Matt Smith in House of the Dragon

No dynasty can avoid the constant threat of being destroyed by scandals. Believe it or not, House Targaryen is no exception. You might think that their reputation for burning enemies would make them exempt or maybe that their well-documented family history of incest would make them immune, but nope! It turns out they are just as susceptible to the rumor mill. Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock) learns this the hard way when her uncle returns from his war deadset on sullying her reputation and seizing his chance at power.

After three episodes of laying the groundwork, "House of the Dragon" comes out swinging with "King of the Narrow Sea." The table is set, the characters are known quantities and at last, we can finally have some real fun in this new iteration of Westeros. The fourth episode has everything we could’ve hoped for and so much more: small council meetings, brothel visits, a Westerosi off-broadway performance, marriage proposals, schemes gone horribly wrong, and of course, some very sexy drama. Since scandals, schemes, and sex are the core tenants of Westeros, I can think of no better way to kickstart this new era of Targaryen rule.

The most eligible Bachelorette in Westeros

Milly Alcock in House of the Dragon

One year has passed since the events of "Second of His Name" and Rhaenyra Targaryen has yet to take a husband. It’s certainly not for lack of trying on her father’s part: when we catch up with the princess, she’s holding court for a long line of men who have assembled as potential suitors. Amongst them is what appears to be a pre-teen boy (who turns out to be very handy with his sword) and a man older than her father. Westeros’ most eligible bachelorette is unsurprisingly not loving her options, so she decides to ditch them and head home even though she apparently had two months left on this proposal tour.

Honestly, who can blame her? So far, "House of the Dragon" has been 80% marriage proposals, so she’s reasonably exhausted. And two more months of irritating men sounds unbearable. Anyway, her timing for heading home turns out to be impeccable: just as Rhaenyra arrives at King’s Landing, so does Daemon (Matt Smith), fresh off his success at the Stepstones. In the time since his victory, Daemon has killed 2000 of the Crabfeeder’s men and finally fashioned himself a crown. His men named him King of the Narrow Sea but despite boasting glory, Daemon still bows to his brother. Maybe charging into a suicide mission changed him for the better! Maybe the pettiest man in all of Westeros is reformed!

… Just kidding. Daemon has an elaborate ulterior motive: he is secretly a contestant on Westeros’ Bachelorette because he too would like a chance to marry Rhaenyra. But instead of just asking (probably due to the minor obstacle of already being married), he has a bats**t crazy plan to sweep her off her feet with a brothel date night. That way, he can seduce her … and also ruin her reputation. Shockingly, his hair-brained scheme doesn’t go quite as planned.

The wayward brother returns with a scheme

Paddy Considine and Matt Smith in House of the Dragon

From the first moment that Rhaenyra and Daemon interacted in the throne room, we should’ve known it would come to this; their sexual tension is unsettlingly palpable, especially in this episode. When he first returns, Rhaenyra tracks Daemon through the crowd, following his every step. Later, he gives her lots of lingering, longing glances. Ew. Most importantly is the fact that Rhaenyra immediately sees through him and knows what to ask: why did you come back? He refuses to give her a straight answer, but later on, we can put the pieces together for ourselves.

Under the shadow of night, Daemon invites his niece into the city, smuggling her out of the Red Keep in boys’ clothes through a secret passageway (great security, Westeros). In the moment, it seems like Daemon is just offering her some fun to lift her spirits. In reality, he’s a man on a mission. "I know that there is only one true king," he told Viserys (Paddy Considine) when they reconciled; but it wasn’t a pledge of fealty. Being King of the Narrow Sea means nothing. It’s just a title. Daemon still has his eyes set on the Iron Throne. He’s finally abandoned the idea of being renamed heir, but his new path to the seat of power is through Rhaenyra.

The complicated bugger that he is, Daemon doesn’t actually seem to go through with his plan. After showing Rhaenyra a good night in the city, they shed their disguises and head to a brothel, silvery hair revealed so they will be recognized. Presumably, he planned to publicly take her virginity so that no one would want to marry the Princess — except for him. But in the end, he backs off and abandons ship, leaving her behind after an intense makeout session. (Once again: ew.)

