'House of the Dragon' episode 8: A family dinner becomes a last supper
You'd be forgiven for assuming that last week's climactic confrontation between Alicent and Rhaenyra was the last straw, the triggering point, the singular event from which there was no coming back, the moment that finally touched off the ruinous dragon-on-dragon war that's been so long in coming.
After all, accusations were made! Knives (well, a dagger, anyway) came out! Blood was drawn! Both sides returned to their respective corners to nurse their wounds and their grudges until they festered and suppurated.
Back on Game of Thrones, a show about disparate, scattered clans battling for supremacy, that might be the case. But House of the Dragon is about a single clan. A family.
And "family," as everyone knows, means: "Guys can we please pretend that we can stand each other long enough to get through one lousy meal?"
Ask anyone who's spent an interminable Thanksgiving dinner pretending not to hear the stream of racist invective burbling out of drunk Uncle Darryl, grinning too fiercely at Aunt Sherri as she sanctimoniously interrogates any life choice that does not match the precise ones she has made, and ignoring cousin Steve-O's earnest entreaties to fund his bold multilevel initiative to market a line of bodybuilding supplements that the FDA is "too soyboy cuck" to make legal in the United States and its territories.
You grin, you bear it, you wait until Gramma and Grampa excuse themselves to bed. That's when you uncork the evening's ninth bottle of wine — and the year's worth of bottled-up resentments with which it pairs no nicely.
You know: Family. That's why this episode depicts one last doomed, smiling-though-gritted-teeth attempt to smooth things over — or at least, to be publicly seen as trying to do so.
Just give Rhaenys the damn crown already
Open on: The Driftwood Throne, on the island of Driftmark, seat of House Velaryon. It's been six years since Laenor Velaryon faked his death and sailed away to Fantasy P-Town. His father, the Sea Snake Corlys Velaryon, has dealt with his grief by taking to the sea and successfully conquering the Stepstones. (Finally!) But word has now reached Driftmark that Corlys is suffering a fever from a nasty battle wound, and is headed home to receive care. The prognosis is not good.
Corlys' younger brother Vaemond knows that Corlys wants Driftmark to pass through his son Laenor and his wife Rhaenyra to their second son, Luke (their oldest son Jace is still officially the heir to the Iron Throne, remember). But Vaemond also knows that since Luke is not a true Velaryon but instead a "pup of House Strong," this would effectively end the Velaryon bloodline. He insists that he himself should inherit the Driftwood Throne instead, and feels strongly that the Queen will agree with him. "The winds are changing," he says.
You'd think a sailor like him would be better at reading the prevailing conditions.
On the nearby island of Dragonstone, seat of House Targaryen, Daemon discovers that his wife Rhaenyra's dragon Syrax has laid three new eggs. We will of course not add these adorable li'l yolklings to the official Dragoncount until they hatch, but we will note that the Foley artists and prop people are doing everything they can to establish that a clutch of dragon eggs is a gross and squelchy thing.
We meet teenage Jace, who's a bit of a try-hard; he's doing his level best to learn Old Valyrian, but it's almost as if his mouth was not shaped to pronounce it correctly, if you can imagine. Damnedest thing.
Daemon and Rhaenyra worry about Vaemond's petition to the Iron Throne, and wonder if Rhaenys will back him, because her true allegiance is a mystery. On the one hand, she believes Daemon and Rhaenyra killed her son Laenor, yet she's also accepted Daemon's daughter Baela as her ward.
My gal Rhaenys, people! She can't be pinned down! She's ephemeral! A veritable will o'the wisp!
Still more evidence, if you're keeping track, that Rhaenys would have been a better ruler than any of these jamokes. She's keeping her own counsel, which is the smartest move anyone can make in Westeros.
Too many Aegons
Daemon, Rhaenyra, Jace, Luke, Joffrey and the two kids Daemon and Rhaenyra have had during the 6-year-gap (more on them later) arrive at the Red Keep, but there's no one there to greet them, except for one Lord Caswell. We've seen this guy crop up before — you might remember him fawning over Rhaenyra as she trudged up the staircase to present Joffrey to the king and queen back in episode six. Don't turn your back on him.
