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'House of the Dragon' episode 5: The perfect match ... to burn it all down

The bride and doom of Valyria: (L-R) Matt Smith, Gavin Spokes, Emily Carey, Paddy Considine, Milly Alcock, Theo Nate, Steve Toussaint, Eve Best, Wil Johnson, Savannah Steyn.
HBO
The bride and doom of Valyria: (L-R) Matt Smith, Gavin Spokes, Emily Carey, Paddy Considine, Milly Alcock, Theo Nate, Steve Toussaint, Eve Best, Wil Johnson, Savannah Steyn.

This recap of House of the Dragon's fifth episode contains spoilers for ... well, for House of the Dragon's fifth episode. That's pretty much what a recap is. Proceed accordingly.

If you're just joining us, here are recaps of episode one, two, three and four.

For an episode that includes two murders, a royal wedding, queer canoodling, some B+ shade-throwing and what I'm pretty sure is one brand-new-to-us dragon, this episode sure felt like we were back in shuffle-the-chess-pieces mode. Maybe that's because it's one of those episodes where characters discover things that we, the audience, already know (Criston and Rhaenyra, bendin' at the knee, C-O-U-P-L-I-N-G). Watching characters play catch-up is always a recipe for audience impatience; this is a lesson that Game of Throne never quite grasped, either.

Open on: The Vale. The castle Runestone, seat of House Royce. We meet poor, doomed badass Lady Rhea Royce, who's married to Daemon Targaryen, though neither of them seems particularly jazzed about it. She's out riding to hunt her up some deer, and rebuffs her cousin Gerald's offer to accompany her.

Mistake. Her final.

She comes upon Daemon, looking for all the world, in his pointy hood, like a tall, sickly Jawa. She throws some of the unkind words he's been saying about her back in his blank, impassive face, and lets us know that they've never had sex. Daemon's keeping it on-brand, in that sense. She realizes too late that she's a loose end he's looking to wrap up, and before he brains her with a rock she gets in a good burn about how he "couldn't finish." Aaaaand that's a show wrap for Lady Rhea Royce, folks. Left a bigger impression than her less-than-two-minutes of screentime would lead you to expect.

Just hyphenate, guys. Much simpler.

Rhaenyra, Criston, the king and his new Hand, Lord Lyonel Strong, are sailing through the stormy seas of Blackwater Bay to the island of Driftmark, seat of House Velaryon. The show takes this as the first of several opportunities to direct our attention to the king's less-than-robust health (drink!).

The king's old Hand, Otto Hightower, is taking his leave of the Red Keep when he's confronted by his daughter, the queen. What starts out as a bitter confrontation shades into one filled with mutual affection and regret, as Otto warns Alicent that backing Rhaenyra the way she did was the wrong move. If Rhaenyra inherits the Iron Throne, he warns her, the realm will reject her, and the only way she'll be able to shore up her claim is by eliminating Alicent's son Aegon and his siblings.

Back on Driftmark, the king arrives at High Tide, the castle Corlys Velaryon built, and instead of a royal welcome, there's just Laenor and Ser Joffrey Lonmouth playing Westerosi grab-ass (read: sword-fighting OH STOP YOUR SMIRKING) in the courtyard.

What's in a name? Viserys (Paddy Considine) gets flowery about the dowry with Corlys (Steve Toussaint) and Rhaenys (Eve Best).
/ HBO
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HBO
What's in a name? Viserys (Paddy Considine) gets flowery about the dowry with Corlys (Steve Toussaint) and Rhaenys (Eve Best).

Lord Lyonel sputters at the sheer effrontery, droppin' monocles left and right, and the now-adult Laena arrives to escort them to the Hall of Nine, where Lord Corlys is awaiting them.

It's evidently called the Hall of Nine because it's lined with nine skulls of Corlys's ancestors, which makes you wonder if it started off being called the Hall of One, then the Hall of Two, etc. Or maybe the Sea Snake just loves him a good Yestin/Kopit show.

A coughing, wheezing king (drink!) is greeted by Corlys, who steps off the Driftwood Throne to bend the knee. (Note that Corlys has decorated his throne room with the mask of the Crabfeeder, extending that poor schmuck's total screentime to six minutes and one second.)

Lady Rhaenys arrives and greets her cousin, and let's just take a minute to admire the non-verbal stuff Paddy Considine is doing here. When she asks him if he's well, he gives her a look that says, "Oh come on, don't pretend I'm not standing here like the old man in that book by Nabokov." And when he's informed of Lady Rhea's surprising death, given how good a rider she was known to be, he lets us see that the king clocks exactly what went down.

To business. The king proposes that Rhaenyra wed Ser Laenor, and tells them that their firstborn, whether male or female(!), will inherit the Iron Throne. Progressive of him, sort of. I mean, it's a self-serving brand of progressivism, which should technically cancel it out, but whatever.

