House of the Dragon: “We Light the Way” Episode Review

"Brace yourself for fire and blood..." It's time to break down "We Light the Way," this week's episode of HBO's House of the Dragon. Read on for spoilers and more!

“We Light the Way”, the fifth episode of HBO’s House of the Dragon, feels like the end of Part 1. Thus far, we’ve been treated to a relatively small cast, just a few major players, and only a few important families. But that is about to change, and change drastically.

First, I’d like to raise a hearty flagon to both Milly Alcock and Emily Carey, the actors who’ve played Rhaenyra and Alicent thus far. They’ve been nothing short of extraordinary, and I can’t thank them enough for helping me fall back in love with Thrones.

And to Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke, the actors who will be taking over Rhaenyra and Alicent permanently following a significant time jump next week, all I can say is welcome. We’re excited to see what you’ve got.

(To those upset at this casting change, please remember that it was D’Arcy and Cooke who were the initial actors cast by the show’s producers. Once they signed on, they went searching for the younger actors who would appear in the first five episodes. I’m sad to see Alcock and Carey go too, but if they were hired because of their resemblances to D’Arcy and Cooke, then I’m eager to see why.)

But before we get to the impending time jump, first we must discuss “We Light the Way”—as apt an episode title as there will ever be, as once the credits rolled, we now know exactly where we’re headed. And in true Targaryen fashion, brace yourself for fire and blood.

In this post, we’ll discuss Alicent, the emerging strategist. We’ll mull on the figurative—and literal!—fallings of King Viserys. And we’ll break down yet another deadly King’s Landing wedding. At this point, it’s safe to say that if your name is Joffrey, it’s probably for the best if you RSVP no.

 

Rhys Ifans as Otto Hightower and Emily Carey as Alicent Hightower in “We Light the Way.” © HBO.

Riser of the Week: Queen Alicent Hightower

Welcome to the game, Queen Alicent. It’s taken her a few years to find her voice and grow into her role, but man did she come to play this week. It was like something clicked when, during his goodbye, her father warned her of the inevitable power struggle that will come when Viserys dies. Otto was exiled, in part, because Alicent believed Rhaenyra when she said she hadn’t slept with anyone. Otto urges Alicent to wake up fast, becaus with his departure, she’ll be truly alone in King’s Landing.

This idea of being alone found me recalling Sansa Stark and how she was left to fend for herself in King’s Landing after the execution of Ned. To be fair to Sansa, she was not the Queen, and thus not protected from the cruelties of others like Alicent, but I doubt I’m alone in seeing the parallels between both characters. They both start out meek, dreaming about unrealistic fairy tales, only to learn the brutal truth about young royal women: they’re often just pawns in other people’s games. We all know how Sansa would eventually upgrade her pawn for a queen, but it seems that Alicent has done so much quicker.

After accidentally learning about Criston Cole’s night with Rhaenyra, the switch is officially flipped. If Rhaenyra is going to so brazenly lie, then Alicent will just as quickly move on from their friendship. And when Rhaenyra is no longer your friend, it’s increasingly easy to view her as the other option: your enemy.

Cue the green dress. Make no mistake, that was as deliberate an entrance and a statement there could be. A war for the throne is on the horizon, and Alicent has made sure everyone can see the green emanating from Old Town.

Honorable Mention: Lionel Strong, our new Hand of the King. He’s been reliable in every scene he’s appeared, and I can’t help but wonder if there are any ulterior motives beneath the surface.

 

Paddy Considine as Viserys Targaryen, Milly Alcock as Rhaenyra Targaryen, and Theo Nate as Laenor Velaryon in “We Light the Way.” © HBO.

