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'House of the Dragon' recap episode 7: Just you and eye

Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), commander of the royal navy, is a fleet fox.
HBO
Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), commander of the royal navy, is a fleet fox.

Welcome to the closest thing we're gonna get to a classic bottle episode, wherein all the action is confined to a single location. In this case: The island of Driftmark, seat of House Velaryon.

And this bottle episode perfectly understands the assignment. It knows that it's never about the bottle itself — it's about the Diet Coke you fill it up with, and the Mentos you plop in before scurrying the hell away.

Thus this episode brings every character from disparate storylines together for a funeral where emotions are running high; bashes them against each other in ways that invariably result in sex and/or violence; then sends everyone back to their separate corners, reeling from the experience.

Big things happen! Big changes! A dragon gained, an eye lost! A marriage ends in fire, another begins in blood! Battle lines get drawn — no but for real, this time we mean it, we're using permanent marker! And two characters, the two you least expect, get something that looks a hell of a lot like a happy ending together! Somehow! In defiance of all laws of God and Man! Especially when the Man in question is George R.R. Martin!

Some folks have been complaining about what they view as the breakneck speed with which the show burns through its plot. I do not share this view, to put it mildly. There is a fireworks factory in our future, reader, and our bus is just now pulling out of the school parking lot.

Open on: Lady Laena's funeral. The gang's all here: Her not-so-grieving husband Daemon and her very-much-grieving kids, Rhaena and Baela. Her mother Rhaenys, her father Corlys, her uncle Vaemond, and her brother Laenor. Laenor's wife Rhaenyra and "their" kids, Jayce and Luke. The king, the queen and their kids Aegon, Aemond and Helaena. Ottto Hightower, being Handy, once again. Ser Criston Cole, being a smug jerk once again. Ser Qarl Correy, Laenor's *throat-clearing noise*, as my mom would call him. And creepy Ser Larys, slinking around the place like a silent-movie vamp. It's pretty much the entire call sheet.

I admire the show's trust in its actors' ability to convey what we need to know through expression and gesture, instead of through thick, wordy clots of exposition. That said, this episode kicks off by giving every freaking character listed above a long moment to gaze meaningfully at another character, and with a cast this huge, this process takes a hell of a long time. We are burning serious daylight with all these pained expressions getting exchanged; it's really just "Janet!" "Dr. Scott!" "Janet!" "Brad!" "Rocky!" but stretched out over 12 minutes.

No one can turn a eulogy into a me-logy like Vaemond (Wil Johnson).
/ HBO
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HBO
No one can turn a eulogy into a me-logy like Vaemond (Wil Johnson).

I'm the kinda guy that smirks at a funeral

Vaemond gives the eulogy in Valyrian, and throws in a few thinly-veiled barbs about how Velaryon blood is thick (must be all the fried clams) and will never thin, which causes everyone to clear their throats and throw uncomfortable glances at Jayce and Luke. Everyone, that is, except Daemon, who giggles, because he's just the worst.

But then the camera lingers on young Aegon, looking bored and generally insufferable, so Daemon, you're off the hook. Aegon. Aegon is just the worst.

At the reception afterwards, nobody brought a casserole, or a shrimp ring, or a party hoagie, or Danish. Which is how you know you're watching a fantasy series. Disbelief: suspended.

Amid all this, there's one hilariously posed shot with Alicent in the foreground, hair fluttering in the breeze, and Criston behind her, brooding. It's the cover of Westeros's bestselling torrid bodice-ripper Queen Takes Knight.

Helaena, bless her, is playing with a spider and muttering something prophetically meaningful, so attention must be dutifully paid:

Hand turns loom

Spool of green, spool of black

Dragons of flesh weaving dragons of thread

...mmkay. Not, uh. Not exactly revelatory. I mean, there's a bit in there about the greens (who side with Alicent and want Aegon to be Viserys's heir) and the blacks (who are full-bore Team Rhaenyra). But beyond that, it's anyone's guess.

Aegon is getting drunk and ogling the comely cater-waiters. Glum Aemond introduces us to a new bit of information: Aegon is betrothed to their sister Helaena. Aegon is none too happy about this. It's not the incest that bothers him, of course, it's the choice of bride. He walks offscreen shouting, "Wench! Another!"

...um.

Look, I realize this is a high-fantasy series with knights and banners and swords and dragons and whatnot, but moments like Aegon shouting, "Wench! Another!" always bring me up short. I like to kid myself into thinking there's a qualitative difference between HBO's zillion-dollar prestige tentpole property and the 2 p.m. Saturday show at Medieval Times, but "Wench! Another!" — well, you see how it makes that difficult, right?

