If you’ve just about got your head around House of the Dragon’s characters and families, hang tight because episode six whizzes forward in time – and everyone, it seems, has spent the past decade popping out babies.
As per usual there’s plotting, plotting and more plotting, so get ready to spend another hour of your life stomach clenched, breath held, mouth agape.
House of the Dragon is fast becoming a medieval version of One Born Every Minute. Episode six opens on a sweaty-faced Princess Rhaenyra (now the adult version, played by Emma D’Arcy) who is pushing out a child. Sigh.
Thankfully, unlike with her mother’s last attempt, everything goes well, and the wee babe enters life wailing and spluttering. It’s a healthy boy. Seconds later, a servant comes to the door– the queen has requested to see the child. Immediately. The umbilical cord hasn’t even been cut.
I’m thinking it, you’re thinking it, we’re all thinking it: handing over a male heir to the queen seems like a bad idea. What if she ‘accidentally’ drops it? Rhaenyra is thinking the same thing. Fine, the queen can see the baby, but Rhaenyra is going to take him to her. It’s a show of defiance that audiences have come to expect from the princess, and it isn’t getting old.
Her husband, Corlys’ son Laenor Velaryon (with John Macmillan replacing Theo Nate) helps her on the way there. She’s weak and can barely stand, leaving a trail of blood behind her as she walks through the palace, past aghast members of the court, up a giant staircase and to the queen’s rooms.
Was it terribly painful? Her husband asks, and receives a murderous glance as a reply. “I took a lance through the shoulder once,” he says. Yes Laenor, that sounds awful.
The queen meets the baby
Rhaenyra and Laenor are presenting the baby to an adult Alicent Hightower (played by Olivia Cooke) and King Viserys Targaryen (still played by Paddy Considine) who is, disconcertingly, looking more like Gollum every day, wispy bits of hair and all.
Ever the sweetheart, the queen says to Laenor, “Do keep trying, Ser Laenor. Sooner or later you may get one that looks like you.” Then Laenor announces that the baby will be called Joffrey – ah, after his dead lover, cool. This is worse than a Christmas dinner with extended family.
The queen asks to hold the baby and it’s a tense moment – but, happily, all goes well, for now at least, and he returns to his mother unscathed. As they leave the room, Rhaenyra says that she was surprised that Laenor chose the name Joffrey without consulting her. “I deserve some say in the affairs of my own family,” he says, and she replies bitterly that he’s never seemed bothered about it before.
Back in her chambers, Rhaenyra and Ser Harwin Strong exchange smiles and glances. It’s difficult to know what’s going on at this point, but the looks are definitely more than friendly.
He’s from House Strong of Harrenhal, is commander of the City Watch and is the son of the Hand of the King, Lyonel: the bloke that replaced Otto when he was dismissed by Viserys. Her other two sons (Jacaerys and Lucerys, who are fully-grown children) both have brown mops for hair and couldn’t look any less like Laenor (or Rhaenyra, for that matter) and any more like Harwin.
Playing with fire
To the cave, where the princes are learning to command their dragons. There are Rhaenyra’s two brown-haired sons, and then Alicent’s two sons Aegon and Aemond. They don’t all have their own dragons. Aemond, for some reason, doesn’t have his own yet, and the others cruelly present him with a pig with wings.
Aemond, upset, then goes running into one of the caves almost getting toasted by the dragon resting in it.
It seems like that is usual behaviour for him: in the next scene, a guard is presenting the lightly-charred chap to his mother, who is hanging out with her daughter (who is looking at a giant millipede). Yes, Alicent, too, has been busy producing heirs.
He explains the pig-upset to his mother, who cries, “As if you needed encouragement. Your obsession with those beasts goes beyond understanding.”
A silver stallion
The king and queen are back hanging out in their favourite spot by the model city. Alicent says she finds it surprising that Rhaenyra’s sons’ eggs hatched. “Why’s that?” says Viserys, whose steadfast attempts to create peace in his palace at all costs are becoming humorous. “You know why,” snaps his wife. “I’m afraid I don’t,” says Viserys, playing either dumb or naïve – it’s hard to tell.
He recounts a story of a black mare and a silver stallion, who produce an unremarkable brown horse. “Nature is a thing of mysterious works,” he says somewhat blithely. In fact, even though he’s become a sick man, he is neither dumb nor naïve. “The consequences of an allegation like the one you toy at, would be dire. Do not speak of this again.”
Ser Criston Cole shows his true colours
What is it that they say? There’s nothing like a hot knight scorned? Ser Criston Cole, ex-lover of Rhaenyra, it seems has become one of her biggest critics.
