House of the Dragon’s third episode gave us a taste of the set-piece battles Game of Thrones was famous for. In the episode’s climax, Daemon Targaryen blitzed the competition in a sweet action scene that set the stage for the Targaryen prince to return to King’s Landing.
Episode 4, called King of the Narrow Sea, featured less slicing and dicing, but more ruthless politicking. These lords and ladies of Westeros: They love the politicking.
Unlike episode 3, which took place three years after episode 2, there’s no major time jump between episodes here. That means Rhaenyra Targaryen is still grappling with the marriage duties King Viserys Targaryen has thrust upon her. That’s where the adventure begins this week.
Below is a full recap of House of the Dragon episode 4. Beware: Spoilers for House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones are ahead.
In a moment of fatherly generosity, King Viserys Targaryen at the end of House of the Dragon episode 3 proclaimed his daughter Rhaenyra Targaryen could choose who she married. Episode 4 begins with Westerosi lords presenting themselves to the heir apparent, hoping she’ll accept their hand in marriage.
Rhaenyra is having none of it.
She first rebuffs an old man, then a teenage lord. The teenage boy gets heckled by one of the other lords in the line, and Rhaenyra decides it’s time for her supper. A fight breaks out as she leaves, ending with the little lad disemboweling the smug heckler. Love truly is a battlefield.
On a ship back to King’s Landing, Ser Criston Cole, the knight Rhaenyra chose to add to the Kingsguard in episode 2, notes the king is likely to be unimpressed that Rhaenyra rejected every prospective suitor. Their chit chat is interrupted by the unexpected roar of a dragon, which flies past them into King’s Landing.
It’s Daemon Targaryen, who’s returned from the Stepstones fresh off his victory against the Crabfeeder. Daemon is received by the court in the Great Hall. Having not seen his brother in years — Daemon was expelled from the capital at the end of episode 1 — he opens by presenting the Crabfeeder’s sword: “Add it to the chair” he says to Viserys as he drops it at the Iron Throne.
Daemon explains that he’s been named the King of the Narrow Sea after his victory over the Triarchy. But in an apparent act of reconciliation, Daemon bends the knee and says there is only one true king. “My crown and the Stepstones are yours,” he says. After a tense few moments, and a few glares from a suspicious Otto Hightower, King Viserys accepts Daemon’s gesture with a warm hug.
“The realm owes you a great debt, brother,” Viserys says as the court applauds Daemon.
Rhaenyra’s reception by Viserys was conspicuously colder. With celebrations going on in one of King’s Landing’s courtyards, Rhaenyra approaches Viserys, Daemon and Queen Alicent. Rhaenyra congratulates Daemon, who can quickly intuit that the king and queen don’t want a bar of the princess. A rejected Rhaenyra goes to sit on a bench in the corner of the party. Alicent follows her.
“It is rare for girls in this realm to get a choice between two suitors, no less two score,” Alicent reprimands Rhaenyra. The princess rebuffs the Queen, eye-rolling that those “men and boys” only want her name and her Valyrian blood.
“How romantic it must be to be imprisoned in a castle and made to squeeze out heirs,” Rhaenyra scoffs. She then realizes that saying this to the queen is in poor taste, and she winces in embarrassment.
“The king went through great effort to arrange your tour,” Queen Alicent said. “He is frustrated. But I am glad you’re home. I find I have few friends lately. I like to believe I’m still the Lady Alicent, but all anybody sees when they look at me now is a queen.”
Weird flex, but OK.
Rhaenyra finds Daemon alone under the Godswood tree and asks why he’s returned, but soon thereafter goes back to complaining about the marriage tour thing. Daemon tells her that marriages are only about politics, that she can still do as she pleases once she’s wed. Just look at him: He’s married to a lady in the vale, and we haven’t even seen her yet.
“For men marriage might be a political arrangement,” Rhaenyra replies. “For women it’s a death sentence… My mother was made to produce heirs until it killed her. I won’t subject myself to that fate.”
When Daemon tells her not to live a life of fear, she says she has no desire to live in fear — only solitude.
“Such a lonely prospect,” he says with a faint grin.
Duty and pleasure
Conspicuous by his absence from the frivolities is Lord Corlys Velaryon, who was fighting the Triarchy alongside Daemon. That’s because Lord Corlys has sailed back to his home of Driftmark, where he’s apparently been scheming.
