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‘House of the Dragon’ Episode 4 Mailbag: What’s Daemon’s Plan?

Spoiler-free answers to questions about Daemon Targaryen’s fighting and scheming skills, a new dragon, and a new hand

HBO/Ringer illustration

Daemon is banished from King’s Landing after engaging in a host of questionable actions. King Viserys needs a new hand after stripping Otto of his position. And a new, fearsome dragon looks poised to join the show.

After Episode 4, “King of the Narrow Sea,” you had questions about what just happened, and what’s about to happen, on House of the Dragon. Like every week, we have answers. To appear in future mailbags, message me at @zachkram on Twitter or each week after the Dragon episode airs.

Mike asks, “Can you please tell us how good at fighting Daemon is?”

This is a more complicated question now than it was in Game of Thrones. While warriors in Thrones could be judged almost entirely on their proficiency with a weapon of choice—typically a sword, though with some variation, like Robert Baratheon’s hammer—Targaryens in the Dragon era can fight both on the ground and in the air.

Let’s tackle Daemon’s abilities atop Caraxes first, both because there’s less to say in this dimension and, perhaps more importantly, because dragon duels are more often decided by the dragons than their riders.

In fact, Westeros has hosted only one dragon vs. dragon battle in its known history at this point—and no character alive in Dragon was involved. In a battle of succession in the year 43 AC (After the Conquest), King Maegor the Cruel met his nephew, the unfortunately nicknamed Aegon the Uncrowned, in the skies above the Gods Eye (a large lake near Harrenhal). Riding Balerion the Black Dread, previously Aegon the Conqueror’s mount, Maegor overwhelmed Aegon the Uncrowned and his dragon, the much smaller Quicksilver.

For now, the only time we’ve ever seen the Rogue Prince go to war on dragonback was in the Stepstones, at the start of Episode 3, when he didn’t face much competition because none of his opponents could take to the skies. So let’s mark Daemon’s dragonbound fighting as a TBD.

What about his solo skills? The main issue here is that Daemon hasn’t had much of a chance to prove himself on the battlefield, as the Seven Kingdoms have been at peace for essentially his whole life. As Rhaenys notes early in Dragon when observing a joust, “These knights are as green as summer grass. None have known real war.”

This is a major contrast to characters in Thrones, who had plenty of opportunities to amass martial accomplishments before the events of that show begin—in both big, world-changing events like Robert’s Rebellion, and smaller battles throughout the previous decades. Jaime Lannister, for instance, was just 15 years old when he participated in the fight against the outlaw Kingswood Brotherhood, after which he received his knighthood. Tywin Lannister proved his mettle in the War of the Ninepenny Kings. Barristan Selmy became a legend when he rescued the Mad King from a hostage situation in the Defiance of Duskendale.

Daemon has featured in only one real battle thus far, when he slew many of Craghas Drahar’s followers, as well as the Crabfeeder himself in off-screen single combat. But we’ve never seen the Crabfeeder duel anyone else, so we can’t really be sure of his ability. And the one time we saw Daemon fight a foe of renown, albeit in an artificial environment, he lost to Criston Cole in their joust in the Dragon pilot.

Daemon still has some advantages in a fight, to be clear. He received extensive martial training while growing up; he’s fierce and full of courage; he beats Gwayne Hightower in a joust before running into Criston. Daemon also wields the Valyrian blade Dark Sister, which could give him the (sharp) edge in a close contest.

But he doesn’t have the track record we came to expect of Thrones’ best fighters, like two-handed Jaime or Brienne or the legendary Arthur Dayne. I’m not saying Daemon’s necessarily overrated as a fighter, but I am saying that college football fans would argue he ain’t played nobody.

Another Bag of Bones asks, “Is it possible that Daemon has no interest in Rhaenyra but just really wanted to fuck over both the princess and Viserys?”

Rhaenyra and Daemon’s adventure in the Street of Silk in “King of the Narrow Sea” comes from a disputed section of the Fire & Blood history, in which two different sources supply different explanations for why Viserys banishes Daemon from the capital so soon after his return.

The first source—the drier of the two—says that Daemon “seduced his niece the princess and claimed her maidenhood.” That’s what the king believes, but based on this episode, it’s only partially true.

The second, more salacious source is a jester named Mushroom, who claims that Daemon offered his niece help in seducing Criston Cole, the true object of her desire. As part of these lessons, Mushroom says:

At night he would smuggle her from her rooms dressed as a page boy and take her secretly to brothels on the Street of Silk, where the princess could observe men and women in the act of love and learn more of these “womanly arts” from the harlots of King’s Landing. … Princess Rhaenyra remained a maiden, for she wished to preserve her innocence as a gift for her beloved. But when at last she approached her white knight, using all she had learned, Ser Criston was horrified and spurned her. The whole tale soon came out, in no small part thanks to Mushroom himself. King Viserys at first refused to believe a word of it, until Prince Daemon confirmed the tale was true. “Give the girl to me to wife,” he purportedly told his brother. “Who else would take her now?”

