How The Heck Is House Of The Dragon Episode 5 A Season 1 Episode?

"We Light the Way," the fifth episode of "House of the Dragon," was a big one. It featured Alicent learning of Rhaenyra's sexual relationship with Ser Criston Cole, Rhaenyra agreeing to an open marriage with Ser Laenor Velaryon, Daemon murdering his wife, and a deadly wedding banquet that ends with Laenor's lover Ser Joffrey Lonmouth face being demolished by Criston Cole, who then attempts to die by suicide before Alicent stops him. Oh, and King Viserys' body has crumbled to the point where he seems unlikely to ever be healthy again. There's a lot going on, and it's only the fifth episode of the series.

On the one hand, it makes for exciting television as you're watching it. People love the heightened drama, the soapy intrigue, and the blood. These moments have people gathering around to discuss the things they could not believe happened on last night's episode. When I watched "We Light the Way," I was completely caught up in it too. "House of the Dragon" has been designed this way, where every episode thus far has included massive developments, and this particular episode just so happens to feature the most massive of them.

The biggest departure "House of the Dragon" makes from its predecessor "Game of Thrones" is how it structures the season. "Game of Thrones," in its early years, took very few shortcuts, indulging in the day-to-day lives of its characters. On the other hand, "House of the Dragon" will have anything from a few days to a few years pass between episodes, fast forwarding to whatever the next dramatic development in the story is. This is why we can have an episode five feel like episode eight of season 2. I feel the ultimate artistic success of "House of the Dragon" will be decided by these time jumps.

The allure of time jumps

When I first realized that "House of the Dragon" jumped six months between its first and second episodes, I was excited for the storytelling potential that device could bring. That pilot ends with Viserys naming Rhaenyra as the heir to the Iron Throne, and the second episode shows how the realm operates with that bit of knowledge in the back of everyone's heads. Then the third episode jumped three years into the future from there. It can be very exciting to not know where the story will pick up when you tune in the following Sunday night.

That anticipation will most certainly be met because there is a reason they have decided to land at this particular time in the story. Something momentous must occur to justify stopping on the timeline to spend an hour amongst these people. Otherwise, the wheels of the plot would just be spinning in place. It helps make the lives of the characters feel more eventful than they actually are, allowing us to fill in the blanks between episodes to whatever degree we see fit.

The time jumps also make every episode feel like its own discreet story. When we look back at them, we can easily identify which episode features which event. This is the one where there's the hunting party. This is the one where Rhaenyra and Daemon go to a brothel. We can judge the episode a little easier on its own merits without taking into consideration how it fits into the whole because we know the next one will take us someplace entirely different. It's a bold strategy that so far has paid off for the creators, but I wonder if it will hurt them in the long run.

The problem with time jumps

If you're watching a show for its plot, I think you're much more satisfied by the time jumps than if you're watching it for character development and relationships, which is primarily why I watch. The time jumps spotlight what these characters are doing and not so much why they are doing them. Outside of Rhaenyra and Viserys, ostensibly the show's two primary characters thus far, I understand very little about what motivates these people. In some cases, I barely even know what their character's name is before they are involved in major story beats.

Take, for instance, Larys Strong, played by Matthew Needham. We briefly saw him in episode three, sitting with the noble women of Westeros because he can't go on the King's hunt due to his need of a cane. Next time we see him, he's spilling all of Rhaenyra's secrets to Alicent. When he suspiciously sidles up to her, did you remember him? I sure didn't, and neither did people I was talking with about the show. Okay, let's say you recalled him from the previous episode. Fine. Did you remember his name? Do you know who his father is? Do you know why he needs a cane? If you aren't a book reader or someone entrenched in the Wiki of Ice and Fire, almost nothing about that character has been set up, yet he's tasked with delivering this information that completely changes Alicent's perspective.

This is longform, serialized storytelling, and taking a lot of time to learn about and empathize with the characters is why we don't want to just see what happens next but revisit what we already saw again. "House of the Dragon" isn't doing that, and I fear the emotional stakes of the show will suffer for it.

Where do we go from here?

The time jumps of "House of the Dragon" have been most detrimental to the peripheral characters. Laenor Velaryon and Joffrey Lonmouth's relationship starts and ends over the course of one episode, but they aren't necessarily crucial pillars of the story (unless, of course, the next time jump shows Laenor to be a major power player). However, we're about to have a jump where both Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) and Alicent (Emily Carey) are played by different actors (Emma D'Arcy and Olivia Cooke, respectively). We have only had five episodes to spend with these characters, where we have just now become truly invested in them. Now, we have to jump into the future and get acclimated to two new leads of the show. Also, Paddy Considine as King Viserys is also likely on the way out.

I admire the bold swing of doing this and desperately want to get to the next episode to see how they pull it off. I just worry "House of the Dragon" is moving too fast for its own good, and when we look back at it, we'll admire the scope of what they made without being as invested in it as we should've been.

I wonder what the show would have been like if it took more of "Game of Thrones" approach, where we are constantly hopping around the realm every episode to spend time with each member of the Velaryon family, the Strong family, or even just Rhys Ifans' Otto Hightower, where what transpires in this episode happens after over a season of getting to know them. "House of the Dragon" is carving its own path, but I worry it's more entertaining than impactful.