House of the Dragon: season 1, episode 4 – King of the Narrow Sea

“You are wearing a crown. Do you also call yourself King?”


Right, well it looks as though I was wrong in my earlier assumption that House of the Dragon would be playing down the massive amounts of sex so beloved of parent show Game of Thrones. Very, very wrong. Because this episode lets it all hang out, with copious amounts of sex and discussion of sex – along with (natch) how it affects that all-important Royal Duty.

Rhaenyra, of course, has become a young woman over the last few eps, something that’s rather disconcerting considering she’s played by the same actor as when she was ten years old. Still, Milly Alcock has portrayed her maturing convincingly, and as a young woman matures, she has… needs. Just as a young man does. The ep uses this to foreground, yet again, the rampant (perhaps not the best choice of word) inequality between the genders in this analogue of medieval Europe. Rhaenyra’s risqué exploits cause an outrage that, it is noted several times, would be completely absent were she a young man doing the same things.

It has to be said that, even though this is clearly the Sex Episode, some thought appears to have gone into addressing the criticisms of GoT’s exploitative depictions. Yes, there are naked background extras (so many naked background extras) lolling around in various stages of flagrante delicto; but the only actual full frontal nudity seen is of a man.

And when the main characters are involved, the direction is actually quite coy. You’d be forgiven for wondering whether Daemon and Rhaenyra did actually… do it, and when she definitely does, with hunky Ser Criston, the camera focuses on their clasped hands, or keeps the shot long, or has something tastefully obscuring the young woman’s nipples. You do actually see a glimpse of Fabien Frankel’s bum, but even he gets treated with more respect than the frequently full-frontal Theon Greyjoy. Of course there was a point where Theon stopped doing full-frontals, but there’s a good reason for that…

So hopefully this show will avoid issues like Emilia Clarke’s well-publicised discomfort at her admittedly titillating nude scenes as Daenerys. More pertinently, the sex isn’t entirely gratuitous – it feeds into, and is a vital part of, the plot of the ep. We already know the Targaryens aren’t averse to a spot of incest (“your Targaryen customs are… strange,” observes Queen Allicent), as last week the suggestion was made that Rhaenyra should marry her baby half-brother Aegon. But Daemon’s dalliance with his niece is definitely disturbing, however discreetly it’s shot.

The question is, why is he doing it? Yes, he certainly has “no limits”, as Ser Otto later comments, but he must have known word would get back to the Red Keep. Indeed, his deliberate reveal of Rhaenyra’s identity, sweeping her hat off to reveal that distinctive Targaryen hair, seems calculated to ensure just that. So it’s not (just) a random act of lust, but something more calculated. The result, his second banishment in four episodes, is inevitable, and he’s not stupid – he must have known that was coming. So what’s the long game here?

Perhaps to sow discord between the King and his Hand, who would inevitably have to face the grim task of informing the protective Daddy Targaryen. Rhys Ifans has never looked so dour as Ser Otto (which is saying something), as Viserys strips him of his badge of office. And yet… isn’t there something to Viserys’ paranoid rants about Otto’s meteoric rise to the second most powerful position in the Seven Kingdoms? And his manoeuvring of his daughter into a position as the King’s confidante following the death of his wife?

Either way, as a plot point, the idea of Rhaenyra’s uncle getting it on with her is not out of place after the sexual shenanigans of the parent show. It is disturbing though, particularly in light of the debates surrounding GoT’s portrayal of consent (or lack thereof). Certainly Rhaenyra isn’t exactly fighting Daemon off, but it’s still pretty unclear how much she wants what is happening. Plus, Daemon has deliberately stirred up her hormones by taking her to what’s basically an orgy. I think this scene may stir up yet more controversy…

It is understandable that, with hormones raging, the sorry parade of potential suitors at the ep’s outset might have stirred Rhaenyra into a storm of sexual frustration. Daemon’s advances might not have been entirely welcome, but they didn’t seem entirely unwelcome either. However, it’s an indication of Rhaenyra’s agency as a woman that she takes the lead herself with Ser Criston, which raises a whole set of other disturbing questions.

There’s obviously chemistry between the two, as we saw last ep, but then, as a low-ranking knight from a common background, Criston could hardly turn down the advances of the heir to the Iron Throne, could he? That raises the different issue about consent based not on gender, but on class; an interesting subject in a society as class-dominated as Westeros. Plus, given Criston was wearing a full suit of armour, it must have taken Rhaenryra a very long time to do that erotic removal of his clothes…

Matt Smith once again dominates the ep as Daemon, whether carousing in brothels or whooping it up with his brother during his all-too-temporary reprieve from banishment. The show’s giving Daemon a complex, multi-layered character – he’s not just a baddie, and neither is he as perfectly skilled a manipulator as his predecessors in GoT. Yes, the whole brothel scandal might have been manufactured, for reasons as yet unknown, but Daemon still didn’t manage to avoid what looked like a killer hangover the next day. And it looked very much as though the discreetly shot liaison with Rhaenyra didn’t exactly work – we’ve seen already that he occasionally suffers with sexual performance issues. Even the ministrations of his oddly-accented paramour Mysaria can’t lift him out of his morning after funk.

Whether it was what Daemon intended, his (and Rhaenyra’s) antics have certainly stirred up trouble at court. Ser Otto removed as Hand, Daemon banished again, and Rhaenyra sworn to marry Lord Corlys’ son Laenor Velaryon (whatever her feelings may be towards Ser Criston). It’s a political match of course, but still, given Laenor’s dragon-riding heroism last ep, and the fact that actor Theo Nate is pretty easy on the eye, she could have done a lot worse. That said, I doubt this show does happy endings any more than its predecessor did, so I expect the match won’t be any easy ride.

A raunchy episode then, full of the sex I hadn’t expected to see so much of. And yet, while still somewhat titillating, the sex is sensitively handled and germane to the plot, something Game of Thrones couldn’t always say. And like so often in real life, it’s shown to have consequences; but the consequences here will affect all the Seven Kingdoms.

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