Cursed Castles and Daddy Issues: Keeping Up with the Targaryen Timeline in House of the Dragon Ep. 6

The sixth episode of House of the Dragon is being referred to as a “second pilot” by showrunners Miguel Sapochnik and Ryan Condal, set after a ten-year time jump, with two lead actors recast as older versions of the characters they play, and a bevy of young royal offspring exacerbating tensions. There’s a spiraling sense of doom as old feuds ossify into deadly factions and King Viserys (Paddy Considine) seems ever more blind to the disaster awaiting his house and the realm, refusing to recognize the dangers even as he steers directly into the storm. (Some spoilers for Game of Thrones and the novels below, for anyone who might be avoiding those.)

 

The Title

Image: HBO

Episode 6, entitled “The Princess and the Queen,” refers to Martin’s 2013 novella of the same name which covers, in broad strokes, most of the plot points for what I assume will be the entire rest of the TV series. This is somewhat apt insofar as it begins after a 10-year time jump that brings the two titular characters (Emma D’Arcy’s Princess Rhaenyra and Olivia Cooke’s Queen Alicent) into full adulthood, now mothers to the next generation of Targaryens. It’s the beginning of the second half of the first season and takes its time showing us the ways in which Alicent and Rhaenyra’s friendship has crumbled, endangering the whole of Westeros. If the House of the Dragon will bring itself down (as foretold in the pilot’s opening narration), it will be down to the Princess and the Queen.

 

New Opening Credits Sequence

With the ten-year jump ahead in time, we have an expanded title sequence that revamps a significant portion of the intro. While there have been subtle changes throughout the previous five episodes—notably showing the Targaryen blood, in the background of certain shots, flowing through symbols for House Hightower, indicating Alicent’s marriage and children—we now have a more fractured opening title sequence, reflecting the multiple contested bloodlines whose claims are being staked.

  • It begins with the usual sequence of Aegon, Rhaenys, her son Aenys, and his son Jaehaerys (with the line of Visenya flowing off screen away from the camera’s focus). But the course now pivots to show two of Jaehaerys’ bloodlines representing the eldest sons who might have been heirs: Aemon (the father of Rhaenys Velaryon), and Baelon (the father of Viserys). Note that Baelon’s game piece has the symbol for the hand of the king, in keeping with Baelon’s short tenure in that position before dying of appendicitis.
  • A shot that trails Baelon’s bloodline shows us Aemon’s moving through the background, mingling with House Velaryon before giving us a new game piece, marked by a helmet crowned with dragon wings. This is likely Daemon’s (Matt Smith) piece (mimicking his helmet) and we see blood flowing through it, eventually meeting a braided rope that I assume represents Laena Velaryon (Nana Blondell) before splitting into two dragons’ eggs representing Daemon’s twin daughters, Baela (Shani Smethurst) and Rhaena (Eva Ossei-Gerning).
  • We move back to Rhaenyra’s piece, where the bloodline flows through three pieces representing her three sons, Jacaerys (Leo Hart), Lucerys (Harvey Sadler), and Joffrey.
  • An unknown bloodstream moves through underground passages in the model of Valyria, eventually leading to a blood waterfall blocking a passageway. The path to succession in the show is getting ever more convoluted and unpredictable and the titles reflect the confusion and disorder…

 

VHAGAR!!!

Image: HBO

I have made no secret about my excitement over Vhagar, the last of Aegon the Conquerer’s dragons, and her role in this series. I’ve been filled with a species of little-boy-glee to finally get a look at her—and, wow, she does not disappoint. From the iguana-wattle, to the grim jumble of previous riders’ bridles, to her preponderance of wrinkles, the showrunners and visual effects artists have ensured that her entire appearance connotes her impressive age. Let’s spend a little time discussing this, the oldest and largest dragon in the world, during the time of the show.