The Red Keep has experienced an architectural religious conversion — gone are the sigils of House Targaryen, replaced with the symbol of the Seven-Pointed Star that represents The Faith, the dominant religion of the Seven Kingdoms.
At the Small Council, in fact, Queen Alicent is wearing a giant honkin' Seven-Pointed Star pendant the approximate size of a charger plate; it's amazing she can sit up straight.
Ol' Tyland "Still Squirrelly After All These Years" Lannister and other advisors suggest they're inclined to give Driftmark to Vaemond, not Luke, both because whoever holds the title of Lord of Driftmark commands the royal navy and Luke is still a child, and for (meaningful looks) other reasons. Reasons that are perfectly legitimate (*cough* unlike Luke *cough*).
Only doddering old Lord Beesbury, bless him, cannot fathom why Luke's right should be questioned. See above in re: Doddering.
As Alicent goes to greet her guests, a member of the Kingsguard, Ser Erryk Cargyll, informs her of an incident involving her son Aegon.
There's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to Erryk's twin brother Arryk Cargyll, who's also a member of the Kingsguard. We'll catch a glimpse of them sparring together in an upcoming scene, but for now just file away the Arryk/Erryk thing, as they'll both become important later.
We're going to zoom past this next scene, in which yet another a violent act — in this case, Aegon's brutal rape of a servant — is tossed off as a mere plot point, a bit of narrative shorthand to underline something that we already know. Aegon is a monster, yes, we get it, but reducing rape to a device that exists solely to remind us of that is just lazy, cynical writing.
Which is not to diminish the good, hard work the actors are doing here — Olivia Cooke lets us glimpse the rage and shame roiling just under Alicent's outward composure. Watching her, we can see how many times she's been put in this situation before, and expects to be put in it again.
Alicent goes to upbraid her eldest son for his actions, and we meet new but decidedly not-improved, six-years-older Aegon, who's somehow even more entitled and whiny and repellent than he was before, which is a high damn bar.
Rhaenyra and Daemon visit a bedridden King Viserys, who's still holding on, if only just. The prosthetics and digital effects combine with Paddy Considine's affecting performance to create a Viserys who's deathly ill — a gaunt specter who looks like he just drank from the wrong cup in the Grail Cave.
Rhaenyra introduces Viserys to the two sons she's had with Daemon that he hasn't met yet — toddler Aegon (who looks suitably creeped out by the leering demilich Viserys has become) and young infant Viserys.
Hold up, I can hear you say. Another Aegon? Another Viserys? Seriously?
'Fraid so, yep. But listen: In the book, Rhaenyra's naming her first son with Daemon "Aegon" is a big deal, one that Alicent takes as an insult to her eldest son, Aegon. The show seems willing to slide that aspect under the rug, but the fact remains that we're now faced with two characters named Aegon. The book adopts the nomenclature Aegon the Elder, for Alicent's kid, and Aegon the Younger for Rhaenyra's. But that's boring. We can afford to be a bit more colorful and descriptive.
So for the repellent, older Aegon, son of Viserys and Alicent, let's go with Aegon the Aess. And for the younger Aegon, son of Daemon and Rhaenyra, let's go with Aegon the Baeby.
As for what we're gonna do about having two characters named Viserys running around ... let's just say that won't be a looming issue for long.
Weirwood? There, wood. There, castle.
Daemon tries to shame Alicent for administering "milk of the poppy" to the king for his pain, but she's not having it. She's the family member who's charged with daily care of the loved one with failing health, and he's the know-it-all brother-in-law who never calls but just breezes in once a year to complain. Step off, Daemon.
