House Of The Dragon Hosts An Awkward Family Dinner In 'The Lord Of The Tides'

Many a joke has been made about what awkward family dinners the Targaryens must have: between the incest, eye-gouging, arm lacerating, prejudice against brunettes, and the general issue of holding onto grudges for WAY too long, there's no way that this extended family can sit down for a peaceful meal of pigeon pie without breaking into battle. So it was only a matter of time before "House of the Dragon" made good on the promise and forced us to endure the full-fledged awkwardness of a massive Targaryen gathering. In "The Lord of the Tides," we get a front-row seat to one of this family's most unforgettable meals.

All that said, I've gotta say, for a surprising couple of minutes, the Targaryen family dinner actually goes pretty smoothly. It was even kind of heartwarming! But, of course, I'm a seasoned Westerosi visitor, and thanks to the Red Wedding debacle of 2013, I know better than to get comfortable at a feast (especially one that's meant to smooth over everyone's deep-seated tensions). When there's jaunty music playing and sweet interactions are abundant, it's usually a major red flag — but I'll be damned if I didn't smile when Jacaerys crossed the invisible battle lines to dance with Helaena. For a shining few moments, the Targaryens truly did come together to give poor King Viserys (Paddy Considine) the one thing he's spent the past eight episodes screaming about: some goddamn unity.

But in Westeros, good things tend to meet a tragic end.

Shockingly, it isn't a crack in the composure of Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) or even Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D'Arcy) that makes this sweet moment crumble. Hell, they even take baby steps to heal their incredibly fractured relationship. But then comes the harsh realities of the conflict they've passed down to their kids, a sharp reminder that this vision of a happy family can never truly be.

Yet another question of succession

"The Lord of the Tides" begins the culmination of mistakes made so long ago, that those at fault still believe they can be left behind forever. But the damage has been done beyond repair: Rhaenyra can keep trying to dodge the consequences, but the fact of her children's parentage will never stop haunting them. And though Alicent can try to make nice, the resentment that she's passed down to her children has taken root. All that's left to do is suffer the consequences (and, I'm guessing, make a helluva lot more mistakes along the way).

We begin with the revelation that we are enduring yet another major time jump. Yes, another set of new actors has been swapped to replace some kids. That's another six years of story that we breeze right through. How much has changed? How many new kids have been born? And gods be good, how many limbs has Viserys lost this time? All that and more will be answered but first, we're checking in with the status of Driftmark, because its crisis of leadership will be the firestarter for a whole lot of "Succession"-esque drama. It seems Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) has suffered a potentially fatal wound after 6 years of fighting in those ceaselessly warring Stepstones. So with his death looming ahead, the question of who will become the next Lord of the Tides finally needs a definitive answer.

Now, you're probably thinking, doesn't it already have one? With both of his children (presumed) dead, the throne will pass to his grandson, Lucerys Velaryon (Elliot Grihault). You know, the lily-white brunette who doesn't resemble his "father" in the slightest and definitely is not a bastard? Well, Corlys' brother Vaemond (Wil Johnson) takes serious issue with this possibility and plans to petition in favor of his own claim.

Under normal circumstances, that would be absurd. Viserys made it abundantly clear that anyone who dares to question the legitimacy of Rhaenyra's kids will lose their tongue. But Vaemond has no real reason to fear: this is no longer a Westeros ruled by the king. Not really. The years of decay have caught up with Viserys in a real and gruesome way, leaving him with half a face and an inability to take care of any kingly duties. Meaning all business has been shuffled off into the grabby hands of House Hightower.

A tale of two would-be Queens

All of this Driftwood Throne drama turns out to be extremely inconvenient for poor Rhaenyra, who is forced to leave Dragonstone, where she's happily shacked up with her uncle and is awaiting the birth of their third child together. They've got dragon eggs, Valyrian tutors, and some of the only bearable Targaryen kids in the realm. Why the hell would they want to leave that behind to cross paths with the Hightowers again? Because, as usual, the heavy burden of her duty is calling.

