Tue. Mar 21st, 2023

We open on another Westeros birth, this one less horrific than the last. Ten years have passed since the last episode. Rhaenyra, in labor, looks older and is played by a different actress. She delivers a healthy boy and barely has time to hold him before she’s told the queen wishes to see the newborn. In one long, excruciating take, Rhaenyra gets up to take the baby to the queen. She’s cleaned and dressed before the umbilical cord is cut and the afterbirth comes. Laenor enters, thrilled by the birth but surprised that Rhaenyra is up. He offers to carry the baby, but Rhaenyra won’t give the queen that satisfaction. “I am glad I am not a woman,” Laenor says. Thanks? The princess struggles with pain going upstairs. Laenor wants to turn around, but Rhaenyra insists on going forward. Spite is a heck of a drug. Guarding the door is Ser Cole, who only nods and says, “Princess” before letting them in.

Alicent, also played by a new actress, expresses concern (or fake concern) for Rhaenyra, insisting she sit. Before Alicent can look at the baby, Viserys enters. His hair is thinner, but he somehow looks healthier than 10 years earlier. He holds the child, playing the doting grandpa. Alicent asks if they’ve decided on a name. As Rhaenyra says they haven’t, Laenor answers, “Joffrey,” evoking the dead lover Cole murdered. “I do believe he has his father’s nose,” Viserys says, prompting Alicent, Rhaenyra and Laenor to all exchange looks telegraphing, “This kid has none of Laenor’s features.” Viserys tells his daughter, “Well done,” and they kiss on the cheek. After everything, Rhaenyra and her dad still love each other. Cruelly, Alicent whispers to Laenor that he should keep trying until they get one that looks like him. She’s more Malificent than Alicent!

The couple returns with the newborn to a room where Ser Harwin Strong waits. He’s the captain of the City Watch who rescued Rhaenyra off the dance floor in the last episode. He’s watching two boys with dark hair; we learn that they’re Rhaenyra’s first two sons. The boys are excited over a dragon egg they chose for the baby. Harwin asks to hold the newborn, which seems unusual unless … ohhhh. He’s the dad. Laenor, fully on board with this, takes the older siblings to the Dragonpit to give Rhaenyra and Harwin some alone time.

At the pit, a small chained dragon is brought to bond with Rhaenyra’s oldest son, Jace, short for Jacaerys. Trainers and two boys with silver hair are there; they’re Aegon and Aemond, sons of Viserys and Alicent. This family overdid it with the male heirs. There’s a goat on a rope not long for this world. Jace gives the command for fire, “Dracarys!” The dragon roasts the goat. The boys tell the younger Viserys sibling, Aemond, they have a present for him since he’s the only one without a dragon. They bring out a pig decorated with fake wings dubbed “The Pink Dread.” The boys laugh and exit, leaving sad Aemond alone. He wanders unsupervised into the lower level. There’s a dragon waiting to spit fire at the boy. Aemond manages to scramble out without getting toasted.

Alicent also has a daughter, Helaena, and she looks like a young Rhaenyra. The two sit together as Helaena holds a black millipede from her bug collection, counting its segments. Aemond, soot-faced, gets reprimanded for his dragon obsession; it’s not the first time this has happened. “He’ll have to close an eye,” Helaena says cryptically to the millipede. Alicent promises her son a dragon someday.

Alicent and Viserys discuss the boisterous boys. The conversation comes around to Rhaenyra and her offspring. Alicent has brought this up before and mostly held her tongue, but no more: Rhaenyra having one child who’s not Laenor’s son is bad, but three, she says, is an insult to their whole family. Viserys brings up a weak biology argument about once having a black mare that mated with a silver horse and gave birth to a brown one. Alicent figures out he never even saw the coupling so, neigh, his story’s not convincing. The king warns her not to speak this dangerous accusation again. Because horse logic.

Later, Alicent vents to Ser Cole. He agrees that the Rhaenyra situation is absurd; everyone with eyes can see what’s happening. He takes it farther, calling the princess, “brazen and relentless, a spider who sucks her prey dry.” He’s become Cole-blooded! Alicent wants to believe that honor and decency will prevail even though that’s not really how Westeros works.

Speaking of decency: Teen Aegon stands in a castle window, naked, masturbating in broad daylight. He collapses into bedding on the floor when his mother addresses him. Alicent wants to know who’s behind the pig prank. Aegon blames Jace. She repeats Otto’s long-ago warning: Once Rhaenyra is ruler, she might cut out anyone who threatens her claim to the throne. That means Aegon and his brother could be killed. She grabs his chin and yells: “You are the challenge! Simply by living and breathing!” She tells Aegon everybody knows he’ll someday be king, and then says he must get dressed. Some blinds might be nice, too.

Two dragons fly together, a red one flown by Daemon, and a green one flown by Laena Velaryon. Laena commands her dragon to spit a fireball in the air. Daemon rides through the fire. It’s dragonrider foreplay. We learn later, over dinner, that Daemon, Laena and their two daughters (who look like Laena and Daemon), are visiting the port city of Pentos. Prince Reggio Haratis invites them to stay permanently. They’d make a fortune and rule with their dragons as a defense against forces from Dorne. Laena, very pregnant, says they’re flattered, but just traveling. Daemon, however, considers the offer. After dinner, he argues with Laena, saying that remaining in Pentos would get them away from all the family politics. But Laena misses Driftmark and wants to return. And she wants a dragonrider’s life and death, not the life of a fat lord. All the fat lords in the kingdom stop eating their mutton chops and cry, “Rude!” in unison.

