Compared to the pilot, Episode 2 of House of the Dragon was pretty quiet. At least, we didn’t see any dismembered ballsacks this time around, and I’ll count that as a win. But there is still plenty to explore in “The Rogue Prince,” so welcome back to your weekly breakdown for the show. Let’s begin with a big topic: whether a woman can rule in Westeros.
Deep Dive of the Week: The History of Female Rule in Westeros
This episode gives us our first direct interaction between Rhaenyra and Rhaenys. In addition to having similar names, they also face similar obstacles in their pursuits of power. Rhaenys wanted to be the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, but was passed over for the Iron Throne on multiple occasions, earning her the nickname “The Queen Who Never Was.” As a result, she delivers a “hard truth” to Rhaenyra: “Men would sooner put the realm to the torch than see a woman ascend the Iron Throne.” This, Rhaenys says, is the “order of things.”
Rhaenys isn’t wrong here, but like everything in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy setting, the exact truth is a bit more nuanced. Just because a woman has never sat the Iron Throne doesn’t mean one can’t. What would have to happen for Rhaenyra to succeed her father? What precedent can she point to to ensure her rule is seen as legitimate? In short, what exactly is the order of things?
Let’s start by looking at just the Targaryen dynasty. In the roughly 110 years that Targaryens have ruled Westeros, men have been strongly preferred to women as candidates for the throne. This pattern dates back to the very first king, Aegon the Conqueror.
Aegon did not win hegemony over Westeros by himself. He came to the continent with his two sister-wives, Visenya and Rhaenys, who became Queen Visenya and Queen Rhaenys upon his crowning. Together, the trio founded the Targaryen dynasty.
But why was Aegon the one to sit the Iron Throne? Visenya was Aegon’s older sister. She rode the dragon Vhagar (who is still alive at the time of House of the Dragon), wielded the Valyrian steel blade Dark Sister (now in the possession of Daemon), and was particularly adept in battle. By all accounts, she was every bit the warrior Aegon was and was fit to be the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms … yet it was Aegon who became the Conqueror, not Visenya. In the eyes of many in Westeros, this established that the Targaryen dynasty had the same preference for male rulers that monarchs throughout the continent had observed for centuries, if not millennia.
From there, though, the waters get muddy. Aegon had only two children, both sons—Aenys (through Rhaenys) and Maegor (through Visenya). As Aenys was the older sibling, he inherited the throne upon Aegon’s death in 37 AC (After Conquest).
Aenys’s first child was Rhaena, born before Aegon the Conqueror had died. At that point, many in Westeros were already thinking about the succession, as Aegon had just turned 50. Aenys was clearly next in line for the throne, but after him, should priority be given to his daughter, Rhaena, or his younger brother, Maegor?
Before this question could be fully explored, Aenys had a son, whom he named Aegon. When Aenys died in 42 AC, his son Aegon, then about 16 years old, claimed the throne. Except Maegor did as well, which set off a violent power struggle that Maegor won. Consequently, Maegor was crowned as the third king in the Targaryen dynasty.
Maegor (who was rumored to have been conceived as a result of blood magic) did not have any children despite taking six wives over the course of his life. Upon his death in 48 AC, the crown passed to Aenys’s oldest living son, Jaehaerys Targaryen. However, Princess Rhaena, Aenys’s daughter and Aegon’s wife, still lived. Not only that, but their daughters lived as well. A question tickled at the minds of the maesters and other thinkers in Westeros: If Aegon had been the legitimate king—and Maegor just a usurper—shouldn’t the throne pass to one of his children?
This question was never fully explored. Rhaena hated King’s Landing after the death of her brother-husband and had no desire to sit, or have her daughters sit the Iron Throne. She agreed that the crown should pass to Jaehaerys, and the matter was settled.
Still, with a bloody war recently resolved and a violent rebellion of the Faith of the Seven still simmering, the royal court needed to think about Jaehaerys’s successor. Only 14 years old, Jaehaerys was unwed and had no children. Thus, he named his niece Aerea—Rhaena’s oldest daughter—his heir. (Maegor had also named Aerea his heir while he was struggling to produce a child.) Aerea remained Jaehaerys’s heir for the first five years of his reign (excluding three days when he had an infant son who did not survive). Then, Jaehaerys and his sister-wife Alysanne had their own daughter, Daenerys, whom he named his heir for the next two years until he had another son, Aemon. Aemon remained the heir for 37 years, until a Myrish pirate put a crossbow bolt through his throat and ended his life.
Aemon’s death set up another crisis over who should be Jaehaerys’s heir. His next-eldest son, Baelon (King Viserys’s father), was one obvious choice. But Aemon’s daughter Rhaenys—yeah, the same Rhaenys who appears in House of the Dragon—also possessed a strong claim. Rhaenys argued that if Aemon had ever become king, she would have been next in line for the throne as his only child, and Queen Alysanne had even called Rhaenys “our queen to be” when she was born. Yet Jaehaerys passed over his granddaughter and named Baelon the Prince of Dragonstone and his heir. Rhaenys’s husband, Corlys Velaryon, gave up his seat on Jaehaerys’s Small Council in protest, and House Baratheon (Rhaenys’s mother was Jocelyn Baratheon) was also upset. Queen Alysanne was also furious about the decision, telling her husband, “A ruler needs a good head and a true heart. A cock is not essential.”
When Rhaenys had a son, Laenor, Rhaenys argued that he should be the heir to the throne—but Jaehaerys stuck with Baelon. And when Baelon died of a burst appendix in 101 AC, the resulting succession uncertainty led to the Great Council that kicked off the pilot of House of the Dragon. Rhaenys (or more accurately, per Fire & Blood, Laenor, as it was his claim she was pushing), was passed over again, earning her the nickname “The Queen Who Never Was.” In many minds, the Council conclusively established that any male heir would have preference over a female one … but that didn’t stop Viserys from naming Rhaenyra his heir over Daemon, or the same lords of Westeros who elected him from bending the knee to his daughter.
That’s barely 100 years of Targaryen history, but that is the “order of things” Rhaenys is referring to when she talks with Rhaenyra. She and her kin have been passed over twice, seemingly solely because of her gender.
Still, the question of whether a woman can inherit the Iron Throne is hardly put to rest. Both Jaehaerys and Viserys inherited the throne in part because they were men—yet both, at least at times, named women as their heirs. So is it truly impossible for a woman to inherit the throne?
Let’s expand our view a bit to see whether there is any precedent outside of Targaryen history for Rhaenyra inheriting power. As I noted last week, Dorne is the best place in Westeros for female rulers. Children inherit titles and power there regardless of gender, thanks to the Rhoynish custom brought over by Princess Nymeria long before the Targaryens came to Westeros. However, at this point in history, Dorne isn’t even under the control of the Iron Throne—it successfully (if painfully) repelled Aegon’s Conquest and has resisted Targaryen rule ever since. It would be downright bizarre for Rhaenyra to point to an entirely independent kingdom as a reason her succession is legitimate.
Still, there are ladies in Westeros who inherited titles, land, and power whom Rhaenyra surely can point to.
During Aegon’s Conquest, the group of islands known as the Three Sisters (which lie in the Bite, a body of water north of King’s Landing) rebelled against the Arryns, the great house that rules over the Vale. The lords there installed Marla Sunderland as their queen … but her reign was short-lived. All it took was one sighting of a dragon—Visenya’s Vhagar—overhead for the very people who had coronated Marla to turn against and depose her. It’s not clear why the people of the Three Sisters chose Marla as their queen; her brother took over after she was exiled and imprisoned, so she wasn’t lacking for male family members.