Rhaenyra has no choice but to step up and defend her son's claim to the Driftwood throne because his very life could depend on it. If he's passed over, then Jacaerys and even Rhaenyra will look suspicious as heirs to the Iron Throne. It would give credence to the rumor that her children are illegitimate and if the rest of the Kingdom openly accepts that, then her family is at risk.

Rhaenyra isn't the only would-be Queen with a stake in this debate. I've yet to mention the only other woman who might be more entrenched in this than her: Rhaenys Velaryon (Eve Best). Even though she spent years sitting on the throne in her husband's stead, the possibility of his death means he must be succeeded by someone else — aka a man with Velaryon blood. The Queen Who Never Was is no stranger to being passed over, so she doesn't really make an effort to argue in her own defense. But don't forget that she's already voiced her opinion on this matter: she tried to convince Corlys to pass the throne to their grandaughter, Baela, but he stubbornly stuck to his guns about backing Lucerys. So with him out of commission, where does Rhaenys stand?

Queen vs Princess ... vs Queen

Rhaenys is nothing if not realistic. She has plenty of excuses to resent Rhaenyra and does so openly — which includes blatantly accusing her of murdering Laenor. But when she confronts the Princess about the Driftmark succession, she isn't being cruel just for cruelty's sake. Rhaenys' MO has always been reality, so she once again speaks the truth as she knows it: Rhaenyra's claim to the throne will not be honored. Not easily and not without a fight. Giving Driftmark to Vaemond is precisely the kind of blow that will help the Hightowers weaken Rhaenyra, and there's nothing that either of them can do to stop it.

Rhaenyra knows this all too well — which is why she finds herself at Viserys' bedside, lamenting the impossibility of the duty he's passed down to her. If the point of Aegon's prophecy is to keep the realm united, then why did he divide them by naming her heir? He might have an answer, but he's in no state to voice it: Viserys is perpetually sated on milk of the poppy, which keeps his brain muddled but his pain distant. Is it an act of mercy from Alicent, or a strategic method of keeping her husband out of commission? Based on both her shock and concern when he triumphantly arrives at the throne room, it's something in between.

The fact of the matter is simple: Alicent Hightower is a far cry from the anxiously obedient teenager we met in the series premiere. Our first hint came last week when she dropped her cloak of piety to threaten a kid with a dagger but in case you had any lingering questions about her morality, this episode features Alicent's most despicable act yet.

Alicent's true colors

It turns out that a lifetime of being told that he's special, meant for greatness, and totally allowed to steal his sister's birthright has made Aegon Targaryen into a spoiled brat, a bully, and *checks notes* yep, a rapist. For what is presumably not the first time, Aegon has sexually assaulted a servant and left it upon Alicent to clean up his mess. Like an absolute pro, Alicent offers the girl a hug and then promptly coerces her into silence with the threat of a ruined reputation and the unspoken possibility of something worse.

Throughout all this, Alicent's misery is palpable. She clearly hates her son and is disgusted by his actions — but none of that is enough to stop her from protecting him. And it's certainly not enough to hold him accountable in any significant way. Sure, she slaps him, insults him, and showers only Helaena in sympathies but despite knowing him to be a monster, there's no question that Alicent will continue to defend Aegon and take actions that may one day help him win the Iron Throne.

Thankfully, Viserys manages to pull his half-decayed body from bed just in time to stop that from happening.

A barely breathing corpse he may be, but Viserys was lucid enough to process his daughter's plea for help and steps up in her defense. Or, more accurately, limps up the stairs with the help of Daemon (Matt Smith). It's a struggle (made easier by his touching reconnection with his brother), but he manages to collapse on the throne and resize authority. He throws to Rhaenys for her thoughts on Corlys' wishes, which she chooses to honor, ultimately siding with Rhaenyra and Lucerys.

Believe it or not, Vaemond is not a fan and decides to do the unthinkable in his outrage. He shouts for all seven Gods to hear, "Her children are bastards." Uh oh.