Back at King’s Landing, all the succession boys are fight-training in the castle courtyard with wooden swords, instructed by Cole. Viserys and Lyonel Strong, still Hand of the King, watch from above. Viserys loves it; he thinks the boys will form lifelong bonds. But mostly, they get out lots of aggression. So does Cole, who decides to join them just as Ser Harwin shows up. Cole easily fends off Aegon and Aemond. Harwin tells his biological boys, Jace and Lucerys, to join the fight. Cole doesn’t like it, but Harwin says he should give them all a chance to fight at the same level. Cole pits the Viserys kids against the Rhaenyra kids. Aegon, at Cole’s encouragement, dominates and bullies Jace. Before Aegon can land one last blow, Harwin intervenes. He blames Cole for teaching the boys cruelty. Cole says Harwin’s interest is unusual and would typically only be for a cousin or a brother … or a son. Harwin attacks, beating Cole’s face as he lies on the ground, mirroring what Cole did to the late Joffrey. It’s broken up quickly. Viserys looks concerned, but as usual, does absolutely nothing. That’s why they don’t write songs about you. Cole smiles; he’s just glad to have upset Harwin.

Rhaenyra escapes her room through the secret passageway and spies on Lyonel Strong and his son Harwin, who yell at each other over the fight. Lyonel thinks Harwin opened up their family to scrutiny. It could lead to death or exile for all of them, even the children, Lyonel says. Only the king’s willful blindness protects them, he adds.

At the small council, Rhaenyra apologizes for strife between her family and Alicent’s. She evokes their old friendship and makes a proposal: Her son Jace will marry Alicent’s daughter, Helaena. Viserys would stand on the table and breakdance if he could. “A most judicious proposition!” he cries. Alicent scoffs. Rhaenyra sweetens the deal by offering Aemond a dragon egg from the next batch. Alicent draws attention to Rhaenyra’s dress. Her breasts are leaking through the fabric. Rhaenyra covers herself with her arms while Alicent says they’ll consider the offer. She later tells Viserys the princess is cornered and desperate to make a deal. Viserys just wants to put aside family quarrels. Alicent says he can do that … when Alicent is cold in her grave. She’s young; it could be a while.

Relations are tense, but not so bad that Alicent won’t help arrange the king’s cushion and blanket on his seat. Lyonel comes in with news: He’s quitting over the fight involving Harwin. Viserys thinks getting thrown out of the City Watch is punishment enough, but Lyonel disagrees. Viserys offers lots of compliments, but the Hand feels a shadow is growing over his house that he can’t contain. The king refuses the resignation. Lyonel asks if he can take his son back home to the family seat at Harrenhal. “Do it,” Viserys commands. Let us never speak of the shadow, even though we all know the shadow’s baby-daddy.

Alicent, upset, has a private dinner with sneaky gossip Larys Strong, Lyonel’s other son. Larys isn’t surprised by what happened; he thinks honor has always been his dad’s weakness. Alicent complains that no one’s on her side. Larys ruminates as he drinks wine. He’s got a plan: He goes to a prison, finds criminals about to be executed and frees them. But they must lose their tongues so they can never speak of the crime he has them commit. The criminals agree to the glossectomy — it’s that or death by hanging.

Laena, is having a rough labor and has not yet given birth. In a repeat of the Queen Aemma tragedy, Daemon is offered the option to cut her open to try to save the child. Somehow, Laena escapes outside into the dark without anybody noticing. She approaches her dragon, commanding it with “Dracarys!” again and again. Finally, fire comes, setting her ablaze in the dragonrider’s death she wanted. Daemon finds her just as it happens.

Ser Harwin says goodbye to the boys and Rhaenyra, promising to return. Rhaenyra tells Jace they’ll exchange letters by raven. The boy asks if Harwin is his father. “You are a Targaryen. That’s what matters,” she tells him. The next day, Rhaenyra finds Laenor in the courtyard sparring with his friend/lover Qarl Correy. She tells him she wants to take the family to Dragonstone. “I should have left years ago,” she adds. Laenor can bring Qarl. “We need every sword we can muster,” Rhaenyra explains.

Lyonel and Harwin Strong go back to Harrenhal, but the homecoming is short. They were followed by the Tongueless Brigade, who set fire to the castle, locking the two in to perish in the blaze.

A voice-over discusses the folly of having children to escape the darkness of death. We see Rhaenyra and her family arriving at Dragonstone. The king sits sad and alone, missing his daughter at King’s Landing. A rat, the repeated metaphor for strife and decay, scurries above the fireplace as the king watches. At the ruins of Harrenhal, burned bodies are taken away. Laena’s daughters grieve as Daemon fails to comfort them. After this montage Larys is revealed as the speaker. He thinks it’s better to be unencumbered than to be anchored by love. He says it to Alicent, who only now seems to realize what he set in motion at Harrenhal. In tears, she tells Larys she didn’t wish for this. He feels confident he’ll be rewarded for his actions … when the time is right. He plays with a red flower as the episode concludes. All that’s missing is a diabolical laugh.

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