House of the Dragon: 'The Princess and the Queen,' explained

House of the Dragon.
House of the Dragon. Illustrated | HBO, Getty Images

This week's House of the Dragon jumps forward an entire decade, and there's a lot of catching up to do. Let's break down the latest episode — and that disturbing ending — with some book context:  

Kids in the hall

House of the Dragon has taken its love of time jumps to the extreme, as a whopping 10 years have passed since last week's episode. Alicent and Rhaenyra are now played by Olivia Cooke and Emma D'Arcy, respectively, and a dizzying number of events transpired off-screen.

For one, Alicent and King Viserys (Paddy Considine) had another child, meaning they now have three kids: sons Aegon (Ty Tennant) and Aemond (Leo Ashton) and daughter Helaena (Evie Allen). Aegon is their first-born son, the one many believe should be heir to the throne instead of Rhaenyra — and the one we see engaged in the extremely regal act of masturbating, fully nude, standing in a window. Helaena, meanwhile, is the girl we see talking to Alicent about her bug collection. Alicent and Viserys' kids have blonde Targaryen hair, which is both an important plot point and a helpful way to distinguish them from Rhaenyra's kids, who have brown hair.

Rhaenyra now has three children after marrying Laenor Velaryon, now also played by an older actor, John MacMillan. During the time we skipped, Rhaenyra gave birth to Jacaerys (Leo Hart), her eldest son nicknamed Jace, and Lucerys (Harvey Sadler), nicknamed Luke. She also gives birth to a third child this episode: Another son, Joffrey, named after Laenor's lover, who was murdered by Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) last week.

Aemond is the only one of the kids who doesn't have his own dragon, leading Aegon to team up with Jace and Luke to pull a cruel prank by presenting him with a pig. Westeros boys will be boys. Aemond has a particular obsession with dragons, we learn, nearly getting himself killed exploring the depths of the Dragonpit — and not for the first time, it sounds like. We previously saw the Dragonpit in Game of Thrones, though by that point, it's in ruins. You'll recall Daenerys' meeting with Cersei happening there, for example.

You are not the father

Is it a bit suspicious that Rhaenyra's children with her gay husband don't look anything like him? Maybe a little!

That's why word on the street is that their father isn't Laenor but instead Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr), son of Hand of the King Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes). Harwin, also known as "Breakbones," carried Rhaenyra to safety during the wedding brawl last week, and he's been promoted to commander of the City Watch. In the book, Fire & Blood, it's explained that Harwin has been "ever at Rhaenyra's side" since then, essentially taking the place of Criston Cole in her life. Rhaenyra and Laenor clearly went ahead with that open marriage idea, only with her secret lover being Harwin instead of Criston.

On top of all three of Rhaenyra's kids having brown hair when neither of their alleged parents do, Fire & Blood notes Rhaenyra and Laenor's first child had a "pug nose," as opposed to Laenor's "aquiline nose," and had brown eyes, rather than the "purple eyes that bespoke [Laenor's] Valyrian blood." This is even more egregious in the show given the Velaryons are Black, but all three kids are white. In contrast, Daemon (Matt Smith) actually did have kids with Laenor's sister, and they're both Black with silver hair.

Chief proponent of the rumor that Harwin is father of Rhaenyra's kids is Queen Alicent, who demands to see the princess' latest child the precise instant he's born, looking for whether he resembles Laenor. Rhaenyra is even forced to trek up to Alicent while she's bleeding on the floor, ensuring everyone in the bustling Red Keep gets a look at the kid for themselves and can spread gossip about him. But Viserys — who looks to be at death's door and is now missing his left arm — insists the children look like that because nature works in mysterious ways. Sure, Jan.

Crucially, if the rumor is true, it would severely jeopardize Rhaenyra's claim to the throne. This would mean she has no legitimate heirs, and given there were already questions about whether the realm would accept her as queen, just imagine how they'd feel about her secretly raising bastards right there in King's Landing. Indeed, Fire & Blood notes that if the father is Harwin, the children have "no rights to succession," and Rhaenyra is "guilty of high treason."