Fast-forward a bit, and we can find other examples of female rule from the centuries after Rhaenys and Rhaenyra. In the Dunk and Egg novellas (which take place about 100 years after the events of House of the Dragon), Ser Duncan the Tall and child prince Aegon Targaryen (the future King Aegon V) run across a House Webber during their adventures. The head of House Webber at this time is Rohanne Webber, who was the only child of Wyman Webber, who had died a year or two prior to Dunk and Egg’s arrival. Known as the Red Widow for her long ginger braid, fiery temperament, and four marriages (all her husbands had died, for various reasons), Rohanne was a more than capable leader, even though many smallfolk thought her to be a witch.
But Rohanne’s ability to lead House Webber and its castle, Coldmoat, was limited by the terms set down by her father before his death. Wyman had decreed that Rohanne had to marry again by 211 AC, or else the castle and titles would be passed to Rohanne’s cousin. She did eventually find a new suitor, but the fact that she had to is an example of how, even when women can be the head of a house, they often don’t have the same freedom that men do. (Fun fact: Rohanne’s sixth and final marriage was to a Lannister; she is Tywin’s grandmother).
There are other examples, as well. Game of Thrones viewers will remember Lyanna Mormont, the young head of House Mormont who receives Jon Snow in Season 6 as he tries to rally the North against the White Walkers. Lyanna was the youngest daughter of Maege Mormont, who herself led the house after her nephew, Jorah, fled into exile in Essos (where he met up with and joined Daenerys at the beginning of Thrones). It’s not clear who the father of Maege’s children is—or whether she ever even married—but it’s clear that it is the women of House Mormont who control Bear Island.
And there are more female heads of houses in the main book series, most of whom we know very little about. In A Game of Thrones, Tanda Stokeworth is the elderly head of House Stokeworth, and she has only two daughters (both of whom she is trying to find husbands for in the first few books; Thrones viewers will recall that Bronn marries Lollys Stokeworth, allowing him to inherit the family’s castle). Arwyn Oakheart—the mother of Arys Oakheart, a knight of the Kingsguard—is a widow and the head of her house. Shella Whent is the head of the house that rules over Harrenhal before Tywin takes the castle in A Clash of Kings. Shyra Errol is listed as the lady of Haystack Hall. On and on it goes.
Women who lead their houses are rare, and they almost always have two things in common. The first is that, when we know about their family tree, they have no obvious or even obscure male relatives who could have been named heirs in their place. And the second is that most of these women come from lesser houses—there are virtually no examples of great houses being led permanently by women. As the stakes get higher, the preference for male rulers seems to grow.
Finally, we can also venture outside of the books themselves to look at the possibility of a queen on the Iron Throne. George R.R. Martin used to answer questions from fans, and in 1999, one asked about the potential for women to inherit lordships and titles. “Well, the short answer is that the laws of inheritance in the Seven Kingdoms are modeled on those in real medieval history,” Martin wrote. “Which is to say, they were vague, uncodified, subject to varying interpretations, and often contradictory.”
As Martin notes, the vagueness of the laws is something many lords prefer, since it gives them more control over matters of inheritance. Often, when a succession was extraordinarily complicated, it would be decided “on a case by case basis,” writes Martin. So no, there is no ironclad (so to speak) rule that women cannot sit the Iron Throne. But for Rhaenyra to do so, she’ll need a stronger claim than any of the male aspiring rulers before her.
RIP, Ryam Redwyne
This week we lost the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, Ser Ryam Redwyne. He had been a member of the Kingsguard for at least 45 years (the show’s timeline is a little murky; more on that another day), and while it’s not clear exactly how long he was the Lord Commander, he is widely considered one of the greatest knights in Westerosi history. Bran Stark, Jaime Lannister, and Sansa Stark all think of Ser Ryam’s skill and bravery in their various point-of-view chapters across the Song of Ice and Fire series. And House of the Dragon put him on screen for all of about five seconds. Oh well, someone had to go to make way for Rhaenyra’s eye candy to join the Kingsguard.
