12 House of the Dragon Power Moves: Daemon Tries Subterfuge, Hand Overplays His

After the violently quiet conclusion to last week’s episode, events picked up in rather short order with this week’s episode. After some time away, Daemon returns to King’s Landing with a sword, a crown, and a plan.

We’d say the “game of thrones” has come to “House of the Dragon,” but it’s always been here. This week’s moves, though, took a decidedly darker bent, toying with actual people like there were pieces to be moved across a board.

In the case of most women in Westeros, that is very much the case. Even the Queen, Alicent, is made aware of the fact that she’s basically a prisoner in a castle whose sole duty is to make heirs for the king. At least she and Rhaenyra seem to have rekindled their strained friendship … such as it is.

That fortuitous turn of events comes into play in a major way as the events of the episode play out and Rhaenyra begins to discover that for all the independence her father has given her by naming her heir and telling her she could choose her own husband — well, it only goes so far.

This week we better understood why the creators of this new prequel series to “Game of Thrones” chose to use the same exact theme song as the preceding series. While the blood of the dragon flows in this intro sequence, and the trappings and even the year are very different, the game is so very much the same.

Knowing that his brother maintains a soft spot for him, Daemon returned from the Narrow Seas with a crown and a sword and immediately subjugates himself before his king. He reveals that he has been called the King of the Narrow Seas after defeating the Crab Feeder, but he turns the crown over to his brother.

He is accepted in a hesitant, but ultimately warm embrace. Viserys has always wanted his brother by his side. He is a bit of a dreamer in that way, almost too soft for the hardness of this world that George R.R. Martin has created. Viserys loves his brother, but most players in a Martin story love power above all else.

In a hint of the Daemon that has always lurked underneath the smiles and snarky comments, he revealed also that he’d left 2,000 dead corsairs staked to the sand to be fed on by crabs — just as the Crab Feeder left his victims. The fact that Daemon employed the methods of this indecipherable and decidedly horrible madman are not the misdirection, though. Getting close again to the king is that.

It was a small moment, but one that proved huge by the end of this hour, and one that also speaks volumes to how women must learn to navigate in this world. As we see later, the women outside of nobility seem to have a better shot at seeking true happiness than those with wealth and influence.

Alicent admits to her one-time best friend that it is very lonely being the Queen. Her role has been reduced to creating more potential heirs for Viserys and caring for babies. And as we all know, she was only thrust into this position because of her father’s ambition.

Otto Hightower, the Hand of the King, was shameless in pushing his young daughter into the arms of the king almost immediately after the death of his beloved wife and queen. That she continued to nervously pick at her nails betrayed how she really felt about the match, and even the marriage.

This isn’t the life she would have wanted for herself, but in a world ruled by the ambition of men, the women in their lives have almost no say in what they want. The fact Rhaenyra has been given the leeway she has is a miracle — and further proof that Viserys is, as his brother put it, “weak” in this brutal world.

Rejected by Viserys years ago now, word comes back that after their victory on the Stepstones, Lord Corlys is now to wed his daughter to the son of the ruler of Oldtown. Once again, she is but a pawn in a play for power.

When we first met Lady Laena she was still a tiny child, and being presented to Viserys as both a present and a way to tie Corlys to the throne.

While Viserys thought he was wedding for love, what he didn’t know was that there was a battle between Corlys and Otto raging, with Otto winning when Viserys chose his daughter, Alicent.

Rejected by the king, Corlys is instead shoring up power elsewhere and expanding his already considerable size and might. Could he be amassing to take a direct assault on the Targaryen claim to the throne? His wife is the queen who never was, with a stronger claim than Viserys, save for the fact she’s a woman.

Taking full advantage of the relationship he’s enjoyed with his niece for years and years, and with her now an adult, Daemon lures her out of her bedchambers with street clothes and the reveal of a secret exit in her room.