Another loss for House Velaryon

For the second time and in a very public setting, someone pretty high up in the totem pole has accused Rhaenyra's kids of being bastards. But while Aegon went unpunished (beyond a brief scolding from the King), Vaemond pays the ultimate price. Dameon "give me a reason" Targaryen has been patiently waiting for this moment. You might notice that immediately after Vaemond speaks, Daemon disappears from his post at Rhaenyra's side. It's the briefest detail, and our hint that he's off to grab the extremely sharp blade that will slice right through Vaemond's face, causing yet another loss for House Velaryon.

Corlys — who isn't even well enough to appear in this episode — has unknowingly led his house into yet another tragedy. His ambition is what got them mixed up with the Targaryen succession in the first place and all these years later, his children and brother are dead. Rhaenys in her mournful solitude is all that remains. If anyone besides Rhaenys sees a reason to mourn Vaemond, then it's never mentioned. While she stands watch in the morgue, yet another funeral looming on her horizon, the rest of the Targaryens join together for a family dinner.

Family dinner, Targaryen-style

If not for Viserys' speech, it would've been a tense and uncomfortable meal. But for maybe the millionth time since the series began, the King makes a plea for everybody to play nice. This time, he lays himself bare — and maybe it's because he's speaking as a man whose life is clearly waning out, but his words have some actual impact. "The crown can not stand strong if the house of the dragon remains divided," he reminds them. But when he makes his final plea, he asks that they be a family for him, if nothing else.

It's enough to strike a chord in Rhaenyra's heart, and she makes a sincere effort to extend some peace. Kicking off a night of many toasts, she raises a glass in Alicent's honor, thanking her for the years spent taking care of Viserys and even offering an apology. Alicent, in turn, shocks her father by accepting the olive branch and toasting Rhaenyra — "You will make a fine Queen," she tells her.

Both of them speak sincerely and, besides a few other uncomfortable toasts (Helaena you are so loved), their words manage to shift the mood of the meal. Jacaerys ignores Aegon's taunting and offers his aunt a dance. Around the table, everyone gets chatty and even kind of silly. We even get a glimpse of Otto Hightower smiling! I didn't know that his face could do that! They seem like a real, genuine family. For a second, I was afraid the joy might kill Viserys on the spot. Instead, he simply retires to take something for his pain — revealing that the very fragile man, on the verge of death, is truly the only thing keeping this family from imploding. The second he's gone, the happy family dinner unravels.

The end of an era

"The Lord of the Tides" is a lesson in what happens when you raise children in the eye of a political storm. Palace intrigue? Petty grudges? Enduring rivalries? All stuff you should probably shield your kids from at all costs. As a teen mother, Alicent once complained to her father that it would be a terrible thing to raise Aegon to steal his sister's crown: what kind of man would he become? Well now we have an answer: he's pathetic and despicable, prone to hurting others while wallowing in his own self-pity. And as for Aemond? He's a rogue prince on the rise, strategically waiting for just the right moment to sow chaos.

The brief peace that Rhaenyra and Alicent find isn't strong enough to contend with the impact they've had on their children. Jace and Luc are always on the defensive, terrified of their parentage coming to light while Alicent's boys play offense, attacking their nephews at every opportunity. It's o surprise then that Aemond seizes his chase to publicly antagonize them, toasting his Strong nephews with an all-knowing smirk. Viserys is far too frail to keep doling out motivational speeches, but it wouldn't even matter if he could. These kids already have the conflict baked into their bones. The damage has been done.

It's also not just about the kids. Otto looks none too pleased to see his daughter making ice with Rhaenyra and this might be a rare issue that he and Daemon agree on. But with everyone around them planning for the worst, the women still make plans to reconnect.

Though they smile and lock hands, the episode ends on an ominous note that casts a dark shadow over their friendship. This certainly isn't the first episode to end with Viserys' potential death, but there's a finality to this particular chapter of their lives. The house of the dragon hardly needs an excuse to tear itself apart, but that's exactly what Viserys' passing will be.

Stray thoughts

  • FINALLY, an explanation for why the camera keeps lingering on Alicent's handmaid, Talya. And very well timed! I've started seeing crackpot theories that she's a young version of the Red Witch, Melissandre and personally, I was starting to think it had something to do with the character being played by director Miguel Sapochnik's real-life wife, Alexis Raben. But in reality, she's just a spy! That makes lots of sense. And it means Mysaria might be coming back in a big way because she has a direct line to all of Alicent's secrets.