What are the Stepstones?
In the south of the Narrow Sea lie a series of islands between Dorne and Essos. Corlys has a map of them in Episode 1:
Legend states that these islands are the remnants of a land bridge that once connected Dorne and Essos. Now, the Stepstones sit smack in the middle of valuable shipping lanes between Westeros and Essos. As such, they are swarming with pirates. The pirates there have warred with the Dornish for centuries, and Prince Maegor tried to clear them out in 29 AC. But they always come back—there are still pirates there even during Game of Thrones.
Remember Thrones’ Salladhor Saan, the pirate friend of Davos and sometimes-ally of Stannis? He’s from the Stepstones. When he’s not selling his swords to fight in Westeros, he’s off commandeering ships closer to his home. Piracy is just a way of life in the Stepstones.
What’s up with all this Triarchy business?
In Dragon, though, the problem in the Stepstones isn’t pirates. It’s something called the Triarchy.
Across the Narrow Sea, in Essos, are nine city-states known as the Free Cities. We saw a few of these in Thrones: Daenerys begins her story in Pentos; Arya goes to Braavos in Season 5; and Tyrion and Varys visit Volantis on their way to Meereen in Season 5. In Dragon, three of these cities—Myr, Lys, and Tyrosh—have banded together to form the Triarchy.
The Triarchy has taken to weeding out the pirates that dominate the Stepstones. To do so, they’ve appointed Craghas Drahar—better known as Craghas Crabfeeder—as prince admiral of their fleets. In the opening of this episode, viewers saw why he’s called the Crabfeeder. He stakes his enemies into the ground and lets the crabs do the rest. Even by Thrones standards, this is brutal.
Technically, this is all hush-hush. Officially, the Free Cities are not involved in the Stepstones. But it’s an open secret that the Triarchy is funding Craghas and his ships.
Corlys reports on Craghas and the Triarchy in Episode 1. Since they’re ridding the Stepstones of its pirates, Viserys calls the report “good news,” and the topic is quickly dropped. But by Episode 2, Craghas has taken to attacking Corlys’s ships—Craghas’s navy has essentially become the pirates that they were supposed to eliminate.
Still, the Iron Throne and the Free Cities are in a Cold War–like stalemate that the crown is hesitant to break. If Viserys sends the royal fleet—or his dragons, as Rhaenyra suggests—it could be seen as an act of war. Instead, Corlys needs someone just outside of power in King’s Landing to help him with this problem. Someone who has plenty of military might and ambition, but just enough distance from the throne that he and his ally can convincingly claim that they are acting without an endorsement from the crown. Someone like … Daemon Targaryen.
What we know about Mysaria
Speaking of the free cities, Mysaria—who is neither pregnant nor engaged to be married—is from Lys, one of the cities that make up the Triarchy. She’s Prince Daemon’s, uh … paramour, I guess. The two met while Mysaria was a “dancing girl” in King’s Landing, and she’s accompanied him to Dragonstone. As she tells Daemon in this episode, she’s with him for liberation. That makes her a sort of Shae-like figure in this series, at least thus far. That’s pretty much all there is to know about her for now.
A very brief history of dragon eggs
Daemon steals a dragon egg in this episode, which is a big deal for self-explanatory reasons. Let’s go over what we know about these eggs.
Dragons lay eggs in clutches of about five at a time. These clutches are well guarded by the Targaryens. While it’s thought that Targaryen blood—or at least Valyrian blood—is necessary for riding a dragon, the exact nature of this relationship is not well understood. Targaryens simply cannot risk a dragon falling into the wrong hands.