Corlys and Rhaenya immediately realize they've got some leverage, and ask whether, in keeping with Westerosi custom, this firstborn heir would be a Velaryon.

The king isn't about to let the Targaryen Dynasty die out so quickly (which I'm thinking is 90% vanity, 10% remembering the prophecy that a Targaryen must be seated on the Iron Throne if the world is to survive). He suggests a Third Way compromise — the heir will be born a Velaryon, but will assume the name Targaryen upon coronation.

Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) and Laenor (Theo Nate) discuss fowl play.
/ HBO
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HBO
Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) and Laenor (Theo Nate) discuss fowl play.

Duck, duck, goose

Back in the godswood at the Red Keep, Queen Alicent runs into the prodigiously creepy Larys Strong (son of Lord Lyonel, brother to Harwyn Strong, who's turned up a couple times on the show, and who's gonna be hopping a few rungs up the call sheet next week). Larys is obsequious and slithery, tossing out dark hints while feigning credulousness, a serpent in the garden. Actor Matthew Needham doesn't have a mustache, because if he did, he'd be twirling it so hard he'd look like a Bushwick mixologist.

The queen learns from him of the tea that Grand Maester Mellos delivered to Rhaenyra, and realizes she was wrong to trust her.

Rhaenyra and Laenor walk along the beach in shot that looks so much like a drug commercial you keep waiting to hear side-effects. They're discussing their situation, and the fact that they are sexually incompatible.

"I hold nothing against you," says Laenor, and hoo boy: Truer words! Because he won't be!

"I prefer roast duck to goose," says Rhaenyra. "I can't say why."

"It's not for lack of trying!" says Laenor, which only serves to make us imagine the endless string of disappointed and frustrated geese that have had to put up with Laenor's yeomanlike ministrations.

They both like a good duck, is the point. She suggests that they do their duty to the Iron Throne and produce an heir together, but beyond that, every day of their marriage will be duck season.

Laenor's game. In every sense of the word.

He's ... down with it. (See because, geese.)

Back at the Driftwood Throne, Rhaenys notes that the king is resting before shipping back out (drink!) and that his visit is a sign of weakness. Corlys suggests that Laenor's "true nature" is just a phase, and that the realm will welcome Rhaenyra's succession, which is a real one-two punch of pure wrongness there, my guy.

In the Driftmark dunes, Laenor and his horseplay pal Ser Joffrey demonstrate how Joffrey got the nickname "Knight of Kisses." Joffrey, a real, goblet-half-full kind of guy, is eager for Laenor to be king-consort, so Joffrey can ride on his ... shoulders. He resolves to find out if Rhaenyra has someone on the side as well.

Have you tried a little bleach on that?

On the voyage back home, Criston Cole approaches Rhaenyra with an offer to quit this royal popsicle stand and elope with him to another continent, where they can live a life of freedom and sex and oranges and cinnamon ... and poverty.

Rhaenyra gets a moment where it looks like she's seriously considering it, but then you can see in her face as that whole "and poverty" thing kick in, and she shuts him down with extreme prejudice. She's downright mean, here, and a generous reading is that she's being this way so he keeps his distance from her and stays safe — but that reading is immediately undercut when she suggests they keep doing what they've been doing.

He's affronted, and reminds her that as a member of the King's Guard he swore an oath of celibacy. "I've soiled my White Cloak!" he says, hilariously. "It is the only thing I have to my f***ing name!"

Meleys and Seasmoke are friends of the groom.
/ HBO
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HBO
Meleys and Seasmoke are friends of the groom.

Point of order, here, Sparky: Just 20 seconds ago you seemed perfectly willing to toss that precious White Cloak of yours away and dash off to Essos, so let's hear a bit less about how important that oath is to you. And two: If your White Cloak is as tainted as you suggest, two words: Club. Soda.

Viserys returns to the Red Keep and promptly collapses (drink!).

Alicent summons Criston to her bedchamber, which is decked out with tapestries even pornier than her husband's. (Seriously, what is with this family?)

We're gonna zoom through this scene, as it's predicated on a groanworthy bit of putatively comic misunderstanding that even the Three's Company writer's room would reject as too broad. The upshot: Criston confesses that it was he and not Daemon who slept with Rhaenyra. He expects to be castrated, tortured and/or killed, but Alicent simply lets him go.

If you're scoring at home, that's three people who've told Alicent she was wrong to believe Rhaenyra. Her father, Larys and now Criston.

Viserys is ailing, and the maesters debate his care. Ask your doctor about LeechaproTM!

In a rare moment of self-awareness brought on by fever, Viserys asks Lyonel if he'll be remembered as a good king or a weak one. Lyonel's like, "In a larger sense, what is history?" so King Melbatoast gets his answer.

