HBO Max has a surefire hit on their hands with House of the Dragon, with over 16 million viewers for last week’s episode. Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) stole the show in House of the Dragon episode three, ending the episode in a dramatic one-man vs. an army battle. It showed the Targaryens historical love to throw themselves into battle against impossible odds yet win. Out today, episode four, “King of the Narrow Sea,” has a strong theme that it sure does stink to be a woman living in a society of kings and heirs.
If it wasn’t yet obvious, this show had a historical feel with episode three, while this one opens with more medieval politics. Sure, there are dragons, and this is a fantasy world, but the showrunners are clearly invested in showing the way of life many must have lived during the Middle Ages. “King of the Narrow Sea” opens with Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock) interviewing possible suitors, the first being far too old and the second too young. By her side is Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel ), who continues to be an intriguing side piece to Rhaenyra. Even in court, when at peace, you can die on a sword, as we see by the time this scene ends.
The production values of House of the Dragon continue to impress. The costuming is incredible, and the armor Ser Criston wears is detailed and realistic. When Ser Criston and Rhaenyra are seen on a boat early on, you can tell they’re not actually on the sea, but it’s close enough. This is an expensive-looking show, and it pays off in making you believe it’s all really happening.
The familial relationships of the Targaryens continue to be intriguing. When Rhaenyra sees her uncle Prince Daemon swoop in on his dragon — narrowly crashing her ship — she smiles. Prince Daemon makes a surprising choice to bend the knee to his brother King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine), but somewhat differently, you can tell something is up. There is love and history between these characters, but deep respect can only go far. It’s an anxious moment, however, when Daemon reveals he’s the king of the Narrow Sea and what he might do.
The meatier portion of the episode has Daemon and Rhaenyra going on a bit of an adventure amongst the people. One can see Daemon is influencing her by showing that even her subjects think a man must be their leader, not a woman. This leads to some somewhat surprising events involving the two, which lines up with how a family isn’t a barrier regarding sex and relationships when it comes to royalty.
To say this scene is rather disturbing is an understatement. As nude bodies writhe around Rhaenyra and Daemon, the two kiss, which is unnerving given Rhaenyra looks so young (thankfully, the actor is 21 years old). You can see her looks of admiration for Daemon in previous episodes were more than admiration but lust. This further complicates the narrative. Juxtaposed with their lovemaking are Viserys and his new young wife, who have no passion at all. There’s a point being made here about the passions of these characters being a driving force behind their actions and mistakes. The carnal nature of Targaryens is on full display, especially after seeing what Rhaenyra does next.
As if the rest of the episode of House of the Dragon is as hungover as the characters, the midway point up until the end of the episode hangs around, slowly lingering on the characters waking up, reeling from gossip, and reacting. This helps prepare the viewer for the implications of what Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen did, even if she didn’t follow through with Daemon. It does, however, slow things way down, making for a dull second half of the episode.
The implications of Rhaenyra’s actions are hugely important to the narrative, of course, but it’s a slow crawl to the final minutes. The show is shot well, acted well, and keeps things moving along with different scenes, but it’s not until the last four or so minutes that things get interesting. The Hand of the King Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) seems to have bitten off more than he can chew. It’s interesting to see his subtle observing and nudging of the King, likely for his best interests over the first three episodes, turn on him. The madness of the Targaryen blood shows itself.
This episode also shows kindness, and good intentions mean little in the Game of Thrones universe. The Hand of the King’s daughter Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), who is now queen, also seems to be a kind-hearted person who may end up dead or worse. Cooke is great in this role as you believe her to be honest and kind, but know very well she has no protection.
House of the Dragon episode four is table-setting for sure. While well acted, the complications of sleeping around aren’t the most exciting element we’ve seen in the series so far. Being a woman in this world is harsh, and being forced to live and act a certain way bends a person into being harsher and crueler. For those reasons, this episode sharpens the blade, but it holds back in using it.
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