We open on Rhaenyra giving birth, though this isn't the Rhaenyra we've come to know, nor is this her first child. That's right, there's been another time jump, one that takes us roughly a decade into the future.
Let's situate ourselves:
Rhaenyra is now played by Emma D'Arcy. She's still married to Laenor Velaryon, now played by John Macmillan, and the baby born at the top of this episode is their third, following Jacaerys and Lucerys. (We'll discuss the childrens' true parentage shortly.) She is not queen, as her ailing father, Viserys (Paddy Considine), is, quite shockingly, still alive. (She is, however, still the heir to the Iron Throne.)
That means Alicent, who is now played by Olivia Cooke, is still the queen. Aegon, just a baby when last we saw him, is now a strapping, if obnoxious, pre-teen (played by Doctor Who star David Tennant's son). He's also got a little sister, Helaena, and a brother, Aemond.
From the jump, it's clear that Rhaenyra and Alicent are at odds. As Rhaenyra holds her bloody, squealing child for the first time, she's summoned by the queen. It's a cruel move on Alicent's part, as it forces a weak and disheveled Rhaenyra, still dripping with afterbirth, to navigate the castle and its subjects at her most vulnerable. She's determined not to look weak, however, and Laenor assists her up the stairs. Laenor's politeness, however, is undercut by his entitled decision to announce the baby's name without first consulting Rhaenyra. He calls the babe Joffrey, an unspoken nod to his former lover that died at the hands of Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel).
Ollie Upton/HBO Olivia Cooke, Evie Allen
Viserys, gray and withering, dotes over the child, oblivious to what everyone else can see plainly: Joffrey, like Jacaerys and Lucerys before him, looks nothing like his father. When Viserys remarks that the baby has "his father's nose," Alicent directs a knowing look toward her former best friend. She suspects what is soon revealed to be true: The real father of Rhaenyra's children is Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr), a captain in the City Watch of King's Landing. Laenor, who spends his days drinking and sparring with an attractive knight named Carlo, is perfectly comfortable living this lie.
Alicent wants Viserys to acknowledge the truth. "One child like that is a mistake, three is an insult," she tells the king. Viserys doesn't believe it, if only because he knows that exile and death — of Harwin, Rhaenyra, and the children — are the consequences of this deception. His denial infuriates Alicent, whose distaste for Rhaenyra has curled into hatred in the years since she learned that Rhaenyra lied to her about her relationships with both Daemon (Matt Smith) and Criston. Criston, too, scowls at the mention of Rhaenyra's name. Once he was a sweet and humble knight, now he's a chilly companion of the queen, casually calling his former lover a "spoiled c---."
Now, Alicent's goal is the same as her father's was when she was a child: Do everything she can to get her son Aegon II (Ty Tennant) on the Iron Throne. Unsurprisingly, the young prince is a spoiled bully, pushing around Jacaerys and Lucerys and tricking Aemond by presenting his little brother with a pig dressed up like a dragon. (It's a low blow, as Aemond is insecure about having not yet claimed a dragon of his own.) Aegon's bad behavior is understandable when you consider that his mother routinely tells him that he will one day be king. In a scene plucked straight from Succession, she walks in on him masturbating while staring out over the city he will one day rule.
Gary Moyes/HBO Fabien Frankel
On the castle grounds, Aegon is flaunting his swordwork with the other children as Criston and Harwin give them varying styles of instruction. As Aegon bullies the younger children, Criston makes sly comments to Harwin regarding the parentage of Rhaenyra's children. Criston's taunts push Harwin over the edge, and he rains blows on Criston, a move that gets him booted from the City Watch and raises more eyebrows regarding his relationship with Rhaenyra. Even his father, Lyonel (Gavin Spokes), the Hand of the King, knows the truth. He encourages Harwin to flee the castle and take up residence at Harrenhal, the seat of House Strong.
Sensing doom, Lyonel, too, attempts to flee his position by resigning as Hand. "There is a shadow over my house and it grows darker," he tells Viserys. "I can no longer serve you with integrity." When Viserys and Alicent ask him to clarify his comments, he refuses. This frustrates Alicent, who needs someone to convince her husband of the truth. Viserys, meanwhile, refuses to accept Lyonel's resignation, though he grants him leave to accompany Harwin to Harrenhal.
Rhaenyra also knows she's dangerously close to being found out, especially with Laenor's lackadaisical behavior. He drinks and carouses and talks of sailing off to the Stepstones to crush the Triarchy's new allegiance with Dorne. She demands he stay by her side, much to his dismay. "I have played my part here faithfully," he argues. In a small council meeting, Rhaenyra tries to strike a truce. She proposes betrothing her son Jacaerys to Alicent's daughter Helaena to "ally ourselves once and for all." She could even provide Aemond one of Syrax's dragon eggs. Viserys loves the idea, but Alicent is resistant. She won't rest until Rhaenyra is no longer heir; for that to happen, however, she needs Viserys to accept the truth about the children.
Meanwhile, we catch up with Daemon, who is no longer the despicable cad of the previous episodes. He's now married to Laena Velaryon (Nanna Blondell), with whom he fathered two girls, Rhaena and Baela (a third child is on the way.) During a visit to Pentos, one of the Free Cities, they are offered permanent residence as lords of the city, a lucrative offer. The Pentoshi are nervous about the return of the Triarchy and believe Daemon, who once defeated the Triarchy in battle, could protect them with the help of his dragons.
Ollie Upton/HBO Matt Smith, Nanna Blondell
Laena is resistant; she doesn't want to live the life of a "fat country lord." Daemon, however, is drawn to the proposition. "A simple transaction," he says. "We have dragons, they have gold." He's finished with politics, with adventure. He knows it brings out the worst in him and claims to want domesticity. Laena is skeptical. "We are more than this, Daemon," she says. "We are the blood of Old Valyria, we don't belong here."
She's right. Daemon tries to build a home for them there, but his unhappiness is evident. His dreams of domesticity go up in smoke when the birth of their third child goes the way of Aemma's. As Daemon and the male doctors discuss whether to try and extract the baby "by way of the blade," Laena rushes off. She knows how this ends, with her and the baby dying in agony. Outside, she orders her dragon douse her in flame. Daemon tries to stop her, but he's too late.
Back in King's Landing, Alicent meets with the scheming Larys Strong (Matthew Needham). He is sympathetic to her cause and agrees that Lyonel, his father, cannot give Viserys "unbiased counsel" knowing the truth about Rhaenyra's children. He concocts a plan that involves recruiting a handful of prisoners, cutting out their tongues, and sending them to Harrenhal with torches. They burn the castle with Harwin and Lyonel inside. When Alicent finds out, she is horrified: "I did not wish for this." Larys, who it appears has organized the murder of his father and brother, tells her with confidence that she will reward him "when the time is right." In the monologue that closes out the episode, he extols the benefits of "making your way through life unencumbered." I compared him to Littlefinger in last week's recap; well, it appears he's perhaps even more dangerous.
Rhaenyra knows she's in trouble when even Jacaerys asks her if Harwin is his father. "Am I a bastard?" he asks. She scoops up the children and tells Laenor they're going to Dragonstone. "I have been undermined and made a spectacle," she says. "They whisper about me in the corridors. I leave them to it."
She does, however, allow him to bring Carlo. She leaves us with ominous words that speak to violence yet to come: "We need every sword we can muster."
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