DISCLAIMER: This recap of the House of the Dragon episode “Driftmark” has spoilers. Prepare for fire and blood, and proceed at your peril.
Welcome back, dragonriders! “Driftmark” is a marked improvement from last week’s outing. While it still seems like the writers are barreling toward the Dance of the Dragons at a breakneck pace, choosing event coverage over methodical development, episode seven smooths out some of those pacing wrinkles. We see the narrative breathe a bit here. Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke shine, doling out visceral, piss-and-vinegar performances. Yet through the melodrama and high stakes feuding, D’Arcy and Cooke deliver from a place of groundedness.
Ready to delve into “Driftmark”? Let’s get to it.
We open with the Targaryens and Velaryons gathering at High Tide for the funeral of Lady Laena Velaryon. Vaemond (Wil Johnson) delivers a moving address in Valyrian about how Laena returns to the sea from whence she came. Then, Vaemond veers into shade territory, ostensibly geared toward Rhaenyra (D’Arcy) and Laenor’s (John MacMillan) sons. It’s about how Velaryons choose to keep their bloodline pure. Daemon (Matt Smith) chuckles, clearly picking up what Vaemond’s putting down.
Meanwhile, amid the eulogy, Corlys (Steve Toussaint) and Rhaenys (Eve Best) comfort their grandchildren, Baela (Shani Smethurst) and Rhaena (Eva Ossei-Gerning). Aegon (Ty Tennant) looks dreadfully bored, while Viserys (Paddy Considine) and Alicent (Cooke) seem unfazed. Otto (Rhys Ifans) is also present. We see him adjust the Hand of the King pin on his coat.
Later, everyone gathers for post-funeral beverages and — let’s be real — to stare uncomfortably at each other from afar. So much is left unsaid in this scene. You can cut the tension with a rusty butter knife. Aegon tells his brother Aemond (Leo Ashton) that he doesn’t want to marry their sister Helaena (Evie Allen) because she’s weird. Well, I kinda got this prediction right. While we didn’t see an official betrothal by way of Viserys, Aegon and Helaena will wed someday.
Then, Jace (Leo Hart) asks Rhaenyra why they can’t go to Harrenhal to mourn Harwin and Lyonel. Ugh, my heart. He knows the identity of his real father. She encourages her son to comfort Baela and Rhaena in their time of grief. Corlys reminds Luke (Harvey Sadler) that one day he’ll be the Lord of the Tides, inheriting Driftmark. Luke expresses disinterest in taking High Tide as his seat, believing that everyone would have to perish for him to become a lord. Children inherit generational trauma, y’all.
Next, as at any party, one person gets a little too inebriated. Aegon is in his cups and probably getting handsy. Otto finds him in a drunken stupor and demands he sober up. Laenor mourns the loss of his sister in the sea. Corlys, irritated at his son for causing a scene, gruffly sends Qarl (Arty Froushan) out to fetch him.
Viserys tries to mend fences with Daemon, offering his condolences while urging him to return to King’s Landing. The king could give Daemon a place at court. However, Pentos is Daemon’s home now.
Later, Rhaenys and Corlys have a tense conversation by the fire. Corlys still has his sights set on the Iron Throne. He hopes his scions sit upon it one day. Legacy is everything to him. Conversely, Rhaenys couldn’t give two flying forks. Sure, she was passed over for Viserys ages ago, but she’s over it. Rhaenys pushes her husband to offer Driftmark to Baela instead of Luke, as a way to honor Laena’s memory. Plus, Baela is pure, unadulterated Velaryon.
She reminds her lord husband that, unfortunately, the Velaryon boys are not Laenor’s biological sons. I love this scene. It highlights the differences between Corlys and Rhaenys’s ambitions. Corlys fights for names while Rhaenys battles for blood. In addition, Toussaint and Best dole out show-best performances here. Understated, nuanced and punchy.