Faller of the Week: Viserys Targaryen

Viserys is starting to become a regular in these parts. Sometimes it’s because he’s too indecisive to be a proper king. Sometimes it’s because he’s too decisive when he’s on the wrong side of things. And sometimes it’s because he literally cannot stop falling down. This week, it’s a bit of all three. Viserys should get points for matching Rhaenyra with Laenor Velaryon, but he took too long to do it. A king commands, and yet Viserys asked. Later on, at the most extra rehearsal dinner of all time, he’s one-upped by his own wife, Queen Alicent, whose entrance literally and figuratively interrupts his plans. Cap this all off with his sudden fainting during the impromptu wedding of Rhaenyra and Laenor, and you have the makings of one terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. For a man who wishes he was challenged during his peaceful reign, he sure seems to do a shit job of handling even the slightest test.

Honorable Mention: Rhaenyra Targaryen. She lost her lover and wed someone who will never love her. Plus, her best friend is plotting her demise. Rough day for our Targs.

 

Backstory of the Week: Harwin Strong

Something I’ve been loving about House of the Dragon is that they don’t hold our hand and force-feed us backstory. They either find ways to work it in naturally, like when Viserys fires Otto only after giving us the history of how he became Hand of the King, or they just keep moving and figure you’ll catch up eventually. It seems like the latter is happening with Harwin Strong, a character who’s been a small player thus far, but who will be on our screens a lot more in the coming weeks.

We’ve seen Harwin a few times before this episode. He was the man who bumped into Rhaenyra when she was sneaking around King’s Landing. He was also the man looking on in admiration when Rhaenyra returned from the hunt covered in blood, dead boar in tow. He’s been in the background here and there, a few lines stippled throughout, but he hasn’t had a chance to truly shine yet. Until this week. Because Harwin Strong is the very same man who beat the shit out of everyone in the crazed mob during the engagement party. It was a brief moment, and if you blinked, you’d have missed it, but I loved it when Harwin locked eyes with his dad, Lionel, aka the Hand of the King. Lionel nodded toward the chaos, nonverbally telling his son to get in there and save Rhaenyra. Fast forward through a slew of haymakers, and it’s clear to see why Harwin’s nickname is “Breakbones.” Harwin does indeed save Rhaenyra, draping her over his back as he emerges from the fray.

All I will say is pay attention to Harwin Strong. We’re about to be very familiar with him.

 

Emily Carey as Alicent Hightower in “We Light the Way.” © HBO.

Item of Power: Alicent’s Green Dress

Throughout Thrones, there have been a few iconic outfits. Cersei in her black evil queen dress comes to mind. As does Jon wearing the Stark sigil for the first time. I believe we have a new addition to the club: Alicent’s green dress.

 

Maester’s Musings

  • I’m glad we got to meet Daemon’s wife, Rhea Royce, even if it was just for a moment. In one scene, she came across as a total badass, and it was clear that she had never been willing to put up with Daemon’s shit. She deserved better—many in Thrones often do.
  • When the pH level of the realm hangs on the strength of interfamily marriages and alliances, it’s unsurprising to see that the majority of marriages are unhappy ones. Think back to Game of Thrones. Which couples were happy? Outside of Ned and Cat, I can’t really think of anyone. So it’s been refreshing to see Corlys Velaryon and Rhaenys Targaryen. They seem to truly love each other, and when you combine love with those surnames, that can be a potent combination.
  • Anyone else getting some Littlefinger or Varys vibes from Larys Strong, the man in the gardens whispering gossip to Alicent? Hell, even his name is a combination of the two. Thrones is always more fun when there are multiple snakes in the grass.
  • Seriously, get ready for next week. We’ve only just finished the introduction. So much is still to come, and it’s going to be brutal. I can’t wait.

Favorite Shot: What an ominous final shot of the episode: we have two people who don’t want to be married, yet have just been wed amidst tears. There’s the king, unable to stand, the crown tumbling off his head. And as we pan out, a pool of blood being enjoyed by a rat in the Throne Room. I don’t know if it gets any better than that.

Favorite Scene: When Criston Cole collapses in front of the Weirwood, ready to take his own life, only to have Alicent save him for the second time. Not only is she no longer a pawn, she’s collecting them now.

Favorite Line:

Larys Strong: “The beacon on the Hightower, do you know what color it glows when Oldtown calls its banners to war?”

Harwin Strong: “Green.”

Foreshadowing at its finest!

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

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