DISCLAIMER: This recap of the House of the Dragon episode “The Princess and the Queen” has spoilers. Prepare for fire and blood, and proceed at your peril.
Welcome back, dragonriders! Well, we’re officially in the back half of the season. Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke have assumed the roles of Rhaenyra and Alicent, and sh*t is going down. While D’Arcy and Cooke seamlessly inhabit these characters as if they’ve been playing them forever, there’s something off about this episode. Perhaps it’s the significant time jump and that we’ve missed so much that requires some filling in of the blanks.
“The Princess and the Queen” isn’t a bad outing. It’s a solid episode in the Game of Thrones universe. However, it’s not spectacular either. It’s incredibly rushed, with particular events unfurling now that I didn’t think would happen for at least a few episodes. Losing Laena and Harwin/Lyonel in the same breath feels like a lot. It’s as if the writers are so desperate to get to the Dance of the Dragons that they’re throwing character development out the window.
Ready to delve into “The Princess and the Queen”? Let’s get to it.
We open with Rhaenyra (D’Arcy) in labor, striving to birth another child. When the baby spews forth, we see it’s a son. Rhaenyra’s maid enters, revealing that Alicent wishes to see her and the infant. It’s not like Rhaenyra just gave birth or anything.
Laenor (John MacMillan) reunites with Rhaenyra outside her chambers and escorts his wife to Alicent’s quarters. They encounter plenty of well-wishers along the way and an icy, stoic Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), who acknowledges his once lover curtly. Once inside the queen’s rooms, the couple interacts with the green-clad Alicent (Cooke), who feigns shock at Rhaenyra being upright despite calling for her stepdaughter. Deceptive!
Viserys (Paddy Considine) hobbles into the room, looking the picture of frailty. He suffers from significant hair loss, complete with wrinkles and sagging skin. Viserys reaches for his grandson eagerly. When asked about the baby’s name, Laenor quickly dubs him Joffrey after his lover, the late Joffrey Lonmouth. Alicent remarks how the name doesn’t suit House Velaryon. Before they leave, Alicent reassures Laenor that “soon or late, you may get one who looks like you.” This line is plucked from the pages of Fire & Blood. I may or may not have correctly predicted her saying this (I did. Go me!).
Later, Rhaenyra chastises her husband for choosing their son’s name without her consent. She comments on how he never used to show such an interest in their family. They return to their chambers to find Harwin (Ryan Corr), now the Commander of the City Watch, standing guard over Jacaerys, a.k.a. Jace (Leo Hart), and Lucerys, a.k.a. Luke (Harvey Sadler), Rhaenyra and Laenor’s older sons. Jacaerys will sit the Iron Throne after his mother.
Harwin asks to hold Joffrey, which Laenor obliges. After he departs, Harwin and Rhaenyra have a moment alone. While they don’t exchange many words, they know who Joffrey’s biological father is — Harwin.
Meanwhile, Jace meets his new dragon, Vermax, while Luke, Aegon (Ty Tennant) and Aemond (Leo Ashton) watch the interaction. It’s interesting how Viserys’s sons all don green as in House Hightower. Jace learns how to behave around the beast and even yells, “Dracarys!” when Vermax is about to feed on a sheep. Then, Aegon, Jace and Luke play a trick on Aemond, who’s still dragon-less, by introducing him to “The Pink Dread,” a pig to whom they gave wings. So far, the boys don’t seem to hate each other as much as their mothers do.
Next, Aemond ventures deeper into the dragonpit, hoping to glimpse one of the larger dragons. Unfortunately, he almost loses his life when the creature roars, unleashing a torrent of flame in his direction. Aemond escapes quickly. Alicent listens with disinterest while her daughter Helaena (Evie Allen) rattles on about what appears to be a millipede in her hands. Alicent looks like she’d rather watch paint dry.
Then, one of Alicent’s maids escorts Aemond, informing the queen about her son’s dragonpit exploits. Alicent scolds him while reassuring him that he’ll get his dragon someday. Helaena, talking to herself, mentions how he’ll “have to close one eye” in reference to the millipede, but for those who’ve read Fire & Blood, it’s a prescient statement.