Walking through the palace with a raging Alicent (isn’t she exhausted from being constantly furious?) who is fuming about Rhaenyra’s affair with Harwin, Cole’s contributions are extremely gentlemanly, “The Princess Rhaenyra is brazen and relentless. A spider who stings and sucks her prey dry. Spoiled c**t.” Wowsers.
Even the queen pauses to catch her breath, and she’s the one that has hated Rhaenyra for a decade. “That was beneath me, my grace. I apologise,” says Cole. “I have to believe that in the end, honour and decency will prevail,” the queen replies eventually.
The queen says her piece
Next, it’s to her honourable and decent eldest son, Aegon, who is standing butt-naked, relieving himself out of a palace window. It must be a common occurrence, as the queen doesn’t bat an eyelid as she enters the room. She’s got her mind on other things (like her dynasty, duh).
Aegon, to give him his dues, is at least a little bit embarrassed, throwing himself onto the bed and covering himself in a bedsheet. He looks like a lovechild of Debbie Harry and Eddie Redmayne, with white frizzy locks surrounding his pasty face.
The queen gives her son a pep talk, which errs, as per usual it seems for poor old angry Alicent, on the side of combative. She’s there to scold him about the pig incident. “Do you think Rhaenyra’s sons will be your play things forever? As things stand, Rhaenyra will ascend the throne and Jacaerys Targaryen will be her heir.”
So? he says. Wrong moment for that, Aegon! Alicent almost explodes, explaining that Aegon’s life could be forfeit if this happens. Aegon mutters something along the lines that he’d challenge that.
“YOU are the challenge. You are the challenge Aegon. Simply by living and breathing,” she screeches, holding her terrified son’s face. Message well and truly delivered. And by the looks of Aegon, message received, too.
This whole time, you may have been pondering the whereabouts of Daemon. He is, it turns out, in Pentos, a large port city in western Essos (a continent which is, as the name suggests, east of Westeros). He too now has a brood (two daughters, and one on the way) and is married to Lady Laena Velaryon (who is, hoorah, an adult, played by Swedish actress Nanna Blondell).
The parents are sat around a table with the heads of Pentos. They’re offering permanent residence in the city – along with farmlands, a vineyard and the wood – aka a cushy life, in exchange for pledging that they’ll protect Pentos with their dragons when the time comes. It’s a pretty swell deal – but Daemon (still played by Matt Smith) seems more intrigued by the proposition than Laena. They agree to mull it over.
The couple is then in a candlelit library of sorts. Daemon is sat with his daughter, who then goes to bed (who knew he had it in him to be anything other than malevolent?). “They are using us,” says Laena. “It’s refreshing isn’t it?” he replies. “A simple transaction. We have dragons, they have gold.”
“We are the blood of old Valyria. We don’t belong here,” she implores. “I want daughters to be raised in their homeland, with their family, according to their birthright. I want to die a dragonrider’s death, not that of some fat country lord.” It’s stirring stuff, and perhaps her words are even enough to penetrate Daemon’s ice-cold heart.
A fatal omission
The sons are sword fighting in a King’s Landing courtyard. Well, they’re trying, smashing their wooden weapons against hay dummies. Ser Cole The Bitter is teaching them while Harwin is watching the lesson from the side. The Hand of the King and Viserys look on. If ever there was a set-up destined to end in a blow-up, it would be this.
Ser Cole takes on the blonde-haired kids and they all engage in a fight. “Seems the younger boys could do better with a bit of your attention,” says Harwin. Steady...
“You question the method of my instruction, Ser?” demands Cole. “I merely suggest that method could be applied to all your pupils,” Harwin replies. Cole then asks Aegon to challenge Jacaerys, and the boys start fighting. It’s an uneven match: Aegon is almost twice the brown-haired boy’s size and is easily winning the duel. Cole, unable to hide his hatred for Rhaenyra’s kin, starts shouting, “Kick him”, “Don’t let him get up”, “Stay on the attack”. Outrageous stuff, but after his earlier outburst, not remotely surprising.
“This what you teach Cole? Cruelty for the weaker opponent?” shouts Harwin. “Your interest in the princes’ training is quite unusual, commander,” says Cole, eyes flashing. “Most men would only have that kind of devotion toward a cousin, or a brother... or a son.” Well, that’s going to do it, isn’t it? Harwin jumps on the knight, beating him to a pulp. Blood flies everywhere. Of course, Harwin’s dad and the king see everything.
Dad gets mad
Harwin’s dad Lyonel is mad. Furious in fact. His son’s actions have, you guessed it, brought shame to their House (are all the parents reading from the same handbook or something?) Princess Rhaenyra has been notified about the bust-up by one of her servants and slips into a secret passage so that she can overhear her beau being reprimanded.
