House of the Dragon: The 3 biggest talking points from episode 6

Emma D’Arcy takes over from Milly Alcock as Princess Rhaenyra in an episode filled with unhappy families

Nick Hilton
Monday 26 September 2022 22:20 BST
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Tolstoy once wrote that “all happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. It is a credo that George RR Martin, author of the Game of Thrones series, carried through into his novels. And here, in the first episode where House of the Dragon takes a significant jump forward in time, the mantra is as true as ever. This is now the story of three, deeply unhappy, families.

Family affair

The first of these families is headed by Princess Rhaenyra (now played by Emma D’Arcy) who has just given birth for the third time. Her sham marriage to Laenor Velaryon (John Macmillan) has necessitated the procreational skills of Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr), eldest son of the Hand. “Healthy?” she asks the midwife, as the baby arrives. “Kicking like a goat, Princess,” the woman replies, earthily.

But the child, (fake) father and mother are soon whisked off to Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke) for inspection. “Do keep trying, Ser Laenor,” she whispers to the new dad. “Sooner or later you may get one that looks like you.” The frost that had settled on the relationship between childhood best pals Rhaenyra and Alicent has become a deep layer of snow. Which brings us to our second unhappy family, the King, Viserys (Paddy Considine), and his Queen.

Viserys is falling apart, literally. His plans for Rhaenyra’s succession are miraculously still in place, but he is rapidly losing hair, skin and body parts. He looks like he’s been put through a zombification filter. All the same, he loves his daughter and censures his young wife for gossip mongering. “The consequences of an allegation like the one you toy at would be dire,” he warns. But dire for whom? If Alicent wants her eldest son Aegon (Ty Tennant, son of David, nepotism fans) to ascend to the Iron Throne, she needs Rhaenyra out of the way.

The kids aren’t alright

The final unhappy brood are currently across the Narrow Sea. Daemon (Matt Smith) has married Laena Velaryon (Nanna Blondell) and along with their girls they live an itinerant life in the free cities. Both Daemon and Laena, however, long for home: Laena to see her brother and Daemon for the “Westerosi strong wine” (is that some sort of kinky nickname for his niece?). Their daughter Rhaena (Eva Ossei-Gerning) is concerned that her dragon egg still hasn’t hatched; a concern she shares with her, um, cousin (something like that, these are Targaryens after all) Leo Ashton’s Aemond, who, over in King’s Landing, is being bullied by the rest of the royal children for his dragonlessness.

These children will, undoubtedly, be key as the series progresses. Rhaenyra’s two brown-haired boys seem far less Targaryeny than Alicent’s two blond-haired lads (if one is to take hair colour as the essential genetic marker, which one does in Westeros). It is in the training yard (real echoes here of Winterfell) that things boil over, though not between the rival kids. Wet flannel Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) is still moping around, feeling sorry for himself after Rhaenyra’s rejection (“spoiled c***”, he calls her) but goading Harwin Strong about the princes’ parentage results in his teeth getting knocked out. Daddy Strong (Gavin Spokes) realises that his adult son might’ve just blown the whole family’s chances of advancement. “His flimsy shield alone stands between you and the headsman,” he cautions his son, of the King, who is still in denial, “the wilful blindness of a father towards his child.”

Fabien Frankel in ‘House of the Dragon’ (© 2022 Home Box Office, Inc. Al)

Going strong, gone strongs

But now, finally, the wheels of plot rumble into motion. Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) is a key ally of the Queen, and a real nasty piece of work. He offers some death row inmates the chance to do his bidding in return for “mercy” (a mercy that involves the removal of their tongues) and ends up burning his father and brother alive. This creates a power vacuum back at HQ, paving the way for Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) to return.

“We are one house and long before that we were friends,” Rhaenyra tells the Queen, in an attempt to finally shovel some of that snow. She proposes a union between their children, but Alicent isn’t having it. The jump forward in time has made her weary and cynical. “How sweetly the fox speaks when it is being cornered by the hound,” she tells her husband. And so, with options at court limited, Rhaenyra makes the decision to pack up her family and take them off to Dragonstone. A dangerous place to be in exile. “I should have left years ago,” she tells her husband.

Meanwhile, Laena, in a scene that mirrors the opening, is not going to survive childbirth (if Game of Thrones was famous for killing off main characters, House of the Dragon is doing a good job of introducing them and killing them in the same episode). She sacrifices herself to dragon fire, in an attempt to save her unborn child, in a scene that would have been quite moving if we had met the character for more than five minutes. But it leaves Daemon single (and dishy) once again, and leaves another family unhappy.

“What are children but a weakness?” the malevolent voice of Larys announces in a final monologue. Now, after some scene setting and reorientation for the audience, it is time for politics, and war, to play out. But which of these uniquely unhappy families will prevail?

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