Lord Corlys plans to marry his daughter Laena to the son of Braavos’ Sea Lord. This is apparently a big deal — big enough to get Hand of the King Otto Hightower sweating. Hightower says that the Small Council will have to arrange its own marriage pact. Everyone turns their head to Rhaenyra.
With that ominous marital cloud hanging over her head, Rhaenyra retires to her room. There she finds a scroll of parchment with instructions leading her to a secret exit. Cloaked in a commoner’s garb, the secret path leads her to Daemon, who escorts Rhaenyra out into the streets of King’s Landing.
For one night, she’s not the princess — she’s just a girl.
In a scene reminiscent of Arya Stark watching a play depicting the death of her father, Rhaenyra and Daemon watch a street performance recounting her ascendance to heir apparent over Daemon. It gets even more awkward when the thespians get to the topic of Aegon Targaryen, King Viserys’ son with Queen Alicent.
“Would she make a powerful queen or would she be feeble? Aegon the babe prince might long proclaim, he has two things Rhaenyra cannot: A conqueror’s name and a cock.”
Rhaenyra, still in the disguise of a commoner, starts jeering before walking away. Daemon reminds her that many in Westeros will always desire a man over a woman as ruler.
“Their wants are of no consequence,” she says, brushing him off.
“They’re of great consequence if you expect to rule them one day.”
Keen to unshackle herself from the burdens of royalty, Rhaenyra indulges in some classic horseplay: Stealing goods from a merchant. She runs off, Daemon following, until she turns a corner and bumps into a City Watch soldier. He recognizes her as the princess, but she begs him to leave her be. Seeing Daemon, the soldier lets them off.
Rhaenyra says she doesn’t know when she’ll next taste freedom, so she has to make the most of it today — at which point she and Daemon start holding hands as they walk into the distance.
It gets much worse, as we see next that Daemon has led Rhaenyra into a pleasure house. As she wanders at all the chicanery around her, she asks what everyone’s doing here.
“Fucking is a pleasure, you see, for the woman as it is the man,” Daemon says before making out with his much younger niece.
All of this is interspersed with a bleak scene in which a sickly King Viserys, with scabs all around his torso, is having sex with a very-not-into-it Queen Alicent.
“A marriage is for duty, yes. But that doesn’t stop us from doing what we want. From fucking who we want,” Daemon says as they continue to kiss. He undresses her, but thankfully shoves her away and leaves the pleasure house before things escalate.
Incest might be a Targaryen tradition, but I kind of need to take a shower now.
Rhaenyra’s night isn’t done yet, however, as she sneaks back into her quarters. Ser Criston Cole hears a noise and thinks she’s hurt herself, and yells that he’ll alert the Lord Commander. She pops out of her room, tells him to shush and then snatches his helmet.
Rhaenyra beckons Ser Criston into her room and, eventually, they do the thing.
It all feels super weird to watch, since Rhaenyra is such a young character. It’s again reminiscent of Arya Stark’s sex scene with Gendry, which was also weird as hell. To save you a Google: Rhaenyra is 18 in the story, and the actress who plays her, Milly Alcock, is 22.
You can’t expect to fool around with your royal uncle and have no one find out, even if you are in commoner’s clothing.
Before the night is over, Otto Hightower receives a report that Rhaenyra and Daemon were seen together at the White Worm pleasure house. With much awkwardness and pause, Hightower informs King Viserys of the report he received — that Daemon and Rhaenyra were seen “coupling” in the “bowels of a pleasure den.”
Viserys suspects foul play, at first from Hightower’s spy and then from Hightower himself.
“Are you so sick with ambition that you would have my daughter stalked, spied upon, awaiting your best chance to destroy her reputation?” an incredulous Viserys snarls at Hightower. “You think yourself a cunning man? Your designs are obvious. You wish to have your blood on the Iron Throne so badly that you’re willing to destroy mine own.”
While Viserys writes the allegations off, Queen Alicent doesn’t. Alicent summons Rhaenyra to the Godswood tree.
Rhaenyra said Daemon took her into the city for innocent fun, and calls the allegations vile lies. Rhaenyra flits between endearing herself to the Queen (“your grace, dear sister, you must know I would never”) and indignation (“I am the princess, to question my virtue is an act of treason”).