Vhagar was the youngest and smallest of the three dragons ridden by Aegon the Conqueror and his sister-wives, though she was still ancient and gigantic even then. Though never formally described (beyond her massive size) in any of Martin’s writings, he has given her description as “bronze with greenish blue highlights and bright green eyes” (per a tweet by illustrator Sam Hogg). Like Balerion, Meraxes, and Syrax, she was named for a god of Old Valyria, though Martin has never specified the domains or worship of any members of the Valyrian pantheon. Dragons are said to never stop growing, so the oldest dragons are orders of magnitude larger than younger adults. This also means that, by the era in which House of the Dragon takes place, Vhagar has well outpaced Meraxes in size and is nearly as large as Balerion, the Black Dread (the only dragon, thus far, in the Targaryen dynasty to die of natural causes). The show and Martin both use female pronouns for Vhagar (with a character famously proclaiming her to be “the hoary old bitch”) despite there being unclear evidence for dragons having gender or binary sex organs. Vhagar has laid eggs and so she is assumed by characters to be female.

Though she was already an adult by the time of Aegon’s Conquest and, presumably, had riders in her 52 years of life before Fire & Blood begins, the first rider Martin tells us about is Visenya Targaryen, Aegon the Conqueror’s older sister—a fierce warrior, skilled dragonrider, and progenitor of the problematic half of the Targaryen line. We are told that Aegon deeply loved his younger sister-wife, Rhaenys, and was lost in grief after her untimely death at the hands of Dornish soldiers. Viserys, Aemma, Daemon, Rhaenys (The Queen that Never Was), and all their progeny are, ultimately, descended from the line of Aegon and Queen Rhaenys.

Aegon’s marriage to Visenya, on the other hand, was born out of duty to House and lineage. Visenya and Aegon produced only Maegor the Cruel, the third Targaryen King of Westeros who Martin seems to have based on a nightmare combination of Richard III and Henry VIII. Maegor died without children despite his six wives, so he technically ends Visenya’s line. But the spectre of Visenya persists both through the fear of another mad/monstrous/cruel Targaryen monarch, and through the lineage of Visenya’s Valyrian steel sword, Dark Sister. The blade was wielded by Visenya, Maegor, Baelon the Brave (another rider of Vhagar and King Viserys’ father), and is now used by Daemon Targaryen. The fact that Daemon’s wife, Laena Velaryon, is Vhagar’s current rider all tracks, thematically, with the idea that both the dragon and the sword are indicative of a problematic offshoot of the Targaryen line, lurking in the shadows, reminding everyone that the dynasty’s greatness and madness are two sides of the same coin.

Back in episode 2 of House of the Dragon, the young Laena Velaryon, who would eventually become Vhagar’s rider, displayed an interest in Vhagar’s location, foreshadowing the bond that will eventually form between the two. When a dying Laena commands Vhagar to give her the dragonrider’s death-by-immolation that she desires, the show lingers on the old beast’s face, struggling to comprehend the request and eventually acquiescing, outliving yet another of her many riders, once again masterless among the descendants of the humans that raised her.

 

House Strong and Harrenhal

Image: HBO

Though we have been seeing them in the mix all season, House Strong finally moves (briefly) to the forefront in episode 6. Lord Lyonel (Gavin Spokes), the most recent Hand of the King and former Master of Laws, along with his two sons, Larys (Matthew Needham), called “the Clubfoot,” and Harwin (Ryan Corr), called “Breakbones,” are attached to the great seat of Harrenhal in the Riverlands but claim descent from the First Men, the original human inhabitants of Westeros. They take their sigil—three lines of blue, red, and green respectively—from the three major forks of the Trident River which give the Riverlands its name.

