The Crabfeeder is at it again. Before a waste of ships aflame, he listens silently, almost quizzically, as his latest Westerosi victim hurls insults. The oaths just bounce off Craghas Drahar’s mask as he drives the bolt home. But before the crabs can gobble, Caraxes appears out of the gloom, and the creature’s flaming breath lays waste to marauders and survivors alike. Prince Daemon even lands his mount on the guy who was just about to be crabbed. The prince and his dragon incinerate a few more swaths of pirates, but the Crabfeeder escapes into his cave bound stronghold, and his archers’ flaming arrows eventually repel the dragonrider. Daemon and Lord Corlys “Sea Snake” Velaryon’s proxy war in the Stepstones is not going well.
As Episode 3 of House of The Dragon begins, it’s been three years since the events of “The Rogue Prince,” and King Viserys is planning a celebration. Grim reports from his brother’s war of attrition can wait – it’s his son Aegon’s second birthday, and he’ll be feted with a grand hunt in the wood. That’s right, Queen Alicent has given the king a male heir, and not only that, she’s pregnant with their second child. You get the sense that, over these last few years, if Princess Rhaenyra – who is still technically the designated heir – could have started a punk rock band out of protest, she would have. But instead she skulks in a side garden and forces a lute player to sing dragon ballads on repeat.
At the hunt, the tunic game is strong amongst those gathered to receive the king and his retinue, and inside the royal tent, there’s no shortage of drink or victuals. There’s also no shortage of gossip. Rhaenyra glides through the revelers. She might be the heir, but these aren’t her people. And outside the tent she learns why Viserys was clamoring for her to attend. Jason Lannister (Jefferson Hall), the rich and arrogant lord of Casterly Rock, is looking to make Rhaenyra his lord wife, and dude is laying it on thick. Furious with her father for seeming to proffer her out to any willing lord – “You must marry!” the king counters, pulling hard on a wine chalice – the princess lights out of camp on the back of a white horse with Ser Criston in pursuit.
Viserys is definitely hitting the sauce hard, which only makes the whispers in the royal tent louder. But he also seems generally dispeptic and weak. Called to the wood to deliver the ceremonial kill of a proud full-sized buck, the king uses a miniature staircase to dismount from his horse. There are no dishes full of palliative maggots in this episode. But on background, the king’s health is suspect, making the nagging question of his true heir an even bigger headache. It’s his burden, all the “fucking politicking,” and as he self-medicates with another spot of red, Viserys fields two more suggestions. Otto Hightower, now sporting a beard, glowers that a betrothal of Rhaenyra to her half-brother Aegon would solve the whole thing. And then that disgusting proposition ricochets off Lord Lyonel’s throwback to Viserys’s previous consideration of Laena Velaryon, who was then just twelve years old. Lyonel believes Rhaenyra should marry Laenor (here played by Theo Nate), the son of Lord Corlys and Princess Rhaenys, because it would heal the ongoing rift between the Targaryen and Velaryon houses.
If only we had more time to watch Rhaenyra and Criston traipsing through the wood. There’s an ease between these two that’s so comfortable, so free of the sour talk and deceit that hangs all over every interaction in the court or small council. Later, her grace and the knight are chilling by a fire. If cigarettes were a thing in Westeros, they’d be sharing a pack. Instead, a wild boar bursts from cover and tramples them both before Criston runs it through with his steel and Rhaenyra’s dagger finishes the job. The next morning Rhaenyra arrives at camp, her kill on a litter behind her horse, her hair still streaked with crimson. That’s right, y’all. Your fair maiden princess will not be made to do anything she doesn’t wish to. And Jason Lannister can keep his lion heralds and riches.
Ser Otto, he who growels, is convinced that Aegon will be king. It doesn’t matter that everyone in the realm bent the knee to Rhaenyra, he tells Alicent; that was before the king had a son. “You must guide him toward reason,” he counsels his daughter. Otto says the realm would tear itself apart, were a woman to ascend the Iron Throne. The real truth is likely that he’d have no personal control over Rhaenyra if she got the top spot. (No wonder he wants her to marry Aegon, his grandson.) For Viserys, these issues of power and succession are wrapped up in what he calls his personal abyss of grief and regret. His dreams of a male heir foundered, and then Queen Aemma died because of his obsession. Naming Rhaenyra heir was a course correct, but it only brought more drama with the arrival of Aegon. Will his choice stand, or will the meddling of Otto impede? “You must marry, “ Viserys tells Rhaenyra for the second time. “Strengthen your own claim. I swear to you now, on your mother’s memory: you will not be supplanted.”
In the Stepstones, Corlys and Deamon are down to their last bullet. With cave cover from dragonflame strafing runs and archers on high ground, their dwindling forces can’t break the Crabfeeder’s bottleneck. His brother’s late game send of ships and reinforcements only enrages the rogue prince, and he departs for a typically cold-blooded gambit. Under a flag of truce he reaches Craghas Drahar’s stronghold, but it’s a ruse. Daemon hacks his way through 20 pirates on a dead rush to the caves, dodging arrow fire long enough for the Sea Snake’s infantry to advance and dragonriders to come on station. A close-quarters melee ensues. Daemon absorbs three arrows but also stalks into the cave where the Crabfeeder hides. And he emerges covered in the blood and entrails of his enemy. This entire sequence, almost fifteen minutes of screen time, will once again transform the House of the Dragon storyline. And Matt Smith, as Prince Daemon, didn’t utter a single word.
Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges