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‘House of the Dragon’ Precap: One Burning Question Ahead of Episode 5

Every Friday, Ringer staffers who haven’t read any of the ‘Game of Thrones’ books gather to answer one key question ahead of Sunday’s ‘House of the Dragon’ episode. This week’s topic: ethical compromise.

HBO/Ringer illustration

As you’re probably aware by now, House of the Dragon is a prequel. The Game of Thrones spinoff, based on George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood, takes place nearly 200 years before the events of the original HBO series. Unlike the original series, which ran out of material to adapt by the end of its fifth season, key details from the Targaryen dynasty already have been published in Martin’s fictional history. If you want to know how the story ends, you could easily Google it—or, you know, read a book.

But since some of The Ringers staff have yet to read any of Martin’s novels, we decided to create this weekly precap for those of you who remain blissfully unaware of what’s about to happen next. This is a dialogue for the viewers treating House of the Dragon like a good ol’ mystery box that twists and turns from week to week. Without further ado, let’s get to this week’s prompt:

The burning question heading into Episode 5: Who is the most ethically compromised House of the Dragon character?

Arjuna Ramgopal: Otto Hightower is the most ethically compromised person on this show, and it isn’t close. In four episodes, this man has proved that he’s a more effective version of everyone’s favorite meddler, Littlefinger. So far, Otto has gotten rid of Daemon as heir, married his daughter to the king, suggested the king’s daughter marry her brother/Otto’s grandson to secure said grandson’s place on the Iron Throne, and reported dirt on the queen-to-be to the king. And that’s just four episodes! Imagine how many things we didn’t see over the five-ish years the show has already moved through.

Does anyone think that the king removing Otto as the hand is the end of the guy? Absolutely not! Especially with the revelation that the previous hand, Baelon Targaryen, died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Otto is willing to manipulate, lie, use his daughter to get what he wants, blackmail, and possibly even kill. Sure, we could cite any Targaryen as ethically compromised, but Otto especially will go to any lengths to get what he wants.

Claire McNear: In terms of sheer malfeasance despite knowing better, HotD’s runaway jerk is Daemon. He’s rotten to his on-off lover Mysaria, humiliating her both publicly and privately. He’s positively dreadful to his yet-to-appear wife, whom he goes out of his way to insult whenever anyone has the temerity to suggest he pay her a visit. He’s dismissive to the point of endangering the Targaryen dynasty with Viserys, whose decision to anoint Rhaenyra as heir only inflamed Daemon’s public insubordination. And now we’ve seen him lure Rhaenyra—who he knew idolized him, tensions with the king be damned—into a humiliating trap, apparently so he could force Viserys to accept Daemon’s flippant offer of marriage. (Yet another barb for poor Mrs. Daemon, who presumably does not share the Targaryen view of plural marriage.) Oh, and there was that little night of dismemberment with his handpicked golden cloak pals in the City Watch. At least Caraxes seems to like him!

Jonathan Bartlett: I was listening to The Ringer’s own Talk the Thrones (great podcast, ever heard of it?!) and Chris asked both Joanna and Mallory what they thought was the most messed up thing that happened in Episode 4. Now, most messed up and most ethically compromised are certainly two different categories, but the question got me thinking. Daemon is a strong contender to be sure, as is that damn Otto Hightower lurking around the corner, but those two men acted as we figured they would. They both operate by their own moral codes, so to call either most compromised seems hollow.

On that basis, I believe Princess Rhaenyra is the winner. When Queen Alicent confronted her under the godswood, the usually stoic princess was noticeably flustered, desperate to cover up her actions from the night before. It was our first time seeing how she would act when backed into a corner, and instead of offering a simple side-stepping of the truth, she went so far as to swear on her mother’s memory that her virtue remains intact. While it doesn’t! A truly shocking action I wouldn’t expect from the usually candid Rhaenyra. If she’s willing to throw her dead mom out as a shield for her deceit, I wonder just what else she is willing to do to protect her power.

Megan Schuster: Imagine you’re a husband in 1000 BC (or whenever the hell HotD takes place) whose pregnant wife is about to give birth. The baby is in a bad position, there’s nothing the doctors can do, so they give you a choice of saving the baby or letting both the baby and mother die. Makes some sense, gruesome and awful as it may be, to pick the baby. But what if you’re not picking the baby because it’s the lesser of two evils, but because you think this baby could be the next king and ensure your family’s dynasty for decades to come?

Now imagine you’re this same man, post-death of your wife, and your eldest child clearly needs your support. But instead of being there for her in any meaningful way, you marry her best friend/only confidant and alienate her by allowing outsiders to question her place in the family (and on the Iron Throne). Then imagine that instead of dealing with all of this—or, I don’t know, making any positive contribution to the kingdom you claim to prize above all else—you hang out in a drunken stupor for a while and allow other people to fight your battles (literally) and clean up your familial messes for you.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present King Viserys Targaryen. What a guy.

Katie Baker: The bodies of King Viserys’s late wife and son were barely even in the ground when Otto Hightower started scheming, sending his own daughter into private chambers to charm the king. When that worked, Otto—having become his boss’s father-in-law—tried to set up an exponentially more uncomfortable union: this one between Princess Rhaenyra and her toddler half-brother Aegon. No! No!! His allegiances were clearly to his highness second, himself first.

Having pieced this together, Viserys was justified in firing Otto. The flesh-eaten monarch doesn’t need any more festering issues in his inner circle! Except that trying to sideline Otto will surely only have the opposite effect. While the former hand to the increasingly fingerless king has been one of the show’s most ethically compromised people up until now, that has been because of the tension between Otto’s royal duties and his personal position. Eliminating the former now sets him morally free to pursue the latter—which could cause some real problems for Viserys after all.

Aric Jenkins: In terms of questionable ethics, look no further than the name itself: the Sea Snake. Corlys Velaryon might come off as a loyal family man who only spars with Viserys for the good of the kingdom, but truthfully, he’s an arrogant tycoon who prizes wealth and power above all else. Besides the fact that he’s willing to pimp out his own children—including his 12-year-old daughter, who faced the prospect of marrying an adult whose hair at this point seems white due to age rather than Targaryen tradition—Corlys repeatedly holds the crown hostage to his selfish demands. Corlys is the richest man in Westeros and has the world’s largest navy at his disposal, yet this sensitive crybaby still feels the need to manufacture a rift with longtime allies who are literally family (cousins!).

For someone so concerned about his shipping lanes and the general safety of the realm, why is Corlys provoking infighting that strays dangerously close to outright sedition? Then he runs into battle with the banished Daemon to fight a war their king clearly opposed—before refusing to return to the Small Council and threatening to marry little Laena Velaryon to the son of the Sealord of Braavos. Corlys tying his family to the Free Cities would be nothing short of a disaster: it would undermine the rule of the Targaryens, diminish their military, and leave the kingdom vulnerable to assault from outside forces. So, yeah, like I said, the snake name certainly fits.