The following contains spoilers for House of the Dragon S1E4, “”King of the Narrow Sea” (written by Ira Parker and directed by Clare Kilner)
Now this is how you do a Game of Thrones spin-off. After a somewhat slow start, “King of the Narrow Sea” finally sees House of the Dragon come roaring to life. Things are finally starting to happen, power moves are being made, and while I won’t say that the sh*t has hit the fan, by the time the end credits roll around the stench is so potent that one can no longer ignore it.
We start off with yet another timeskip, but this time it’s one that both makes sense and one that I’m completely ok with! We only lurch forward about a year this time, skipping forward to the grand homecomings of both Daemon and Rhaenyra—Daemon from his victory at the Stepstones and Rhaenyra from her “tour” of all the kingdom’s eligible bachelors to try and find a husband. This of course immediately raises the ratio of Targaryens per square mile to well above the recommended safe levels, and it’s not long before things start to get out of hand.
Rhaenyra’s tour proves to be a short-lived one—there’s only so much of men literally stabbing each other to death while trying to make their case for her affections she can take. So it’s back to King’s Landing she goes, conveniently arriving right on time to witness Daemon making his glorious return with both a new title and—gods be praised—a new haircut. He informs his brother that the survivors of the Triarchy named him “King of the Narrow Sea” following his victory, but that he knows that there is only one true king in the land. Promise. Fingers crossed. Pinky swear.
Rhaenyra doesn’t buy it for a minute, but when pressed for an answer all Daemon tells her is that he’s longed for “the comforts of home” before a much needed session of shared venting about their respective lots in life. This interaction is one that sees Milly Alcock shine in particular, revealing a previously unseen existential dread bordering on terror at the thought of meeting the same fate as her mother: being made to produce heirs until it kills her.
Then it’s off to the Small Council for more bad news! Corlys Velaryon is still unhappy about the king marrying Alicent instead of his own daughter—which, and I have to keep reminding myself of this, has now happened four years ago in universe—and is now planning on marrying said daughter to the son of a leader in the Free Cities, potentially making himself a powerful rival. Naturally, the topic of a marriage counterproposal is brought up while the camera zeroes in on Rhaenyra—quick, what do we think is going to happen by the time the episode is over?
Then, we get to the centerpiece of the episode: Daemon takes Rhaenyra on an incognito trip to the Street of Silk—basically a high fantasy version of Bourbon Street—for a night of freedom, escape…and, naturally, some honest-to-god debauchery. One quick detour into a brothel and we finally get the tits portion of Ian McShane’s celebrated “tits and dragons” analysis, and oh boy do we get it in spades: girl on girl, guy on guy, guy on girl on guy, House of the Dragon provides something for everyone—and the icing on the cake is that this is where the show finally leans fully into the disturbing potential of the Targaryen family.
It’s hard to get a read on Daemon’s intentions, but the end result is a hot and heavy near hookup between him and Rhaenyra—quick reminder, the two are, in fact, niece and uncle. The well-known practice of incest amongst the members of the Targaryen family is something that House of the Dragon had previously been surprisingly low-key about, and while I certainly don’t endorse the idea its good to see the show finally go fully into just how royally (ha!) screwed up this family is at its core. Basically, the more disturbing House of the Dragon gets, the more entertaining it gets, even if its in the “can’t take your eyes off a car crash” sort of entertainment.
The whole encounter is framed as one that is equal parts disturbing and erotic (and if you’re familiar with the book House of the Dragon is loosely based on, you’ll know fully well that “equal parts disturbing and erotic” is a fairly complete analysis of Daemon and Rhaenyra’s relationship), full of uncomfortable close-ups and disturbing, off-kilter music and cutting back and forth between Rhaenyra and Daemon’s encounter and Alicent’s passionless fulfillment of her evening duties as queen. The entire scene is utterly and completely screwed up in the most glorious way possible, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It ultimately winds up going no further than an intense makeout session–at least for now—but Rhaenyra isn’t quite satisfied just yet. She finds a somewhat more willing partner in Ser Criston upon her return to the castle—but unfortunately is seen leaving the brothel by one of Otto Hightower’s many informants, news that quickly makes its way back to both the king and queen.
This, as it turns out, is where everything starts to truly fall apart: despite Rhaenyra’s truthful insistence that she and Daemon never fully did the do, both Alicent and her father fear that even the potential of her “virtue” being compromised has damaged her future marriage potential. Misogyny continues to be what drives most of the narrative forward, now coming to us in a new and refreshing flavor: slut-shaming! The last third of “King of the Narrow Sea” is spent entirely on dealing with the fallout of Rhaenyra’s potentially scandalous evening: Alicent all but tells her to behave for once in her life—turns out, Alicent has internalized more than a little of her father’s misogyny—while Viserys tells her that she’s going to marry Corlys Velaryon’s son to try and mend that particular broken relationship before sending her a tea that could help her with any…unwelcome consequences that might come her way.
Meanwhile, one peculiar side effect of the scandal that we see is Viserys finally seeming to grow something close to a spine. Daemon, still hungover from the night before, gets dragged into the throne room and unceremoniously told to go anywhere but King’s Landing to try and scrounge up some shred of his remaining honor—but not before his last second gambit of asking to marry Rhaenyra himself. House of the Dragon might be about the beginning of the end of a dynasty, but “King of the Narrow Sea” does an excellent job selling us on just how far the family behind that dynasty had already fallen.
Even more interesting: Viserys finally seems to be wising up to the fact that his marriage to a then sixteen-year-old Alicent may not have been as entirely natural and wholesome as he had previously thought. While he does come across as more than a little paranoid, he does wind up removing Otto from his position as Hand of the King and dismissing him from King’s Landing as well, possibly the most impactful move in an episode filled to the brim with impactful moves. It’s still a lot of table setting for future conflict, but said conflict is coming more and more into view and the events feel like ones that will have far-reaching consequences for both our cast and the world they inhabit.
“King of the Narrow Sea” is far and away my favorite episode of House of the Dragon so far: fast paced, gloriously twisted, and full of events that we’ll be feeling the consequences of far down the line, delivering what is very likely the show’s most entertaining hour yet, and doing it all while ridding us of one of the show’s worst wigs. If this is what House of the Dragon has in store for us, then I can’t wait to see what comes next—and will happily admit that the show has gotten me one hundred percent on board until we reach its gloriously catastrophic endgame.