Jayce goes to comfort the twins, awkwardly, while his younger brother Luke weeps at the very thought of inheriting Driftmark, because to do so would mean "everyone is dead." Oh, you sweet summer child. You've been reading ahead!

Which makes for a nice moment to step back and note how differently the show is presenting its two sets of royal twerps. Aegon and Aemond are clearly getting the villain edit, while everything we learn about Jayce and Luke underlines their warmth and humanity. They are here to make friends.

The king tries to bury the Valyrian-steel hatchet with Daemon, who rebuffs him, and ghosts the party, but not before comparing Otto to a leech on his way out. Classic French exit.

Hate springs fraternal: Daemon (Matt Smith) and the king (Paddy Considine) butt heads, and are buttheads.
/ HBO
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HBO
Hate springs fraternal: Daemon (Matt Smith) and the king (Paddy Considine) butt heads, and are buttheads.

It's always darkest just before it goes completely black

You're gonna want to turn out the room lights and turn up the contrast on this next stretch of the episode, which takes place outside at night. I did, and I still had some trouble making things out.

Otto roughly rousts a passed-out Aegon, while Ser Qarl sends a drunk and grieving Laenor off to bed. (The show's really playing up how hard Laena's death has hit him, which would land on us harder if they'd ever seen fit to show us a single scene of the two of them talking to each other, even in passing.)

Corlys and Rhaenys get a nice scene in which the show re-establishes something it's already established — namely, that Rhaenys has her head on straight, and would have made a great queen. Corlys blusters about the injustice that was dealt her when she was passed over for the crown, and she calls him up short, pointing out that he's simply bloviating about his own wounded pride. She doesn't care about power or wealth (NOTE: she can say this, as she is possessed of enormous power and wealth), she just wants her kids to be safe (NOTE: her kids are not safe).

We also learn that I was wrong last week when I assumed the doctor tending to Laena in childbirth was from Dragonstone, as he was in the book. The show goes out of its way to point out that the tending physician was instead from Pentos. Make what you will of this scathing indictment of the state of Pentosi healthcare.

Daemon and Rhaenyra walk the same beach that young Laenor and Rhaenyra walked back in episode five, but in the opposite direction, and at night. They start making love at midnight, in the dunes on the Cape, like they're a coupla Pina Colada-guzzlin' yuppies in a number one Billboard Hot 100 hit of 1979.

Importantly, given Daemon's involvement: They successfully finish making love at midnight, in the dunes on the Cape, like they're a coupla Pina Colada-guzzlin' yuppies in a number one Billboard Hot 100 hit of 1979. Way to go there, Edgar Winter. Knew you had it in you.

Aemond sneaks off and approaches a sleeping Vhagar, whom you'll remember was Laena's dragon — the oldest, largest and fiercest beast in existence. There's some back-and-forth about whether she'll accept him, but she does, and he clambers aboard her back. She takes off and tests his dragonriding skillz, but he's up to the task. (Neverending Story joke for three people goes here.)

This sequence goes on for a while, but I'm not mad at it. It looks good, and it's clearly eating up all the money the show has been saving up by filming so many scenes on the same five sets all season long. (Looking at you, Red Keep garden. Because I can't not, you won't let me.)

Aemond gets mono

Aemond comes in for a landing on the Driftmark balcony that hosted the awkward reception, and makes his way back inside when he's confronted by a roster of royal twerps — Jayce and Luke, plus Baela and Rhaena. (Aegon is off somewhere sleeping it off, presumably.)

Rhaena's angry because she felt that Vhagar should have gone to her. What follows is a rather elaborately-choreographed fight scene among them all, which has a definite Bugsy Malone vibe to it, if you squint. At one point, Aemond looks ready to brain his opponent with a blunt object while bluntly questioning Jayce and Luke's parentage. Jayce responds with a sharp cry and an even sharper dagger, slicing through Aemond's left eye.

Remember Helaena's breathily cryptic line from last week? After Alicent told Aemond he'd get a dragon someday? "He'll have to lose an eye," she said.

Granted, she also said, "The last ring has no legs at all," which remains perfect gibberish, so prophecy-wise she's batting .500 — but that's still crazy respectable, come on now.

The Velaryons hope not to be carrion.
/ HBO
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HBO
The Velaryons hope not to be carrion.

Cut to: The Driftwood Throne, where everyone's assembled to tut over Aemond's condition and apportion blame. (We are reminded, very deliberately, of the Game of Thrones scene in which a violent dispute between Joffrey and Arya served only to exacerbate tensions between House Baratheon (read: Lannister) and House Stark. The only thing that's different here, really, is that the members of this House divided against itself cannot stand each other.)

