House Of The Dragon Unleashes Rogue Royals And Horrifying Proposals In 'The Rogue Prince'

As veterans of the terrible world of Westeros, I think we can all agree that we will regularly expect to be horrified by much of what goes down in "House of the Dragon." The Targaryens are at the helm, for Christ's sake, and we all know what they're capable of. But not even the horrors of "Game of Thrones," or the brutality of last week's premiere could prepare me for the ickiest scene in "The Rogue Prince." Surprisingly, I'm not talking about the closeup of maggots eating flesh or even the opening shot of crabs feasting on still-living hostages. Overall, there's quite a lot of flesh-eating in this episode but still, the worst thing we witnessed was a casual stroll through the gardens.

Yes, of course, I'm referring to the extremely distressing storyline where King Viserys (Paddy Considine) considers marrying a 12-year-old girl. Spoiler alert — we are thankfully saved from the horrors of that relationship coming to fruition ... because he decides to marry a 15-year-old girl instead.

Ya know what? I'm starting to come around on Daenerys' perspective. Let's burn down Westeros and start society over because this world is absolutely cursed.

The precarious line of succession

Do you have an underage daughter? Would you like her to marry King Viserys? Well, you better get in line because apparently, everyone in Westeros is just throwing their teenage girls at him! Half a year after the Queen's death, the social climbers are thinking about how best to position themselves as the King begins his search for a new wife. The thought of remarrying is of little interest to Viserys, but his small council has made it abundantly clear that mourning is less important than strengthening the line of succession.

Regretfully, they have a point. At the moment, Viserys only has one heir — his daughter Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock). Were something to happen to the king — like, I dunno, a really bad infection from all his many throne cuts — then they'd actually have to give the throne to a woman (gasp). And if something happens to her too? Then Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) would be the only option. Both of them are controversial options, which makes Viserys' reign feel fragile. So naturally, the small council has some suggestions about who he should marry next so he can start producing babies as quickly as possible. And by small council, I mostly mean Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) and Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint).

Securing the line of succession by popping out more heirs is one thing, but making them pureblooded Valyrians is another. The Targaryen and the Velaryons are the last remaining houses of Old Valyrian blood, so Corlys has the bright idea to unite them in marriage. When he first proposes this, I thought to myself — oh, cool, he has an adult daughter that we haven't seen yet. I bet she rocks, can't wait to meet her! Alas, that was too optimistic.

All is fair in love and war

Corlys was in fact referring to his 12-year-old, Laena (Nova Foueillis-Mose). It's an idea so absurd that even Viserys can't stop remarking about how young she is — to which one of his council members shrugs, "She will mature." Even more distressing is the speech that Laena gives Viserys about what a great wife she would make and how she looks forward to bearing his children. But he sees right through her, knowing the words come from Corlys.

Ultimately, this horrifying marriage makes a lot of sense (politically speaking). At every turn, Viserys is reminded that he needs to marry and secure his line. Doing so with Corlys' daughter would be smart, especially in the wake of all that's going down with the Crab Feeder. By taking over islands and ships throughout the Narrow Sea, the Crab Feeder is royally pissing off House Velaryon, whose power is rooted in their trading routes and an enormous fleet of ships. Corlys has been asking the crown to take action, but Viserys opts to avoid the conflict since it has yet to reach Westeros — other than killing some of Corlys' men. But that's nothing they can't just throw money at, right? 

With Corlys growing frustrated, marrying his daughter would be a great way to unite him at Viserys' side. Pretty much everyone agrees on that ... except Otto Hightower.

The weakness of King Viserys

To his credit, Viserys recognizes the ambition of Corlys Velaryon. He feels it emanating from him, and that sours his impression of Laena. Ya know, that and her age. But that's not the only reason he ends up turning down the marriage offer. Viserys, the softie, puts politics aside to follow his heart and marry Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey). Unbeknownst to him, this is exactly what Otto was working towards. While Corlys made the mistake of showing his hand and directly asking for something, Otto took a different approach; he schemed, manipulated, and succeeded.

Say what you will about Daemon Targaryen, but the man has a good eye. He clocked Otto Hightower right from the start, warning Viserys that he is too easily manipulated by the ambitious second son. You'd think that might set off some alarm bells in the king's head, but he looks right past it, never questioning why Alicent is spending so much quality time with her best friend's father. Does he think his stone models of Old Valyria are just so damn cool that she can't resist? Does he never notice that she basically radiates anxiety?

