DISCLAIMER: This recap of the House of the Dragon episode “We Light the Way” has spoilers. Prepare for the fire and blood, and proceed at your peril.
Welcome back, dragnriders! We’ve reached the halfway point in Season 1 of House of the Dragon, and, folks, sh*t is hitting the fan. “We Light the Way” is not only the motto of House Hightower but, as an episode, it methodically plants the seeds for the war looming before us. It’s fitting, given Alicent’s discovery and her decision to wage battle against her former best friend (and stepdaughter) Rhaenyra. Now she will fight for Aegon to take the Iron Throne.
It’s a slower episode than most, at least at the start, but “We Light the Way” kicks into high gear toward the end, propelling the narrative forward and setting the stage for the back half of Season 1.
Ready to delve into “We Light the Way”? Let’s get to it.
A Not-So Warm Welcome
We open with Rhea Royce (Rachel Redford) riding her horse through the Vale. Daemon (Matt Smith) saunters silently before her, donning a cloak to conceal his appearance. Rhea confronts Daemon, asking him if he’s there to finally consummate their marriage. She also recites the myriad insults he’s thrown her way throughout their union. Daemon, still silent, approaches her. Rhea suspects something’s amiss, so she draws her sword.
Rhea’s horse becomes spooked by Daemon’s closer proximity and Rhea’s suspicion, so he bucks, knocking Rhea off. Having broken her back/cracked her skull, Rhea lies there, paralyzed. Daemon walks away but turns back once Rhea calls him “craven” for not “finishing the job.” He grabs a sizable rock and moves toward her. Uh-oh. Daemon doesn’t kill her in Fire & Blood, so the writers took some liberties here. That said, it falls in line with his character.
Meanwhile, Viserys (Paddy Considine), Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) and the court sail to High Tide. Viserys suffers from sea sickness while paying a visit to the Sea Snake. Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes), Viserys’s new Hand of the King, hands the latter a handkerchief after a puking session. Rhaenyra observes her ailing father from afar with Criston (Fabien Frankel) on her arm.
Back at the Red Keep, Alicent (Emily Carey) tearfully bids farewell to her father, Otto (Rhys Ifans), before he departs King’s Landing. Otto believes Alicent could’ve prevented his sacking by preparing her son for the Iron Throne instead of siding with Rhaenyra. Otto warns his daughter of the inevitable bloodshed that’ll arise when Rhaenyra becomes queen. The masses won’t accept her. Rhaenyra will undoubtedly kill Alicent’s sons to secure her claim. Even this bro knows what’s coming.
Next, Viserys, Rhaenyra and their crew arrive at High Tide, Lord Corlys’s seat. We see Corlys’s son, Laenor (Theo Nate), who fought alongside Daemon and Corlys at the Stepstones, keeping himself in tip-top fighting shape with his very good friend and nothing else, Joffrey Lonmouth (Solly McLeod). I don’t know about you, but I see/hear the name “Joffrey” and undergo intense, warlike flashbacks to the first few seasons of Game of Thrones. Anyway, Corlys’s brother, Vaemond (Wil Johnson), and daughter, Laena (Savannah Steyn), greet them.
Persuasion in the Godswood
Meanwhile, Alicent finds a companion in the godswood in Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), who contributes significantly to the Dance of the Dragons. Think of Larys as the Littlefinger of this time — cunning, eloquent and persuasive as hell. Larys lets slip that Grand Maester Mellos brought a tea to Rhaenyra’s chambers. He wonders if she was feeling ill.
Of course, Larys knows what he’s doing. He knows he’s sowing the seeds of discord between Alicent and Rhaenyra. That little b.
Later, Viserys presents his case to Corlys (Steve Toussaint) and Rhaenys (Eve Best), both of whom have the most stylish entrances in the episode. Side note: High Tide is ethereal, and the sea theme is envy-inducing. The Velaryons are my favorite.
Viserys proposes that his daughter wed their son, binding two houses of Old Valyria together. Corlys needs assurances, and Viserys asserts the Iron Throne will go to Laenor and Rhaenyra’s children upon the queen’s passing. They’ll keep the name Velaryon, but once one of them takes the crown, they’ll assume the Targaryen moniker. On another note: the trio chats about Rhea Royce’s death. We learn it was a “hunting accident.” Sure. Was Daemon said accident?
