House Of The Dragon Is At Its Best When It Creates A Slow-Burning Powder Keg

This post contains spoilers for "House of the Dragon" episode 7.

If you thought Targaryen weddings were unpleasant, just wait until you get a gander at their funerals.

Where "Game of Thrones" found an excuse to put most of its main characters in one location in its first episode, it's taken more than half a season for "House of the Dragon" to reach that point. Fortunately, it was worth the wait. Episode 7, "Driftmark," picks up at the funeral of the late Lady Laena Velaryon, squeezing the show's Targaryens, Hightowers, and Velaryons into a single place. Cut off from their castles and forced to (shudders) interact with one another, every grudge, rivalry, and open wound they've been holding onto begins to fester until it explodes like a powder keg.

This is far from the first time an episode of the show has ended in fire or blood, assuring "House of the Dragon" lives up to the title of George R. R. Martin's source material, "Fire & Blood." But "Driftmark" is a showcase for the series at its best. Save for Aemond Targaryen (Ewan Mitchell) going on a late-night dragon ride, this hour is devoid of big action scenes or set pieces. Instead, much of its runtime is devoted to people giving each other looks, be they ones of longing, resentment, or whatever that expression is on Larys Strong's (Matthew Needham) face every time he stares at Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke). I'm fairly certain it's the exact opposite of the "Find someone who looks at you like..." meme.

Together again, gee it's good (?) to be together again...

A week after its last major time jump left something to be desired, "House of the Dragon" wisely slows down in its latest episode. "Driftmark" takes its time with Laena's funeral, the camera lingering long enough on every character to ensure we the viewers don't miss a single cringey beat — be it Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) chuckling or his nephew Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) acting like the little horny s*** he is. Once the ceremony ends, the tension only grows as everyone starts to mingle or, in most cases, continue to shoot one another withering glances from afar as they scornfully whisper all the reasons they despise their in-laws.

After all that, it's kind of a twisted relief when Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine), who's faculties seem to be declining by the minute now, refers to Alicent by his late wife's name. We can always count on good ol' King "I just want to play with my toy models" Viserys to lighten the mood, eh?

"Driftmark" remains a slow-burn in its second act, even as things start to heat up in more senses than one. Daemon and Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D'Arcy) go for a beach stroll full of vulnerable conversing and intimate acts that are almost moving, if only it weren't for the whole incest thing. Meanwhile, Aemond gets up to a (thankfully) very different kind of sweet-talking when he sneaks out and claims the late Laena's dragon, Vhagar, as his own. Again, you want to cheer for him after Aegon bullied his brother last week. Too bad he stole his cousin Rhaena's (Phoebe Campbell) would-be dragon less than a few hours after she buried her mother. At least he made his uncle Daemon proud?

There will be blood

The third act of "Driftmark" is a roller coaster ride, starting with a scuffle between the Velaryon and Targaryen kids that, for a second, seems like it's about to go full "West Side Story" on us. Luckily, where the Jets and Sharks' knife fight ended with two dead bodies, Rhaenyra's sons walk away with some cuts and bloody noses but nothing time won't heal. Aemond, on the other hand, loses an eye in return for a dragon and a pretty badass scar on his face. Fair trade, as he sees it.

This turn of events, however, is all the adults in "House of the Dragon" need to finally unravel. When Viserys reacts far more angrily to the "rumors" about Rhaenyra's sons and their parentage than his own son being maimed, Alicent reaches her breaking point and tries to take matters into her own hands, stabbing Rhaenyra in the process. But much like Aemond, Rhaenyra knows a little blood is a fair price to pay for the leverage this gives her after Alicent loses her cool. It's also the push she needs to take drastic action, faking the death of her husband Ser Laenor Velaryon (John Macmillan) and marrying her uncle in one fell swoop.

I won't lie: I burst out laughing when "Driftmark" cut from the close-ups of Rhaenyra and Daemon's decidedly extra wedding (which, of course, involves a good deal of blood) to a wide shot of their kids watching utterly aghast from the sidelines. It might not be the final shot in the episode, but it's the perfect final touch to cap off an hour that shows just effective "House of the Dragon" can be when it steadily builds to a crescendo.

New episodes of "House of the Dragon" premiere Sunday evenings on HBO.