Episode 6 of House of the Dragon sees family conflicts being passed down to the next generation in an episode that plays out as a second pilot for the series.
This review contains spoilers for episode 6 of House of the Dragon.
Ten years have gone by since last week’s events, and episode 6 of House of the Dragon, “The Princess and the Queen,” opens with Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) giving birth to her third son. Shortly after the baby is born, a servant of the royal family pays a visit to the Princess to inform her that Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke) demands to see the newborn. Her husband Laenor Velaryon (John Macmillan), seemingly happy to see the labor went well, offers to help her walk up the stairs on her way to visit the Queen, as she’s leaving a trail of blood behind her since she isn’t given a single second to rest after the labor.
Once in her chambers, Alicent seems disturbed by the baby after inspecting him. She is bothered that Rhaenyra’s third child, like her first two, has pale white skin and black hair, which neither Laenor nor Rhaenyra have. As we’ll learn later on, those kids aren’t Laenor’s, but clearly a product of the Princess’s affair with Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr), Commander of the City Watch. King Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine) then enters the room with a genuine sense of happiness to see both his daughter and new grandson Joffrey, named after Laenor’s past lover, alive. Before parting, Alicent manages to spit out her last insult to Laenor by taunting him to keep trying and perhaps one day he will have a child that looks like him.
Back in Rhaenyra’s chambers, we meet her oldest sons, Jacaerys (Leo Hart) and Lucerys Velaryon (Harvey Sadler), who are in the company of Ser Harwin. Both kids are excited to show their mother the dragon egg they have picked for their baby brother, while there is a bit of an unspoken conversation between Harwin and the Princess. As Joffrey’s father, the Commander of the City Watch seems eager to meet his new son, despite not being able to openly demonstrate his enthusiasm.
At the Dragonpit, Jacaerys and Lucerys find themselves in the company of their uncles Aegon II (Ty Tennant) and Aemond (Leo Asthon), Alicent’s sons. Jace is seen training his dragon Vermax to obey his commands with the help of Dragonkeepers, an order of guards who take care of the dragons for House Targaryen. After successfully instructing Vermax to burn a sheep alive, he and his brother and Aegon partake in an ill prank against Aemond, who has yet to claim a dragon for himself, by presenting to him Aemond with a large pig with wings. Tired of being the center of japes, Aemond ventures into the underground caves of the Dragonpit in search of a dragon, only to be scared off by a fully grown one.
In the Red Keep, Alicent is spending quality time with her daughter Helaena (Evie Allen). She is showcasing her collection of bugs to her mother in what appears to be a complicated relationship where both parties seem to have a hard time connecting. Their odd banter is interrupted by the arrival of Aemond, who’s covered in dust and smoke. As a result of what transpired at the Dragonpit, what follows is a chain of events where Alicent is constantly trying to undermine Rhaenyra and her family in favor of her own children. She urges Aegon to act like the adult he is soon to become, demands that Viserys tries to resolve the issue of his daughter’s bastard sons, only for the King to dismiss her concerns, forcing her to rely on Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), who is now completely devoted to her cause.
Olivia Cooke is so far doing an exquisite job at portraying an older Alicent. Whereas Emily Carey got us to sympathize with the character by displaying her insecurities and unstated pain as a result of being used as a pawn in her father’s power grabs, Cooke shocks us with a bitter take on the character that establishes just how much has changed in the past ten years. It is fascinating to see somebody like Alicent, who many fans viewed as a victim, become a key player in the game of thrones. She is now the one who is poisoning her children’s minds to eventually turn on their half-sister, just like Otto (Rhys Ifans) manipulated her to seduce the King.
Across the Narrow Sea, in Pentos, we witness Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) riding Caraxes, with his wife Laena Velaryon (Nanna Blondell) riding Vhagar, the oldest dragon alive in this age. The Prince of Pentos hosts a luxurious dinner for Daemon and his family that same night, where he boldly offers them the mansion in which they are staying, along with other lands, in exchange for protection. The Triarchy appears to be making a resurgence after aligning themselves with Qoren Martell of Dorne, possibly presenting a threat once again. Laena attempts to turn down the offer, but Daemon cuts her off and reassures his interest.
Despite being married to somebody who he seems to like, though not without their problems, and having fathered two girls with another underway, Daemon continues to be the same unpredictable man we’ve known for five full episodes. The Rogue Prince now appears unhappy and bored with his current life. Laena argues they should return to Westeros so their kids could be raised alongside their families in Driftmark and King’s Landing, but Daemon ignores her wishes. He doesn’t only ignore Laena on the issue, though, he actively ignores his daughter Rhaena (Eva Ossei-Gerning) as well, perhaps because she doesn’t own a dragon like her sister Baela (Shani Smethhurst) or her parents.
