Sunday nights are for deciphering new clues and discussing new topics on House of the Dragon that will surely spark debate—and our utmost curiosity—about its Game of Thrones foreshadowing. House of the Dragon episode five marks the final episode with young Rhaenyra Targaryen (played by Milly Alcock and young Alicent Hightower (played by Emily Carey) before we skip forward in time to the impending Dance of Dragons.
The question we are tackling this week? How do some of our central characters on House of the Dragon struggle with their vulnerability?
Vulnerability and Viserys Targaryen
The rapidly aging and physically weak King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) spends an early part of House of the Dragon episode five questioning his new Hand Lyonel Strong (Matthew Needham) on how he’ll be remembered. There has been heavy foreshadowing for the past few episodes regarding the King’s potential death—from his minor cuts sustained by sitting on the Iron Throne to the lesions slowly but surely coating his arm. And of course there’s the physical and mental tolls of being King.
Like any good (and smart) Hand, Lyonel Strong ponders the question before answering as Viserys is concerned that his rule will be looked at in a negative light. He wasn’t a particularly noteworthy or strong ruler, never fighting or partaking in any combat (he previously made a comment in jest how those talents were given to his brother Daemon instead). Effectively, the King laments his peaceful reign as ruler of the realm, pondering aloud if he would have been considered a different or stronger ruler had he been tested in combat.
The vulnerability he expresses with Lyonel Strong seems noticeably different than how he acted around his former Hand, Otto Hightower. The dynamic between Otto and Viserys was more of that between brothers, whereas the dynamic between Lyonel and Viserys has a more regal undertone to it. Lyonel (thus far) appears to have no ulterior motives.
Vulnerability and Rhaenyra
Rhaenyra Targaryen is openly vulnerable throughout this episode, at first with her loyal (and head-over-heels-in-love) Kingsguard, Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) and later with her soon-to-be-betrothed Laenor Velaryon (Theo Nate). A brush of her vulnerability comes at the expense of Ser Criston, who proposes that he and Rhaenyra abandon her future as heir to the Iron Throne and get married beyond the constraints of the crown—and the realm. Rather than withhold her feelings, Rhaenyra makes it clear that she cannot do that because she is royalty BY BLOOD. The crown is her birthright. She fully intends on continuing to sleep with Ser Criston, however, he’s insulted over the idea that he’s become “her whore” and skulks off.
Meanwhile, Rhaenyra’s conversation with her future spouse Laenor is more, shall we say, candid. It’s evident to everyone, including the audience, that neither has much sexual desire for the other. Laenor, much like Renly Baratheon in Game of Thrones, has proclivities for other gentlemen. So, for reasons likely tied to that, Rhaenyra has little interest in Laenor. However, for the good of the realm, they will procreate but continue to serve their own sexual interests elsewhere.
This sort of emotional vulnerability backfires spectacularly in the conclusion to the episode, as they both seek to gain power they’ve been dreaming of yet maintain freedom from duty as we have seen in the earlier episodes.
Alicent Hightower and Vulnerability
Perhaps the most significant development of House of the Dragon, episode five, is the pseudo-coming-of-age for Alicent Hightower. She’s been stripped of immediate availability of her mentor and father, former Hand of the King Otto Hightower. In an opening scene that exists somewhere between vulnerability and continued manipulation, her father blatantly blames his dismissal from his role as Hand of the King on his daughter. After all, she initially backed Rhaenyra’s telling of events regarding the rumor of misdeeds between Rhaenyra and Daemon.
Otto, however, correctly warns his daughter that Viserys is to die before he reaches a ripe old age, and she will have to choose between her friendship with Rhaenyra and the claim of her son, Aegon, to the Iron Throne.
By the time we reach the midway point of the episode, and after the interrogation of Ser Criston Cole by Alicent Hightower, it becomes clear that she has made her choice—she will protect her children and stand firmly against Rhaenyra’s claim to the Iron Throne in the impending Dance of Dragons.
That moment where she snaps and becomes an immediate challenger to Rhaenyra is at her wedding (damned weddings in Westeros always seem to go sideways fast) is the first time she appeared truly regal, and also staunchly committed to the Hightower family cause. Wearing a royal Hightower green, which is a sign of war, she sits opposite Rhaenyra and greets her with a condescending and snide remark about Rhaenyra being her “stepdaughter.”
Cue the drama, because it’s coming in episode six next week!
What Happens Next on House of the Dragon?
House of the Dragon episode six will surely be wild as things begin to reach a climax. We’ve seen what happens in the prelude to the wedding—Ser Criston Cole beats Laenor’s private boyfriend to death in a gory fistfight reminiscent of the death of Oberyn Martel. Daemon arrives unannounced and is questioned by the cousin of his now deceased (see: murdered) wife and his role in it. Laenor’s sexuality is laid bare to Westeros when he publicly weeps and wails over the death of his lover. Laenor and Rhaenyra are married in secret. Alicent Hightower stops Ser Criston Cole from killing himself. Then Viserys collapses, his nose leaking blood.
Valar Morghulis indeed.
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