House of the Dragon S1E7: “Driftmark” — Knives Out

Alicent attacking Rhaenyra with a knife
Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

The following contains spoilers for House of the Dragon S1E7, “Driftmark” (written by Kevin Lau and directed by Miguel Sapochnik)

Last week, House of the Dragon all but lost me as a viewer. Rather than maintaining the momentum from the first half of the season or accelerating things further, the long-anticipated time skip instead brought things to a screeching halt and essentially functioned as a boring pilot stuck in the middle of the season. But, to borrow the wise words of noted 20th-century philosopher Michael Corleone, just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. “Driftmark” is far and away the best episode of House of the Dragon to date, finally pushing things past the point of no return between Alicent, Rhaenyra, and their respective families, while functioning brilliantly as a microcosm of the show’s larger tragedy of ambition, legacy, and family squabbles colliding that will lead to the beginning of the end of the Targaryens.

As you might have guessed, “Driftmark” sees the extended Targaryen family gathered at the titular Velaryon stronghold for the funeral of Laena Velaryon, little more than one of those quintessentially Game of Thrones gatherings where a bunch of people have to act polite around one another while trying to pretend there isn’t intense bad blood between them, and the casket isn’t even in the water before the cracks start to show. Viserys is now at the point where he can barely stand and is absent-mindedly referring to Alicent as Aemma, Daemon is snickering at the last rites being given, Rhaenyra’s oldest son wants some sympathy after the death of Harwin Strong, who he now suspects is his real father, and Otto Hightower is once again serving as Hand of the King, perhaps a sign of Alicent’s ever growing influence. Meanwhile, Laenor and Aegon both disappear—Laenor into grief and Aegon into drink—setting the stage for the night’s events.

Corlys and Rhaenys with their grandchildren
Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

First up: Corlys and Rhaenys, forced to have a hard conversation in the wake of their daughter’s death. Rhaenys wants Laena’s children to ultimately inherit Driftmark instead of Rhaenyra’s, wanting it to remain in what she knows to be their blood and family, but Corlys won’t have any of it, and his reasoning might very well be the thesis statement on both his character and the show: that history doesn’t remember blood, it remembers names. Rhaenyra’s children might not be of his blood, but they bear his family name and that’s all that matters. As insufferable as they might be, “Driftmark” does an excellent job of generating at least some sympathy for the children introduced in last week’s episode, caught in the Velaryon-Targaryen-Hightower crossfire and clearly damaged by parents who seem them as tools to further their own ambitions and secure their own legacies.

Meanwhile, Daemon and Rhaenyra resume their creepy incest fest, only this time it’s Rhaenyra pushing things forward. I’m still not entirely sure what’s going through her head, whether there’s a genuine (unhealthy) attraction towards her uncle or if she’s simply looking for allies as things grow more intense between her family and Alicent’s, but either way the two of them finally go all the way—and just barely avoid getting seen by Aemond, off on his own late night excursion.

His journey leads him to the now riderless Vhaegar, Laena’s old dragon. After a tense exchange, he’s able to successfully take the dragon for a flight—and awakening Laena’s daughters when they realize their mother’s dragon has been stolen. They, along with Rhaenyra’s children, head out to confront Aemond, who not only claims Vhaegar as his own but also mocks Rhaenyra’s children over their parentage. This proves too much for Rhaenyra’s children, who wind up attacking Aemond and causing a scuffle that leaves Lucerys with a broken nose and Aemond missing an eye.

Laena Velaryon's funeral
Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

The aftermath of this incident is where things truly come to a head for the three increasingly dysfunctional branches of the extended Targaryen family: Rhaenyra wants to put an end to the question of her children’s parentage, Viserys foolishly just wants everyone to get along, and Alicent demands blood in exchange for blood, ordering Ser Criston to bring her Lucerys’ eye in exchange for him maiming Aemond. When Viserys orders her to let it go, she instead grabs a knife and attempts to do the deed herself. Rhaenyra is able to hold her off, winding up with a scar of her own—but whispering that now everyone can see Alicent for who she truly is, as blood is finally drawn in their long-simmering conflict.

I’m still not as invested in the Rhaenyra/Alicent relationship breaking down anywhere near as much as House of the Dragon wants me to be, but “Driftmark” shows just how bad things have gotten between the two of them, and it’s a stark contrast to the friendship shown between the two of them from the beginning of the show—it’s bad enough that even their children hate one another. It’s not a perfect solution to all the character development we missed out on because of the ten year time gap, but it’s interesting to think of what must have happened in those missing years to get to the point we’re at now.

Daemon and Rhaenyra at their wedding
Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

Even more interesting: this new, vicious side of Alicent. She’s clearly been warped by her father’s own ambitions—Otto even mentions to her that he’s proud to see this side of her, and that together the two of them could prevail in the “ugly game” they play—and now she’s doing the same to her own children. Aegon might claim that everyone can see that Rhaenyra’s children are clearly not Laenor’s, but that question of parentage is almost certainly coming from Alicent and her father.

Laenor, meanwhile, finally emerges from his grief-stricken state ready to take responsibility to help Rhaenyra and raise their sons, but unfortunately it’s too late for him. Rhaenyra’s ready to take matters into her own hands and strengthen her claim to the Iron Throne, and after arranging for Laenor’s death (or arranging to fake his death, it’s not entirely clear) she takes Daemon as her husband.

After last week’s bump in the road, “Driftmark” sees House of the Dragon getting back on track, and the tension that’s been built up from the season’s first half is finally boiling over into blood being drawn. With Viserys’ health rapidly decreasing with each passing day, we might finally be getting to see the long-anticipated Targaryen civil war we’ve been waiting for from the beginning, and I for one can hardly wait.

Written by Timothy Glaraton

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