Meanwhile in the yard of the Red Keep, Ser Criston Cole is training the Princes how to fight. Rather quickly, we distinguish Cole favoring Aegon and Aemond, leaving Jacaerys and Lucerys to fend for themselves. It’s almost as if the Knight of the Kingsguard held a grudge against the Princess for rejecting him and is now lashing out his rage onto her sons. Ser Harwin Strong does catch up with Cole’s ill intentions and demands for him to be fair to both parties. With Viserys and Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes) observing from above, Ser Criston instructs Aegon and Jace to fight it out. Of course, Jace is unsuccessful due to his lack of training, forcing Harwin to come to his aid. This leads Cole to make a comment implying Harwin is the father of Rhaenyra’s children, prompting him to beat the Knight bloody.
This, as expected, does not make Rhaenyra’s public image any better. If anything, it makes matters worse as Ser Harwin’s reaction to Cole’s insult confirms the many rumors the people of the realm have been spreading about the legitimacy of the Princess’s heirs. While Rhaenyra is contemplating how to deal with the mess that took place in the yard, Laenor storms into her chambers drunk. He is excited at the news of a potential war brewing in the Stepstones yet again, as he views it as an opportunity for adventure. Rhaenyra calls him out on his selfishness and prohibits him from going to war and commands him to remain by her side.
During a meeting of the King’s small council, tensions rise between Alicent and Rhaenyra, with both women unable to see eye-to-eye on matters concerning the realm. Rhaenyra does try to be the bigger person and attempts to offer the Queen a truce. She brings forward the idea of marrying Helaena to Jace in order to join both sides of the family and avoid future issues. Alicent is repulsed by the idea of marrying off her only daughter to one of Rhaenyra’s children, who she considers bastards, while Viserys thinks it is a fine idea.
Shortly after the meeting, Lyonel Strong visits the King in private, where he tries to resign from his position as Hand of the King, following his son’s actions in the yard. Lyonel nearly admits to Ser Harwin’s affair with the Princess, peaking the Queen’s interest in his confession, but he doesn’t bulge. The King Viserys forbids Lyonel from quitting, only allowing him to escort his son back to their seat of power in Harrenhal. That same night, the Queen meets with Larys Strong where Alicent throws a tantrum where she expresses how much she wishes Otto to return as Hand so he could favor her demands. Larys takes this as a request, as he is seen offering prisoners in the dungeons a second chance at life if they follow his lead. The Clubfoot takes their tongues out, so these men won’t inform anyone of Larys’ vile plans.
In Pentos, Laena fails to naturally give birth to her third child, placing Daemon in a similar position as that of his brother Viserys in the very first episode of the show. He can either choose to save the baby by cutting his wife wide open, or let both mother and baby die. Rather than dying in labor, Laena decides to die a dragon rider’s death, as she accepts her faith and sets herself on fire with the help of a reluctant Vhagar.
After Harwin says his farewell to Rhaenyra and their children, the Princess and Laenor make the decision to leave King’s Landing behind and get themselves comfortable in Dragonstone. Their leave does not solve their past problems, as we travel to Harrenhal where it turns out that Larys sent the now tongueless prisoners to his family’s seat of power so they could burn the castle in the middle of the night, killing his lord father and brother in the fire. Larys comes clean to Alicent about his doings, with the Queen quite frankly terrified of what the Clubfoot is capable of, despite his physical appearance, claiming she will one day find a way to repay him for his services.
In more ways than one, episode 6 of House of the Dragon acts as a second pilot for the prequel series. If the first episode introduced us to the conflict at hand, our main players, and showcased their motivations, this week’s entry in the season serves as a reintroduction since there is a ten year jump into the future and the characters and their motives have changed almost completely. Emma D’arcy is already delivering promise with their performance. They are taking what Milly Alcock established and are now peeling off the layers of Rhaenyra’s arc.
One of the few negatives that I would agree with and have taken seriously from fans on social media is the lack of time to develop side characters. Interactions like Rhaenyra with Ser Harwin Strong, or Daemon and Laena’s relationship, make me wish these episodes were longer, or that we had extra episodes in order to spend more time with these people. Particularly the mentioned Ser Harwin and Laena. You do feel their deaths and the impact they leave behind in the story because of the actors’ masterful performances, but they’re barely characters if you really think about it. They’re more plot devices, which you can blame on “Fire & Blood” and its historical approach to its premise, but the point remains. I felt like House of the Dragon was the perfect opportunity to give some of the lesser players a bit more nuance, and it just seems like the writers are wasting so much potential.
Episode 6 of House of the Dragon is now available to watch on HBO Max. Find out why you should be excited for House of the Dragon and come back next week for our next review of the series.