Alicent, then, has every reason to seize on the rumors. A decade after her subtle war declaration, she's now fully committed to her son, Aegon, ascending the throne, even though Rhaenyra remains Viserys' named heir. But Alicent seems less driven by a thirst for power than by protecting the safety of her children, heeding her father's warning that Rhaenyra may have to kill them to secure her claim. Alicent is already preparing the kids to take sides against Rhaenyra's, and we notably see them dressed in green, the color of war she wore last week.

Rhaenyra's attempt to resolve this is to propose a marriage between her son Jace and Alicent's daughter, Halena. But Alicent isn't having it, seeing this (accurately) as a move of desperation now that the parentage rumors are becoming a real problem.

Crazy ex-boyfriend

Since losing his mind and committing murder last week, not only is Criston Cole not in jail, but he's still working as a knight in the Kingsguard, and right by the queen's side, no less. Talk about falling up.

Fire & Blood says that shortly after Criston killed Joffrey, Alicent asked for him to be made "her personal protector," though the show doesn't explain how he got away with a blatant murder committed in plain view. But Criston, indebted to Alicent for saving his life and forgiving his crimes, is now utterly loyal to the queen and disturbingly resentful of Rhaenyra, hurling misogynistic insults that go too far even for Alicent. His heartbreak has morphed into outright, chilling rage.

Somehow, Criston is also allowed to continue working around the princess and even train her sons, where he shows an obvious preference for Alicent's kids and encourages them to be cruel toward Rhaenyra's. That leads Harwin to step in, only for Criston to openly accuse him of being their real father, which Harwin answers with a brutal beatdown. As a result, Harwin is expelled from the City Watch. Oh sure, now there's immediate consequences for violence. Criston literally killed a guy!

Somehow, the Triarchy returned

The Triarchy, the alliance of Free Cities that was being commanded by the Crabfeeder earlier this season, is back with a vengeance, and we learn they've now formed an alliance with Dorne.

The Triarchy, you'll recall, was previously fighting for control over the Stepstones, an island chain located in a crucial area for trade. But since Daemon defeated the Crabfeeder, the Stepstones were simply abandoned. So it looks like another war over control of the islands is brewing, and Laenor is eager to go off and fight, styling himself a warrior, not a politician.

Laenor isn't around much throughout the episode, and in the book, it's said he only joined Rhaenyra for "important court events" but otherwise spent his days apart from her. He now has a new lover: the household knight Ser Qarl Correy (Arty Froushan), whom he barges in with while drunkenly singing "The Bear and the Maiden Fair."

But after initially commanding Laenor to stick around, Rhaenyra takes his advice of sailing away from the storm, deciding they'll all flee to Dragonstone — her, Laenor, the kids, and even Qarl. This doesn't mean Rhaenyra is bowing out of the game of thrones entirely or giving up her position as heir, but rather putting some much-needed distance between herself and Alicent. But could leaving Alicent alone in King's Landing to exert sole influence over Viserys be a wise move? Probably not!

We didn't start the fire

As the gossip about his son fathering the princess' kids spreads, Hand of the King Lyonel Strong attempts to resign, concluding he can no longer offer objective advice. Though Viserys refuses to accept, he does grant Lyonel leave to take his son back to the castle of Harrenhal. Lyonel is lord of Harrenhal, the castle where the Great Council of 101 that opened the series took place, and his son Harwin is heir to the castle.

But Lyonel's other son is Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) who at this point has gone full Joker. Since allying himself with Alicent last week by dropping the bombshell about Rhaenyra's tea, he's been regularly meeting with the queen to continue sharing gossip about what he's hearing around King's Landing. During one of those dinners, Alicent bemoans the fact that Lyonel will remain as hand of the king. He's secretly the grandfather of Rhaenyra's children, after all, and Alicent wants someone in that job who's firmly on her side — like her father, for example. Boy, it would be a shame if something happened to Lyonel, right?

