoms, though it is commonly believed to be haunted. Built by Harren the Black before Aegon’s Conquest, the castle was thought to be impenetrable. But Harren did not account for dragons, and Aegon easily lit the place aflame. Harren and all of his family died in the attacks on Harrenhal, and due to the intense heat of dragon fire, the castle still sports a charred, melted appearance to this day.

After Aegon’s Conquest, the castle would be inherited by more than a few houses, none able to survive for more than a decade or two. Eventually, it became rumored that Harrenhal was haunted, and while I won’t detail the upcoming history that awaits Harrenhal, I will say that you should get used to the setting.

And for fun, let’s recall when we saw Harrenhal in Game of Thrones. It’s where Tywin Lannister and his army make camp during their war with Robb Stark. And it’s where Arya Stark, unbeknownst to Tywin, serves as his cupbearer. Then, after the Battle of the Blackwater, Joffrey Lannister awards Harrenhal to Littlefinger for his role in bringing the Tyrells over the Lannister side of the war against Stannis Baratheon.

 

Maester’s Musings:

  • Another week, another couple of tough-to-watch pregnancy scenes. Rhaenyra’s pained walk to see Alicent was such an impressive acting debut for Emma D’Arcy. And Laena’s desperate pleas for mercy to her dragon, Vhagar, were heartbreaking. You could tell that Vhagar did not want to kill her.
  • I also thought it was an interesting parallel to see Daemon presented with the exact same situation as Viserys, but not be able to tell the maesters to cut the baby out. It was a nice bit of humanity for a character that’s been lacking in it thus far.
  • I’ve seen a lot of people hating on Alicent after this episode, and I don’t really understand it. She’s protecting her children, and she’s 100% right in thinking that Rhaenyra’s actions have been insulting not just to her, but to the sanctity of the realm. I don’t know if I’m ready to declare sides officially, but green is looking good right now.
  • Talk about a rise and fall—Criston Cole has gone from a literal knight in shining armor to a snivelly little incel. Even Alicent had to take pause to put him in his place after he unloaded some insults at Rhaenyra. Here’s something I never thought I’d say after the first few episodes: Criston Cole is my least favorite character.
  • One of the things we rarely get to see in Thrones is the pleasure of watching kids simply be kids. We got a small glimpse of it in the very first episode of Game of Thrones, you know, before Bran was crippled. So watching the Targaryen and Velaryon princes joke around and just be kids was refreshing. Of course, we know they’re destined to face off thanks to their parents, but for one fleeting episode, I couldn’t have been happier to see a dragon pig.

Favorite Shot: I couldn’t get over how massive Vhagar was. He’s the largest dragon alive, and you can tell he’s seen some shit. Kudos to the CGI team at HBO because they not only made him look like an absolute unit, but you could also tell how upset he was when Laena ordered him to incinerate her.

Favorite Scene: I thought the opening scene, with Rhaenyra delivering her baby and then immediately being summoned by Alicent was the perfect way to open the time skip. It’s clear that in the decade that’s passed, their friendship has completely disintegrated. Alicent knows how torturous childbirth is, and to summon Rhaenyra and the babe immediately is the ultimate strongarm tactic. It’s also a beautiful bit of foreshadowing.

Favorite Line:  “To have one child like that is a mistake, to have three is an insult.” I’m right there with Alicent, and I think it’s funny how we all cheered Ned Stark when he was trying to go public with Cersei’s bastard children, but we all turn the other way when it’s Alicent.

 

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