Alicent confronts Viserys regarding the tireless, perpetually moving Red Keep rumor mill. Viserys just wants to play with his model sets, but nobody will leave him alone. She remarks how one child looking nothing like his father is happenstance, but all three of Rhaenyra’s sons bear a striking resemblance to Harwin Strong, not Laenor Velaryon.
Viserys refuses to entertain such a rumor, reminding Alicent that her accusation could pose dire consequences. He orders her not to bring it up again. Criston Cole is Team Green, even calling Rhaenyra a “spoiled c*nt.” Somebody’s changed his tune since … 10 years ago. Alicent finds Aegon standing stark naked on the window sill in his quarters, tugging his member to greet the day. Aegon is described as sex-obsessed in the book, so this checks out.
Alicent reminds him of his duty as Viserys’s firstborn son and how he will be king one day. Rhaenyra will have him killed if she ascends the Iron Throne, so Aegon must make sure he’s ready to rule Westeros. However, at this point, Aegon isn’t interested in becoming king.
Meanwhile, in Pentos, Daemon (Matt Smith) flies Caraxes while Laena (Nanna Blondell) soars above the skies on Vhagar. Yes, the famed she-dragon who boasted Visenya, the sister-wife of Aegon the Conqueror, as her rider. Vhagar is the last vestige of that time, of the Conquest. We see the citizens of Pentos watch in awe as the hottest couple ever circles the heavens on their dragons.
Later, Daemon and Laena entertain some guests with their twin daughters, Rhaena (Eva Ossei-Gerning) and Baela (Shani Smethurst). Prince Reggio Haratis (Dean Nolan) of Pentos proposes the Targaryen clan take up permanent residence in the city. Reggio vows to give them everything they desire. Daemon seems keen on accepting the offer, while Laena refers to themselves as merely long-term guests.
Next, Laena confronts her husband. She believes it’s time they return to Westeros. She’s super pregnant and wants to give birth to her child on Driftmark at her father’s castle. However, Daemon has no intention of going home.
Back at the Red Keep, Viserys and Lyonel (Gavin Spokes), his Hand, watch while Criston trains Aegon, Aemond, Jace and Luke. Harwin observes on the sidelines. Criston, obviously bearing enmity toward Harwin for, well, probably envy-related reasons, keeps his eye on the City Watch commander.
Then, Criston urges the Targaryen boys to square off against the Velaryon kids. However, Aegon fights dirty, shoving Jace onto the ground. Harwin steps in, ordering Criston to ensure the boys fight fairly. The training session escalates into a brutal brawl as Harwin punches the snot out of Criston. Why? Because Criston ran his mouth, hinting at Jace and Luke being Harwin’s sons. Honestly, knock him out, Harwin. That little b!
Later, Rhaenyra eavesdrops on a heated argument between Lyonel and Harwin. Lyonel rebukes his son for bringing shame to House Strong. Not only for beating up a knight of the Kingsguard but for fathering bastard sons.
Next, an inebriated Laenor stumbles into Rhaenyra’s chambers with Qarl Correy (Arty Froushan) on his arm. Qarl is Laenor’s latest lover. After Qarl departs, Laenor informs Rhaenyra about the Triarchy forming an alliance with Dorne and causing mayhem in the Stepstones. War is on the horizon, and Daemon has abandoned his precarious seat as King of the Narrow Sea. Laenor wishes to fight, but Rhaenyra forbids him from doing so.
Meanwhile, young Rhaena laments not having a dragon of her own while she warms her egg by the fire, hoping it’ll hatch. Laena gently reminds her that it’s been eight years, and sometimes they don’t hatch. Laena reassures her daughter that she’ll have a dragon someday. Laena didn’t ride one until she was 14, and now she sits atop Vhagar. Laena also comforts her daughter regarding Daemon favoring Baela over her. This scene is adorable. God, this family is so stunning.
Laena finds Daemon standing on the roof, looking out over the city. She tries again to persuade her husband to set his sights on home. He’s incessantly pouring over Targaryen tomes, clearly pining to etch his name into his house’s storied history. Laena misses her brother Laenor. She also reveals the birth of Rhaenyra’s son, Joffrey. Even Daemon’s in on “The Strongs” rumor.