Well, when Lyonel and Harwin arrive at Harrenhal, a fire breaks out, killing them both. Fire & Blood, which is written as an in-universe history book, says the cause of the fire was never officially determined, though many believed it to be a case of arson. Theories included that the culprit was Corlys, Daemon, or even Viserys himself.

But we now learn the truth: The culprit was Larys. He aimed to eliminate his own father from the game of thrones to please Alicent, who can now push for her dad to get the job back — and as a nice bonus, Larys will also become lord of Harrenhal. His plan involved recruiting men who had been sentenced to death to start the fire, but not before cutting out their tongues so they wouldn't tell the tale. Alicent is clearly horrified as Larys outright states she now owes him. What kind of monster has she created?


Meanwhile, Daemon has now married Laena Velaryon (Nanna Blondell), the daughter of Corlys who was rejected by the king when she was 12 years old. They have two twin daughters: Baela (Shani Smethurst) and Rhaena (Eva Ossei-Gerning). Baela is named after Daemon's father, Baelon, while Rhaena is named after Laena's mother, Rhaenys (Eve Best). That's right: This show now has three characters named Rhaenyra, Rhaenys, and Rhaena. Confused yet? Baela has her own dragon, but Rhaena doesn't, as the egg she was given at birth never hatched.

Fire & Blood explains that Daemon asked Corlys for his daughter's hand in marriage not long after the death of his wife, Rhea Royce, and we saw them briefly getting to know each other at the wedding feast. The book also notes some believed Daemon had truly fallen in love with Laena, while others saw it as just a cynical effort to move up in the world by allying with the Velaryons. Even Laena understands she's not the wife Daemon wanted, implying she knows he hoped to marry Rhaenyra.

Daemon and Laena are now living in Pentos, one of the Free Cities of Essos, across the sea from Westeros. (This is the same city where Daenerys and her brother were staying at the start of Game of Thrones.) According to Fire & Blood, Daemon and Laena left Westeros after tying the knot because Daemon "knew that his brother would not be pleased when he heard" of the marriage. They're staying with the prince of Pentos, who offers permanent residence in exchange for using their dragons to help fend off the Triarchy. The Triarchy consists of the Free Cities of Myr, Lys and Tyrosh, but Pentos isn't a part of it.

Somewhat surprisingly, Daemon, who seems pretty depressed these days, is into the idea of staying, and it's Laena who pushes for them to go back home. She's a dragonrider at heart, and the book explains that she was particularly obsessed with riding dragons from a young age. We see she's now riding Vhagar, an absolutely massive beast that was ridden by Aegon the Conqueror's queen during his conquest of Westeros. It's a dream come true for Laena, who you'll recall expressing interest in Vhagar specifically while talking with the king when she was 12.

But that dragon she dreamed of riding as a kid will soon be the death of her, and the episode opens and closes with two horrifying birth sequences. In the latter case, Laena is giving birth to her third child with Daemon, but there are complications, and Daemon is given a similar choice as Viserys in the pilot: They can cut out the child and possibly save it, but while killing the mother. Unlike Viserys, Daemon seems to be saying no to the procedure. But after realizing what's being discussed in the corner, Laena gets out of the bed, makes her way to Vhagar, and repeatedly yells "dracarys," ordering the dragon to burn her to death.

The implication is that Laena decided not only that she wanted to be put out of her misery, but that she wasn't going to lie down and let a bunch of men determine her fate. Instead, she goes out on her own terms. It's an echo and rebuke of the Aemma scene from the first episode, where the queen was held down and given an involuntary, fatal C-section. "At my end, I want to die a dragonrider's death," Laena said earlier, and she gets her wish.

This is another change from the book, where it's said Laena actually did give birth to the child, but he "died within the hour," and Laena, who was drained of strength from the labor, dies of a "childbed fever." She makes her way to Vhagar so "that she might fly one last time before she died," but she collapses and dies before getting there, Fire & Blood says. We can presume this is the story most of the realm heard, while the version in the show is the darker truth.

By the end of the episode, then, Daemon and Rhaenyra have both lost their lovers in a fire — so she should probably be expecting a "u up?" raven shortly.

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