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'House of the Dragon' episode 3: The king — and the show — go hunting for validation

Corlys Velaryon (Steve Tousssaint) has an axe, and teeth, to grind in <em>House of the Dragon</em>.
Corlys Velaryon (Steve Tousssaint) has an axe, and teeth, to grind in House of the Dragon.

This recap of House of the Dragon's third episode contains spoilers for ... well, for House of the Dragon's third episode. That's pretty much what a recap is. Proceed accordingly.

If you're just joining us, here are recaps of episode one and episode two anda glossary of people and places you may have forgotten.

That's a bit more like it.

Don't get me wrong: House of the Dragon remains as listlessly talky as ever, and is still telegraphing its each and every narrative punch by having different characters make the same point over and over, for our putative benefit. But you can't deny that the pace is quickening, the plot is thickening, and a third dragon gets added to the slooowly growing roster, with a fiery and efficient debut.

Woo, say I. A qualified woo.

We'll get to it all, but first: A word about those deeply snazzy opening credits. (Didn't mention them last week because the episode that was screened for press didn't have 'em, but this one did.)

We're back to an elaborate clockwork apparatus, like O.G. Game of Thrones. But instead of one that looks out at the wider world, this one looks inward — and to the past. Which is to say: These credits very much represent what House of the Dragon is all about, neatly teeing up the central conflicts that drive it. Good job on that, show.

The first symbol we see is the Doom of Valyria, the volcanic cataclysm that destroyed the ancestral home of the Targaryens and Velaryons (both Houses only survived because they'd relocated to Westeros years before).

Blood flows in rivulets through the machine, gathering in pools around pairs of sigils, then branching off again. The cool thing: Each of these sigils represents a different member of the royal family — so what the camera's really up to, of course, is following the literal bloodline(s) — get it? — of House Targaryen.

You'll notice a couple of times when two different bloodlines branch off from one pair of sigils and then kinda ... go back and pair up themselves. Yep: this represents siblings marrying siblings, a grand, gross, Targaryen family tradition: For richer, for poorer, in sickness, and incest.

GoT's opening credits gave viewers a heads-up as to which geographic locations would feature in a given week's episode. I venture to say that the HotD credits will change from week to week as well, to reflect the growth of the Targaryen dynasty — more members, more marriages, more blood from other Houses (or, you know, the same old House) entering the machine.

Crabs feed, kings breed

Three years have passed since the last episode. King Viserys has married his teen bride Alicent and they've had a son named Aegon, after the founder of the Targaryen Dynasty. Alicent is expecting a second child, as well.

Meanwhile, Daemon and Corlys, without seeking the permission of the king, have been attempting to take the Stepstones back from the Triarchy admiral known as the Crabfeeder.

It's, uh. Not going great.

First, Daemon rides his dragon Caraxes into battle, chasing the Crabfeeder and his men into the caves on the island of Bloodstone, where they dig in for a siege. In the process, Daemon plays Godzilla to one of his own soldier's Bambi, because dragons are many things, but dainty is not one of them.

Back in King's Landing, Ser Tyland Lannister nervously reports to Viserys that Daemon and Corlys are losing the Stepstones, and begs the king to intervene. But Viserys dismisses him, too preoccupied with his son Aegon's upcoming second birthday, and the royal hunt that has been arranged in his honor.

This hunt, you'll note, takes place in the Kingswood, a forest south of King's Landing that contains a private hunting area for the occupant of the Iron Throne. (It's in this same wood that King Robert I will later be mortally wounded by a boar, kicking off the events of Game of Thrones.)

"Hello, little girl. What's you're rush?" Bluff Jason Lannister (Jefferson Hall) hits on Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock).
"Hello, little girl. What's you're rush?" Bluff Jason Lannister (Jefferson Hall) hits on Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock).

Rhaenyra, between Casterly Rock and a hard place

Rhaenyra is reading up on history while getting dutifully serenaded by a minstrel named Samwell. Alicent comes to invite her to join the royal hunt, but conditions are frosty indeed between the two former pals. Rhaenyra feels overlooked and disregarded by the king and ... pretty much everyone else.

She's wrong about the king, who still wants her to inherit the Iron Throne, but she's right about the "everyone else" part, as various lords spend this episode whispering in Viserys' ear that his firstborn male son should be named the heir.

At the elaborate campsite — glampsite, really — of the royal hunt, there is feasting and gossip, the two-stroke engine of courtly life. Ladies Redwyne and Lannister urge Rhaenyra to get her father to do something about the Crabfeeder (drink!) and we meet Larys Strong, who'd rather sit with the ladies than the men. (Keep an eye on this Larys fella, he's got a role to play in what's coming.)