Later, we see Viserys’s small council is underway, with Rhaenyra and Alicent present for the proceedings. They discuss the calamitous Stepstones situation. Naturally, Rhaenyra and Alicent are on opposing sides. Rhaenyra then speaks her piece, apologizing to Alicent and hoping to let bygones be bygones. She proposes that Helaena wed Jace, and they can rule together when Jace ascends the Iron Throne.
Viserys is smitten with this idea, while Alicent claims they’ll consider Rhaenyra’s proposal. After the meeting, Alicent scolds Viserys for always siding with Rhaenyra and failing to see her for who she is. When they return to their chambers, Lyonel arrives with his resignation. He feels Harwin sullied the family name, and he can no longer serve the king. Viserys refuses to hear it, claiming that nobody has ever served the office with such objectivity, with no ulterior motives. That’s a dig at Alicent’s father, Otto.
With Viserys refusing to accept Lyonel’s resignation, the Hand of the King asks if he can escort Harwin back to Harrenhal. Harwin is Lyonel’s heir and must see to the duties of being a lord. Next, Alicent has dinner with Larys (Matthew Needham), her personal master of whispers. He’s like Varys and Littlefinger rolled into one. Alicent vents about not having anyone support her in the court, and she misses having her father around.
So, Larys makes his next move — he frees a crop of criminals from the castle dungeons, removes their tongues and promises them their freedom if they do as he bids. Meanwhile, Laena is in labor, and it’s not looking so hot. Daemon learns that the child won’t come out. Daemon could allow them to cut open Laena and save the baby, but there’s a significant chance the infant might die too. Laena will die either way.
Laena stumbles outside toward Vhagar, crying out, “Dracarys!” as she moves closer to her dragon. Laena knows this is it, and she did tell Daemon she’d rather die a dragonrider’s death than as a “fat lord.” It appears Vhagar might not comply with her rider’s wishes. However, as Daemon finds his wife, Vhagar opens her jaws and lets out a blast of fire. No! I knew this would happen, but it sucks nonetheless.
Then, Harwin bids farewell to the Velaryon boys, lingering a little longer in his goodbye to Rhaenyra. Jace watches forlornly while Harwin leaves, then asks his mother if the former City Watch commander is his biological father. Uh-oh. Rhaenyra finds Laenor in the yard and demands they return to Dragonstone. He can even take Qarl with them. They’ll need all the swords they can get.
Lyonel and Harwin arrive at Harrenhal with their retinue. Unfortunately, a massive fire breaks out, claiming the father and son’s lives. We see a slew of hooded men present, and it’s safe to assume they carried out the act. RIP, Harwin “Breakbones” Strong. You could’ve broken my bones any day of the week.
Next, we hear a voiceover from Larys while Rhaena and Baela mourn the loss of their mother, with Daemon staring listlessly out at the city. Viserys kisses Aemma’s ring and weeps. Rhaenyra arrives at Dragonstone with her family.
Larys now sits with Alicent; wherein he reveals a startling truth — he ordered the murder of Harwin and Lyonel. His own flesh and blood. That’s why he freed those criminals. Why? He thought it was what Alicent wanted. She missed her father, and now she can invite Otto back to King’s Landing and reinstate him as Hand. Alicent insisted she didn’t want anything of the sort.
“The Princess and the Queen” boasts terrific performances, and it’s interesting watching how the dynamics have shifted between characters, from Rhaenyra and Viserys seemingly on better terms to Alicent and Criston’s close bond. I would’ve liked to see more of Rhaenyra with Harwin, but perhaps the writers wanted to keep their interactions as subtle as possible.
With how quickly the narrative storms ahead, without giving the story a moment to breathe, it’s tough to speculate where we’ll be next week. I assumed the Dance would start with Viserys’s death in the season finale, but it might be sooner than that at this rate.
I love the character changes here, i.e., Rhaenyra’s softening since we last saw her. Daemon’s less complacent and more despondent than normal, seemingly relenting to defeat. Meanwhile, Alicent’s more emboldened than ever, inexplicably epitomizing the Targaryen spirit more than Rhaenyra and Daemon.
I’m here for the ride, even if this outing is a bit disjointed. The cinematography is lush, as usual, as is the ethereal setting, intricate costumes and rich dialogue. Daemon and his family are stunningly beautiful. RIP, Lady Laena Velaryon.
House of the Dragon drops new episodes every Sunday at 9 pm EST on HBO and HBO Max.