“We drank in a tavern, several taverns, it was getting late and I asked to go home, but Daemon wished to continue,” Rhaenyra pleads. “As he was my escort I had no choice… he took me to a show, I was only a spectator, I didn’t do anything.”
“And then Daemon sank into his cup and abandoned me for some whore. I should have known better.
Rhaenyra swears on the memory of Queen Aemma that Daemon never touched her, and Alicent buys it. “It was foolish of you to place yourself in a position where your virtue could even come into question.”
Daemon isn’t treated with such generosity. A hungover Daemon stumbles into the Red Keep, where he’s accosted by the Kingsguard. They take him to Viserys, tossing him at the king’s feet in the Great Hall. Where Rhaenyra lied about Daemon never touching her, Daemon lied about going further than they actually did.
“When we were Rhaenyra’s age we fucked our way through most of the brothels on the street of silk… Rhaenyra is a woman grown, better her first experience be with me than some whore.”
King Viserys complains that Daemon has “defiled” his daughter, and that he should disinherit Rhaenyra like he already did Daemon. Daemon has other ideas.
“Wed her to me. When I offered up my crown, you said I could have anything. I want Rhaenyra. I’ll take her as she is and wed her in the tradition of our house,” Daemon says, adding that he and Rhaenyra can return the House of the Dragon to its proper glory.
“It’s not my daughter you lust for is it? It’s my throne,” Viserys says before once again banishing Daemon from King’s Landing, demanding Daemon go back to the vale to be with his wife.
A famous tune
King Viserys calls Rhaenyra into his chambers. As she takes in the huge clay model of King’s Landing in Viserys’ living room, she glances a dagger on his table. Viserys breezes in, explaining that it was Aegon “The Conqueror” Targaryen’s, and that the last of the Valyrion pyromancers inscribed Aegon’s song in the steel.
Rhaenyra reads the words inscribed on the dagger: “From my blood come the Prince Who Was Promised, and his will be the song of Ice and Fire.”
We know from Game of Thrones that it was Jon Snow who Aegon foresaw. The ice is his Stark blood, the fire his Targaryen half.
“The responsibility I have handed to you, the burden of this knowledge, is larger than the throne, the king, it is larger than you and your desires,” Viserys reprimands. The king’s warning is not too dissimilar from the Stark words: “winter is coming.”
Rhaenyra exclaims that if she were a man her desires wouldn’t be a problem, that she could father a dozen bastard children and no one would care. Viserys agrees, but points out she wasn’t born a man and so has to deal with that disadvantage. Now that she’s exposed herself, Viserys declares, she’s lost the right to choose her own suitor. Instead, she’ll marry Ser Laenor Velaryon.
“The son of the Sea Snake?” she begins to protest, “so I can be a remedy for your political headaches?”
“You are my political headache.”
Rhaenyra, ever the savvy politician, strikes a bargain with her father. She agrees that the combined strength of Targaryen dragons and Velaryon ships will reinforce the realm’s security for another generation. But she argues there’s one weakness that has to be addressed: The Hand of the King. Otto Hightower wants his grandson, Aegon Targaryen, on the throne, Rhaenyra says, making him too self-interested to serve as Hand.
“I will do my duty as heir, and wed Ser Laenor, but you must first do your duty as king.”
And so he does. King Viserys calls Otto Hightower into the Small Council chambers and speculates on just how much Hightower has been plotting over the years.
“I will never recover from Aemma’s death, but Alicent, she took me through the worst of my grief,” he says, before pointedly adding, “she was a calculated distraction. I only now realize how well calculated it was.”
King Viserys thanks Hightower for being a valuable servant to the realm as he plucks the Hand badge off of Hightower’s tunic. “The crown and the realm both owe you a debt that can never be repaid. But I can no longer trust your judgment.”
Hightower was indignant at the accusations, but accepted his dismissal with grace. Yet here the seeds for a Targaryen civil war are well and truly planted, as Queen Alicent is unlikely to take kindly to Rhaenyra’s plotting to have Hightower removed.
In the House of the Dragon episode 4’s final scene, Grand Maester Mellos brings a liquid concoction into Rhaenyra’s chambers.
“A tea, princess, from the king,” Mellos explains to a confused Rhaenyra. “It will rid you of any… unwanted consequences.”