Warning: The following contains major spoilers for House of the Dragon episode 4! Turn back now if you haven't seen the latest episode!
The latest episode of House of the Dragon may not have any fiery battles, but the events of 'King of the Narrow Sea' are no less dangerous – or dramatic – than the bloody War for the Stepstones. This installment is an enticing exploration of relationships: between family, between lovers, and between political players.
Following his decisive victory against the Crabfeeder (Daniel Scott-Smith), Matt Smith's Daemon Targaryen returns home to King's Landing. His entrance is dripping with theatrics: he swaggers into the throne room in a homemade crown and reveals he's been named King of the Narrow Sea. But, he offers up the Crabfeeder's ax and bends the knee to his brother King Viserys (Paddy Considine). That's quite the display, and, as always, it's delightfully impossible to gauge just what Daemon means to achieve. The brothers embrace in a genuinely touching moment, but Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) looks suitably disquieted by the return of the biggest thorn in his side, in a reminder that the political machinations of King's Landing never stop.
Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), meanwhile, has yet to find a suitor, despite the realm's most eligible bachelors trying to win her hand. There's still real, uncomfortable tension between Rhaenyra and Viserys, building on how strained their relationship became in the previous episode, but, in another sweet moment, Rhaenyra and her former-best-friend-turned-stepmother Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey) reconnect after both are humiliated by the king. Knowing that this likely won't last makes the scene all the more bittersweet.
It's not just Alicent whom Rhaenyra reconnects with, either. In a darkly enthralling sequence, Daemon takes a disguised Rhaenyra on an illicit tour of King's Landing after dark. A princess concealing her identity to sneak out among the common folk is straight out of a fairy tale, but this is (clearly) no Disney story: Rhaenyra sees a dizzying display of the weird and wonderful as she explores, giving us a fascinating perspective on the city as we've never seen it before. It's also another unfortunate reminder for Rhaenyra that the odds are stacked against her. She stops to watch a crass play that mocks her as the chosen heir, and her belief that it doesn't matter what the smallfolk think is met with a chuckling Dameon reminding her that it does if she wishes to rule them.
Then things get even stranger. Daemon takes his niece to a brothel, seduces her, then abruptly leaves her mid-tryst. The shadowy, headily atmospheric scene evokes a strong sense of the taboo: even in the context of the incestuous Targaryens, Daemon and Rhaenyra's relationship is forbidden. Things are made even murkier by the fact that Daemon and Rhaenyra do have real chemistry, which is emphasized by the intercut loveless, passionless sex scene between Viserys and a miserable Alicent.
This episode shines a light on just how suffocating Alicent's new role as Queen of Westeros truly is, too. When Rhaenyra says there's nothing romantic about being "imprisoned in a castle and made to squeeze out heirs," Alicent looks distinctly harrowed, and she certainly isn't happy to be called into the king's bedchamber late at night. Carey is endlessly sympathetic as the lonely Alicent staring vacantly into space, but she also excellently plays Alicent's sharp edges. The furious queen confronts Rhaenyra over the rumor that the princess and her uncle were seen together in the brothel, getting particularly venomous over the things "you Targaryens" get up to, but Rhaenyra proves herself savvy by dispelling the (very much true) rumor with a hefty dose of frantic denial and a convincing cover-up story.
Daemon takes a different approach, though. He and his brother's joyful reunion is short-lived: a shabby and hungover Daemon not only admits to the truth, but also asks for Rhaenyra's hand in marriage… perhaps explaining why he made the peculiar choice to expose their identities in the brothel. Whatever your thoughts on that potential match, it's difficult to disagree with Daemon's larger point. House Targaryen has grown weak. The Rogue Prince tries to remind his brother of the power he wields, but it's painfully obvious that Viserys is no dragon.
He continues to be a feeble king, at last wise to Otto's transparent manipulations but not strong enough to remove him as Hand until Rhaenyra forces the issue – revealing what his spy told him about Daemon and the princess means Otto has finally overplayed his hand. At last, Viserys wakes up to what should have been obvious all along: Otto orchestrated the king's marriage to Alicent and is putting his own, power-hungry interests first. Viserys takes the Hand's pin from a visibly stunned Otto, but, with a player this shrewd, it would be unwise to count him out of the game entirely.
After the dazzling, gruesome spectacle of last week, 'King of the Narrow Sea' is a return to what this series does so well: twisty game playing with shrouded motivations. The episode deftly leaves every single member of the main cast in an impossible situation by the time the credits roll. Alicent is now even more isolated at court without her father, Otto is suddenly powerless, Daemon is in exile once again, and Rhaenyra has struck up a secret relationship with Kingsguard member Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) but is engaged to Laenor Velaryon (Theo Nate). It's one tangled web, and the more complex the situation grows, the more ferocious the inevitable fallout.
You can keep up to date on the twists and turns of Westeros with our guide to the House of the Dragon release schedule.