In the background of all this, we learn that Viserys' health is worsening. There's nothing dramatic or urgent about his two small injuries — he won't drop dead because of his cut finger — but it's telling that these medical issues are being so closely monitored by his Hand and Maester. However small, these are vulnerabilities and Viserys has no reservations about letting Otto in on them. Is that wise? Daemon wouldn't think so. But then again, the Prince isn't exactly in good standing with the crown right now.

Daemon (almost) chooses violence

Above all, "House of the Dragon" is a family drama. There will be lots of politicking and plenty of dragon fire to go around, but at the center of everything is the Targaryens. The burden of ruling, the importance of marriage, and the many responsibilities of being royal are taking center stage. What does all of that do to a family? Evidently, it causes sibling rivalries and awkward family dinners. But somewhere beneath all of that resentment, is a little something called love.

Alright, so I'm a Daemon Targaryen apologist. What can I say? Matt Smith is really good at brooding and I shouldn't be held accountable for noticing! But there is something sweet about Daemon's tenderness when it comes to his family. They are no doubt the source of his anger — as Rhaenyra points out, she is the walking embodiment of him being cast aside. Yet when she confronts him at Dragonstone, pointing out how simple it would be to get rid of her, you never get the sense that he considers that a real possibility. Similarly, while he s**t talks his brother to Corlys Velaryon, he sharply stops the Lord of Tides from doing the same. "The blood of the dragon runs thick," as Daemon says; he has a soft spot for his family, but that does little to quell his ambitions.

Daemon has a chip on his shoulder that no amount of Gold Cloaks can get rid of. He wants the crown, or at least his brother's acknowledgment — isn't that why he steals a dragon egg? But much to his disappointment, King Viserys doesn't show, instead sending Otto Hightower in his place. So Rhaenyra is the one to do what her father failed to try: she confronts her uncle, face to face (and dragon to dragon), and gets the egg back without bloodshed.

A forgotten Princess

A lot like her uncle, Rhaenyra simply wants to be taken seriously. Although she's been named heir to the throne, she hasn't been welcomed into the fold. Otto Hightower still finds ways to send her out of meetings, she still pours wine for the lords of the small council and as far as her father is concerned, she remains a little girl. And along with all of that frustration, she continues to grieve for her mother in solitude (since Viserys is too busy having secret hangout sessions with her best friend). And then there's the hard truth that she's been trying to avoid — which her cousin Rhaenys (Eve Best) has no trouble speaking aloud.

"Men would sooner put the realm to the torch, than see a woman ascend the Iron Throne."

"House of the Dragon" makes the very clever move to have Rhaenys loom in the background of this episode, a silent audience as Rhaenyra chooses a Kingsguard replacement (Ser Cole!) and a passive presence while Viserys courts her preteen daughter. When she hints that Rhaenyra will never actually sit on the Iron Throne, they aren't words of malice. She's being matter-of-fact. The Queen Who Never Was knows better than to hope for new world order: she isn't jealous of Rhaenyra's position because she sees it as temporary. And however much it bothers her to see Laena offered to Viserys, the best she can hope for is that her daughter won't have to bed the king until she comes of age (which in Westeros, is age 14).

The Rogue Prince, the Rogue Princess, and their King

But Rhaenyra rejects Rhaenys' wisdom. Flying to Dragonstone is how she seeks to prove herself. It's a fitting conclusion to what's ultimately a family matter: she took it personally when Daemon stole the egg she chose for her now-dead brother. And while he was on the verge of skewering Otto, Daemon doesn't put up a fight when his niece is the one to demand the return of the egg. Alas, just when this family seems to be mending itself — Daemon backing down from Rhaenyra and the princess sharing a touching moment with her father — more cracks emerge. Viserys' marriage announcement does not go over well, sending both Corlys and Rhaenyra storming out of the small council chambers.

Whatever point Daemon sought to prove at Dragonstone wasn't landing — so he turns his attention elsewhere with Corlys. Together they make plans to deal with the Crab Feeder. Perhaps in fighting this pirate, Daemon can find glory and prove his importance to the realm. Doing this means fighting a war without the support of the crown but succeeding would be difficult for the common folk — certainly those impacted by the Crab Feeder's destruction — to ignore.

War is in the air. The episode is packed with discussions about fleets, money, and power. The dragon eggs are thought of as "dangerous weapons"; Otto worries about Daemon's "army" of gold cloaks and backs down when the prince threatens to unleash Caraxes; Viserys is reminded of Corlys' massive fleet of ships, and Rhaenyra reminds her father that he has Dragonriders to unleash. These are some of the biggest pieces on the board — we should keep track of who has the power to play them.