The oafish and overconfident Jason Lannister — the identical twin of nervous Tyland Lannister (whom we met earlier, played by the same actor) — attempts to flirt with Rhaenyra. This sets her fuming, and she confronts the king, accusing him of pawning her off for political gain. (Last week, with Rhaenys, she acted as if she understood she might get overlooked for the Iron Throne; this week, we see that was clearly acting, on her part.) (Or maybe she's made her peace with that, it's the "being forced to marry" thing that's truly bothering her?)

That Rhaenyra confronts him in such a public place is bad form on her part, but the king escalates things, in the very same, very public place, by fuming at her about her need to marry. Everyone notices, which can't be good.

Rhaenyra storms off on her horse, followed by her bodyguard Ser Criston Cole. She cools down a bit, and suggests they go for a walk through the Kingswood because "It's a beautiful day."

It's not, particularly — it's overcast and the woods are beige and very, very buggy. But they do, and Criston gently reminds her of her privilege.

Horse correction: Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) gets talked down from the edge by Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel).
Horse correction: Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) gets talked down from the edge by Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel).

And we were never being boar-ing

Back at glamp, there are reports of a white stag in the forest — a rare and noble beast that the king's advisors see as a sign, given that it was spotted during young Aegon's birthday celebration. The king looks troubled by this.

He's troubled, also, by Jason Lannister's offer of a spear with which to kill the beast, as well as his offering himself up as Rhaenyra Suitor Number 1. Otto makes things worse by stepping up to instead suggest a match "closer to home" — young Aegon as Rhaenyra Suitor Number 2.

That's right, her own two-year-old brother. (Let's stipulate that this pairing is not so much "closer to home" as "the calls are coming from inside the House!")

Still another lord suggests Ser Laenor Velaryon, the son of Corlys and Rhaenys, as Rhaenyra Suitor Number 3. (Don't worry, we haven't met him yet, but we will, before the episode is over.) You'll remember that awkward walk the king took last week with the 12-year-old? Yeah. Laenor is her older brother.

Think you need a scorecard now? Hang in there, there's more coming.

Night. Rhaenyra and Ser Criston have made their own camp. They're attacked by a boar that Criston skewers, but Rhaenrya makes shredded pork out of. That'll do, pig.

The king drunkenly, weepily confides in Alicent. He had a vision when Rhaenyra was young: He dreamed that he'd have a male son. It grew into an obsession, which drove him to sacrifice his first wife's life in favor of her infant son, who died. He thought naming Rhaenyra his heir would ameliorate his grief and regret. But all this political jockeying around him has got him second-guessing himself.

This scene is a big emotional breakthrough for Viserys — yes, he's drunk, but he's clearly been putting in the work on himself, processing, self-actualizing, filling out the workbooks — but Alicent just sort of ... stands there. I get that she's torn — she's still on Rhaenyra's side, but she also wouldn't hate seeing her son on the Iron Throne. So what are we to make of this utterly blank affect she's serving us — is this character inscrutable, or simply underwritten?

The king (Paddy Considine) gets more toasted than the marshmallows as Alicent (Emily Carey) looks on.
The king (Paddy Considine) gets more toasted than the marshmallows as Alicent (Emily Carey) looks on.

Hart-breaker, don't you mess around with me

The next morning, a profoundly hungover Viserys gets some good news and bad: They've captured a hart, but it's just your basic, Kingswood-variety brown stag, not the White Hart of Symbolic Importance to the Future of the Seven KingdomsTM.

He kills the animal in an effectively ugly and pathetic manner. The crowd applauds.

High on a ridge overlooking this sad scene, the true White Hart of Yeah No For Real You Are the True Heir to the Iron Throne, GurlTM appears to Rhaenyra and Ser Criston. This right here is the gods of Westeros (or at least the showrunners of House of the Dragon) making it official: They're Team Rhaenyra, and so should we be.

Back in King's Landing, Ser Otto Hightower urges his daughter Alicent — the Queen, let's remember! — to convince the king that Aegon should be named heir. Alicent is still on Team Rhaenyra, but she's vacillating. Otto presses his case, thusly:

It is Aegon that's being robbed. He's the firstborn son of the king! To deny that he is heir to the throne is to assail the laws of gods and men!

Yeah well. More the latter than the former, there, Sparky.

When Alicent sees the king, who is nursing a cup of Westerosi Alka-Seltzer, she doesn't press widdle Aegon's case. Yet.

She does urge him to respond to a plea for aid from Vaemond Velaryon.

Ping! A new character has entered the chat!

Vaemond is the younger brother of Corlys, and he's gone behind his and Daemon's back because they remain too proud to ask the king for help, even though they're losing the Stepstones.