Their seat at Harrenhal is considered cursed as no family in Westeros has been able to hold it for long. Originally built by an Iron Island Reaver, Harren Hoare, as a massive castle from which he could subjugate the Riverlands, Harrenhal was far too big and labyrinthine to properly staff. Harren refused to bend the knee to Aegon the Conqueror, thinking the curtain wall of the Castle too strong to be breached. Aegon simply flew Balerion the Black Dread over its walls and breathed such gouts of monstrous flame that the stone of its towers melted, ending the line of Harren and his sons. House Tully was granted paramountcy over the Riverlands after the conquest and Harrenhal, now a half melted ruin, was given to a series of noble houses… all of whom came to bad ends:

  • House Qoherys, founded by Quenton Qoherys, the Master of Arms at Dragonstone, claimed descent from Valyria alongside the Targaryens and Velaryons was granted the seat after Harren’s death. Quenton’s grandson, Gargon was killed by a Riverlands bandit-king claiming to be Harren Hoare’s grandson 37 years after House Qoherys had been granted the seat.
  • House Harroway held the seat for seven years, with Lord Lucas Harroway’s daughter Alys eventually becoming the scandal plagued second-wife of Maegor the Cruel. Banished for polygamy for five years, Maegor eventually returned and ascended the Iron Throne but became displeased with Alys after her failure to produce a living son. Convinced by his paramour that Alys Harroway’s failures were the result of her infidelity, he had her executed and then proceeded to kill every other Harroway he could find.
  • Maegor then held a tournament to determine the next house to inherit Harrenhal, which was won by Walton Towers. Though Walton died of his wounds, his son Jordan inherited the Castle (though most of Harrenhal’s other holdings had been parceled off to the Houses Butterwell and Darry). House Towers ruled Harrenhal for the next 17 years. Even when the tide turned against Maegor in favor of his nephew, Jaehaerys I, Jordan remained loyal and was one of the last to see the cruel king alive. After his death by illness, his son (named Maegor for the king his father served), lived alone and uneventfully with a household staff of three in Harrenhal’s Tower of Dread until his untimely death at age 17.
  • For 12 years after that, Harrenhal was under the leadership of Rhaena Targaryen, Jaehaerys I’s eldest sister. Rhaena’s tragic life included:
    • The death of her beloved brother-husband Prince Aegon (the Conqueror’s grandson)
    • Betrayal and robbery by her lover, Elissa Farman
    • Forced marriage to her cousin, Maegor the Cruel, where she was one of his three “black brides” all married on the same night
    • Her third husband, Androw Farman, poisoning her new lover and many of her closest friends in an act of calculated jealousy
    • The horrifying death of her daughter, Aerea, after an argument between the two sent the teenager off on the back of Balerion who flew her back to the ruins of cursed Valyria only to have her return over a year later, infested with draconic parasites.

By the time she took up residence in the Widow’s tower and formed an unlikely friendship with Maegor Towers, Rhaena was a broken woman, bereft of the fighting spirit that had characterized her younger days. She remained the unofficial Lady of Harrenhal until her death.

At this point in the show, House Strong has ruled Harrenhal ever since, making them, to date, the longest serving House to hold the honor—51 years as of the start of episode 6.

With the deaths of Lyonel and Harwin Strong, Larys Strong inherits the Castle, though, by the time of the original Game of Thrones, it is controlled by House Whent, who flee during the War of Five Kings. The earlier show implies that it is given to Littlefinger as part of his rise to power, though his claim is disputed in the novels.

The Strongs are just the latest family to succumb to Harren’s curse—betrayed and cut down while attempting to rule over the ungovernable ruins of Westeros’ largest castle.

 

Odds and Ends

Image: HBO

Pentoshi Exiles

Daemon, Laena, and their daughters have been living in Pentos under the roof of Prince Reggio Haratis (Dean Nolan) for quite some time. Haratis is a character invented by the show, though he seems to be a fleshed-out version of an unnamed Pentoshi noble who hosts the family, and shares a surname with a Pentoshi historian mentioned in Martin’s concordance, The World of Ice & Fire. This whole Pentoshi adventure is a bit of a reshuffle of Daemon’s timeline as he and Laena return to Driftmark sometime during the ten years between episodes. Martin even tells us that Rhaenyra and Laena become close friends as fellow dragonriders. Furthermore, the time spent in Pentos is extended only by the births of Baela and Rhaena as part of a grand tour of the Northern Free Cities.

