‘House of the Dragon,’ Season 1, Episode 3: Two Targaryen Hunts

Season 1, Episode 3: ‘Second of His Name’

In the series premiere of “House of the Dragon,” Viserys described the Iron Throne as “the most dangerous seat in the realm.”

It also seems like the most tedious seat in the realm, a target of endless pleas and complaints, recriminations and unwanted advice that never stops, even after you leave behind the throne itself for a weekend in the country.

Viserys spent most of this week besieged from all sides, hounded and ensnared like a sacrificial stag by Rhaenyra’s bitter resentment, his courtiers’ attempted manipulations and his own self-doubt.

And that was before his top adviser turned father-in-law tried to hook up the king’s teenage daughter and 2-year-old son. (Sea Snake: We should set up a betrothal with a 12-year-old. Otto: Hold my wine.)

It’s enough to make you want to sulk and drink your way through your toddler’s birthday party. Which is what Viserys spent a chunk of this week’s episode doing, finally just pouring his own wine as he wrestled with his choices and responsibilities.

Return to Westeros in ‘House of the Dragon’

HBO’s long-awaited “Game of Thrones” prequel series is here.

  • The Sea Snake: Lord Corlys Velaryon, one of the most powerful people in the Seven Kingdoms, is a fearless sailor. Steve Toussaint, the actor who plays him, does better on land.
  • A Rogue Prince: Daemon Targaryen, portrayed by Matt Smith, is an agent of chaos. But “he’s got a strange moral compass of his own,” the actor said.
  • A Violent Birth Scene: Was the gory C-section in the show’s premiere the representation of a grim historical reality, an urgent political statement or a worn cultural cliché?
  • The King’s Hand: Otto Hightower is a major player in the prequel. Here is what to know about the character and the history of House Hightower.

The show’s latest time warp took us several years past last week’s bombshell marriage announcement. Little Aegon, the boy Viserys always wanted, named for the Targaryen who initially conquered Westeros, is turning two and Alicent is pregnant again. Rhaenyra is declining to play happy-family with her father and young stepmother.

Out in the Stepstones, the clash the Sea Snake was so hyped for last week is going the way of most foreign misadventures. (Conquests are always easier to propose than pull off, a fact generally ignored by every hawkish leader who decides to blunder off into one.) How Daemon and the Velaryons are losing to an army with such lousy archers is anyone’s guess.

But the bulk of the action unfolded around the hunting party to fete Aegon and his father. Viserys continues to fade physically; he can’t even get on and off his horse without a step stool, or kill a stag on the first try. The wine didn’t help — “the gods have punished me for my indulgences,” he told Alicent later, kingspeak for “I’m so hung over even my wig is throbbing.”

But the real problem is a conundrum of his own making: whether to keep his promise to his daughter or do what practically everyone else wants and name his young son as heir.

The tension between love and duty was a prominent theme in “Game of Thrones,” culminating in Jon Snow killing the freshly tyrannical Daenerys in the series finale for the good of the realm. The dragon queen’s ancestors wrestled with the same issue in “Dragon” this week, with Viserys weighing his old dream about a baby boy “wearing the conqueror’s crown” against his decision to name Rhaenyra his heir. “What if I was wrong?” he asks Alicent. At the same time, Rhaenyra was dodging marriage proposals from strategically useful doofuses.

Another week, another indignity for Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock).Credit…Ollie Upton/HBO

Viserys eventually opts to keep his promise, later swearing to Rhaenyra that he won’t replace her. It’s a decision likely to rile Otto, who has an obvious interest in his grandson becoming king, along with wealthy subjects like the noblewomen who could barely conceal their sneers from Rhaenyra in the gossip tent. (The privileged almost always prefer to maintain the order of things, as Rhaenys put it last week.)

But whatever the political cost, we saw more signs that Viserys wasn’t wrong to want to elevate Rhaenyra, at least in terms of the independence and capability most would want in a leader.

