House Of The Dragon Gives New Life To King's Landing

This article contains spoilers for "House of the Dragon" episode four. 

One of the great joys of reading the work of George R. R. Martin is the rich worldbuilding, describing the various locales of Westeros and Essos in great detail. While "Game of Thrones" had castles, throne rooms, and battlefields well represented, it rarely showed viewers what the rest of King's Landing was like. Other than some small moments with Arya (Maisie Williams) sneaking about and Cersei's (Lena Headey) walk of shame from the sept to the keep, King's Landing was mostly a mystery. 

So far, "House of the Dragon" has brought more depth to some of the elements that felt underdeveloped in "Game of Thrones," and that includes a trip through the sketchier corners of the city courtesy of Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) in disguise. Dressed as a boy, the princess and her uncle Daemon (Matt Smith) take a tour of Flea Bottom, encountering street performers, drunken revelry, and eventually a house that caters to drug-induced orgies. We don't get to see much of the smallfolk in this world, but Rhaenyra's short time among them is a brilliant way to show just how naive and sheltered she has been, despite being a boar-killing, dragon-riding badass. 

A mummer's farce

While Rhaenyra and Daemon go on their little perversion excursion, they discover a troupe of mummers putting on a comedy for the random folk gathered in their little corner of Flea Bottom. Mummers and their performances play a huge role in Martin's novels, though they didn't get nearly as much attention in the "Game of Thrones" series. Arya even spends a good bit of time living and performing with mummers in Essos, and the various performers serve in a similar manner to Shakespeare's beloved Fool character. Martin uses the mummers to tell uncomfortable truths about how the people at the bottom view the people up at the top, and for Rhaenyra, it's a pretty rude awakening. 

Rhaenyra discovers that the mummers are more interested in making fun of her and the rest of the royal family than show them respect, and it upsets her. She tries to get the crowd booing when one of the men, dressed in drag and only a marginally better wig than the ones the Targaryen actors are wearing, pretends to be the princess on her "royal throne." When faux Rhaenyra pretends to use the bathroom in front of everyone, the real Rhaenyra in disguise in the crowd realizes that the love of the people she thought she had was actually just a nice idea, and not based in any sort of reality. 

Worlds apart

It's honestly kind of a shame that "Game of Thrones" and "House of the Dragon" haven't spent much time with the common residents of Westeros, whose lives and exploits could potentially be just as exciting as the royalty who ride dragons. Then again, that would kind of ruin the whole "fantasy escapism" bit. Regardless, it was nice to take a romp through part of the world that we haven't gotten to see much of, and it helped define Rhaenyra's character even better. After all, she doesn't understand that she has to pay for a treat that she takes from a merchant because she's never paid for anything in her life, and she thinks the whole thing is fun and games but soon discovers that it's dangerous in the streets, even for a princess. 

There is an incredible amount of texture to the streets of Flea Bottom, from the trapeze artists performing overhead to the incredible fake dragon's breath lighting that make shadows dance. In the behind-the-scenes featurette for the episode on HBO Max, the show's creators revealed that they shot everything for this sequence on location in a small village in Spain. They dressed it up to look more like King's Landing and less like our own world, but the location shooting helped make the whole sequence feel more authentic and lived-in. "House of the Dragon" seems interested in the little joys of this fantasy world as much as the big ones, and I'm hoping that trend continues throughout the series. 

New episodes of "House of the Dragon" debut Sundays on HBO and HBO Max.