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 have already 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 Ringer’s 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 4: King Viserys is pushing his daughter to marry for the good of the realm. Who should Princess Rhaenyra wed, and why?
Claire McNear: “Life is pain, highness,” a wise man once told a different blond princess in an unfortunate matrimonial dilemma. “Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
On the one hand: Of the matches currently under possible consideration—at least by Rhaenyra—she should very obviously get her hand ribbons on with Ser Criston Cole, who alone seems to value her and not her title or bloodline. On the other: Being born into the ruling Westerosi family giveth (wealth, power, a giant fire-breathing lizard that flies) and taketh (freedom, presumably terrible sunburns). The king isn’t wrong that the realm and the Targaryens’ grip upon it are both unsteady, and a love match with a man foolish enough not to have been born into a noble family could spell disaster. And so, given that suitor number two—Jason Lannister—is a nasty little weasel, the choice for Rhaenyra is clear: incest.
We have, thankfully, been spared from an Episode 1 suggestion that the princess ought to pair up with her lightly treasonous uncle, Daemon. That leaves her wealthy, rift-healing cousin Laenor Velaryon and—yeesh—her 2-year-old half brother, Aegon. Call me wishy-washy on royal inbreeding, but I vote Laenor—who now has his very own dragon in Seasmoke—over the child-groom son of Rhaenyra’s father and former best friend.
Katie Baker: I like the idea of Laenor, that ol’ son of a Sea Snake, for two main reasons. For starters, he’s a dragonrider, which to me should totally be table stakes for Rhaenyra. (Anyone who has ever navigated travel when one half of a couple gets upgraded to first class while the other languishes near the rear bathroom can attest to the strain that flight differences can put on a relationship!) Secondly, the marriage would be suitably incestuous, and not, like, too much—too much would be more like getting betrothed to wee Aegon, her 2-year-old half brother/maybe usurper, as Otto Hightower tried to push. Finally, there are various strategic advantages that I can explain to you just after I make a visit to the stonemason to repair my proto-Lego model of the empire. Anyway, it all makes sense to me—so much sense that I’m guessing the actual outcome is that she runs off with some trustafarian buddy of Criston Cole that we’ve never even met. Hope he doesn’t mind sitting in coach.
Jonathan Bartlett: Let’s start with who Rhaenyra shouldn’t marry: her baby brother Aegon. Otto Hightower, what are you doing, man? I understand House Targaryen has a penchant for incest, but let’s pump the brakes here. And hey, I’m all for a healthy relationship built on love and compassion (we see you Criston Cole), but even the stubborn Rhaenyra must know that a quiet life full of long walks in the woods isn’t her destiny. If we’re actually considering the good of the realm, then I have to give credit to Lyonel Strong and his suggestion of Laenor Velaryon. As a non-book reader, all I can consider is who we’ve met on the show so far, and to that end, the case for Laenor is compelling. He’s strategically positioned as a member of a wealthy family who can unite the kingdom’s two most powerful houses. Not to mention he’s age appropriate and can ride a freaking dragon. What more could Rhaenyra ask for? Aside from, you know, the love thing of course.
Megan Schuster: Rhaenyra should marry a Stark! Listen, the lords and ladies of the North may not always make for the most attractive of mates: We saw in Game of Thrones that it took some negotiating and influence to get Joffrey to agree to an engagement with Sansa Stark, and even then Sansa was pretty much only at court to play punching bag for Cersei. Plus, while Winterfell is one of the most important holds in the kingdom, it’s not a sexy place, per se. I mean think about it: If you were going on vacation, or heaven forbid traveling to visit your in-laws, would you rather go north, or somewhere south and beachy like Dorne?
That said, what better way for Rhaenyra to show King Viserys that she’s taking the Targaryen prophecy seriously—that which was revealed at the end of the first HotD episode and foresaw the end of man at the hands of a long winter—than to forge an alliance with one of the realm’s first lines of defense? That would help boost her royal bona fides in her father’s eyes, and prove that she’s playing chess, not checkers.
Andrew Gruttadaro: I promise you I take absolutely no pleasure in writing this. Interfamilial marriage may be commonplace within House Targaryen but it is NOT super chill, in my personal opinion. All that said, if Rhaenyra were to marry her uncle—sorry, just puked a little in my mouth—Daemon, it would be an inarguably advantageous union. Enlisting the King of the Narrow Sea (as he’s called in the preview for Episode 4) would bolster Rhaenyra’s claim to the Iron Throne and force all the haters in the land to bite their tongues in order to save their testicles; it would unite a rapidly fracturing Targaryen dynasty; it would once again make House Velaryon an ally to the crown after Viserys so impetuously severed that tie; it would create an army backed by four dragons—instead of bellowing at each other, Syrax and Caraxes (as well as Laenor’s Seasmoke and Rhaenys’s Meleys) would be fighting alongside one another. Most of all, Daemon’s status as a respected warrior to be feared would bring legitimacy to Rhaenyra’s abilities as a regent, which she so clearly possesses but which have not been acknowledged because of her gender.
Again, I’m fully aware that I am writing, in ink, that a girl should wed her uncle. I apologize to my ancestors. And if Rhaenyra wants to marry for love, I know a hot guy nursing some boar-related injuries who she should call. But if the thing she really wants is more power, she could do worse than Daemon.
Khal Davenport: Despite what little I’ve heard about the inner workings of the ruling families in these books, I’m going to go with my heart instead of my gut and say Ser Criston Cole will be the one Princess Rhaenyra weds. I remember watching the House of the Dragon premiere and picking up on that moment when Cole sonned Daemon during their joust, which indirectly led to Cole becoming Rhaenyra’s shield. What I’ve seen on-screen thus far is tame; a knight and a princess being friendly friends. That said, I imagine there will be a point when the other shoe will drop, and their friendship will turn a corner.
Still, time in this show keeps jumping from episode to episode, so at some point the future Princess Rhaenyra we encounter may be a different person altogether. And, because I still listen to my gut, I imagine that someone much closer may be the one to wed the princess.
Arjuna Ramgopal: It’s probably not going to happen since he took the oath of a Kingsguard, but Rhaenyra should marry Ser Criston Cole. He and Rhaenyra have chemistry: Give me a romantic drama with these two, and I would watch. Criston also fits Viserys’s suggestion that Rhaenyra find someone she could genuinely care about: Criston’s basically the only person in the show Rhaenyra’s gotten along with. (Sorry, Alicent, but once you married Viserys, that ship sailed.) But this marriage can’t happen legally because of that other little vow Criston took. So what should Rhaenyra actually do? Honestly, she should find someone away from all the chaos and marry that dude. Why get wrapped up in all this politicking? Plus, marrying someone who’s a farmer or a fisherman could bring some new and unexpected excitement into Rhaenyra’s everyday life. Instead of planning her succession with her partner, she can learn the ins and outs of practical matters. It would also anger her father and everyone else in the realm, which strikes me as something Rhaenyra would take great pleasure in.