The show, in positioning Daemon’s unexpected stay as the latest chapter in an extended ten-year exile, makes him part of a long line of lost Targaryen heirs and second sons to find refuge in the Free Cities. As former Valyrian colonies, the Free Cities are populated by the descendants of Old Valyria, and many there feel a connection to the Targaryen line as a result. In fact, these close ties (and plenty of behind-the-scenes politicking) are why, a hundred and fifty-odd years from now, Daenerys Targaryen and her brother Viserys will find themselves in the Pentoshi manse of Magister Illyrio Mopatis, who helps arrange Dany’s marriage to Khal Drogo.

Racallio Ryndoon

Laenor (John Macmillan) mentions a giant Tyroshi pirate in the service of the reformed Triarchy who has a dyed beard and wears a dress. This is almost certainly Racallio Ryndon (whom I incorrectly had assumed might be a model for Craghas Drahar since it would be unlikely for him to appear in the show). The quick mention he receives in this latest episode may simply be another Easter Egg for book readers, or it might be foreshadowing of his greater role in seasons to come.

Muppet Tullys

Mention is made in this episode of the sickly Lord Grover Tully of Riverrun. Grover and his descendants play a minor role in the succession crises to come and may not be seen in this series (though the above mention of Racallio Ryndoon opens up the possibilities). More importantly, Grover and his family members are all named after Muppets. His grandson, Elmo, and great-grandsons, Kermit and Oscar, all play similar roles in Fire & Blood. We’ll see if the showrunners include them or chicken out and change their groan-worthy names.

Unreliable Narrators: The Deaths of the Strongs

Archmaester Gyldayn reports on the mysterious fire at Harrenhal that killed Lyonel and Harwin Strong and, as he so often does, proposes a number of possibilities:

…the cause of the fire was never determined. Some put it to simple mischance, whilst others muttered that Black Harren’s seat was cursed […] Mushroom suggests it was the Sea Snake behind it, as an act of vengeance against the man who had cuckolded his son. Septon Eustace, more plausibly, suspects Daemon removing a rival for Rhaenyra’s affections. Others have put forth the notion that Larys Clubfoot might have been responsible […] The most disturbing possibility was advanced by none other than Grand Maester Mellos, who muses that the king himself might have given the command. (Fire & Blood 383)

The show has chosen, in this moment, to completely break with Gyldayn by giving us the one option without a reputable attribution. The writers have also managed to once again weave a more intricate and complex tale out of Martin’s outline—rather than the simple desire to inherit, Larys’ motivation is tied up with an ambitious power play to entrap Alicent by making her unknowingly complicit in his patricide.

***

 

“The Princess and the Queen” brings a risky reset with its jump forward in time. Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke are both excellent, but after five episodes with the thoroughly wonderful Milly Alcock and Emily Carey, there would always be a need for a slow and thoughtful reintroduction. The show is (literally) burning through its cast with Laena, Lyonel, and Harwin all departing this episode, but it manages to efficiently introduce the gaggle of Targaryen children and bring previously under-utilized characters like Larys Strong to the forefront. With four episodes left, House of the Dragon remains consistently well-acted and well-written in such a way that helps ease its jarring (if necessary) approach to pacing. And hopefully we’ll be seeing more of Vhagar—I could never begrudge a show that has the same love for the Grand Dame of Targaryen dragons as I do.

What did you think of the new twists and new characters? How are you adjusting to the largest time jump yet? Did you also spend a second thinking, wait, is Finn Wolfhard on this show?! Let us know in the comments.

Tyler Dean is a professor of Victorian Gothic Literature. He holds a doctorate from the University of California Irvine and teaches at a handful of Southern California colleges. He is the author of “Distended Youth: Arrested Development in the Victorian Novel” and his article “Exhuming M. Paul: Carmen Maria Machado and Creating Space for Pedagogical Discomfort” appears in the most recent issue of Victorian Studies. He is one half of the Lincoln & Welles podcast available on itunes or through your favorite podcatcher. His fantastical bestiary can be found on Facebook at @presumptivebestiary.

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