Alicent goes full Hammurabi, literally demanding an eye for an eye. Rhaenyra pivots by calling the king's attention to the fact that Aemond treasonously questioned the parentage of Jayce, the heir to the throne. This, she knows, is the king's sore point...well, sorest point, anyway. He demands to know where Aemond heard such a wild accusation. Aemond...eventually...points to his brother Aegon, whom someone has rousted from his bunk. Aegon's all, "Duh, everyone knows, because I mean, look at them."

And because, in all the Seven Kingdoms, no maester has yet earned a link in his chain that signifies knowledge of Mendelian genetics, Punnett squares and recessive genes, that's that. The king waves it all away, saying if anyone ever repeats the slander against Jayce and Luke, their tongue will be removed.

Viserys' decline is proceeding apace, by the way. Last week was Riff-Raff, this week's he's hovering down at Crypt-Keeper; you half-expect him to start referring to himself as "King VisSCAREys heeheeheehee!" or some such.

Dear stabby

The threat of a tongue-lashing is not nearly enough for Alicent, however. She swipes Viserys's Valyrian-steel dagger and makes a move on Rhaenyra. We get a nice shot of Rhaenyra staring down the tip of the dagger, with the flames of the fireplace licking in the background, and we're reminded of the dagger's history, and its legacy.

It's the dagger Viserys showed to young Rhaenyra back in episode one. It belonged to Aegon the Conqueror, and it's inscribed with the prophecy of The Prince That Was Promised. Many years in the future, it will be used by an assassin hired by Littlefinger in an attempt to kill Bran Stark. It will be used by Arya to kill Littlefinger, and again, finally, to shatter the Night King into pellet ice. It's the Forrest Gump of Westeros, this dagger.

Heated words are exchanged, and the true gap between these two former friends stands revealed. Before she's pulled away, Alicent slices Rhaenyra's arm, and the import is clear: The greens draw first blood.

Otto visits his daughter the queen, and she expects him to berate her for giving into her passion, but he's like, What? No! Yay passion! Team Passion, all the way! You should go stabby more often! I didn't think you had it in you, when you were a girl.

You and me both, Otto.

He follows that up by pointing out that Aemond may have lost an eye, but he's also taken Vhagar away from Team Rhaenyra. That's a big get, a first round draft pick, and it means they're winning their Westerosi Fantasy Football league right now.

Laenor (John MacMillan) is serving you face, he's serving you Blue Steel, he's serving you Tucker Carlson Trying To Concentrate.
/ HBO
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HBO
Laenor (John MacMillan) is serving you face, he's serving you Blue Steel, he's serving you Tucker Carlson Trying To Concentrate.

Laenor walks into Rhaenyra's chamber as she's getting stitched up, and Jayce and Luke stand around looking seriously banged up. And Laenor, true to form, proceeds to make it All! About! Him!

Wah, I couldn't protect Laena, wah, I couldn't protect you and the kids, wah, poor me poor me, etc.

Rhaenyra isn't having it, and when he start going in on his own sexuality, she slaps him out of it, reminding him that he's an honorable man with a good heart. (Reader, watching this the first time, I really thought that she signed his death warrant with those words; "RIP LAENOR," I wrote in my notes.) They share a moment of sincere mutual affection; he resolves to let Ser Qarl go and re-dedicate himself to her as a true companion, if nothing else. She seems impressed and moved by this.

Key word: Seems.

The king's party departs Driftmark. Three dragons leave with it, including two we haven't met yet. Welcome to the stage Sunfyre the Golden, Aegon's dragon, and Dreamfyre, Helaena's dragon!

The other dragon, under new management, is our old brassy gal-pal Vhagar, ridden by Aemond "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out, Kid" Targaryen.

Rhaenyra and Daemon watch them leave, and have a hot and heavy, metaphor-laden conversation about how Targaryens are fire, and Velaryons are the sea, and how her marriage to Laenor is just so much tepid water. (She doesn't actually say the bit about tepid water; I'm inferring.)

It's a roundabout way to getting to her proposal, which is just that: Rhaenyra and Daemon should wed. With him by her side, the greens would have a harder time questioning her right to the Iron Throne. Daemon points out it couldn't happen unless Laenor were dead, and Rhaenyra shrugs. So it turns out companionship isn't enough for her — not that it should be, of course. But all that business with a penitent Laenor was a dodge, and what she truly wants is Companionship + Boning + A Firmer Grip on the Iron Throne.

Now I Laenor down to sleep

At the docks on Driftmark, Daemon flirtily negs Ser Qarl Correy, then gives him a handful of gold to kill Laenor — with a witness — enticing him with the notion of life on another continent, where nothing matters but your money.