For decades, it also wasn’t well understood what made dragon eggs hatch. For a time it was believed that dragons needed to hatch on Dragonstone, which was built around the Dragonmont volcano. This belief was supported by the fact that Old Valyria was built along a chain of volcanoes—called the Fourteen Flames—and even in this episode, Otto’s knights put Daemon’s dragon egg in a pot that appears to be emanating steam. There is believed to be some kind of relationship between heat and the eggs. (Recall that Daenerys’s stone eggs hatched after she jumped into a fire.)
Around 34 AC, a new tradition involving dragon eggs began when Princess Rhaena placed eggs in the cradles of her younger siblings, Jaehaerys and Alysanne. Those eggs hatched and became the dragons Vermithor and Silverwing, respectively. Jaehaerys placed eggs in the cradles of his children, and the practice became customary under the reign of Viserys. Daemon now wants to do the same for his children. (Well, he really just wants to provoke his brother and/or niece, but that’s beside the point for now.)
As Otto says in this episode, however, this tradition is for only the trueborn children of royalty. Even Laena and Laenor Velaryon—whose mother is a Targaryen—do not receive dragon eggs for their cradles. The idea that Daemon could give an egg to a child he would have with Mysaria is beyond the pale.
Vhagar’s history and whereabouts
Before little Laena Velaryon tells the king what a great and strong match she’d make—with a vocabulary and persuasive line of thinking that definitely came straight from a 12-year-old—she asks Viserys about some of the Targaryen dragons. She starts with Balerion the Black Dread, the dragon whose massive skull resides in King’s Landing. Balerion was Aegon the Conqueror’s dragon, but Viserys was Balerion’s final rider before the great beast died of old age in 94 AC at more than 200 years old. Viserys hasn’t taken to dragonback since.
Then Laena asks about Vhagar, the only living dragon from the days of the Conquest. It’s the second time that Vhagar has come up on the show, after Aemma said that Rhaenyra had picked out a dragon egg to put in her sibling’s cradle that looked like it could hatch into the next Vhagar. Two mentions in two episodes? Everyone watching this show should probably know about Chekhov’s dragon.
Vhagar is a little younger than Balerion (she’s about 160 at this point) and was originally the mount of Queen Visenya Targaryen. She’s a bronze-scaled dragon with green-blue highlights, and as a veteran of dozens of battles, she is the largest, fiercest, and most experienced dragon in Westeros. As Viserys details to Laena, the now-riderless Vhagar has made a home for herself somewhere on the coast of the Narrow Sea.
That Vhagar’s whereabouts are unknown suggests that the Targaryens’ control over the dragons isn’t nearly as strong as they might have the realm believe. That the show has made it a point to mention Vhagar twice already suggests her location won’t remain a mystery for long.
Who is Lyonel Strong?
Viserys’s burly, bearded master of laws gets an extended scene in this episode in which he advises the king to take Laena Velaryon to wife. It’s probably time to learn a little more about Lyonel and his house.
House Strong hails from the Riverlands, and at the time of Dragon it controls Harrenhal—the enormous but dilapidated castle where Viserys was declared Jaehaerys’s heir in the first scene of the premiere. During Aegon’s Conquest, the Strongs joined the Tullys in the Riverlands in rebelling against House Hoare, which controlled the region. After his victory, Aegon made the Tullys the lords of the Riverlands, but the Strongs also enjoyed close relations with the crown. Osmund Strong was Aegon’s fourth hand of the king, and he served in that role for 17 years. He’s likely a great-grandfather or other ancestor to Lyonel, though no complete family tree of the Strongs exists.
Jaehaerys strengthened relations with House Strong during his reign. He appointed Lucamore Strong to his Kingsguard (though Lucamore later broke his vows by fathering children with multiple different women, and was sent to the Wall), and he granted Harrenhal to Bywin Strong.
Lyonel himself is an interesting character. In Fire & Blood, he’s described as a great fighter—a large man who chooses his words carefully, something that causes many to mistake him for an oaf. But in Lyonel’s youth he trained at the Citadel to become a maester, earning six links before deciding that the scholar’s life wasn’t for him. As a result, he’s very learned when it comes to law in Westeros.