Then, Rhaenyra and Daemon, a.k.a. her father’s brother who she’s 100 percent not attracted to, take a nightly stroll on the beach. Rhaenyra discusses the difficulties of marriage to Laenor. They tried doing the whole sex thing, but Rhaenyra garnered zero pleasure from it. This line calls to mind their scene in the brothel in episode four, wherein Daemon taught Rhaenyra that sex should be pleasing to both parties.
Next, Rhaenyra gets down to brass tacks — she wants to bang her uncle. As much as I love me some Matt Smith getting sexy, we cannot become desensitized to incest. Targaryen or no. I refuse. That said, Rhaenyra and Daemon’s sex scene is starkly different than what we’ve seen on Game of Thrones. It feels like it’s shot via a feminine lens. There’s no leering male gaze quality to it. They also don’t show a ton of skin, making it feel more intimate, in a way.
Now, compare that to Daemon’s sex scene with Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno) in the first episode. The difference is undeniable; Daemon loves Rhaenyra whereas Mysaria is someone with whom he has fun. Speaking of, we haven’t seen much of Mysaria of late. Thankfully, she has her part to play in the Dance of the Dragons.
Meanwhile, Aemond gets a bit ballsy. He approaches a slumbering Vhagar with the intent of mounting her. Initially, she’s irritated. Then, that irritation culminates in fire-inducing rage as the great beast opens her jaws to burn the little green snot alive. However, Aemond whips out some Valyrian commands. “Dohaeras” means “serve.” “Lykiri” translates to “calm.” Lastly, he says, “Soves,” meaning “fly.” And fly Vhagar does.
Vhagar takes off with Aemond clinging to her saddle. Unfortunately, she’s massive and he’s still a little thing. He almost falls off but manages to stay put for the most part. The scenery here is ethereal, especially one shot where we see Vhagar silhouetted against the moonlit sky. The House of the Dragon folks really funneled all their money into those dragons. It shows.
Aemond claiming Vhagar doesn’t go unnoticed. Baela and Rhaena wake Jace and Luke, while Daemon and Rhaenyra spot the dragon in the sky post-coitus. Sex in shipwrecked remains, might I add! Later, Aemond encounters Baela, Rhaena, Jace and Luke. Rhaena puts Aemond in his place, reminding him that she should lay claim to Vhagar as the dragon belonged to her late mother. Aemond hurls insults at the Targaryen girls and the Velaryon boys. He refers to Jace as “Lord Strong.” Oof.
Suddenly, the quintet breaks out into a bloody, gruesome skirmish. It culminates in Luke slashing Aemond’s eye with a sword. It finally happened! Cue the rise of Aemond One-Eye. Harrold (Graham McTavish) puts the kibosh on the fighting and tends to Aemond’s wound.
Next, Viserys tears into Harrold, wondering why the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard didn’t put a stop to a fight between princes. Corlys and Rhaenys cling to their granddaughters while Rhaenyra embraces her sons. Rhaenyra informs Viserys that Aemond called her sons “bastards,” prompting the king to question his son sternly regarding where he heard such a rumor. Aemond almost throws his mother under the bus. Instead, he offers up Aegon to his father.
Aegon tells Viserys that everyone just knows — look at them. Those boys are not of the seed of Laenor Velaryon. An enraged Alicent believes a debt must be paid. An eye for an eye. She employs the use of her sworn protector, Criston (Fabien Frankel), to remove Luke’s eye. Viserys forbids it, and even Criston balks at the idea of mutilating a child.
Suddenly, Alicent grabs Viserys’s blade and makes a break for Luke. Rhaenyra impedes her path as the crowd swarms around them, attempting to pacify the two flaring tempers in the room. We finally hear the line “Now they see you as you are.” This scene is so intense. Finally, Alicent strikes first, slicing Rhaenyra’s arm with her blade. Shocked, she drops it. Aemond tells his mother he feels it’s a worthy exchange: an eye for a dragon. I love how we see “the blacks” and “the greens” on their respective sides in this scene — an invisible divider looming between them. Also, Corlys situated behind Rhaenyra to support her after Alicent assaults her is rather symbolic.
