House of the Dragon episode 3 review: "Finally, the dragons in all their glory"

House of the Dragon episode 3
(Image: © HBO)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Scheming, omens, and fiery action come together in another solid episode in the Game of Thrones prequel series

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Warning: Major spoilers ahead for House of the Dragon episode 3! Turn back now if you haven't seen the new episode! 

Did somebody say dracarys? After two episodes that were light on the scaly, fire-breathing action, House of the Dragon finally shows the titular creatures in all their fearsome glory as they take on the Crabfeeder (Daniel Scott-Smith). 

Steve Toussaint's Corlys Velaryon and Matt Smith's Prince Daemon bring the fight to the pirate, but it does not go their way. The opening moments are heavy on fiery spectacle as Caraxes unleashes hell on the Crabfeeder and his men, who easily escape the flames by hiding in caves. The situation is dire and King Viserys (Paddy Considine) is eventually convinced to send aid. Yet, the results are not quite as expected: Daemon, enraged that his brother is coming to the rescue, sets off as a ferocious one man army to take down the Crabfeeder, arrows raining down on him – the episode's best moment.

It's a visceral, grisly scene as the Crabfeeder cautiously sends out waves of fighters from the safety of shelter. The tension rises as Daemon is almost slain, but backup arrives in the form of the Velaryon army and Corlys's son Laenor (Theo Nate) astride his dragon. The sheer power of the creature is enough to raise goosebumps: a blast of fire knocks Daemon clear off his feet, and those huge wings audibly beat the air. It's these smaller details that make the dragons feel so real. Disappointingly, though, the promise of a showdown between Daemon and the Crabfeeder isn't quite fulfilled: the smirking Targaryen prince sprints after his nemesis into the dark caves and slashes the Crabfeeder gruesomely in half. The action's off screen and actually seeing that struggle would have made the Crabfeeder feel like a genuine foe, rather than an antagonist we barely got to know.

The battle ends with a blood-streaked Daemon surveying the damage, and now we're left to wonder: what will he do now? Daemon is a true wild card and Matt Smith brings a magnetic mystery to the character. Considering the situation in King's Landing is getting messy, now seems the perfect time for the Rogue Prince to cause some chaos closer to home. 

As for the rest of the Targaryens, the episode jumps ahead two years and drops us right in the middle of more scheming and politicking. After Viserys stunned the small council with his decision to marry Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey), the new queen has a son – another Aegon Targaryen – and is heavily pregnant with a second child. That puts Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) in a precarious position with the realm expecting two year old Aegon to be named heir, replacing his older half-sister. Even more difficult, though, is the fact that Alicent was Rhaenyra's closest friend, and Alicent's new position has driven a massive wedge between them. 

The new balance of their relationship is revealed in a scene by the Weirwood tree, where Rhaenyra attempts to avoid a hunting trip to celebrate Aegon's second birthday. When Rhaenyra commands a bard to stay by order of the princess, Alicent immediately uses her queenly authority to make him leave. There's real friction between the previously inseparable duo, and Alcock's Rhaenyra pulses with wounded, bitter resentment throughout the episode. Plus, in perhaps a dark sign of things to come, Alicent proves herself not above some scheming of her own; along with using her new power over the bard, she shrewdly reveals to Viserys how he could persuade Rhaenyra to marry. Still, though, Carey brings an innocence to her character, and Alicent genuinely tries to connect with Rhaenyra. 

House of the Dragon episode 3

(Image credit: HBO)

The episode is particularly concerned with signs of things to come, too. A white hart is spotted in the woods, said by Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) to be an auspicious omen – the beast is king of the forest, so its presence on Aegon's birthday is meaningful. Otto has proved himself a master manipulator, but in this episode his conniving is so blatantly transparent it beggars belief that Viserys doesn't see what his Hand is up to; Otto, Alicent's father, is grasping for more power by manoeuvring to have Aegon declared the new heir. That Viserys can't (or won't) acknowledge this is another indication that he's a terrible king, compounded by his struggle to kill the stag (significantly not the white hart) caught by the hunting party. Rhaenyra, meanwhile, stabs a boar to death in a frenzied act of self-defence. And if you were still in any doubt that Rhaenyra is the true heir, that fabled white hart approaches her in the forest. It might not be subtle, but it is effective. 

Another prophetic revelation comes when Viserys, gazing into a roaring fire, tells Alicent he had a dream in which his son wears the conqueror's crown. It's this that pushed him to have his wife Aemma (Sian Brooke) killed in the premiere, and now it makes him doubt naming Rhaenyra his heir. Alicent, looking troubled, says nothing. Later, when speaking to her father, she defends Rhaenyra's right to the throne, though does admit, when it comes to her wanting her own son on the throne, "What mother wouldn't?" Here is another major fault line, bound to lead to strife as the show progresses. 

The third episode is another rock-solid entry in House of the Dragon's first season, shuffling the pieces into place for more epic battles to come. It's clear Rhaenyra finds herself with almost no allies, or even friends, in King's Landing – not a great position for someone on the precipice of a bloody civil war. "The road ahead is uncertain, but the end is clear," Otto tells Alicent. How we get there is a mystery, but the only way this is ending is in tears. 

See our House of the Dragon release schedule to find out when the next episode drops in your time zone. In the meantime, fill out your watchlist with our guide to the best Netflix shows streaming now. 

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Molly Edwards
Entertainment Writer

I'm an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering all things film and TV for the site's Total Film and SFX sections. I previously worked on the Disney magazines team at Immediate Media, and also wrote on the CBeebies, MEGA!, and Star Wars Galaxy titles after graduating with a BA in English.