“You have laid us open to accusations of an uglier treachery,” says Lyonel. And what treachery is that? says his son, playing Viserys’s card, then. “Dont play the fool with me boy,” shouts the Hand. “Your intimacy with Princess Rhaenyra is an offence that could mean exile and death. For you. For her. For the children.” He goes on to say that the king’s will to look the other way, alone, stands between them and one of these terrible fates.
Laenor comes into Rhaenyra’s room, drunk, with another man. The man is excused and Laenor sits with Rhaenyra to talk. He says he wants to go off and fight a battle. She can barely believe it. He’s deluded, her eyes seem to say; she’s bemused and patronising as she speaks.
Remember their agreement, all those years ago? She says. She’s never gone back on it. He’s bought the finest horses and been allowed to do everything else he wants to do, including taking his pick of the court’s men. “But you do not desert your post when the storm lashes,” she says. “The wise sailor flees the storm as it gathers,” retorts the slowly sobering Laenor. Dare we say, touché?
Seemingly, being a wise guy doesn’t do it for Rhaenyra, as she simply commands him, as the princess, to stay. And that’s that.
Pondering in Pentos
Laena and her youngest daughter are having a chat sitting by a crackling fire. The youngster is holding up her unhatched egg up to the flames. Laena says, “There is more than one way to bind yourself to a dragon. I was without one until I was 15 years old. And now I ride Vhagar, the largest in the world.” (Game of Thrones superfans know that Vhagar is also the last dragon still living from the Targaryen Conquest days, aka, A Big Deal.)
Then Laena and Daemon are having a chat on the Pentos castle roof. Laena tells Daemon that Rhaenyra has had another son. There’s a softness between them that’s really quite surprising. It’s almost as if… they actually like each other?
“Does your brother mention if this one also bears a marked though entirely coincidental resemblance to the commander of the city watch?” jokes Daemon.
Laena returns to the subject of leaving Pentos. She says he spends all his time in the library, reading dragon legends. He quips that he didn’t realise he was being so closely watched.
“You do not sleep!” she exclaims. “How can I with you haunting my every move?” he replies. That Daemon, what a joker. Laena says that perhaps she isn’t the wife he expected, but he shrugs off this suggestion.
“You are more than this Daemon,” urges Laena. “The man I married is more than this.”
There’s a council meeting, and everyone seems to be in a foul mood. There’s a “Tully problem”, and of course, Rhaenyra and Alicent can’t agree on what to do about it. Alicent is huffing, puffing (when is she not?), while Rhaenyra, also staying true to form, is stiff and stony-faced.
Just before the happy get-together wraps up, Rhaenyra stands and says she wishes to speak.
“I have felt the strife between our families of late, my Queen. And for any offence given by mine, I apologise. But we are one house, and long before that we were friends.” Nice try, Rhaenyra. Even for those who don’t hate her guts, it’s oozing disingenuity. Alicent is rolling her eyes so much that they’re likely to pop out soon.
Rhaenyra says her son Jaehaerys should wed Alicent’s daughter Helaena. “Let them rule together,” she suggests. “A most judicious proposition,” says her ailing dad. Alicent is predictably dismissive of the idea, even when Rhaenyra tries to sweeten the deal by offering dragon eggs to Aemond (if, or when, more come).
But Rhaenyra loses command of the room when milk starts leaking from her breasts, making two small stains on her silver dress. Alicent points it out (naturally), Rhaenyra is embarrassed and sits down with a hand covering her chest, and Alicent says she and the king will think about the generous offer before they both swiftly exit.
Once in the halls, Alicent returns to her customary serpentine self: “How sweetly the fox speaks when it’s being cornered by the hound,” she says.
“She is sincere,” says Viserys. “She is desperate,” snaps Alicent, before calling Rhaenyra’s kids “plain featured” – arguably the meanest thing she’s said yet. Viserys says they should put aside these childish quarrels and Alicent storms off.
The shame is afoot
The Hand comes to talk to the king. He wants to resign his position – a shadow has been brought upon his house, he says, and “it grows ever-darker”. But the ever-tolerant king won’t allow it. Lyonel has served him faithfully for years, plus his son has already been expelled from the City Watch.
“What is this shadow? Name it if it casts such a gloom,” demands the king. But the Hand doesn’t go quite so far as to point out his son’s relationship with Rhaenyra. That would be really rather dumb – particularly when a scowling Alicent is stood by. Viserys finally agrees to give Lyonel leave to escort his son to Harrenhal.
The queen then storms through the palace, back to her chambers. Who should be waiting there to dine with her than the despicable Larys Strong? She explains what has just happened and how frustrated she is at Viserys steadfast loyalty to Rhaenyra.