He then takes her into the bowels of the city where she can see how the other half lives. What she sees is an awakening of sorts for the princess. They may not have as much in the way of belongings or money, but they do enjoy a reckless abandon she could never.

He takes her to a play where she sees the story of her father and his three potential heirs: Rhaenyra, Daemon and her new baby brother Aegon. Daemon’s message here is that her subjects will never fully accept a woman on the Iron Throne. As always, she is adamant she will change things — but truthfully, when have things ever gone well for a woman.

Later, he takes her into the depths of a pleasure house, where she sees men and women free to fully embrace their sexual desires. It is notable that this episode was directed by a woman, as Clare Kilner took care to make this a more emotional then titillating experience.

Still a maiden, Rhaenyra’s understanding of sex is that this is something a woman is forced to do to make babies for her husband, and her biggest fear is that this is her future until she dies from it, as her mother did.

Instead, she experiences a sexual awakening just by watching these people, men and women, fully enjoying themselves in carnal lust and behavior. Suddenly, sex isn’t a punishment or a burden, it is something that can be sought out and ejoyed.

Daemon leans into this and starts kissing her — we must here set aside their familial ties a bit as that is part and parcel for this family, so they don’t have the taboos about it that we do — but even he finds that what he has awakened is more than he can handle.

Or perhaps he starts to feel bad for what he’s wrought. Regardless, it quickly becomes clear that as she’s becoming more aroused, he’s becoming less aroused — or incapable of getting there with his niece. And so, as Daemon is wont to do, he abandons her, winding up in a room by his one-time whore, Mysaria, who’s apparently given up the profession.

While Daemon is sleeping off a hangover, Rhaenyra needs to address this other dragon that has awakened within her. When she returns to her rooms, she sees Ser Criston (surprised to see her outside of it) on guard at the door.

Now, these two have also had a chemistry, and one that is clearly sexual from the jump. It doesn’t take much convincing from her for him to give in, strip down and take her maidenhood.

Most certainly, though, this was her idea. Rhaenyra is the one who has power in this position, as princess. Ser Criston could lose his head or worse were it ever found out that he was the one who had taken her maidenhood.

After all, the virtue of the woman of position is just as important as her holdings and power and wealth. Nobles just can’t stand the thought of someone having gone there first, apparently.

With Alicent having already given birth to a male heir to the throne, Otto Hightower was hoping that Viserys would go ahead and name the baby Ageon as his new heir. Three years later, he’s still standing by Rhaenyra. Even though the likelihood of him ascending to the throne himself is slim in any scenario, Otto desperately wants a direct link to the throne.

As Rhaenyra escaped the bowels of the pleasure house, we saw someone following her. That someone turned out to be one of Otto’s spies. He’s been keeping tabs on the princess for just such an opportunity. If Viserys won’t remove her as heir, maybe he can be made to believe he must.

The word that he brings to the king, though, is not entirely accurate. He may be jumping ahead himself here, or his informant did, but Otto’s message was that Daemon and Rhaenyra were seen “coupling” in the pleasure house. They were kissing and groping and dropping trou’, but it never got quite that far.

What Viserys finally sees is the ambition of his Hand, dating back to when Otto first took the position. He now sees not only that the Hand has been spying on Rhaenyra in an attempt to get her removed as heir for his grandson, but he also deduces that even Alicent was a plant by Otto to create an heir from his line in the first place.

It’s a few years too late, but Viserys’ eyes are fully open to the Machiavellian moves happening all around him as people vie for his throne. The moral of the story in Westeros is never trust anyone unless they’re trying to kill you. At least that’s probably honest.

Alicent has Viserys’ ear, despite her father’s role in their own coupling. As such, it was of great value to Rhaenyra when she insisted to Alicent that she and Daemon had never had sex. At least, in that she was telling the truth. Pushing for her continued maidenhood is a bit much.

Nevertheless, Alicent later tells the king that she believes Rhaenyra when she says nothing happened. She happened to overhear her father telling Viserys the rumor, and she knows all too well how ambitious the man could be, and how he’ll use anyone to get what he wants.

That made it easier when Viserys finally confronted his daughter. He wasn’t as blind with range, though he did tell her the truth actually doesn’t matter here. She is a woman of virtue, supposedly, and perception is key. That there is a rumor she was in a house of pleasure is almost enough to besmirch that virtue.

Viserys also tells Rhaenyra that once she is wed, she’s free to do whatever she wants. But until then, her days of freedom are over. He gave her a lot of time to choose a husband, and she not only failed to do so, but she stopped the procession of men her father brought before her.

Now, with a political problem rising with Lord Corlys and the Free Cities, Viserys has decided to use his daughter to create the alliance he failed to make when he wed Alicent instead of Corlys’ daughter Laena.

Now, he will offer up the heir to the thrown, Rhaenyra, to wed Corlys’ son Laenor. It again unites the two great houses, and brings Rhaenys (the queen who never was) closer again to the Throne. Their ambition could not possibly allow them such an offer.

At the same time, Rhaenyra ascending to the throne will not be taken well by any who don’t want a woman on the throne. That puts them in a position they may have to fight to maintain — in a war that may come sooner than any realize if Viserys’ worsening sores and rot are any indication.

Still uncertain what’s true and what isn’t, and before he’d even talked to his daughter, Viserys had Daemon brought before him. His brother arrived so hung over, he could barely stand, and did not in the throne room.

Viserys kicked him and accused him of despoiling his niece and Daemon never denied it. He knew it didn’t happen, but he again saw an opportunity. If Viserys thought Rhaenyra so spoiled that no lord would take her — then why not the lord that spoiled her.

He wouldn’t be able to get too much closer to the heir of the Iron Throne than by wedding her. He tried this ploy, asking his brother for her hand in marriage as a way to pay off Viserys’ earlier promise of anything he wanted, and fix the problem of Rhaenyra’s virtue.

At this point, Daemon has no reason to believe that Rhaenyra isn’t still a virgin, so it would be a win-win-win scenario for him. Unfortunately, Viserys is starting to see things more clearly now, not so blinded by his love for family, so he saw right through this ploy and re-banished his brother.

Viserys may slowly be losing one of his hands to the rot, but we’re talking about Otto Hightower. After he tells Rhaenyra that she must now wed Laenor to fix his political problem, she says she will do her duty … but only if he does his first.

And so, Viserys brings in his Hand and accuses him of overstepping and that he’s let his ambition take over. He’s put himself over his king, which Otto, of course, vehemently denies. But it has ever been so, as Viserys now can perceive.

He even knows that sending Alicent to him so soon after the death of his beloved wife was distraction and a grab for power; a grab that ultimately worked. And so, saying he can no longer trust him, Viserys strips Otto of his position as Hand of the King.

He is still grandfather of a child in line for the throne, and the Queen’s father, so what this means for his overall position in King’s Landing remains to be seen. But as we’ve seen with Lord Corlys, when Viserys pushes people away, they tend to work with Daemon to make his life more miserable and complicated.

Whether or not he believes the story of Rhaenyra’s virtue, the king may have just given her a test to find out. He also may have just been trying to clean up any possible loose ends as a gesture of love and support.

As she was getting ready for bed, a cup of tea was brought to her, with the clear indication that this particular brew would take carry of any unwanted consequences from her night of hedonism. Look at that, abortion is legal in Westeros!

If she leaves it undrunk, that would indicate that her virtue was intact, but if it’s gone, could they then be led to believe her virtue was sullied? Does Viserys really care at this point? Also, she could have just dumped it out, so it really won’t say anthing.

As the episode ends, she did not drink it — but surely she’s not looking to get pregnant with Criston’s baby, is she? If her wedding comes soon enough, she could maybe get away with it.

The plotting and scheming continues on “House of the Dragon” each Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max.

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