Warning: Major spoilers ahead for House of the Dragon episode 7! Turn back now if you haven't seen the latest episode!
Following some sporadic time jumps, House of the Dragon's seventh episode slows things down. Rather than skip over Laena Velaryon's funeral, the series luxuriates in the pageantry with every steely lewk fired on full display. The result is a tense atmosphere that sees Rhaenyra and Alicent's relationship truly break down.
The episode picks up immediately after Laena's death with her coffin being tipped into the ocean to join her ancestors. The ceremony – attended by every notable character the series has produced so far – may be a morbid affair, yet Daemon smugly laughs out loud. Even at his wife's own funeral, Matt Smith's maniacal Targaryen can't help stirring the pot, having been tickled after realizing that Rhaenyra's children very obviously do not belong to her husband, Laenor Velaryon.
The scenic Driftmark makes for a soothing and idyllic background to a wake that's ready to explode. Viserys talks with his brother for the first time in years. "Come home," he tells Daemon, who abruptly refuses, insulted by the suggestion. Those are not the only terse words shared. The Seasnake angrily looks down on his own son, who's mourning elsewhere, and engages with Laenor's male lover. Then there are the children: Alicent's kids are teasing each other and Aegon knocks back wine. Rhaenyra's offspring bitterly help their cousins while also reckoning with the death of their own father – their real father, that is. And then there are the looks of longing from across the wake. Rhaenyra pines for her uncle (weird), and the wannabe Littlefinger, Larys, cannot stop ogling Alicent.
Perhaps the most damning moment – the one that truly lights the episode's fuse – comes at the very end. An angry Viserys storms out, and on the way, he accidentally calls Alicent by his former wife's name, Aemma. It's subtle but crushing, and Olivia Cooke masterfully reacts with bemusement and disdain. The actor had large shoes to fill following Emily Carey's more timid version of Alicent, but Cooke's now making the character her own. She's at her best, though, during the midnight parents' meeting.
After the wake, Rhaenyra and Daemon finish what they started on that cold night in King's Landing. It's passionate love-making that's set to moving music – and then you remember they are uncle and niece, and need to take ten seconds out to vomit before coming back to the television. At the same time, Aemond Targaryen, the second son of Viserys who's giving major Draco Malfoy vibes, sneaks off to tame a dragon. And not just any dragon, but Vhagar, a colossal beast with a long history of winning battles. Aemond takes her out for a ride – one that's a little too long, the VFX looking shonky in places.
Aemond is, frankly, an entitled little shit, so he's the perfect Game of Thrones character, ready to cause unpredictable havoc now that he commands Vhagar. Of course, the gods of Westeros are just, and once Aemond starts showing off that he managed to tame the dragon, a fight erupts between him and his cousins. Despite everything House of the Dragon has put us through – and everything Game of Thrones made us watch – the image of these young children punching each other is one of the most visceral. Aemond picks up a rock to smash Rhaenyra's child's head inward, and I was braced for another head squashing. Luckily, Jacaerys and Lucerys are a good little team, and Jacaerys uses a knife to stop the violence – by cutting out Aemond's eye. It's brutal, bloody, and brilliantly executed.
Then comes the midnight parents' meeting. Turns out, the wake was just the start. Alicent goes all Old Testament and wants an eye for an eye, pleading to Viserys to remove a peeper from one of Rhaenyra's children as punishment. Viserys, fairly, wants everyone to calm down, and Rhaenyra offers some peacekeeping compromises. But Alicent wants none of that – she takes a blade and goes to remove one of the kids' eyes herself. Rhaenyra stops her. Their relationship has broken down beyond repair. Alicent's fuse has been lit, her war against the Targaryens has begun, and her conniving father, Otto, fans her flames. (I'm very glad that Rhys Ifans – one of the UK's best exports – is back, even if his aging prosthetics are less bombastic than Paddy Considine as Viserys).
Although the episode does not reach those same heights again, there's more plotting afoot. Rhaenyra and Daemon elope after planning the "murder" of her husband, Laenor. The Seasnake finds a burnt corpse in his own hall and his wife wails, having lost two children within weeks. Yet, in a somewhat surprising last twist (considering Daemon was wearing his killing cape a few scenes back), Laenor sails away from Driftmark with his lover. Turns out, Daemon's not that bad after all, and the whole thing had been staged.
I could not have called that, just six episodes on from the premiere, I would be team Rhaenyra and Daemon over Alicent. And yet, maybe that says something about the way House of the Dragon has positioned these characters – we are being conditioned to side with the royal family, born into power, rather than the family who had to fight to be in the room. Perhaps that's the point: to get power, you have to fight, no matter what. To stay in power, you must maintain peace. In Westeros, though, peace is a sign of weakness, and Viserys, having tried to keep the peace for so long, is about to have his biggest power struggle yet – and all thanks to his second wife.
Note: Your usual reviewer, Molly Edwards, will be back next week for more House of the Dragon. Thanks for sticking with me in the meantime! If you're in the mood for more fantasy, check out my reviews of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.