In F&B, Lyonel has two daughters who serve as handmaidens to Rhaenyra. Given that they go unnamed in the book, they have probably been cut from the show. He also has two sons—Harwin and Larys—who will certainly appear soon. But we’ll cover them another time.
A semi-exhaustive breakdown of the opening credits
We were promised opening credits for this week, and we got them. Here’s another look at them:
These credits are very reminiscent of Viserys’s model of Old Valyria, which we saw a bit more of in this episode. Like Thrones’ credits, Dragon’s depict a map—though this map isn’t of Westeros, but of the Targaryen family. Let’s break down what we’re looking at.
The credits begin with this image of dragons and what looks like a volcano. I have a hard time thinking this is anything other than Old Valyria.
But more than that, I think it also represents Aegon the Conqueror. The crown at the bottom looks like it could be Aegon’s, which Fire & Blood describes as “a Valyrian steel circlet, studded with rubies.” There are no rubies, but the gray color of this crown contrasts with the gold crowns of most of the rest of the Targaryens.
Next up are two more people, though we only get a good look at one:
It would make sense if these depicted Visenya and Rhaenys, Aegon’s two sister-wives, but it’s hard to make out the figurines. My theory is that the one that’s visible here represents Meraxes, Rhaenys’s dragon, who died in Dorne from a scorpion bolt through her eye. That long stick-looking thing (it’s really hard to make out, OK?!) could represent that bolt.
Perhaps we’ll get a better look at these two during future episodes. Next, though, I believe is Aenys, the second king of Westeros and Rhaenys’s son:
Aenys is said to have worn a large crown “of yellow gold with the faces of the Seven inlaid in jade and pearl.” This could fit.
After him, the intro seems to skip over Maegor (perhaps because he had no children, so nowhere for the blood to go), and moves on to two of Aenys’s children: Jaehaerys and Alysanne. Those two had 13 children together and therefore have many different streams of blood emanating from their union:
Follow a few of those trails, and there are two more people:
I’m fairly certain this represents Baelon and his sister-wife Alyssa. Baelon was briefly the hand of the king for his father Jaehaerys, explaining the hand insignia seen here. Baelon and Alyssa are also the parents of Viserys.
Moving on, we get a quick shot here of two figures in the distance:
That looks like it could be a seahorse, and the seafoam blue makes me think House Velaryon. These two could represent Corlys and Rhaenys. Rhaenys is one of Jaehaerys’s grandaughters.
The next two aren’t in doubt: It’s Viserys and his wife Aemma.
The crown here matches the one Viserys has worn in the show, and Aemma is represented by the sigil for the Arryns, a falcon soaring upward. I think that’s what is shown on the right here, though it’s difficult to be certain.
Then we get another quick shot, and another symbol for the hand of the king:
I’m pretty sure this represents Otto and Alicent Hightower. Otto is Viserys’s hand, explaining that hand symbol, and the lower one looks like the Hightower of Oldtown, which is the sigil of House Hightower.
After that, we get Rhaenyra:
This depiction matches the necklace Daemon gave her in Episode 1:
Then there’s a shot of dragons over some of the sigils of houses in Westeros. This appears to depict the Conquest:
And that’s pretty much it. We get one final, zoomed-out look at the model, but it doesn’t reveal anything interesting to my eye. There’s a lot of blood, though—you can probably guess there’ll be a lot of blood in the show soon as well.
Family Tree Watch
I’m trimming the family tree this week to focus on the current generation of Targaryens, but we still have a new face to add. Welcome to the family, Alicent Hightower! Here’s House Targaryen at the conclusion of Episode 2:
Next Time on…
Here’s the preview for next week:
Well, spoiler alert: Viserys and Alicent have a kid named Aegon. And yeah, Otto wants to put that child on the throne. That’s going to cause some issues. But first, we have to deal with some crabs.