The vast Velaryon fleet sails to King's Landing for the royal wedding. Overhead, two dragons soar and wheel and roar. One of them is clearly good ol' Seasmoke, ridden by Laenor. As for the other:

I don't think it's Laena, because Laena getting a dragon is a big deal, for reasons I won't go into, and I don't think even this show would have that happen offscreen. So I'm gonna say that other dragon belongs to Rhaenys, so:

Welcome to the stage: Meleys! AKA The Red Queen!

Alicent is out here serving you Kermit, she's serving lawncare, she's serving kale and avocado SALAD, hunty.
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HBO
Alicent is out here serving you Kermit, she's serving lawncare, she's serving kale and avocado SALAD, hunty.

Green was the color of the grass

The hall of the Iron Throne has been turned into the welcome reception for the royal wedding. Various lords stop by the head table to pay their respects, including Jason Lannister, smarming it up as usual, and Ser Gerald Royce, whom we last saw offering to accompany his poor, doomed badass cousin Lady Rhea on her hunt. He doesn't look happy; file that away.

The Velaryons arrive, followed by Daemon, whose presence ruffles Viserys's feathers, but he makes room for his brother at the head table nonetheless. Viserys coughs a lot (drink).

He stands up to give a speech, but is interrupted by the arrival of Queen Alicent in a resplendent green gown. This is a Book ThingTM, and it's important, though the circumstances around it have been changed. But the show wants us to register it nonetheless, so we see Larys whispering to his brother Harwyn that in Oldtown, where Alicent hails from, the beacon atop the High Tower turns green when they declare war.

Everyone got that? I hope so, because that exposition was clumsier than Amanda Bynes in What a Girl Wants.

There is dancing: The Westerosi Cha Cha Slide, the Westerosi Chicken Dance, the Westerosi Dancing Queen, the Westerosi Ice Ice Baby, etc.

Long, meaningful looks get tossed around like so many horny Frisbees: Daemon smirking at Rhaenyra, Rhaenyra staring at Criston, Criston making a meal out of not staring at Rhaenyra, Joffrey clocking Criston's performative non-staring, and telling Laenor about it.

The leader of House Hightower — Otto's older brother, and Alicent's uncle — informs her that "Oldtown stands with you." Is that important? Should you take note of it? Will it be on the test? Yes, yes and yes.

Ser Gerald Royce accuses Daemon of murdering his cousin, poor doomed badass Lady Rhea. Daemon, as is his damnable wont, smirks. And proceeds to inform Ser Gerald that he expects to inherit castle Runestone. He says he'll be flying to the Eyrie, the seat of House Arryn in the Vale, and petitioning Lady Jeyne to give it to him.

Daemon dropped that bit about flying there to demonstrate to Gerald just how boned he is, as there's no way he'd be able to get there to state his case faster than a dragon can.

Don't call it the Red Wedding. That's taken.

Laena goes up to Daemon and sort of...orbits him, making flirty small talk.

Joffrey, hoping to score the title of Drama Queen of Westeros, tells Criston that he knows about him and Rhaenyra, and as they are both happily ensconced as royal side-pieces, they should look out for each other.

Criston...doesn't take this well. Apparently.

Daemon approaches Rhaenyra in the middle of the dance floor and makes a scene, but she's not having any of his tiresome, peevish, adolescent possessiveness. Viserys notices this and looks vexed, but before he can do anything about it, a murder breaks out.

Criston pummels Joffrey's face into a chunky marinara; the Knight of Kisses kisses off. Laenor weeps over his corpse.

Harwyn Strong fireman-carries Rhaenyra out of the hall. Viserys gets a nosebleed (chug!).

Criston heads to the godswood to fall upon his sword, but is stopped by Queen Alicent.

In the now-empty Iron Throne Hall, Laenor and Rhaenyra are wed. Nobody looks happy about it, except maybe the rat licking up a pool of Joffrey's blood. He seems pretty pumped, anyway.

Parting Thoughts:

  • That's a series wrap for Milly Alcock's Rhaenyra, Emily Carey's Alicent and Theo Nate's Laenor, folks. We're due for another time-jump, and other actors will take over those roles for the rest of the season.
  • In the book, the Criston/Joffrey incident takes place during a joust, and Joffrey's death is considered merely unfortunate. The show's making a bold divergence by recasting it as murder in cold blood, witnessed by hundreds. There's gotta be consequences, right? Right?
  • The last shot we get of Criston before he launches into Joffrey isn't doing the work it should. We need to see a man wracked with emotion, teetering on the brink of violence, but what we see instead is a man idly wondering where he left his good pauldron.
  • The show introduces us to two new characters — poor doomed badass Lady Rhea Royce and Knight of Kisses Ser Joffrey Lonmouth — and murders them in the same episode. If the point of that is to show how people get ground up in the gears of the Targaryen Dynasty, box checked. If we were meant to care about them as characters even a smidge, not so much.
  • Meleys! Welcome, old girl! Your appearance ups the Official Dragoncount to 4! That's almost one dragon per episode! Nearly! On a show called House of the Dragon! (Seriously, step it up already, show.)
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    Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.