And send aid he does. He also seems to have shaken off his earlier self-doubt, and assures Rhaenyra that she is still the one and only heir to the Iron Throne, and nothing will ever change that.

Cut to: Something that will probably change that.

Velaryon Roll Call! Vaemond (Wil Johnson), Leanor (Theo Nate) and Corlys (Steve Touissant) play toy soldiers.
Velaryon Roll Call! Vaemond (Wil Johnson), Leanor (Theo Nate) and Corlys (Steve Touissant) play toy soldiers.

A crab boil without Old Bay seasoning?

In the Stepstones, Daemon and Corlys are doing their best, but the Crabfeeder and his men are still hunkered down in the caves of Bloodstone, and firing on passing ships.

Corlys, his son Laenor (Remember him? Rhaenyra Suitor Number 3?) and Corlys' brother Vaemond (he of the secret S.O.S.) are standing over a very artsy-craftsy tactical map of the Stepstones on which — man, again with the tchotchkes, on this show! — House Velaryon is represented by cool-ass metal seahorse tokens, House Targaryen by jawbones that look like dragon wings, and the Crabfeeder by crab claws.

There are ... still a whole lot of crab claws on the map. Just need some wooden mallets, coleslaw, cornbread and a few tubs of butter and you got yourself a great summer Saturday afternoon in Annapolis.

Which is why they're worried. They're running out of food and determination, and the dragons aren't making headway, because the Crabfeeder's men just retreat back into their caves.

Their ... caves.

Their ... dungeness, you might say. No, you shut up.

What's needed, they decide, is a volunteer to head over to Bloodstone, the island they're holed up on, and draw them out. But who?

Here's who: Daemon. When a poor, hot messenger from King's Landing informs him that Viserys' help is on the way, he attacks the self-same poor, hot messenger, because the show wishes to remind us at this juncture that Daemon has a fiery temper and remains a jerk.

Daemon rows, rows, rows his boat over to Bloodstone, and promptly starts turning a really surprising number of the enemy into lump crabmeat. But then the archers pin him down, and get a few good shots in.

By this point, a lot of the Crabfeeder's soldiers have been drawn out of the caves, which leaves them open to attack from Corlys' men, not to mention ...

Laenor Velaryon, astride his dragon Seasmoke!

(Were you surprised by this? Did you think only Targaryens could ride dragons? Remember who Laenor's mother is. He carries the dragon-riding gene down deep in his ol' endoplasmic reticulum. As do — clip and save for later — his siblings.)

Seasmoke takes out the archers, and Corlys' men tie up the Crabfeeder's, leaving a wounded but unbowed Daemon to chase the Crabfeeder into his hole and make short work of him.

... Offscreen.

Oh, sure, we see the aftermath: Daemon dragging the top one-third of the Crabfeeder's corpse out of the cave for all to see. But we didn't get to actually see Daemon slicing the Crabfeeder on the bias, giving him a fashionable, kicky, off-the-shoulder kind of death.

Parting Thoughts:

  • In episode 1, I wondered if the show wanted us to see Viserys as a compassionate king, or merely a weak one. In Westeros, the two traits tend to conflate. But with his behavior this episode — spiraling into drunk, surly, self-pitying, feckless rage — the king put his thumb (and his hand, and his forearm) on the "weak" side of the scale. He rallied a bit, before the episode was over, and he got that chance to tell us what he's thinking, but what matters in King's Landing is how one is perceived by those around them, and his Q rating is plummeting.
  • Casting Jefferson Hill as both Tyland and his brother Jason reminds us that twins run in the Lannister family. Nice.
  • The show did a fair bit of work to set up the Crabfeeder as a formidable foe, but all of that work was purely visual. He had a great lewk, you can't deny it — that ravaged face concealed behind a half-mask. Then there's all that business of nailing folk to poles and letting his li'l scuttlers pick away at their flesh. It was ruthless brand-management, if nothing else. But the guy never said anything, never got a chance to show us any characterization at all beyond his physicality. (Neither did the Night King, back in GoT, but where that guy was an immortal and immensely powerful creature of sleepless malice who steadily built up his spooky reputation over several seasons, the Crabfeeder ends up getting handed a chump's death. Turns out he was just some random jamoke in a cool duster and Spirit Halloween mask who clocked less than six minutes of total screentime before getting hacked into ceviche.)
  • Welcome to the stage: Seasmoke! The show's third dragon! Fourth if you count Vhagar, who got a quick mention in last week's episode. But let's not count our dragons until we actually see them in the scaly flesh. So as of now, the Official Dragoncount stands at: 3.
  • Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.