This story is also partially true—the described disguise is the same as we see in the episode, and Mushroom is right that Rhaenyra and Daemon don’t actually have sex. But it’s mistaken in other respects, namely that Criston doesn’t spurn the princess afterward. Ultimately, the story we see on screen seems to meld different elements of the two tales, which can help inform how we interpret Daemon’s motivation.

Note that Daemon must have known that the king would learn about his and Rhaenyra’s dalliance. The “heir for a day” controversy in the pilot demonstrates that his exploits in a Flea Bottom pleasure house will be reported to the Red Keep. Daemon is himself very recognizable in such a setting, having spent so much time in the seedy neighborhood that he’s nicknamed Lord Flea Bottom, and he ensures that Rhaenyra is recognizable, too, by removing her beanie disguise just before they enter the pleasure den. Nobody would mistake the two blond Targaryens for anyone else.

Thus, Daemon displays a great deal of cunning and foresight, for he later suggests a remedy to the issue by proposing marriage, just as Mushroom’s tale says. Follow the steps of Daemon’s possible plan here: If Rhaenyra has lost her virginity, then she won’t be able to find a suitable husband. Thus Daemon could wed the king’s heir and be right back in the mix to sit the Iron Throne, despite tumbling down the pecking order upon young Aegon’s birth.

Yet at the same time, I don’t believe that a man who looks at his, uh, niece like this isn’t also interested on another level:

So maybe he viewed the trip to Flea Bottom as an opportunity to kill two birds with one scandalous stone—he could position himself for more potential power while also enjoying the evening for pleasure’s sake. Absent a more thorough explanation from Daemon, whose internal motivations are inscrutable, that’s the best we can surmise for now.

The Wardog asks, “How excited are we about the debut of Vaghar?”

Extremely! Vhagar epitomizes all the best, most fearsome aspects of any dragon alive during this period of Westerosi history. Born on Dragonstone in the year 52 BC (Before the Conquest), Vhagar is the last living creature from the time of Aegon’s Conquest. She’s big enough that she can swallow a horse whole. Her flames “could and did melt steel and stone,” Fire & Blood says.

Fire & Blood is full of extreme praise for the ancient dragon. It describes Vhagar as “the oldest, largest, most terrible dragon in the world” and “the hardened survivor of a hundred battles,” and notes that “no living dragon could match Vhagar for size or ferocity.” Multiple characters within the text speculate that Vhagar herself is worth two or three other dragons in a fight.

And Vhagar has succeeded with multiple riders already in her long life. Her first rider was Visenya, Aegon’s elder sister-wife, whom she helped win control of the Seven Kingdoms for the Targaryens. Following Visenya’s death, she didn’t take a rider for 29 years, until Baelon—Viserys and Daemon’s father—claimed her. As Viserys tells young Laena Velaryon in Episode 2, Vhagar has once more remained un-ridden since Baelon’s death—but she’s hanging out somewhere nearby, just waiting for another human rider.

Given the awe that some of Drogon’s action scenes on Thrones inspired, it might be hard for Dragon to convey proper scale when comparing one dragon to another. But by all accounts, Vhagar should make Drogon look about as powerful as Mushu from Mulan. Get very excited, friends.

Laarsen asks, “Betting market on King Viserys’ new Hand?”

Riley McAtee has you covered on the pluses and minuses of the actual candidates—but because you asked for odds, I’ll dive into some hand-of-the-king math for you.

Otto was the 16th hand since the Targaryens took power in Westeros. This is a position with tremendous turnover: Although the first 15 hands averaged six to seven years in office, that figure is skewed by the 40 years that Septon Barth spent as hand to King Jaehaerys. The median hand lasted only three years in the role, meaning Otto did well to remain as long as he did. (Otto is replaced earlier in the book, after eight years, but the show has fudged the timeline and extended his stay to around 15.)

Actually, it’s unusual that Viserys is on only his second hand despite ruling for more than a decade. Aegon the Conqueror had five hands during his time on the Iron Throne. Three hands served Aenys during a reign of only half a decade. Two hands served Maegor. And Jaehaerys, the longest-reigning king, needed seven hands, the last of whom was Otto.

In terms of credentials, the most common type of person who becomes hand is a lord—which makes sense because the hand has historically been chosen to help primarily with political alliances. While other Small Council positions, like the lord commander of the Kingsguard and grand maester, require specialized skill sets, the hand does not.

To date, the 16 hands have included nine lords, three knights (including Otto, who was apparently knighted in his youth despite never displaying any fighting ability on the page or the screen), two septons, and two princes. At this point in Targaryen history, no maester has yet been named hand.

And in alphabetical order, hands have come from the Baratheon, Celtigar, Harroway, Hightower, Redwyne, Smallwood, Stokeworth, Strong, Targaryen, Tully, and Velaryon houses, with some repeats along the way.

With all of that history in mind, your favorites to replace Otto are Lord Lyonel Strong and Lord Corlys Velaryon. Let’s learn the winner in Episode 5.