House of the Dragon S1E8: “The Lord of the Tides” — It’s a Trap!

Daemon, Rhaenyra, Lucerys, and Rhaenys in the throne room
Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

The following contains spoilers for House of the Dragon S1E8, “The Lord of the Tides” (written by Eileen Shim and directed by Geeta Vasant Patel

After the hit-or-miss quality of House of the Dragon’s first half and the atrocious, boring pseudo-pilot that kicked off the season’s second half, it’s astonishing how good the show has gotten in a very short amount of time. Last week’s “Driftmark” finally delivered on the series’ potential of an ugly, nasty, overblown family drama, and this week’s episode “The Lord of the Tides” continues in that vein as the already vicious relationships of the extended Targaryen family sour even further.

To start us off: it’s happening. After eight weeks, it’s finally happening. On this week’s episode of House of the Dragon, the big, messy Targaryen family is finally forced to confront the big, messy question of succession—no, not that one, the one at Driftmark! The Triarchy has made a resurgence in the Stepstones in the six—yep, six—years that have passed since the events of last week’s “Driftmark”, and good old Corlys Velaryon has not only sustained a devastating injury, but one of Westeros’ all-too-common vague but threatening illnesses. He’s not likely to survive, meaning that Rhaenyra’s son Lucerys is set to take over as both the hold of Driftmark, and the title of Lord of the Tides—but there’s a problem!

Corlys’ brother Vaemond Velaryon—like seemingly everyone involved in our story not named Viserys Targaryen—has invoked the ancient, mystical art of “using his eyes” to figure out that Rhaenyra’s children aren’t Laenor’s! Corlys might care more about ensuring his family name lives on in the history books, but Vaylon is more concerned about the survival of his family and bloodline and plans to bring the issue to King’s Landing, where Alicent and Otto have all but taken over by the time of “The Lord of the Tides” due to Viserys’…failing health. Or slow death. It’s really a potato, potahto situation.

Conveniently, putting Vaemond in charge of Driftmark would all but officially declare Lucerys—along with the rest of Rhaenyra’s children—illegitimate, and likely throw Rhaenyra out of the running to be Viserys’ successor. But, despite being fully aware of the situation being the most glaringly obvious trap in human history, she doesn’t really have much choice in the situation. So it’s back to King’s Landing we go for Rhaenyra, Daemon, their children and…whatever the hell Daemon’s children with Laena are. I suppose they’re technically Rhaenyra’s stepchildren now, but that sort of undersells the whole “your aunt is now your mom who was married to your mother’s brother” mess. At least their stepbrothers are related by…slightly less blood, given Harwin Strong’s involvement in their creation.

Otto and Alicent at the dinner table
Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

As soon as we return to King’s Landing, Rhaenyra can feel the walls starting to close in. Much of the Targaryen insignia and colors have been taken down in favor of green and insignia of the Seven, and when Alicent confirms that she will be representing the Crown in the following day’s hearing, Rhaenyra immediately starts scrambling for allies. Her first stop is to see Viserys, who by now has deteriorated to the point of basically being a living corpse. He can barely walk, barely stand, and needs near-constant milk of the poppy just to try and make the pain bearable. Thankfully, Rhaenyra catches him in a rare moment of lucidity, and it turns out she has a surprise for him: two more children, this time with Daemon! One of them is named Viserys, and the other—in true passive-aggressive white woman fashion—is named Aegon, same as Alicent’s firstborn. No doubt, she’ll be absolutely thrilled to find that out.

Having determined Viserys to be a lost cause, Rhaenyra next sets out to find her aunt Rhaenys, offering to have her children be married to Laena’s children—again, now technically her stepchildren—but has temporarily forgotten that Rhaenys is both A. still mad about the death of Leanor who Rhaenyra totally swears she had nothing to do with and B. still the most competent person in the whole Targaryen/Hightower/Velaryon/Strong great big happy family. Rhaenys recognizes the offer as one of desperation, not generosity, and her response is “sweetie, you’re royally screwed”—again, in the most polite, most diplomatic way possible.