Later, Otto visits Alicent in her chambers as they prepare to depart for King’s Landing. Alicent believes her father is disappointed in her. Her actions did not befit her station. She embarrassed House Hightower, blah, blah, blah. However, Otto is as cunning and manipulative as they come. He beams with pride at Alicent. Otto’s genuinely glad she’s in it to win it. He urges Alicent to stay in the game and remain focused.
Meanwhile, a maester tends to Rhaenyra’s arm. Laenor wanders in, bewildered to find his wife and sons looking like they were in a bar brawl. Laenor apologizes profusely for not being at Rhaenyra’s side. He understands their arrangement but wonders aloud whether happiness and duty can coexist. He’s not so sure they can. Thus, he vows to become 100 percent dutiful. No more affairs. Laenor wants to raise his sons to become the best princes they can be. He curses the gods for making him as he is, but Rhaenyra reminds him of his inherent goodness and kindness. Love is love, baby! Rhaenyra’s not a homophobe. This makes me happy.
Then, Rhaenyra and Daemon watch while Viserys, Alicent and their crew sail away to King’s Landing. They discuss how Targaryens are forged in fire, but perhaps Velaryons have the way of it. Maybe water is better. Alicent chats with Larys (Matthew Needham), who she has been avoiding since he admitted to slaying his own kin for her happiness.
Larys reveals he’s ready and willing to serve her, and Alicent vows to use him when she needs someone who’s discreet and skillful. Rhaenyra asks Daemon to marry her in Valyrian. Admittedly, hearing Rhaenyra and Daemon speak Valyrian is pretty hot. Anyway, Rhaenyra believes wedding her uncle will secure her claim to the Iron Throne. Her inheritance would be undisputed. Daemon addresses the legitimate obstacle that is her husband. Laenor would have to die. She has a plan for that.
We see a hooded Daemon approach Qarl in what looks like Spicetown, paying the latter gold aplenty to kill Laenor with witnesses. Next, Qarl and Laenor battle it out with swords near a roaring fire in High Tide. By the time the fight ceases, however, Corlys and Rhaenys find Laenor’s charred corpse (Maybe?) in the flames. Rhaenys lets out a bloodcurdling scream, crumpling to her knees. I feel so bad for Corlys and Rhaenys.
With Laenor out of the equation, Rhaenyra and Daemon marry. There’s some blood swapping and drinking involved in a traditional Targaryen ceremony. Their kids bear witness, looking the picture of uninterested. Then, they watch an uncle and niece make out.
Meanwhile, Qarl flees Driftmark on a boat. We see a hooded companion in said boat with him. Qarl’s rowing buddy drops his hood, and we see it’s Laenor, alive and well, sans hair. Laenor and Qarl make their escape across the narrow sea. Admittedly, this ending makes me so happy. It’s significantly better than what we got in Fire & Blood. Let the gays live happily ever after!
“Driftmark” takes literary liberties, veering from Fire & Blood re: Aemond losing his eye and Laenor’s “death.” Baela and Rhaena aren’t present for the Aemond brawl, but it makes more sense that they are. Laenor perishes from his fight with Qarl. In addition, Rhaenyra never contributed to it as she did here. That said, I love that the writers leaned into the theory that Daemon paid off Qarl to kill Laenor.
Not only that but they injected a twist — Rhaenyra, Daemon, Laenor and Qarl all conspired in staging Laenor’s death. Laenor can finally live happily and freely with his love while Rhaenyra can marry who she loves and strengthen her claim to the Iron Throne.
Rhaenyra and Daemon’s marriage means we’re one step closer to Viserys’s death, which unleashes the Dance in all its fiery glory. “Driftmark” feels like a return to form after some disjointedness. There’s political intrigue, action, dragons, brooding and an abundance of juicy Westerosi family drama. The performances are brimming with vim and vigor. They hum with wit, intelligence and pathos. I can’t wait to see what next week’s episode has in store for us.
I’ve said it once and it bears repeating: Daemon Targaryen is (still) the messiest dragon boy in Westeros.
House of the Dragon drops new episodes every Sunday at 9 pm EST on HBO and HBO Max.