Jace and Luke visit the courtyard they used to train in. Luke immediately notices that everyone's looking at them, because unlike just about everyone in his family he possesses basic emotional intelligence. They are met by six-years-older Aemond One-Eye, with his eyepatch, his attitude, and his prodigious fighting skills. We also glimpse an Erryk/Arryk sparring match, and a slightly older, but no less insufferable, Ser Criston Cole.
In the Red Keep's weirwood, we get a Rhaenys/Rhaenyra reunion. Rhaenyra swears she didn't have Laenor killed — which is technically true — and that she was not complicit in it — which is a lie. (Side note: If you believe that Rhaenyra knows that Laenor is still alive, there's no reason in the world for her not to come out and say as much to Rhaenys in this scene. She's desperate. Her future and that of her children is hanging by a thread. If she knew about Laenor, she'd use it. The only way this scene makes any sense is if Rhaenyra, and by extension Daemon, do not know that Laenor lives.)
(See how complicated things get, when the show departs from the book without thinking through the ramifications? Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of Laenor living out loud and proud somewhere in Essos — but it raises more questions than this show seems prepared to answer.)
If Rhaenys will side with her, Rhaenyra offers to marry her sons, Jace the future king and Luke the future Lord of Driftmark, to Rhaenys' granddaughters Baela and Rhaena, respectively. Rhaenys considers the offer, but doesn't tip her hand, because, again, she's awesome like that.
Rhaenyra goes to the bedridden Viserys and tearfully asks him to defend her against Vaemond. He seems too out of it to comply, but the next morning, as the maesters are poking and palpating and lancing and leeching his emaciated frame, he tells Otto that he wants to dine with his entire family that evening.
In the Iron Throne Hall, Otto announces that he, acting in the king's stead, will officially hear petitions as to the rightful inheritance of the Driftwood Throne.
Vaemond steps up and lays out his case, artfully avoiding making any overt accusations as to the legitimacy of Jace and Luke as true Velaryons, instead focusing on his own status as Corlys' closest kin.
When it's Rhaenyra's turn, she barely starts speaking when the grim figure of King Viserys enters the hall and hobbles to the Iron Throne, half his face hidden behind a golden mask. Considine really sells Viserys's agony as he stumbles on the Iron Throne steps, only to be helped up by Daemon.
Viserys is all, What are we doing, guys? I'm not even supposed to be here today! And asks Rhaenys, Corlys' wife, to speak, as she's likeliest to know his wishes.
I see you shiver ... with an-tic-i...
So it all comes down to my gal Rhaenys, here. As well it should: Homegirl is the only one who's been paying any attention. She warned Rhaenyra that the realm would never accept her, she warned Corlys that their children were in danger; she's the freaking Oracle of Driftmark.
Just last week we saw her entreat Corlys to have Driftmark pass directly to Baela and not Laenor, because she knows full well that Jace and Luke are not Laenor's sons. But Corlys refused her request, so, dutiful wife that she is, she publicly announces her husband's wish that Luke inherit Driftmark. She also announces (equally publicly, because she's no fool) that Rhaenyra has offered to marry Jace and Luke to Baela and Rhaena.
Viserys is happy, and gets to throw a bit of shade: "Well. The matter is settled. ... Again." Alicent and Otto look pained, as they were clearly hoping that Vaemond's petition would involve a very public accusation against Rhaenyra.
Turns out they get their wish, just a bit later than expected. The king's ruling has incensed Vaemond, and he goes full And Justice for All Pacino: You're out of order! The whole trial is out of order!
"Say it," whispers Daemon, like he's at a midnight screening of Rocky Horror and Vaemond's about to launch into "Sweet Transvestite."
"[Rhaenyra's] children ... are ... bastards," Vaemond says. "And she ... is ... a whore."
The king rises unsteadily to his feet. "I'll have your tongue for that," he says.
Daemon is like I can do you one better, and unceremoniously lops off Vaemond's head just above the lower jaw. "He can keep his tongue," he says, and sure enough, there it still is, lolling out of the corpse. What a lovable scamp, our Daemon! What a lovable, violently sociopathic scamp!
