“KING OF THE NARROW SEA” is the fourth episode of House of the Dragon and when things get SPICY. Unfortunately, for those who love hot and steamy Game of Thrones sex, it is sex that is frequently made unappealing due to the fact it shows the power imbalances as well as grosser element to Westeros. After all, one of the scenes is between an uncle and his niece, another between a gangrenous old man and his young bride, and the third is between a man who can’t say no to his superior. Oh there’s also an orgy but that’s just background noise on HBO by now.
The premise is Rhaenyra Targaryen is taking her quest for a husband less than seriously. She is hosting whole hosts of noble lords and insulting them while treating it as an episode of The Bachlorette, Westerosi edition. Unfortunately, for the nobles, she has no interest in getting married and this is all a game. A game that turns deadly serious in a conflict between a Bracken and Blackwood suitor. Mind you, as a fan of the books, I’m well and truly sick of the Blackwood bias and wish the Brackens would go Red Wedding on them.
Daemon Targaryen has returned as “King of the Narrow Seas” but turns around the perception he is an upstart by laying his ground before his brother’s feet. Unfortunately, whatever good will he gets from that is something that he quickly squanders by taking Rhaenyra on a tour of the city’s taverns as well as brothels. A scene that results in her having what may or may not have been consummated sex with Daemon but does lead to actual sex with Criston Cole. This gets her spied upon by what is implied to be Daemon’s mistress, Mysaria, who reports it to Otto Hightower. What follows is a show of the double standard between men and women in Westeros regarding consensual sex.
This is an episode without much in the way of dragons or violence but does a lot to forward the characters’ arcs. I’m glad there’s no real time skip this time and we can follow up on the events of previous episodes. Time skips were inevitable but I felt like they were harming our connection to the protagonists. That’s rectified and we have some much-needed focus on the relationships between Alicent-Rhaenyra, Rhaenyra-Daemon, Rhaenyra-Criston, Viserys-Alicent, and Viserys-Otto. They are a very-very twisted bunch and a tangled web of allegiances that finally reach their breaking point.
The subtext that Rhaenyra’s fear of marriage and intimacy is due to her mother’s horrific death is made text and Daemon helps educate her that sex can be pleasurable. However, it is also muddled by the fact that he’s planning to ruin her reputation in hopes of being able to marry her. Daemon pulls back (or perhaps “out”) at the last second, though, because he realizes it’s wrong. This just leaves Rhaenyra horny as all get out and sends her into her favorite Kingsguard’s arms. Ser Cole, who is only there by Rhaenyra’s patronage, doesn’t exactly have the opportunity to say no either.
Meanwhile, Alient Hightower’s marriage is shown from her perspective and it is an utterly miserable horror show. Viserys is slowly rotting away from the inside and out but his sexual urges are undiminished. Alicent also reacts with visible jealousy to Rhaenyra’s dismissive attitude to her suitors. She also spends a good deal of time drinking wine and becoming ever more Cersei like in her attitudes. Plus, when given a choice between her father and best friend, she of course chooses her father.
Otto Hightower also badly misjudges his position with Viserys as he gets what he believes is the perfect bit of news to get Rhaenyra disinherited, only to find himself under attack for spying on the royal family. The fact Rhaenyra knows that Ser Otto is plotting against her results in her first victory in the game of thrones by getting him thrown out of his position. It, sadly, comes at the cost of agreeing to an advantageous marriage.
Solid episode, lots of good character-building and plot advancement.