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‘House of the Dragon’ Focuses on Its Core Four

Forget the rest of the realm: Episode 4 of the ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel is all about intra-Targaryen drama

HBO/Ringer illustration

Editor’s note: On Saturday, Ringer senior staff writer Jonathan Tjarks passed away. You can find information about how to support Jonathan’s family here.

We knew all along that, unlike the wide-ranging Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon was going to be a more tightly focused Targaryen family affair. And now, after the fourth episode brought a budding romance between a married Targaryen uncle and his Targaryen niece to the screen, we know it to be true in all senses of the phrase.

After an uneven third episode, whose political highs were weighed down by a nonsensical action scene, Dragon eschewed the violence this week. (Well, mostly eschewed—rest in peace to the nameless House Bracken bully who took a sword to the gut.) Instead, it zoomed in on the drama among the four main characters at the center of this scaled-down story.

“King of the Narrow Sea” is built around a series of interactions within this quartet, with nearly every possible pairing sharing a key, intimate scene: Viserys and Daemon, Daemon and Rhaenyra, Rhaenyra and Alicent, Alicent and Viserys, Viserys and Rhaenyra. Other important characters, such as Corlys, Rhaenys, and their children, are absent entirely; Otto Hightower is here, but removed from office at episode’s end. Instead, we’re left with the main characters and the combination of palace intrigue and family drama that characterized Game of Thrones at its peak.

The family drama starts early in the episode, when Daemon, fresh off his hero ball triumph in the Stepstones, returns to King’s Landing for the first time in years. Daemon enters the throne room wearing a new crown and his customary smirk—but he defers to and embraces his king, setting off a jovial afternoon in the castle yard. Even in a time of peace, the king is beset by pesky problems and often isolated from and distrustful of his advisers, his persistent physical ailments symbolizing the deterioration of his rule. But now, full of nostalgia and laughter, Viserys looks as happy as he ever has.

“Though far from blind to his brother’s flaws,” the Fire & Blood source text says, the king “cherished his memories of the free-spirited, adventurous boy that Daemon had been.” That dynamic is clearly on display here. Viserys wants so badly to believe his brother has finally come to his senses and that this massive weight can be lifted off his chest—which only heightens the betrayal he feels soon after, when he learns about Daemon’s dalliance with Rhaenyra in the Street of Silk.

Just last episode, Viserys seemed so hesitant to use physical force that killing a bound-and-trussed stag proved difficult; now, he has no qualms about kicking his brother or holding a knife to his throat. There may yet be time for Viserys and Daemon to reunite again, but this feels like a more permanent break between brothers.

This second intra-Targaryen relationship feels a tad rushed within this episode, especially compared to how Daemon’s flirtation with Rhaenyra develops in the book after his return to court:

Daemon spent long hours in her company, enthralling her with tales of her journeys and battles. He gave her pearls and silks and books and a jade tiara said once to have belonged to the Empress of Leng, read poems to her, dined with her, hawked with her, sailed with her, entertained her by making mock of the greens at court, the “lickspittles” fawning over Queen Alicent and her children. He praised her beauty, declaring her to be the fairest maid in all the Seven Kingdoms. Uncle and niece began to fly together almost daily, racing Syrax against Caraxes to Dragonstone and back.

At the very least, those dragon dates would have been a worthy spectacle for the screen. But from their very first scene together in “The Heirs of the Dragon,” Rhaenyra and Daemon’s chemistry has crackled, and that much continues—dragon dates or not—in “King of the Narrow Sea.”

Despite their age difference, despite their family relationship (or perhaps, among Targaryens, because of it), the two characters display a rare level of comfort and intimacy. Daemon fingers the necklace he gave Rhaenyra years earlier, in that first episode, and the pair converses in High Valyrian once more, despite speaking English with everyone else. Their bond is special even before Rhaenyra sneaks out at night.

Their adventures in the seedier portions of King’s Landing form a cinematic backdrop for a reaffirmation of the four main characters’ importance to the story, too. As Rhaenyra and Daemon enter a pleasure den “where people come to take what they want,” the episode connects the quartet by cross-cutting Alicent and Viserys’s coupling with Rhaenyra and Daemon’s near thing.

Yet while the incestuous pair rounds some bases, the two don’t complete the act. Daemon pulls away from his niece, who returns to the castle and instead devotes her energies to Criston Cole, the comely Kingsguard knight at her door.

(That Daemon doesn’t deny the false accusations that he had sex with his niece might also shed new light on the “heir for a day” controversy from the pilot episode. Remember, we never saw Daemon actually say those words, and the king took his silence as an admission of guilt—but he might be too stubborn to deny any claims against him, true or not.)

The drama between Rhaenyra and Alicent flows from there, and counts as a family feud because Alicent has married into the Targaryen household and her children receive the Targaryen name. Initially, the yearslong frost between the former friends thaws a tad, when Alicent confides in her stepdaughter and the pair hold hands. However, Rhaenyra lies to Alicent’s face—doing the relationship no favors, as it’s repaired with a faulty foundation.

And at episode’s end, the four-character dance comes full circle with Viserys and Rhaenyra. Because of the daughter’s indiscretions, Episode 3’s agreement that Rhaenyra would marry a man of her choice is no more, as the king mandates a marriage to Laenor Velaryon to shore up his political flank.

With a renewed partnership between the Seven Kingdoms’ two Valyrian houses, the Targaryrens and Velaryons, the king says, “The House of the Dragon will stand as one for a further generation.” The statement drips with dramatic irony, given that this show details the steps to a civil war.

Yet it also conveys a mission statement of sorts, because this series is so concerned with the House of the Dragon—one single house, not the many who starred in Thrones. The Velaryons are mentioned but not visible in this episode; the Lannisters are silent after saying their greetings in Episode 3; other houses of great renown are symbolically dismissed when Rhaenyra cuts short her episode-opening tour of the realm.

“Lowborns are of no consequence,” Rhaenyra tells Daemon while they skulk through Flea Bottom, to which he responds, “They’re of great consequence if you expect to rule one day.” That much might be true—and follows Mysaria’s comments in Episode 2 in potentially setting the stage for further exploration of Westeros 170 years before Thrones.

But for now, the camera is tied to the Targaryens and devoted to documenting their familial drama. This is a show about the House of the Dragon—it’s the title!—and almost everyone else is of no consequence to those who call the Red Keep home.