House of the Dragon Season 1, Episode 5: The Emancipation of Alicent

House of the Dragon episode 5
Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

We are officially at the halfway point of House of the Dragon season one, so it’s no surprise that creators Ryan Condal and George R.R. Martin served up a hot plate of drama and intrigue on Sunday night, in an episode that all but solidified the Game of Thrones prequel as its own, standalone success. Of course, Thrones traditionalists were well-fed as well, thanks to the classic tropes and easter eggs sprinkled throughout the hour. We got this season’s wedding-gone-awry— a Thrones staple—some nice symbolism in the form of color, and enough love triangles and squares to require a refresher course in geometry. Next week, a ten-year time jump will find us with a new cast of older characters and a whole new political terrain to explore. But, before that, it seems necessary to breakdown all the complex relationships encircling King’s Landing, so you can go into episode six straightened out and prepared for civil war.

Rhaenyra, Criston, Laenor, and Joffrey (RIP)

Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

Laenor and Rhaenyra are set to be wed, which is a little odd as they refer to each other as “cousin” up until their wedding night (no matter how much incest they throw at us, I’ll never get used to it). The two seem decently content with the match, however, which is more than many victims of arranged marriages can say. It helps that they make a bit of an agreement ahead of their nuptials. Both of them prefer roast duck to goose (yes, in this metaphor, roast duck means men). So, Rhaenyra—who makes it clear she’s not sexually attracted to Laenor anyway—proposes an open marriage. They get married, sire heirs, but other than that, are free to enjoy whatever meat they desire. Laenor, of course, seems pleased with this offer, as it means he does not need to give up his lover, Ser Joffrey Lonmouth. Unfortunately for Rhaenyra, her sidepiece, Ser Criston Cole, isn’t as content with being her “whore.” He suggests they run away together and get married, a proposal that is immediately shut down by Rhaenyra (whom, may I remind you, is set to inherit the Iron Throne. You’re going to have to offer something more enticing than a few oranges, Cole).

The knight swallows his pride for the time being, but looks absolutely tortured as he stands guard over Laenor and Rhaenyra’s wedding reception. He seems to be just barely hanging on when Lonmouth AKA the Knight of Kisses makes quite the indecent proposal. Lonmouth lets Cole know he’s aware of the affair with Rhaenyra, finishing off his little secret chat with what seems to be an off-camera unsolicited grab of some sort. The conversation is just enough the send Cole over the edge and, moments later he snaps, likely filled with guilt over breaking his chastity oath, heartbreak over seeing his love marry someone else, and possibly a sprinkle of homophobia. Unfortunately, the Knight of Kisses finds himself on the other end of Cole’s rage, and before the end of the evening, this love square becomes a triangle. Cole later tries to make it a simple old love line by removing himself from the equation as well, but it seems that he is stopped by Queen Alicent just before it’s too late.

Rhaenyra, Daemon, and Laena

Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

Just because Rhaenyra is set to be wed doesn’t mean she’s over her little crush on her uncle. In fact, she basically begs him to marry her during her wedding festivities. “Cut through my father’s Kingsguard. Take me to Dragonstone and make me your wife,” Rhaenyra says in a way that sounds vaguely like a threat, but also somehow a plea. They embrace to kiss (in front of Viserys, I might add, proving they just do not care about getting caught) before the room breaks up in chaos due to Cole’s aforementioned snap.

Unfortunately for the Daenyra fans out there, the Bronze Bitch (rest in peace) may no longer be an obstacle, but by the end of the episode, it’s clear there’s someone else entering into this already complicated situation. Daemon makes his interest in Laenor’s sister, Laena, pretty obvious in his usual rakish way as they dance together at the feast and Laena seems just as enticed by Daemon (“A Targaryen prince, a dashing knight, and a dragonrider.” What more could a teenage girl ask for?). Hey, the only way to truly spice up an uncle and niece relationship is to throw a good ol’ cousin in there.

Alicent, Her Royal Duty, and Her Familial Loyalty

Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

I would like to take this moment to welcome Queen Alicent to King’s Landing. For four episodes, Alicent was a bit of a throwaway character. While everyone around her played chess, maneuvering the King’s Landing game board, Alicent remained a pawn in other peoples’ games. She moved where her father told her to move, she produced the male heir expected of her, she played the role she thought she had to play as the subservient, caring wife and queen. It was all very boring. And as her former friend, Rhaenyra, rode dragons, slept with her sworn protector, and had nighttime jaunts outside the confines of the Red Keep, one couldn’t help but feel pity for Alicent, stuck in her castle under the decaying body of her husband.

Then, Rhaenyra pushed her lame duck friend to the edge. When the Princess insisted on firing Otto Hightower from the position of Hand of the King (a demand that her father, Viserys, did without protest, once again proving his own incapacity to make decisions), something changed in Alicent. Otto’s effectiveness as a father is up for debate, but he did what had to be done before he left King’s Landing, he finally knocked a bit of sense into his daughter’s head. And thank goodness for that. Otto makes it clear to Alicent that, while she may trust her husband and her best friend/stepdaughter, which is all well and good and so sweet, in the end, Rhaenyra will have no choice but to betray Alicent. The only way for Rhaenyra to stake her claim to the throne is to get rid of her father’s sons. Alicent has to choose between her children and her former friend who has already proven she has no allegiance to Alicent. Suddenly, Alicent is stuck in a crossroads of her own, pulled between her conscience and her royal duty to care for her King and his desires, and her loyalty to her family name and home of Oldtown.

By the end of the episode, Alicent makes her decision and comes into her own. She seems to realize she has better uses for her time than attempting to comfort her crying babies (she has people for that anyway), or caring for her increasingly defective husband. At the banquet, she finally makes her first move, joining the chess game, and proving she’s not just a royal womb, she’s a Queen. Alicent’s arrival to the reception hall in her emerald green dress is a turning point for the series. The writers couldn’t have made it any clearer—they literally had Larys Strong spell it out for us. “The beacon on the Hightower, do you know what color it glows when Oldtown calls its banners to war?” he asks his likely less bright, but hunkier brother, who responds, “Green.” With one well-chosen dress, Alicent is declaring war, and ending this love triangle between her two frames of mind. Alicent has chosen the Hightowers. Her husband and stepdaughter seem too self-involved to understand the statement, but within minutes, Alicent already gains numbers on her side.