Then, we see Laenor and Rhaenyra walking the gorgeous coast together. Cinematically, this scene is breathtaking. I’m moving to High Tide ASAP. Rhaenyra knows Laenor’s not attracted to women (Joffrey Lonmouth is his secret boyfriend/lover), so she suggests they perform their marital duties to keep their fathers content. After that, they go their separate ways. After all, Rhaenyra did learn that marriages are inherently political from Daemon. So, Laenor can continue his relationship with Joffrey while Rhaenyra plays around with Ser Criston.
The Sea Snake and the Queen Who Never Was
Meanwhile, Corlys and Rhaenys meet to discuss the details of Rhaenyra and Laenor’s impending nuptials. Corlys just wants to do right by his wife, who should be sitting on the Iron Throne instead of Viserys. Rhaenys insists she’s moved on from that, though. However, she warns that Rhaenyra’s inheritance will come under fire. Even she knows that war is on the horizon. Not-so-side note: Corlys and Rhaenys forever. The power couple. Also, the ostensibly healthiest couple, relationship-wise, in all the realm.
Later, Laenor and Joffrey mull over the former’s future as a king consort. Joffrey will accompany Laenor to King’s Landing as his sworn protector. He’s elated that they can continue seeing each other. My cute babies.
Rhaenyra + Criston = 4Eva (or Not)
Next, while sailing back to King’s Landing, Criston maps out a new destiny for Rhaenyra. He urges her to run away with him across the Narrow Sea. They could go to Asshai. They could even get married, as their stations will be irrelevant. Admittedly, I would say yes to this. Let me get materialistic for a moment: Ser Criston Cole can get it. He’s dashingly handsome, kind and loyal. Plus, he genuinely loves her. They could wed for love, y’all.
However, Rhaenyra rejects him, citing that she must accept her inheritance as the future queen of the Seven Kingdoms. But that doesn’t mean they can stop having fun. Criston doesn’t like the idea of being Rhaenyra’s plaything, especially since he soiled his white cloak for her. Okay, so he’s a bit presumptuous here. He can’t just assume Rhaenyra will abandon her royal duties for him, especially with “The Prince That Was Promised” prophecy on the horizon.
Fun fact: Septon Eustace, who provides the historical accounts in Fire & Blood, reports that Criston confessed his love to Rhaenyra, but she refused him. Meanwhile, Mushroom, a fool, asserts that Rhaenyra was the one to show her affection for Criston, but he rejected her. I’m intrigued by the show’s decision to essentially embrace both perspectives. It keeps us on our toes.
Later, Alicent watches from afar while Viserys collapses in the courtyard after he returns from High Tide. She summons Criston to her chambers to question him regarding Rhaenyra’s “maidenhead.” Unfortunately, while Alicent is curious about Rhaenyra and Daemon, Criston misinterprets her query, thinking it’s about him and Rhaenyra. Crossed wires!
Thus, Criston, being a man of honor, confesses to sleeping with Rhaenyra. He tells Alicent that she can sentence him to death, but the queen lets him go free. Oh, she’s pissed. Rhaenyra lied to her.
Meanwhile, Viserys looks like sh*t. Let’s be real. He’s got one foot in the grave. Lyonel stands with his king while Grand Maester Mellos (David Horovitch) and Maester Orwyle (played by Kurt Egyiawan — another Dance of the Dragons player) tend to Viserys. Lyonel assures Viserys that he’s upheld Old King Jaehaerys’s values.
Then, we see the Velaryons arrive at King’s Landing for the celebration. Laenor rides Seasmoke ahead of his father’s ships alongside his mother, who sits atop Meleys the Red Queen. We finally get to see the Red Queen in all her glory. The throne room looks mighty spiffy as the court gathers for a feast to ring in the week-long festivities leading to the wedding. Viserys and Rhaenyra chat with the lords of the great houses who come forward to pay their respects.
Rhea Royce’s cousin chats with them, and Rhaenyra and Viserys offer their condolences regarding her passing. Lord Jason Lannister (Jefferson Hall) cracks some unsavory jokes. Ugh. Thank the seven gods Rhaenyra didn’t marry him. The Velaryons enter the throne room in absolute style, being the regal badasses they are. Laena’s dress is killer.