“Do you expect the king to doom his dear daughter to exile?” says Larys. He argues that the queen would do the same if the situation were to arise, though she snaps back that she wouldn’t. She wishes her father (oily Otto) was there.
“You cannot say that your father would be impartial in this matter,” questions Larys.
“No,” shouts Alicent, “But he would be partial to me. All of King’s Landing and no one to take my side.”
Wide-eyed prisoners peer out of a packed gaol cell. They’re covered in dirt, thin and bird-like. They look like they’ve had a rough couple of years, to say the least. Larys sits down nearby. Oh dear – perhaps things can in fact get even worse for the felons.
They’re going to be hanged soon, but he has an offer, he says. Then we see two men getting their tongues burned off with a hot metal iron. It’s all really incredibly ominous.
It’s been approximately 45 minutes since our last on-screen birth, so it was about time for another one. This time it’s Laena who is at the mercy of the gods. Screaming, sweating, we’ve seen it all before. And it doesn’t get easier.
It becomes swiftly apparent (for viewers, we’re not sure how long it’s been for Laena) that the baby is not coming. The midwife says that he has exhausted his skills. He tells Daemon that he can try cutting Laena open, but that the baby might die, and that for the mother there is zero chance of survival. Oh no, not this again. Daemon, rather than his wife, is left with an impossible choice.
But before he can make a decision, Laena has taken matters into her own hands. She staggers outside to her dragon Vhagar. Barely able to speak, she screams, “Dracarys.” Vhagar stares at her. “Dracarys,” she cries again, helpless and distraught. Vhagar seems to understand the situation. Looking at Laena, the dragon blinks heavily, and just as Daemon comes out to the yard, she breathes fire at her dying and distraught master, who is engulfed in its flames.
Rhanerya and Harwin are saying goodbye. Well, he is – she’s just staring at him, glassy-eyed. He says he’ll visit when he can, kisses the baby’s head and ruffles Jaehaerys’ hair. Rhaenrya and her son stand in the corridor as Harwin walks away. “Is Harwin Strong my father?” asks Jaehaerys. “Am I a bastard?”
“You are a Targaryen – that’s all that matters,” his Mum replies.
After this, Laenor and his beau are sword fighting in the yard when Rhaenyra comes out to see him. “We’re finished here, we’re leaving,” she says. “I’ve been undermined, I’m made a spectacle. They whisper about me in the corridors.”
They’ll go to Dragonstone. Laenor accepts her decision without any pushback, but instead asks about her place in court.
“The wise sailor flees the storm as it gathers,” she says, slightly smiling. She was listening to him the other day, after all.
“Bring him,” she then nods towards Laenor’s friend, adding, “We’ll need every sword we can muster.” How sweet.
Harwin and Lyonel are galloping towards Harrenhal. But who is stood watching them clip-clop along, but those creepy tongueless criminals? Ominously, they’re in hooded cloaks, too, and could not possibly look any less malevolent as they stare towards the castle.
“What are children but a weakness? A folly. A futility. Through them you imagine you cheat the great darkness of its victory,” says a sinister voice over the sequence, alongside some eerie music.
Then the camera flashes to Princess Rhaenrya and her family walking up to Dragonstone, before flashing over to a scene of the King crying and kissing his Targaryen ring. Poor old Viserys, he really has been trying for years.
Then it’s back to Harrenhal, where Lyonel is woken by Harwin’s banging. There’s a terrible fire whipping through the castle and both father and son are battling the flames: Harwin tries to smash down a door, there’s smoke everywhere, the ceiling falls in. There are charred bodies around the castle, and the dead are being carried away.
The audience is then taken to Pentos, where Daemon is sitting with his crying daughters.
As the episode ends, Larys is sitting with Queen Alicent. She is distressed, pale as a sheet and holding her neck, as he tells her about the fire, and his father and brother’s death.
“Larys, I did not wish for this,” she exclaims.
“I feel certain you will reward me when the time is right,” says the slippery eel. Larys is the last person you would want to owe something to.
A shadow certainly has fallen on King’s Landing and it’s come in the form of Larys, backed up by an ever more blatantly ambitious queen. In fact, the way she’s going, she may very well lose her mind soon. At the same time, the deaths of Lyonel, Harwin and Laena didn’t hit too deeply – despite the drama, let’s admit it, we hardly knew them.
The stage is well and truly set now that some of the Throne’s potential challengers moved out of the picture. So what will Rhaenrya get up to at Dragonstone, and how will she cope with Harwin’s possible death? When will Viserys shuffle off his mortal coil? Will Daemon return to honour his late wife’s last demands? And what will the murderous Larys and Alicent get up to next?
House of the Dragon is streaming on NOW and Sky Atlantic