She continues to chart her own course, resisting moves to marry her off to the wealthy House Lannister. (Admittedly, it seems like an easy call to reject Lord Jason, who is ridiculous and would also constantly steal her conditioner.)

Off on a hunt of her own, Rhaenyra bonded further with Ser Criston and, with his help, laid waste to the wild boar that attacked her, foreshadowing future battles by wearing the animal’s blood for the rest of the trip. (Did the boar represent Westeros’s chauvinist pig patriarchy? Discuss.) The white hart, that symbolic stag everyone was excited about until they settled for a humbler one for Viserys, cast his vote in her column.

Besides, the Targaryen men didn’t come off great for most of this week’s episode. Viserys was plagued by existential struggles and we learned that Daemon has spent the past couple of years unable to defeat the Crabforces with a dragon. He also again displayed his penchant for mercurial cruelty, braining the messenger who brought shaming news of the king’s aid in the failing Stepstones war effort. Are we sure we want another one of these guys on the Iron Throne?

Daemon redeemed himself later, making a renegade charge through enemy lines and emerging from a cave soon after, dragging half a Crabfeeder behind him.

It was fun to see a “Thrones” battle again even if the setup seemed improbable, with the Crabfeeder sending most of his ground force out to greet one man — and be torched by the Sea Snake’s son, Laenor (Theo Nate), and his dragon, which according to the lore is named Seasmoke — and the archers missing so, so many times before finally lodging a few in Daemon. Logic-defying things routinely happen in action scenes, though, and what do I know? I’ve never shot an arrow at a sprinting man with a bright white target on his head.

The upshot is that Daemon will have a victory under his belt and glory upon his name, for a change. Though good luck finding a messenger willing to carry news of it back to King’s Landing.

Bogged down in the Stepstones: from left, Wil Johnson, Matt Smith and Theo Nate in “House of the Dragon.”Credit…Ollie Upton/HBO

A few thoughts while we try to remember laughter

  • “He’s arrogant and self-serious,” Rhaenyra told her father, referring to Jason Lannister (Jefferson Hall). She could have been describing the show itself — not so much the arrogance but the self-seriousness, which becomes increasingly noticeable each week. (Lord Jason, a goofy cad, actually contributed a rare moment of levity in the episode.) Humor was an underrated part of the “Thrones” appeal, most obviously via Tyrion but also within the dialogue of characters like Cersei, Varys and Bronn and in the interactions of the many road duos (Arya and the Hound, Jaime and Brienne, and so on). It’s not just about lightening the mood — humor is a core element of human communication, so its absence makes drama seem more stagy and artificial. Initially, Daemon seemed like he might lend some comic relief, but then they shipped him out of King’s Landing.

  • That said, I did laugh when Daemon landed his dragon on the poor soldier who was hailing him.

  • Speaking of levity, this week brought multiple reminders of another humorous “Thrones” character, the dissipated old Robert Baratheon, with a king getting hammered on a kingswood hunt and a wild boar out for royal blood. You’ll recall that in Season 1 of “Thrones,” the twit Lancel Lannister plied Robert with wine on a hunt, at Cersei’s behest, leaving the king vulnerable to the boar attack that ultimately killed him.

  • As with most onscreen beasts, the dragons work best when they’re slightly obscured. I loved Daemon’s nighttime attack to open the episode, and one of the best shots last week was Rhaenyra rippling the mists of Dragonstone with her arrival on her own dragon, Syrax.

  • During the Stepstones invasion, Daemon’s dragon, Caraxes, had a noticeably serpentine body. According to the lore, he was known as the Blood Wyrm, so I suppose that makes sense, though he seemed bulkier last week. Perhaps he elongates only in flight.

  • It’s probably significant that Laenor Velaryon is so comfortable on dragonback.

  • What do you think? Do you prefer chiaroscuro dragons or the vivid daytime variety? What does the future hold for Ser Criston and Rhaenyra? How many arrows did you dodge today? The comments await.

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