Maybe this is the Daemon apologist in me speaking, but it feels like the Rogue Prince was thrown off by Rhaeyra not letting him take control. He’s met his match ad maybe he caught feelings (yes, for his niece) and it left him so conflicted that he decided against actually ruining her for marriage and instead left. Or maybe Daemon just has some virility issues because lets be real, this is the second time we’ve seen him back down from sex to go brood in a corner.

A tale of two unhappy women

Emily Carey and Milly Alcock in House of the Dragon

Incest aside, this night out is a very important moment for Rhaenyra. Daemon is showing her a new corner of the world and giving her a taste of freedom that she doesn’t believe she’s ever had. But others might disagree.

In this episode, the Princess is put in direct contrast with the Queen. Alicent (Emily Carey) and Rhaenyra have somewhat reconciled their relationship, even sharing a very few touching moments and joining hands. But things are very different now. They’re leading two very different lives. Alicent is constantly checking her friend’s privilege — pointing out that most women don’t get the pleasure of choosing their husband while Rhaenyra complains about all her relentless suitors. While Alicent simply accepts the circumstances of her womanhood in Westeros, Rhaenyra constantly challenges it. And while Alicent is trapped inside, nursing her children and looking after the king, Rhaenyra is out on the town, exploring her sexuality and seeing the world.

As for the state of their friendship, it’s beginning to feel one-sided. Alicent is very decisively on Rhaenyra’s side and has been for a while, even when she was being iced out. She isn’t actively trying to seize control for her son (despite her father’s advice) and truly believes that Rhaenyra should be the heir. But she also believes that they are both beholden to their roles as women — which is why Alicent flips out when she thinks that Rhaenyra slept with Daemon.

As for Rhaenyra? She doesn’t hesitate to lie, knowing how poorly the truth would be received. And even more heartbreaking is the way she speaks to Alicent during their confrontation: she consistently addresses her as "Your Grace." She isn’t talking to Alicent her friend, but to the Queen, who she needs on her side to get out of this mess. And coming off the heels of Alicent’s speech about only being seen as the queen rather than as herself, it seems their friendship hasn’t been mended after all.

The princess and her protector

Milly Alcock in House of the Dragon

When it comes to all those nasty rumors about the Princess, Rhaenyra manages to dodge the brunt of the damage. It probably helps that they’re mostly false — she sure was spotted at a brothel with Daemon, but she didn’t lose her maidenhead to him. Instead, that honor went to Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), in a wonderfully steamy scene that involves slowly stripping off layers of armor. The fallout of this will be absolutely fascinating. In the moment, Rhaenyra’s intentions are hard to read: does she only turn to Criston because Daemon abandoned her? Is she acting on true feelings? Or just having one fun night? And in the aftermath, how does the knight feel?

For Ser Criston, this isn’t something to be taken lightly. He is a member of the Kingsguard and her sworn protector. While that doesn’t come with a vow of celibacy, taking the unmarried Princess’ virtue is dangerous territory. He’s also the honorable type — even after they kiss, Ser Cole seems deeply conflicted. But on the other hand, this has obviously been a long time coming. There’s an unspoken intimacy between these two; since her friendship with Alicent is in shambles, Rhaenyra has turned to Ser Cole. He has been her confidant and in turn, seems to dote on her (he holds onto her arm for a very long time after she bumps her head). They share a closeness that you’d never expect to see between the King and his Kindsguards knights.

Word of mouth

Paddy Considine in House of the Dragon

While Viserys knows nothing of her relationship with Ser Cole, he doesn’t know what to believe about her night with Daemon. When he confronts his brother, Daemon lets him believe the rumors — even daring to ask for Rhaenyra’s hand in marriage. The King doesn’t just refuse, but once again banishes his brother from court sending him back to his wife. When Viserys finally confronts Rhaeyra, thanks to some prompting from Alicent, he decides against disinheriting her. Instead, he doubles down on his prophecy obsession and reminds her that Aegon’s vision is their main priority. Her duty is to pass on the secret aka have some sons. In the end, it’s a two-way street — they must both do their duty to the realm, Rhaenyra must marry Laenor Valryon and Viserys must find a new Hand of the King. If his goal is to keep war from erupting, then he needs to oust Otto Hightower, who is so dead-set on getting Rhaenyra disinherited that he planted spies.

