Season 1, Episode 5: ‘We Light the Way’
It’s not a real Westeros wedding until somebody starts screaming.
Actually the wedding of Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen and Ser Laenor Velaryon hadn’t even begun when the wailing started, as the Rehearsal Dinner from Seven Hells erupted into paramour-on-paramour violence. By the time it was over, Joffrey (Solly McLeod), Laenor’s portentously named sparring partner, lay dead on the ballroom floor with a face like a collapsed Jell-O mold, and Ser Criston was ready to fall on his blade.
They were the latest victims of Rhaenyra and Daemon’s big night out on the Street of Silk, the repercussions of which continue to reverberate throughout the realm. Last week, the fallout enveloped Otto, fired for revealing the transgressions to the king; Rhaenyra, finally cornered into a forced marriage; and Daemon, banished yet again (only to return yet again).
This week the toll was more lethal. Ser Joffrey was joined in death by the bronze bride, Lady Rhea (Rachel Redford), after Daemon decided killing his wife was preferable to settling down with her. (Contrary to what we’ve heard, she was quite comely, but Targaryens prefer blondes. And relatives.) Those losses, in turn, upended the lives of Laenor, the grieving groom, and Rhea’s cousin, Ser Gerold Royce.
Meanwhile, the slithery Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), who might as well have been wearing a sign around his neck that said “Sinister Schemer,” was igniting the embers of Alicent’s suspicion in the royal garden. I heard the princess was delivered some definitely-not-morning-after tea the other day, he told her, I hope she’s OK.
The revelation and Ser Criston’s ensuing admission sent Alicent in search of a Hightower Green wedding-crashing dress, which she debuted with a resolute elegance that seems sure to make her father proud. Her strut through the ballroom, in the middle of the king’s speech, doubled as a statement of allegiance in the Iron Throne derby at the heart of this story. Spoiler alert: it’s not to the side that was hosting the wedding.
Return to Westeros in ‘House of the Dragon’
HBO’s long-awaited “Game of Thrones” prequel series is here.
- A Fantasy Face-Off: A few episodes into “House of the Dragon” and Amazon’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power,” here’s an early comparison between the two prequel series.
- 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?
All of which is to say: The scandal that began in that pleasure house is well on its way to enveloping everyone in the realm.
One thing I’ve always enjoyed about George R.R. Martin’s storytelling is the way its momentous, world-changing events erupt from recognizable human impulses and flaws — jealousy, lust, insecurity, the desire to protect your family or conceal your shameful secrets. The sordid but genuine love between Cersei and Jaime Lannister animated “Game of Thrones”; the Red Wedding was revenge for a broken engagement; Daenerys’s sense of deep grievance drove her to traverse the globe and commit mass murder. (OK, her impulses and flaws were less recognizable than others …)
Similarly, the current throne battle was set up by Viserys’s stubborn, perhaps misguided loyalty to his daughter, borne of his grief over his wife.Now the fallout from Daemon’s lust and desire to strike back at his brother, paired with Rhaenyra’s selfish recklessness and dishonesty, have seemingly deepened the primary rift to an irreparable degree.
Did you buy it? Alicent’s stridency seemed extreme in someone who has so far been circumspect and accommodating, particularly since it seemed motivated by the fact that Rhaenyra misled her — hardly a capital offense, but perhaps it represented the final break between the former friends. Otto also terrified her on his way out of town, with his warnings about the near future and the safety of her children, should Rhaenyra remain heir. Apparently all of the above, combined with the stark reality of Viserys’s ongoing circling of the royal drain, compelled her to conspicuously stand tall, as her uncle put it.
Less convincing was the collapse of Ser Criston, who went from stalwart defender to violent basket case within a week or so. (The timeline was a little fuzzy this episode.)
I guess we’re supposed to believe that Criston had been pushed past his limit: His dalliance with Rhaenyra, in breaking his Kingsguard chastity oath, shattered his self-image, and the princess compounded matters by rejecting his marriage plan and dismissing his dreams of Essos as little more than “a bushel of oranges.” The queen already knows all about his soiled cloak, thanks to his sitcom-level misunderstanding of her query about the Silk Street night. Perhaps learning that the snide Joffrey knew too, that this secret would hang over him forever, was more than Criston could bear. The only solution, apparently, was to beat the man to death on the dance floor.
