When the king of Westeros first heard tell of “a man called Craghas Drahar” in the opening episode of House of the Dragon, the introduction was designed as a warning. To King Viserys Targaryen, though, it kind of sounded more like the threat of a good time.
During an obligatory gathering between the monarch and his Small Council to discuss the sundry pesky, nagging matters of the realm, a restless Viserys was made aware of a developing situation of strategic import. Lately, he was told, a newly formed faraway free-state alliance calling itself the Triarchy had taken to patrolling the Stepstones, a chain of jagged islands smack dab in the middle of lucrative shipping routes which had always attracted a certain salty, violent type of seafarer.
“They have massed on Bloodstone and are presently ridding the Stepstones of its pirate infestations,” Lord Corlys, a man known as the Sea Snake, explained at the time. “Well, that sounds suspiciously like good news,” Viserys responded. Corlys elaborated: “A man called Craghas Drahar has styled himself the prince-admiral of this Triarchy. They call him ‘the Crabfeeder’ due to his inventive methods of punishing his enemies.” Yet Viserys remained unmoved: “And are we meant to weep for dead pirates?” If anything, he was downright intrigued by the thought of this crabby fellow, whomever he was. And it wasn’t long before viewers were, too.
The opening sequences of both the second and third episodes of the new Game of Thrones prequel-spinoff series each featured up-close-and-personal looks at the cruel, crude handiwork of the Crabfeeder. He crept around foggy tidelands with his small and brutal tool of torture, nailing ostensible ne’er-do-wells to stakes with a bloody mallet and letting crabs and cresting waters take care of the rest. The setting was unforgettably haunting (and unimaginably pungent). The Crabfeeder was chilling and cryptic, all long stares and no words, his skin decaying, his face concealed by a sort of steampunk Phantom-of-the-Harpy mask. With each nearly imperceptible nod of his head, with every sociopathic murder, Crabfeeder came across as a dude who must surely have one hell of a backstory. Between the Crabfeeder’s buildup and his mystery—and, if you squinted just right, his enemy-of-my-enemy positioning—it seemed like maybe this guy might be around for the long haul.
And, in a sense, he was! After all, nearly three years passed between episodes 2 and 3, a period during which both Lord Corlys and the king’s brother Daemon Targaryen found themselves hopelessly mired in a battle with ol’ Crabfeeder that had proved unwinnable even with the assistance of dragons. That’s a commendable time to have outlasted two of the more respected fighters in Westeros! Which is to say: That’s a long time for a guy to be hiding out in grottos, outwaiting firestorms of dragonbreath and picking at his own increasingly rotting scabs! Who was this Craghas Drahar fellow anyway, and what’s the record-scratch freeze-frame sequence of events that led him to this grim, though effective, lifestyle?
Unfortunately, we will almost certainly never know, because far from delving into any of this, “Second of His Name” ended with Crabfeeder dying as he lived: inaudibly; in tatters; shrouded in the unseen darkness of some cave. Crabfeeder, we hardly knew ye. (I’m pouring out some grog and revisiting a copy of R.L. Stine’s Beach House, which contained a very scary scene involving rising seas, in your memory!)
For viewers of the show like me who didn’t come in already versed in George R.R. Martin’s source material, Crabfeeder’s swift and mostly off-screen exit at the hand of Daemon Targaryen seemed out of sync with not only the reputation that had preceded Craghas Drahar’s character but also the expectations I had developed, via Game of Thrones, about the endless depths of so many featured villains and various weirdos of Westeros. In HBO’s behind-the-scenes companion series The House That Dragons Built, after all, the show’s armorer, Tim Lewis, talks at length about fashioning Crabfeeder’s deadly weapon. “In the script, he is depicted as sort of a swashbuckling character, but [director] Greg [Yaitanes] was keen to give him a more monstrous feel,” Lewis said. “So rather than have a flashy sword, I wanted him to have a hammer.” Hearing this made me anticipate another Ramsay Bolton. Instead, Crabkeeper’s arc wound up being closer to, like, Biter.
As ever, for book readers, none of this came as quite so much of a surprise. While Crabfeeder is seeded with a little backstory in Martin’s work, all told he barely spans more than a few paragraphs. (Much of which has to do with him price-gouging the toll price for unencumbered passage through the Stepstones.) He dies swiftly, like so: “... when at last [Daemon] came face-to-face with Craghas Crabfeeder, he slew him single-handed and cut off his head with Dark Sister.” In the show, it’s more than his head that is offed (if you’re a glass-half-full type), but his demise is just as sudden.
If anything, House of the Dragon actually adds an intriguing element to Crabfeeder that isn’t present in the books: his painful-looking skin. Whether or not it’s the same greyscale that Game of Thrones viewers became familiar with—in The House That Dragons Built, one showrunner confirms that Craghas has had greyscale for many years, while another, the more coy Miguel Sapochnik, calls it “a really bad case of eczema”—it lends another facet to his otherwise missing sense of mission. Is he a nihilist who wants to watch other people speed-run, relatively speaking, the slow encroaching misery that he’s living? Who is he really working for? Is Daemon in for one hell of a rash now?
These questions outlast Crabfeeder. In the show, Craghas Drahar winds up mostly working on behalf of the advancement of Daemon Targaryen’s character, both in the eyes of the men fighting in the Stepstones who just watched Daemon successfully offer himself up as live bait, and also in the minds of HBO viewers who now understand the lengths Daemon will go just to bristle against his older brother Viserys.
With an epic narrative sweep that, duration-wise, has already surpassed all of Game of Thrones and still has far, far more to go, House of the Dragon is playing the long game; it is largely by necessity that so many people, however compelling, will wind up just being blips along the way. For the Crabfeeder, it’s actually kind of a fitting way to go out, even if it may also feel like a frustrating one. He, more than anyone, would understand that the sands of time are no match for the forever pull of the tides.