With Otto gone, Rhaenyra remains heir but at the end of the day, Viserys sends Maestor Mellos to her room with some Westerosi Plan B. He assumes that she is lying about Daemon— or at the very least, isn’t taking any chances.

Some stray thoughts

Milly Alcock and Matt Smith in House Of The Dragon
  • Fellas, is it weird to seduce your niece in a brothel? (Yes.)

  • Viserys, the King of the Seven Kingdoms and Westeros’ symbol of strength is uh, not doing so well. At what point do we start making bets on when he drops dead? In addition to his body being riddled with scabs ad poorly healed wounds, he uses his Valyrian steel sword like it’s a walking stick. Yikes.

  • The security in this castle sucks. Why is there a giant secret entrance in the Princess’ room? She is the heir to the Iron Throne! Even worse, she’s a very controversial heir! Someone could easily slip in and murder her! Seal that s*** up!

  • Oh, hey, Mhysaria is still around and at Daemon’s side. There’s not much to say about that, except for my sincerest plea for Ryan Condal and co to free Sonoya Mizuno from this terrible accent in season 2.

  • And the winner of the great marriage Olympics is… Laenor Valeryon! It takes skill to get a wife without even appearing in an episode, but Laenor happily rises to the occasion. We don’t know too much about this guy but you’ll probably remember him as the dragon rider that swooped in to help Daemon defeat the Crabfeeder. It’s also important to remember that when Rhaenys was passed over, so was Laenor. He could’ve had a claim to the throne, as a relative of Jaehaerys, but lost out to Viserys’ bloodline. So, what kind of man will be: the ambitious kind who wants Rhaenyra’s throne for himself? Or is he happy to just be her trophy husband?

  • Now that we’ve wrapped up Westeros’ version of The Bachelorette, it’s time to start a game show for the next Hand of the King! There are many potential candidates of course: naming Corlys Hand of the King would go a long way in mending that relationship. But then again, Viserys is tired of strivers. So the more likely answer is Lyonel Strong, the council member who has repeatedly pushed ambition aside to give the King some great advice. But keep this in mind: when Otto first floated the idea of naming Rhaenyra heir, Lyonel Strong was vehemently opposed.

  • Really appreciated the parallel of Otto struggling to describe the brothel scene vs the gentle Lady Alicent angrily dropping the f-bomb. It really highlights the difference between these two relationships: Alicent is speaking to her childhood best friend, and that’s a level of familiarity that even Otto can’t manufacture with the king.

  • Viserys tells Rhaenyra: "The truth does not matter, only perception." This sounds an awful lot like an old Varys parable: "Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick. A shadow on the wall." This is such an important lesson for Rhaenyra to learn that someone else tries to hammer it in too: Daemon points out that if she wants to rule, then she might want to consider the opinions of the smallfolk. Based on the little showcase she saw in Kings Landing, they don’t currently hold her in high esteem. It might be time to change that.

Who is winning the Game of Thrones?

Paddy Considine and Milly Alcock in House of the Dragon

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: Rhaenyra Targaryen – Rhaenyra is moving up in the world! Sure, she lost her dad’s trust but she remains the heir and if her claim can survive a nasty rumor that Viserys himself actually believes, then maybe she’s actually got a shot at the throne! Plus, she got rid of that terrible Otto Hightower. I’m sure that won’t harm her relationship with Alicent…

LOSER: Daemon Targaryen – Oh how the mighty fall. At the start of the episode, Daemon was on top of the world. He returned from his war successful, had a crown on his head, and even won his way back into the king’s good graces. By the end, he’s a drunken mess so pathetic that even Viserys could slit his throat in a heartbeat.

WINNER, sort of: Alicent Hightower – When it comes to general happiness and agency over her life, Alicent is definitely losing. This episode is just a montage of her unhappiness and it really, really sucks. But the game of thrones is all about influence and Alicent has proven time and time again that she knows how to guide King Viserys’ choices.

LOSER: Otto Hightower – Things could be worse. His daughter is still the Queen. But going from the second most powerful man in the realm to the lord of Oldtown is pretty embarrassing,

STILL IN THE GAME: Corlys Velaryon – Expect to see House Velaryon come back in a big way next week. Corlys has not only successfully taken the Stepstones, but finally got what he wanted all along: someone in his family will marry into royalty.