The speed and scale of Criston’s decline strained credulity. Maybe he was just that desperate to keep the secret hidden, though the mania of his attack suggested a kind of psychic break. Maybe another motivating factor will be revealed in the future. But from a narrative standpoint, the bludgeoning foreshadowed future bloodshed as it illustrated the unintended consequences of the royals’ actions and heedlessness.
Based on Daemon’s advice, Rhaenyra thought she’d be able to have her wedding cake and boy-toy too. (She promised Laenor something similar.) What she got instead was a marriage ceremony that was terrible even by Westeros standards, with rotting food on the tables, a passed-out dad and rats licking up the blood of her new husband’s freshly murdered lover. And said boy-toy has now been claimed by her rival, who presumably plans to turn him into a different kind of plaything.
So … congratulations?
A few thoughts while we ask our doctor about …
What do we think Viserys actually has, anyway? Any guesses? I tried entering “nose bleeds, fatigue, fainting, shortness of breath, nausea, open lesions and fingers falling off” into WebMD but no dice. Whatever he’s suffering from, thank goodness the Grand Maester was around to reject the maester intern’s herbal poultice in favor of another leeching. (For what it’s worth, Paddy Considine has said the king has “a form of leprosy.”)
Now I feel bad about joking about Lady Rhea’s invisibility last week — no doubt she preferred it to what befell her on Sunday. While Daemon’s bloody campaign against King’s Landing criminals was cruel in its extremes, his apparent murder of his wife revealed a capacity for calculated evil.
Rhea’s mocking question about whether Daemon was ready to finally consummate their marriage raised a couple of additional questions: One, does that mean his, uh, performance issues are a longstanding condition? I attributed his abandonment of Rhaenyra last week to a “crisis of conscience,” but in the aftershow segment, the “Dragon” creative team blamed impotence. We also saw his frustrations in the brothel in the premiere. Two, if Daemon never consummated the marriage, is he still entitled to Runestone and whatever else comprises the bronze bride’s estate?
Somebody should probably warn Laena Velaryon (Savannah Steyn), last seen flirting with Daemon on the dance floor. She’s grown up, somewhat, and when wheezy old Viserys showed up at her house, she had to be thinking she dodged a bullet by not marrying him back when she was 12. She should dodge this one, too. (But probably won’t.)
I assume the awful, rat-infested state of the ballroom during Rhaenyra and Lenore’s nuptials symbolized the bloody wreckage that will continue to result from this pairing, as predicted by Rhaenys. (“We are placing our son in danger,” she told the Sea Snake.) But come on, a castle full of servants couldn’t tidy up a little for the princess’s sad pop-up wedding?
In case it wasn’t clear, Larys Strong is the son of Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes), the new Hand of the King, and brother to Harwin (Ryan Corr), the strapping fellow who carried Rhaenyra away from the wedding melee. Given Larys’s apparent Hightower loyalties and his father’s obligations to Viserys, things in House Strong could get complicated.
“So you want me to be your whore,” Ser Criston said, incredulously if succinctly boiling down Rhaenyra’s post-wedding plans. Taking things out of their usual context invites you to consider them anew. Criston’s shock and shame reminds us about all the times we’ve unthinkingly watched women be used in similar fashion on “Game of Thrones” and a hundred other shows.
Finally, Sunday’s episode was the last one for Milly Alcock and Emily Carey, who will be replaced next week by Emma D’Arcy, as Rhaenyra, and Olivia Cooke, as Alicent. Consider the job these young women were given: To anchor, alongside far more seasoned actors, the high-stakes follow-up to the biggest hit HBO has ever had, in front of a global audience of many millions. They handled it with an impressive amount of talent and grace. I’m excited to see what they do next.
What do you think? Do Rhaenyra and Laenor have any future at all?