House Of The Dragon's Gnarliest Moment Yet Rivals Any Game Of Thrones Scene

This post contains spoilers for "House of the Dragon" episode five.

Wedding ceremonies in the "Game of Thrones" franchise almost always end in violence. There's the prime example of the devastating Red Wedding, wherein the Lannisters "send their regards" and paint the wedding hall red as "The Rains of Castamere" plays ominously in the background. Violence has always been an integral part of the political intrigue that steers the course of the Seven Kingdoms, some instances more brutal than others.

"Game of Thrones" fans will remember the sudden, gruesome death of Oberyn Martell (R.I.P., gone too soon), whose eyes were gouged out by the Mountain during a trial by combat. "House of the Dragon" continues this tradition in its own way — key instances being Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) disemboweling the Crabfeeder on the shores of the Stepstones and the "f*** around and find out" moment with Lord Blackwood and the bully dude from House Bracken in episode four.

However, the show's gnarliest moment of violence (so far) takes place in the latest episode of the show, in which an enraged, jilted knight of the Kingsguard cracks open the head of the groom's (secret) paramour. Yes, I'm talking about Ser Criston Cole's (Fabien Frankel) downward spiral in "We Light the Way," which culminated in him bashing Joffrey Lonmouth's (Solly McLeod) head to a pulp during Laenor (Theo Nate) and Rhaenyra's (Milly Alcock) pre-wedding ceremony. Let's unpack that, shall we?

From knight in shining armor to disgraced Kingsguard

For those acquainted with George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire," Ser Criston Cole plays a seminal role in triggering the Dance of the Dragons, which, without spoiling anything, ushers in the downfall of the mighty Targaryen dynasty. As Ser Criston's dynamic with Rhaenyra in the show unravels differently than in the source material (the faux-historical text "Fire and Blood"), it is difficult to predict if he will become a formidable adversary for the Princess-named-heir. After Criston won Rhaenyra's favor in the tournament, she chose him to be her sworn protector as a part of the Kingsguard. The two maintain a consistent level of mutual understanding, as Rhaenyra harbors a crush on Ser Criston and trusts him, while he is protective towards the Princess and clearly admires her.

However, things take a drastic turn in episode four, where Rhaenyra and Criston hook up. This is an empowering moment for Rhaenyra, but she has to lie in order to keep both parties safe. Even after she is promised to Laenor, she works out an arrangement with her cousin: as she's aware that Laenor is gay, she proposes that they perform their duties to the kingdom while being free to pursue whomever they desire. Although this might seem like a good arrangement (as good as it gets in a time where marriage is a prison, especially for women), things go straight to hell after Rhaenyra rejects Criston's proposal to run away together.

 Although Rhaenyra wishes to continue her relations with Criston while performing her duties, Criston interprets it as an act of betrayal where his honor as Kingsguard is besmirched for no reason. Breaking the oath of chastity means a loss of honor, and Criston thinks that marrying her is the only way to restore it. 

A sudden burst of guilt, shame, and jealousy

When I saw Ser Criston blabber to Alicent (Emily Carey) that he had indeed "sinned" that night with Rhaenyra, I was gobsmacked. Surely, his sense of pride hasn't been so wounded by Rhaenyra's rejection that he's ready to endanger himself and everyone involved? There are, of course, layers to the situation. It's understandable that Criston gave up something valuable that night for Rhaenyra, as he had hesitated before removing his white cloak (a symbol of chastity) before giving in to his desires. It is also understandable that Criston wants to desperately reclaim his honor, as the guilt and shame of the act is slowly eating away at him. 

However, to propose that Rhaenyra – the next in line to the throne – should leave her birthright and legacy behind for him to get married in Essos is clearly not a level-headed decision. Guilt and jealousy are a dangerous combination, and if you throw shame into the mix, things will go straight to hell. And they do. 

The secret between the two is secret no more: Alicent is now aware of the truth, and poised to challenge the king after learning that her father was wrongfully ousted as Hand. Moreover, Laenor's paramour, Joffrey, figures out that Criston is Rhaenyra's secret, and a cocky (and ill-timed) attempt to make an alliance with the disgraced knight spells catastrophe. Criston, already enraged at Rhaenyra and Laenor sweetly dancing together, is tipped to the edge when Joffrey makes a glib remark about working out an arrangement. Wounded that he is no more than a "whore," Criston attacks Joffrey brutally in front of everyone, beating the poor man to death. This is obviously a heartbreaking turn of events for Laenor, and Rhaenyra seems shaken by the tragedy of the situation.

Why the violence in the episode is so effective (and jarring)

For starters, the way in which the said scene is staged and allowed to develop is a testimony to the show's ability to build tension to dizzying heights during a climactic situation. Just like Viserys and the others struggle to understand how exactly the fight broke out, so does the audience. One moment, Rhaenyra and Daemon are publicly standing too close to one another (I'm not sure if this mutual instigation played a role), and before you can blink, a fight breaks out, with Laenor involved in some capacity. In Martin's "Fire and Blood," Criston loses control during a tourney and kills Joffrey; here, the stakes are raised as the murder happens during a pre-wedding feast, acting as a precursor to doom. 

Why does Criston, a knight known for his level-headed courage, snap like that? Criston is unable to unleash his rage on Rhaenyra, so he takes it out on the person who acts as a mirror to his shame: Joffrey. Although both men are secret paramours to people in power, Joffrey is okay with Laenor and Rhaenyra's arrangement, while Criston views it as a disgusting reminder of his loss of honor. The aftermath is heartbreaking, as Laenor and Rhaenyra are rushed into the marriage ceremony while a rat licks the fresh blood spilt right in front of the makeshift altar. The brutality of the situation reaches its peak when Laenor lets out an anguished scream while holding his dead lover, but he is not allowed to grieve. The show must go on.

Meanwhile, Criston understands that his actions will have consequences and is about to kill himself before being stopped by Alicent. This is a turning point in the show, as it will birth an unlikely, yet deadly alliance.