Rhaenys watches as Vaemond's body — and his head — are prepared for transport to Driftmark. She is cool, impassive, unflappable — Go ahead! Just try to flap her! You can't! — because she is awesome. Once more for the folks in the back.
Cut to: The aforementioned family dinner, which is shaping up to be awkward. I mean, there's the awkward family dinner you go to shortly after drunk racist Uncle Darryl posts a super-gnarly meme on Facebook, but that's peanuts compared to having to make small talk after a public head-lopping.
The king gets carried in. On one side of him, Alicent, wearing green. On the other, Rhaenyra, wearing black.
Various toasts get toasted, during which Aegon the Aess taunts Jace, in case you didn't hate him enough. Though of course it's a fair assumption that you already do hate him enough, as the show just keeps throwing more wood on the roaring bonfire that is Aegon's repulsiveness.
Viserys stands — sort of — and makes an emotional entreaty to his family to get along, for his sake. He removes the golden half-mask to reveal an empty eye socket (we do not get a shot of Aemond One-Eye going "Twinsies!" though we really should have) and a jaw from which the flesh has stripped away, exposing tendon and ligaments.
It's a lot to digest, as it were. There's a reason Grand Guignol wasn't dinner theater, you know.
Folks around the table seem chastened by this, perhaps even moved to pity. Rhaenyra toasts Alicent. Alicent toasts Rhaenyra. Are they sincere, or are they playacting for Viserys' benefit? Or worse, are they simply angling for position, attempting to turn compassion and forgiveness into points scored in a zero-sum game?
More toasts. Aegon the Aess says something rude to Baela, which cause Jace to step up, and be the bigger man. He throttles back his anger and turns it into an anodyne toast to his uncles Aegon and Aemond.
"Beware the beast beneath the boards," says moony, abstractly prophetic Helaena, so file that away for later. She then toasts her brother-husband Aegon's lack of sexual interest in her, which you know ... hear, hear. I'd hope we can all drink to that.
Royal twerps gonna royally twerp
We then get a brief interlude wherein the practiced familial politesse seems to drop, and starts to shade into something more real. Actual laughter, and the ease of familiarity. People who truly know and appreciate each other. For a fleeting moment, we get glimpse of what House of the Dragon would look like if these characters actually loved each other like a family should. It's warm. It's pleasant. It's endearing.
Good God, it's boring, so, so very boring, holy crap is it boring.
Thankfully, Viserys swoons and gets carted out of the room. Good, then. No more pretending for ol' Grampsy McGangrene. Let's get real.
A suckling pig is placed before Aemond One-Eye, reminding Jace of the time back in episode six when he, Luke and Aegon dressed up a pig as a dragon and gave it to then-dragonless Aemond as a prank. Aemond is not amused by this. But then, Aemond doesn't seem the type to get amused. By much of anything.
He stands and delivers a toast to his nephews Jace, Luke and Joffrey, "Each of them handsome, wise..."
"... and Strong."
The royal jerks start to tussle with each other but get sent to bed before any permanent damage is done. Rhaenyra says she'll accompany her kids back to Dragonstone but return on dragonback to have a bit more time with Alicent. Aw.
Down in King's Landing, on the Street of Silk, a spy from the Red Keep arrives to inform Mysaria (remember her? Daemon's ex? The White Worm?) about the drama at the castle.
Alicent tends to the ailing, no but for real this time seriously ailing, Viserys. In a milk-0f-the-poppy haze, the king believes himself to be continuing a conversation he began earlier with Rhaenyra. He talks of Aegon the Conqueror, and the dagger, and the prophecy of The Prince That Was Promised. Alicent, however, believes him to be talking about their son, Aegon the Aess.
Only you can unite the realm, he says, thinking he is speaking to his daughter. But it's his wife who hears it, and nods, and assures him she will do what needs to be done.
She leaves. And Viserys, finally, after hanging on long past what anyone might reasonably expected of the guy, dies.
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