Meanwhile, Alicent has her own mess to deal with in the form of Aegon, who’s now sexually assaulted one of the serving girls in a drunken fit. He might be named for Aegon the Conquerer, but he’s looking more like Aegon the Wrong…quer to take over as king from Viserys. It does give him a sweet(?)  moment of opening up about his own insecurities and feeling like nothing he does will ever be good enough for Alicent or Viserys, which is…technically character development!

Rhaenys and Rhaena at Driftmark
Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

Back to the main event, it’s with a sense of resignation that Rhaenyra heads to Lucerys’ hearing in the courtroom, and things go about as horribly as she expected they would until BAH GAWD, here comes Viserys Targaryen, First of His Name, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, Protector of the Realm, and Prince of Dragonstone. He might not have brought a steel chair, but he’s more than willing to take his rightful place on an iron one to oversee the day’s proceedings—with a hand from Daemon, in a surprisingly touching moment between brothers long estranged. Shoutout to Paddy Considine for an especially excellent performance as Viserys in “The Lord of the Tides”, not only for generating pathos for a man now quite literally falling apart, but also because I genuinely don’t know if Viserys continues to be the most ignorant man in Westeros or is simply trying to protect his daughter and her children.

As he puts it, the matter of succession is one that shouldn’t even be called into question: Lucerys Velaryon, as Laenor’s heir, should rightfully inherit driftmark and the title of Lord of the Tides. The only one that he thinks should have any opinion otherwise is Rhaenys, who once again proves how much better she is at all of this than anyone around her. She immediately recognizes that Rhaenyra’s offer has suddenly become a very valuable one, and not only does she reaffirm Corlys’ wish that Lucerys take over Driftmark, she also takes the opportunity to announce that she has graciously accepted Rhaenyra’s offer of having her children be wed to Laena’s to, shudder, strengthen the family bond.

But Vaemond isn’t having any of it, and finally makes the accusation that Rhaenyra’s children are illegitimate—and calls Rhaenyra a whore, just for good measure. Now, I’m not a career advisor, but of all the things you might try to do to potentially further yourself in your life and your career, having an audience with the king and calling his daughter a whore and her children illegitimate is not something I would recommend. Viserys says he’ll have Vaemond’s tongue for that, but Daemon gets there first and decides to let him keep his tongue—but lose the other, nontongue parts of his head. Crisis averted!

Aemond giving a toast
Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

Rhaenyra might have somehow worked her way out of the Hightower’s trap, but her night isn’t over yet. Viserys wants to have dinner with the entire extended family, leading to yet another awkward reunion given that this is the first time Rhaenyra and Alicent’s kids have seen each other since the whole dragon theft/eye-slicing incident. Viserys gets his moment to truly shine in “The Lord of the Tides”, delivering a heartbreaking monologue about his own mortality and the conflicts that have led his family to be so distant from one another, all while emoting through a face that is half rotten off and with only one eye left. To their credit, the family is able to play nice for the night—at least, until Viserys is taken back up to bed. Then it’s back to the taunts about parentage, with a particularly nasty toast from Aemond (the one who lost his eye) about his “strong” uncles—surprisingly enough, the one who lost his eye is the one least likely to just forgive and forget. Viserys can plead all he wants, there’s bad blood in this family and it’s not going to go away just by talking things out.

Rhaenyra—rightfully so—decides it’s time to take her kids and head back home to Dragonstone, but promises Alicent she’ll return herself on dragonback, if only for the unspoken want to be there for her father’s final days. Those final days look to be coming sooner than she might have wanted, however, as the episode’s final moments see Viserys, barely lucid, mumble to Alicent about “Aegon”, “The Prince Who Was Promised”, and “you are the one to unite them all,” before closing his eyes to (hopefully) at long last pass on. Alicent might not have a clue what he’s talking about, but her final expression tells us that she’s more than willing to misinterpret his dying words to serve her own ends. Things are finally about to get ugly.

Last week’s “Driftmark” set a high bar to follow, but “The Lord of the Tides” is a more than worthy follow-up, with Rhaenyra navigating the most volatile situation she’s encountered to date, the bad blood between the Hightowers and the Targaryens getting worse, and Alicent now seemingly on the verge of making her big power grab. Who knows, I might wind up being excited for season two after all.

Written by Timothy Glaraton

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