Let's unpack what happens next slowly.

Qarl (Arty Froushan) is qrafty and qoqky.
/ HBO
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HBO
Qarl (Arty Froushan) is qrafty and qoqky.

1. A page enters the Driftwood Throne Room and is swiftly killed by someone who looks a lot like Daemon, who begins undressing the corpse. Later...

2. Laenor enters the Driftwood Throne Room, with another page in tow, where Ser Qarl is waiting for him. Qarl challenges Laenor to a duel, muttering something about feeling disrespected.

3. Laenor's page runs off to get the guards.

4. When the guards arrive, along with Lord Corlys and Lady Rhaenys, they find a body wearing Laenor's clothes burned beyond recognition in the fireplace, and no trace of Ser Qarl.

Now, clearly the body in the fireplace is that of the page who was killed. I get that. What I don't get is why Daemon would do the deed himself, having paid someone else to get their hands dirty.

The show holds the reveal that Laenor is still alive, newly bald and beautiful, for the final shot, so what we're dealing with here is an intentional (and for my money, needlessly confusing) misdirect. The show doesn't want to give away that Laenor is in on the ruse quite yet, so what it shows us instead is Daemon killing the page. But if you Zapruder that shot, you'll see that what looks to be Daemon could just as easily be someone wearing a mask of Daemon's face. Not a Faceless Man-quality mask, mind you, but just the kind you could pick up at any Driftmark Spirit Halloween store.

(I realize that this is all complicated by the fact that Matt Smith is possessed of such pronounced features that his real face could easily pass for a Spirt Halloween mask of Matt Smith's face, but never mind.)

Daemon and Rhaenyra wed on Dragonstone, and it's a much smaller affair, attended only by their kids. It's a Targaryen-on-Targaryen wedding, so they really lean into the branding: There's more blood than seems strictly necessary, as the happy couple starts slicing up various body parts with dragonglass to prove their love. Other wedding couples get hangovers. Targaryens go into hemorrhagic shock.

The voiceover we get is Daemon and Rhaenyra. Rhaenyra expresses mild dismay that Corlys and Rhaenys will lose Laenor, their only surviving child, and that people will think she was responsible. Daemon says that's good, because people should fear their rulers.

On the very same beach that young Laenor and Rhaenyra once walked and planned their future, and that later Rhaenyra and Daemon sealed their fates together, a very much alive and braidless Laenor meets Ser Qarl. They take a rowboat out to a ship anchored just offshore, headed together to parts unknown: Fantasy Sydney, maybe. Or Fantasy Mykonos. Or Fantasy Sitges. Or Fantasy Berlin. Somewhere far beyond the Seven Kingdoms, where a gay couple can live free and proud and blissfully unburied.

Parting Thoughts:

  • This show has a nagging tendency to kill off characters it introduces in the same episode: Lady Rhea, Ser Joffrey, Ser Harwin, Lady Laena. (Harwin and Laena had technically been introduced before, but we didn't spend any time with them until the episode they died in.) So what a breath of fresh dragonfire to spend an entire episode with characters we already know, and have the only death of a named character come with a big ol' honkin' asterisk.
  • Speaking of! In a surprising departure from the book, Laenor and Qarl catch a break! The book kills Laenor off decisively, though it leaves the reason up for conjecture. Did Qarl kill him in a jealous spat? Or was Qarl paid to do it by Daemon? The show goes with the Daemon theory, put has Laenor play a Get Out of Westeros Free card by having him fake his death and end up with Qarl. Did not see that coming.
  • But that also means that unlike the book, the show leaves Laenor as a dangling plot thread. I fully expect that this is the last we'll see of Laenor, unless somewhere down the road the show sadistically gives us a scene where he's lounging by the pool at some Essos version of Palm Springs and some hot Tyroshi model/actor/singer offs him by poisoning his fantasy Speedo. I hope not, but I do not trust these people.
  • Does Daemon know that Laenor lives? Obviously if you think that's Daemon killing the page, you believe he does. But if you think, as I do, that that's Laenor in a Mission: Highly Unlikely mask doing the deed, then Daemon doesn't know. (Daemon's line where he urges Rhaenyra to "release" Laenor only complicates this already needlessly complicated matter.)
  • The violence in this episode isn't about lopped off limbs and heads and endless gouts of gushing blood — it's the much more intimate and disquieting violence of body horror: stitched-up wounds and sliced-up lips. (Targaryens slice their lips in the marriage ceremony, people! Their lips! And then they kiss and drink wine! That's never gonna heal!)
  • Welcome, Sunfyre and Dreamfyre! Official Dragoncount: eight! One more than the episode number! What is going on?
  • Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.