At least four years have passed since the death of Baelon Targaryen, the “Heir for a Day”, an event that opened the succession vacuum in house of the dragon. The queen, Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey), has since given birth to a son (the eldest son and first in line to the throne by gender tradition) and is now nursing another child. Meanwhile, King Viserys I (Paddy Considine) continues to age and develop foul-looking legions on his back and arms, an obvious harbinger for an ailing kingdom on the brink of civil war.
Episode 4 keeps the action around the year 116 BC, with Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) now about 18 years old. (The series is expected to move forward in time another fifteen years in the next few episodes.)
The episode plays out as an incestuous bildungsroman (a coming-of-age saga). The literary genre often features a first sexual experience for the protagonist, the development of which frames the overall stance of the story, often speaking of losing innocence and entering the adult world. Weather game of Thrones marked this moment with sexual violence (Daenerys’s forced betrothal to Drogo), house of the dragon he chooses to mark the occasion with… well, whatever’s going on between Rhaenyra and Daemon. Was it a power move? Was it desire? Was it… consensual? Yes? Yes? Nope?
Let’s get into things.
Having accepted at least elected her own husband (a compromise for taking nothing), Rhaenyra listens to a dozen propositions from potential suitors, and leaves the room with her Royal Guard, Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), after two suitors begin a sword fight. . It’s clear that the episode will hinge on Rhaenyra’s choice of marriage, a choice that turns out was never a choice at all.
On their way back to King’s Landing, Daemon’s dragon descends near her ship, knocking her to the deck and signaling continued antagonism between her and the King’s brother (although she looks up somewhat in love with Daemon’s tactics). . In the Throne Room, Daemon presents Viserys with the Crabman’s axe, a sign that his forces have defeated the mercenary commander of the Free Cities. He then bends the knee to Viserys, who embraces him, ending Daemon’s years of tension and near sedition.
Later, Rhaenyra and Alicent appear to settle their own dispute as they discuss the burden of marriage and childbirth. Rhaenyra suggests that Alicent’s role is simply to produce heirs for the King.
He then discusses the same fear with Daemon, whose return to King’s Landing he questions. (Rhaenyra thinks Daemon is up to no good.) Says tells Daemon that he does not wish to marry, a statement that he immediately presses on in the next scene during a small council meeting.
The Sea Serpent, Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), has not returned to King’s Landing, but instead maintains control of the islands and poses as marrying his daughter to a noble member of the Free Cities, a move that would undermine the power of Targaryen rule. It becomes clear that Viserys must rectify his decision not to marry Corlys’s daughter. He must make amends with Corlys.
she is the man
One night, Rhaenyra receives a message in her room telling her to meet outside the Red Keep. There she, disguised as a page, finds Daemon, and the two travel incognito to King’s Landing, where a Renaissance-style festival is taking place.
The two join a crowd watching a parody performance of the royal succession, with characters playing both Daemon and Rhaenyra. The crowd reacts negatively to Rhaenyra’s character, showing her unpopularity with the people. She storms off and tells Daemon that she doesn’t need people’s approval to rule them. (This may be a major doom for the civil war that is likely to come.)
Rhaenyra then follows Daemon (after being chased by him; there is awkward predatory flirtation throughout the festival sequence) to a brothel. In the innermost room, men and women engage in the most taboo acts. Here, Daemon kisses Rhaenyra. The two then begin to undress each other with Daemon leading Rhaenyra towards a wall and then spinning her around with her pants down. Rhaenyra, however, then turns around and chases after Daemon, who begins to find the experience unpleasant and then storms off. The scene cuts to Alicent copulating with the King, selflessly and out of duty. Rhaenyra and Daemon appear to be kissing passionately, an indicator that neither wishes to do what is expected of them to strengthen the crown. They both want what they want.
(It is unclear if Daemon made the move to sully Rhaenyra’s name, knowing they were being watched and word would spread through town, or out of desire. Or both. Rhaenyra herself seems to reciprocate and pursue Daemon. Again, if this is for pleasure or for some other reason, it is not clear).
After Daemon leaves, Rhaenyra returns to the Red Keep, where she seduces and then completes her night’s quest with her Kingsguard, Cole. (The two have also had a flirtation in the last two episodes.) Again, the scene seems to represent Rhaenyra’s rejection of duty in favor of her own desire.
Word travels through Otto Hightower’s spies that Daemon and Rhaenyra were “coupled”. Hightower informs Viserys, who accuses his Hand of using the information to blight Rhaenyra’s name and strengthen her grandson’s claim to the throne.
Meanwhile, Rhaenyra lies to Alicent when she asks if she slept with her uncle.
The incident is important because, well, the traditions. Rhaenyra’s chastity is essential to marrying her into a noble house. Viserys even points out that whether or not Rhaenyra slept with Daemon isn’t important; if people believe that she has, then her ability to marry is somewhat threatened. (These consequences of her decision seem to reinforce the idea that Rhaenyra made this decision to undermine the future marriage.)
Rhaenyra’s lie to Alicent, however, appears to be the more serious action, as it presents a potentially explosive moment that could end their friendship and force the Queen to side with another potential successor.
Viserys later has Daemon dragged into the Throne Room, where he once again banishes him from King’s Landing, but not before Daemon proposes marriage between him and Rhaenyra.
Fed up with everyone telling him what to do, Viserys tells Rhaenyra that she is marrying Sea Snake’s son, Laenor Velaryon. (Something someone else told her to do in the last episode.) Then, doing as Rhaenyra tells him to do, Viserys relieves Otto Hightower of Hand, convinced that he is too interested in furthering his own family’s claims to the throne.
The episode ends with the maester handing a medieval Plan B potion to Rhaenyra.
Joshua St Clair is an Editorial Assistant at Men’s Health Magazine.