  • Viserys' inability to tell his daughter from his wife is a serious problem. Hw just accidentally gave Alicent half of a crucial prophecy and I'm terrified of what her takeaway was. Does she think she's the chosen one? Does she think Aegon is the prophesied prince? Is this just another reason for her to block Rhaenyra's claim?

  • I'm no political strategist but I am absolutely baffled by Rhaenyra's decision to not tell Rhaenys that she did not murder her son. Generally, people like you a lot when they learn that you didn't have their child stabbed and burned! (I know it needs to be kept on the down low so that her marriage to Daemon stays legit, but I bet Rhaenys wouldn't mind her son being far away because it's a massive improvement on him being dead.)

  • Listen, I am very much Team Rhaenyra but... are we sure about making Lucerys Lord of the Tides? Has that kid ever even been on a boat? Why wasn't he raised at Driftmark, a castle that he's expected to rule? And why isn't HE the one marrying Baela, who's the resident Driftmark expert?!

  • On the subject of Targeryen education, how is Jacaerys only just learning High Valyrian? Rhaenyra was fluent at his age. Hell, even Daenerys was fluent at his age and all she had was an abusive, s****y brother to teach her. This is the height of Targaryen power, there are all sorts of tutors and books available, so why wasn't he just raised multilingually?!

  • I can not overstate the unflinching badassery of Rhaenyra naming her one of her child Aegon as if to say, "Alicent, your first draft sucks, let's toss that one in the trash ad focus all our attention on my perfect beautiful boy." I don't yet know baby Aegon very well, but I already like him a thousand times more than the blonde dumpster fire who ruined Helaena's life.

  • On the other hand, maybe this family just lacks any and all creativity. You're telling me that we now have two characters named Aegon and two characters named Viserys?! All because Rhaenyra couldn't dream up another name?! (On the bright side, one Viserys looks to be on his way out...)

  • Three cheers for Matt Smith and his range: one second he's looking like an absolute puppy dog, staring sadly at Viserys and the next, he's committing a very graphic and public murder for which he will face absolutely no consequences.

Who is winning the Game of Thrones?

LOSER: Jacaerys, Lucerys, and Joffrey Targaryen - Get publicly called a bastard once, shame on them. But twice? It might be time to pack your bags and move to Essos because this rumor isn't going away anytime soon. Having Daemon in their corner is definitely a bright side to all this, but it only helps them so much. If all of Westeros decides to accept the truth, what then? And what about how they perceive themselves? Lucerys has finally realized the truth of their parentage and seems rightfully terrified by what it could mean for his future. Poor Joffrey has no idea what awaits him...

WINNER: Rhaenyra Targaryen - A tentative win for Rhaenyra is still a win. After feeling alone in the past, her family finally unites in her defense, lessening the burden of her duty. Viserys wills himself to sit on the throne ad keep her safe, Daemon jumps at the opportunity to behead someone in her honor and even Rhaenys very reluctantly backs her claim.

LOSER: Otto Hightower - The audacity of Otto Hightower to use Viserys' sickness as an excuse to sit on the Iron Throne. Lyonel Strong would never! It must've been supremely disappointing for him when Viserys limped in to reclaim his throne but I bet it wasn't nearly as upsetting as seeing Alicent and Rhaenyra rekindle their friendship.

WINNER: Mysaria - Things are going so well for Mysaria that we straight-up forgot to worry about her — that's when you really know that someone has become a threat. She has spies everywhere, including the Red Keep, and that gives her the freedom of options. She gets to choose which side to back, if any, or she could simply keep selling secrets for her own benefit. Either way, it seems she's found the liberation that she was after.

LOSER: Rhaenys Velaryon - Death has come for House Velaryon and left Rhaenys in isolation. Both of her kids lost and her husband laid up, she had no choice but to back the women she believes is responsible for her son's murder. Things are looking bleak for Rhaenys as she continues her period of mourning, but I get the feeling that is she chooses to really renter the game, then her enemies will be in serious danger...