At least four years have passed since the death of Baelon Targaryen—the “Heir for a Day”—an event that opened the succession vacuum on House of the Dragon. The Queen, Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey), has since given birth to a son (the eldest son and first-in-line to the throne by gendered tradition) and now nurses another child. Meanwhile, King Viserys I (Padddy Considine) continues to age and develop totally gross-looking lesions across his back and arms, an obvious portend for a diseased kingdom on the edge of civil war.
Episode 4 keeps the action around 116 AC, with Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) now about 18 years old. (The series is expected to jump forward in time by another fifteen years in the coming episodes.)
The episode unfolds like an incestuous bildungsroman (a coming-of-age saga). The literary genre often features a first sexual experience for the protagonist, whose development frames the overall posture of the story—often speaking to the loss of one’s innocence and the entering into the adult world. While Game of Thrones marked this moment with sexual violence (Daenerys’ forced betrothal to Drogo), House of the Dragon chooses to mark the occasion with … well, whatever tf is happening between Rhaenyra and Daemon. Was it a power move? Was it desire? Was it … consensual? Yes? Yes? No?
Let’s get into things.
Having agreed to at least chose her own husband (a compromise from not taking any), Rhaenyra hears a dozen proposals from potential suitors, leaving the room with her Kingsguard, Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), after two suitors begin to sword fight. It is clear the episode will hinge on Rhaenyra’s marriage choice—a choice that turns out was never to be a choice at all.
On her way back to King’s Landing, Daemon’s dragon descends close to her ship, knocking her to the deck and signaling a continued antagonism between her and the King’s brother (although she looks up somewhat smitten by Daemon’s tactic). In the Throne Hall, Daemon presents Viserys with the Crabfeeder’s axe, a sign that his forces have defeated the Free Cities’ mercenary commander. He then bends the knee to Viserys who embraces him, ending the years of tension—and Daemon’s near sedition.
Later, Rhaenyra and Alicent seem to mend their own quarrel as they discuss the burden of marriage and childbirth. Rhaenyra suggests Alicent’s role is simply to produce heirs for the King.
She then discusses the same fear with Daemon, whose return to King’s Landing she questions. (Rhaenyra thinks Daemon is up to no good.) She tells Daemon she doesn’t wish to marry, a statement immediately pressured in the following scene during a small council meeting.
The Sea Snake, Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), has not returned to King’s Landing, instead keeping control of the islands and posing to marry his daughter to a noble-born member of the Free Cities—a move that would undermine the power of the Targaryen rule. It becomes clear that Viserys must rectify his decision not to marry Corlys’ daughter. He must make peace with Corlys.
She’s the Man
Late one night, Rhaenyra receives a message in her chamber telling her to meet outside the Red Keep. There, disguised as a page, she finds Daemon, and the two of them travel incognito into King’s Landing where a Renaissance-like festival is being held.
The two join a crowd watching a parody performance of the royal succession—with characters playing both Daemon and Rhaenyra. The crowd reacts negatively to Rhaenyra’s character, demonstrating her unpopularity among the people. She storms off, telling Daemon that she does not need the people’s approval to rule them. (This may be an important conviction for the civil war likely to come.)
Rhaenyra then follows Daemon (after being chased by him; there is an uncomfortable predatorial flirtation all throughout the festival sequence) to a brothel. In the inner-most room, men and women engage in the most taboo acts. Here, Daemon kisses Rhaenyra. The two then begin to undress each other with Daemon guiding Rhaenyra to a wall and then turning her around with her pants down. Rhaenyra, however, then turns around and pursues Daemon who begins to find the experience unpleasant and then storms off. The scene is crosscut with Alicent copulating with the King—disinterestedly and out of duty. Rhaenyra and Daemon appear to be kissing with passion, an indicator that neither wishes to do what is expected of them to strengthen the crown. They both want what they want.
(It’s unclear if Daemon made the move performatively to besmirch Rhaenyra’s name—knowing they were being watched and that word would travel around the city—or out of desire. Or both. Rhaenyra herself seems to reciprocate and pursue Daemon. Again, if this is out of pleasure or some other motive, it’s unclear.)
After Daemon leaves, Rhaenyra returns to the Red Keep where she seduces and then completes her night’s quest with her Kingsguard, Cole. (The two have also had a flirtationship over the last couple episodes.) Again, the scene seems to represent Rhaenyra’s rejection of duty in favor of her own desire.
Word travels through Otto Hightower’s spies that Daemon and Rhaenyra were “coupling.” Hightower informs Viserys who accuses his Hand of using the information to ruin Rhaenyra’s name and bolster his grandson’s throne claim.
Meanwhile, Rhaenyra lies to Alicent when asked if she slept with her uncle.
The incident is important because, well, traditions. Rhaenyra’s chastity is essential in marrying her to a noble house. Viserys even makes the point that whether or not Rhaenyra slept with Daemon is unimportant; if people believe she has, then her marriage-ability is somewhat threatened. (This fallout from her decision seems to reinforce the idea that Rhaenyra made this choice in order to undermine future marriage.)
Rhaenyra’s lie to Alicent, however, seems to be the more grievous action, as it introduces a potential bombshell moment that could end their friendship—and force the Queen to side with another would-be successor.
Later Viserys has Daemon dragged into the Throne Room, where he once again banishes him from King’s Landing—but not before Daemon proposes a marriage between himself and Rhaenyra.
Fed up with everyone telling him what to do, Viserys tells Rhaenyra that she will marry the Sea Snake’s son, Laenor Velaryon. (Something someone else told him to do last episode.) Then, doing what Rhaenyra tells him to do, Viserys relieves Otto Hightower of the position of Hand—convinced that he’s overly keen to advance his family’s own throne claims.
The episode ends with the maester delivering a medieval Plan B potion to Rhaenyra.
Joshua St Clair is an editorial assistant at Men’s Health Magazine.