Some stray thoughts

  • In the leadup to this series, George R.R. Martin kept making this grand proclamation that what sets HotD apart from GoT is the lack of a clear hero. Instead of easy to root for protagonists like Arya Stark, we'd be getting a collection of morally grey leads. It's not that I didn't believe him, I just kinda latched on to Corlys Velaryon's general air of badassery. With a nickname like the Sea Snake, how could he not be the absolute coolest? He basically spent the entire first episode judging people with his wife! What's not to like?! But now that I've seen him pimp out his daughter, I know that no one can truly be trusted. Which is fine — I obviously have no morals if I'm out here rooting for Daemon Targaryen.

  • On a similar note, I'd like to preemptively revoke the part where I called myself a Daemon apologist. I just know in my soul that he's gonna commit some heinous crime that makes me regret that statement. He has Jaimie Lannister vibes: you start to like him and then you remember the time that he shoved a kid out of a tower. Or the time he strangled his cousin to death. Or the time he made Brienne sad.

  • Viserys says: "There are times when I would rather face the Black Dread himself, than my own daughter of 15." He sounds an awful lot like Ned Stark lamenting after an afternoon with Sansa and Arya: "War was easier than daughters."

  • Important dragon tidbits! Viserys was Balerion The Dread's last rider. Balerion is one of the three dragons that the Targaryens used to conquer Westeros. While the second, Meraxes, is also dead, the third still lives. Vhagar is still roaming around, making non-Targaryens very nervous.

  • Lady Mysaria gives Daemon a lot of telling looks during the confrontation with the King's men. She has no interest in marrying him or bearing his children — she's looking for freedom. What does that look like, while remaining at Daemon's side?

  • It was always so terribly bittersweet when "The Crown" would replace its cast members to age up the characters. "House of the Dragon" is taking a similar approach with young Rhaenyra and Alicent. I have no doubts about the abilities of Emma D'Arcy and I'm very much looking forward to seeing the woman that Rhaenyra will become but damn, I'm already thinking about how much I'll miss Milly Alcock when she's gone.

Who is winning the Game of Thrones?

The world of Westeros may be continuing under a different title, but we are still playing a game of thrones. Let's take a moment to reflect on the episode's most prominent players:

WINNER: Otto Hightower - During the reign of strong monarchs, the Hand of the King is just a coordinator for the ruler. But when the monarchs are weak, the Hand is the real power behind the throne. Otto isn't just winning because he's convinced the King to marry his daughter without saying a word (though that's a very big win). He's winning because of how every problem the small council debates ultimately gets resolved: with whatever solution Otto proposed. Viserys keeps leaning his way without a second thought. Otto has his right-hand man position locked down.

LOSER: Daemon Targaryen - Daemon is no closer to getting the throne. Sure, his brother didn't put up a fight when he continued to ignore his wife and squatted on Dragonstone but then his grand act of rebellion was shut down by his 15-year-old niece. But although it's a loss for this weak, Daemon's story closes on a promising note: he might just be able to find glory elsewhere.

WINNER...?: Alicent Hightower - Honestly, I don't really know if Alicent wants to be playing the game of thrones. But whether she likes it or not, she's a better player than most. After a couple of weeks of complimenting his legos and bonding over history, Alicent is betrothed to the King! I hesitate to call this a full win though because it's hard to say if Alicent is happy about anything that's happening in her life. All she's doing is anxiously following her father's orders and now, her friendship with Rhaenyra is hanging in the balance. So uh, things could be better but at least she gets a tiara out of all this.

LOSER: Corlys and Rhaenys Velaryon - Personally, I count it as a win to not marry your pre-teen daughter to a grown man but maybe I'm just not cut out for the game of thrones. Corlys clearly takes a lot of pride in his name, his house, and his life's work — by turning down his marriage proposal, Viserys has insulted him. It's a loss this week, but Corlys is shipping out to find success elsewhere.

WINNER: Ser Criston Cole - Our newest member of the Kingsguard is Dornish so we are the real winners of this game. Criston Cole not only gets the honor of impressing the princess and earning the right to defend her, he also gets to insult Daemon right to his face. I'm sure that'll never bite him in the ass! Daemon seems super forgiving of insults, don't ya think?

STILL IN THE GAME: Rhaenyra Targaryen - Tough week for Rhaenyra. She gets kicked out of the small council meeting but later proves herself and finally gets some acknowledgment from her father. And then he decides to marry her best friend without even warning her. But worst of all, Rhaenys' words are still ringing in the air: will Viserys cast her aside for a son? And even if he doesn't, will the realm accept a Queen?