Suddenly, Daemon makes his triumphant return. Seriously, how many times has this fool been kicked out of King’s Landing by his brother only to come strolling back as if nothing happened? Once Daemon sits with the wedding party, Viserys delivers a speech about the uniting of two significant houses. However, he’s interrupted by the fashionably late arrival of his wife.
We Light the Way
Alicent stuns in a dazzling emerald green gown. Get familiar with “the greens” and “the blacks,” folks. These colors will mean something to you in the future. Larys whispers to his brother Harwin (Ryan Corr) about the significance of the color green for House Hightower. It’s the color of war. Here we go!
Next, Laenor and Rhaenyra take to the dance floor. Criston tries not to watch, as he’s too angry. As more folks join the fray, Alicent reunites with members of her house. Her uncle, Lord Hobert (Steffan Rhodri), offers the support of Oldtown in the wake of Otto’s firing.
Meanwhile, Rhea Royce’s cousin not-so-subtly accuses Daemon of murdering Lady Rhea. Rhea was a fantastic rider and hunter — second to none. How was her death an accident? Daemon mentions that since the couple didn’t produce heirs, Rhea’s lands and titles fall to him. That means he stands to inherit Runestone. He plans to seek out Lady Jeyne Arryn in the Eyrie to make his case. Ugh, Daemon is so messy. I love him.
Then, Daemon and Laena lock eyes, and the pair decide to dance the night away together. I knew this was coming. Laena is gorgeous, so I don’t blame Daemon for being taken by her beauty. Joffrey tells Laenor about Rhaenyra’s secret — she was sleeping with Criston. Joffrey can tell by the expression on Criston’s face. So, Joffrey approaches Criston, presenting the situation at hand. He proposes that they are the keepers of Laenor and Rhaenyra’s secrets. Criston’s like, “I’m on the clock, dude.”
Rhaenyra and Daemon reunite while dancing. They chat it up in High Valyrian, and Daemon questions Rhaenyra’s choice to wed Ser Laenor, claiming that while he’s a noble man, he’s “boring.” Rhaenyra orders Daemon to fly her back to Dragonstone and marry her there. After all, her marriage to Laenor isn’t official yet. I desperately need to learn Valyrian.
Tragedy Befalls the Court
Meanwhile, we see Rhaenyra dancing with Harwin (another uh-oh) before the madness kicks into high gear. Suddenly, the crowd swells as folks push their way out of the throne room. We hear bloodcurdling screams. Harwin swoops up Rhaenyra, carrying her to safety, while Laenor notices that Criston is beating the snot out of Joffrey.
Unfortunately, Criston kills Joffrey. It’s brutal, folks. And bloody. Again, this is a deviation from the source material. Criston does murder Joffrey, but amid a tourney, not during a feast. When the melee disperses, Laenor sobs over Joffrey’s body. It’s heartbreaking. I like Criston a mite less now.
A Private Ceremony
Later, we see Rhaenyra and Laenor wed immediately instead of waiting a week. Both parties are emotional as Laenor wipes tears from his eyes, mourning the loss of his love. Criston ventures into the godswood. He withdraws his sword and prepares to plunge it into his stomach when Alicent stops him.
During the private ceremony, Viserys collapses, and those present attend to him. As the camera pans out, we see a pool of Joffrey’s blood on the floor. This is just the beginning.
“We Light the Way” is drama personified — a glimpse into the complexities and all-around theatrics encompassing House Targaryen. Because of the lack of action, I’ve seen folks complain that House of the Dragon feels more like a soap opera than a Game of Thrones prequel. However, the Targaryens have a penchant for the dramatic. It’s in their fiery blood. As a book reader, I can only warn you that the Dance will be a gory, action-packed thrill ride. Right now, we’re merely situating the chess pieces for the grand battle.
The acting in “We Light the Way” is superb, with each player giving it their all. Emily Carey is the episodic MVP, providing a powerhouse performance to cap her time on the show. I’m going to miss her and Milly Alcock. Both actresses are wellsprings of talent, and I can’t wait to see where their careers go after this.
I’m surprised the writers are accelerating Viserys’s illness in this manner unless there was another time jump of which I’m unaware. I’m content with the deviations from the source material.
Daemon Targaryen is the messiest dragon boy. Gods love him.
House of the Dragon drops new episodes every Sunday at 9 pm EST on HBO and HBO Max.