‘House of the Dragon,’ Season 1, Episode 5 Recap: Wedding Crashers

It’s not a real Westeros wedding until somebody starts screaming.

Actually the wedding of Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen and Ser Laenor Velaryon hadn’t even begun when the wailing started, as the Rehearsal Dinner from Seven Hells erupted into paramour-on-paramour violence. By the time it was over, Joffrey (Solly McLeod), Laenor’s portentously named sparring partner, lay dead on the ballroom floor with a face like a collapsed Jell-O mold, and Ser Criston was ready to fall on his blade.

They were the latest victims of Rhaenyra and Daemon’s big night out on the Street of Silk, the repercussions of which continue to reverberate throughout the realm. Last week, the fallout enveloped Otto, fired for revealing the transgressions to the king; Rhaenyra, finally cornered into a forced marriage; and Daemon, banished yet again (only to return yet again).

This week the toll was more lethal. Ser Joffrey was joined in death by the bronze bride, Lady Rhea (Rachel Redford), after Daemon decided killing his wife was preferable to settling down with her. (Contrary to what we’ve heard, she was quite comely, but Targaryens prefer blondes. And relatives.) Those losses, in turn, upended the lives of Laenor, the grieving groom, and Rhea’s cousin, Ser Gerold Royce.

Meanwhile, the slithery Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), who might as well have been wearing a sign around his neck that said “Sinister Schemer,” was igniting the embers of Alicent’s suspicion in the royal garden. I heard the princess was delivered some definitely-not-morning-after tea the other day, he told her, I hope she’s OK.

The revelation and Ser Criston’s ensuing admission sent Alicent in search of a Hightower Green wedding-crashing dress, which she debuted with a resolute elegance that seems sure to make her father proud. Her strut through the ballroom, in the middle of the king’s speech, doubled as a statement of allegiance in the Iron Throne derby at the heart of this story. Spoiler alert: it’s not to the side that was hosting the wedding.

All of which is to say: The scandal that began in that pleasure house is well on its way to enveloping everyone in the realm.

One thing I’ve always enjoyed about George R.R. Martin’s storytelling is the way its momentous, world-changing events erupt from recognizable human impulses and flaws — jealousy, lust, insecurity, the desire to protect your family or conceal your shameful secrets. The sordid but genuine love between Cersei and Jaime Lannister animated “Game of Thrones”; the Red Wedding was revenge for a broken engagement; Daenerys’s sense of deep grievance drove her to traverse the globe and commit mass murder. (OK, her impulses and flaws were less recognizable than others …)

Similarly, the current throne battle was set up by Viserys’s stubborn, perhaps misguided loyalty to his daughter, borne of his grief over his wife. Now the fallout from Daemon’s lust and desire to strike back at his brother, paired with Rhaenyra’s selfish recklessness and dishonesty, have seemingly deepened the primary rift to an irreparable degree.

Did you buy it? Alicent’s stridency seemed extreme in someone who has so far been circumspect and accommodating, particularly since it seemed motivated by the fact that Rhaenyra misled her — hardly a capital offense, but perhaps it represented the final break between the former friends. Otto also terrified her on his way out of town, with his warnings about the near future and the safety of her children, should Rhaenyra remain heir. Apparently all of the above, combined with the stark reality of Viserys’s ongoing circling of the royal drain, compelled her to conspicuously stand tall, as her uncle put it.

Less convincing was the collapse of Ser Criston, who went from stalwart defender to violent basket case within a week or so. (The timeline was a little fuzzy this episode.)

I guess we’re supposed to believe that Criston had been pushed past his limit: His dalliance with Rhaenyra, in breaking his Kingsguard chastity oath, shattered his self-image, and the princess compounded matters by rejecting his marriage plan and dismissing his dreams of Essos as little more than “a bushel of oranges.” The queen already knows all about his soiled cloak, thanks to his sitcom-level misunderstanding of her query about the Silk Street night. Perhaps learning that the snide Joffrey knew too, that this secret would hang over him forever, was more than Criston could bear. The only solution, apparently, was to beat the man to death on the dance floor.

The speed and scale of Criston’s decline strained credulity. Maybe he was just that desperate to keep the secret hidden, though the mania of his attack suggested a kind of psychic break. Maybe another motivating factor will be revealed in the future. But from a narrative standpoint, the bludgeoning foreshadowed future bloodshed as it illustrated the unintended consequences of the royals’ actions and heedlessness.

Based on Daemon’s advice, Rhaenyra thought she’d be able to have her wedding cake and boy-toy too. (She promised Laenor something similar.) What she got instead was a marriage ceremony that was terrible even by Westeros standards, with rotting food on the tables, a passed-out dad and rats licking up the blood of her new husband’s freshly murdered lover. And said boy-toy has now been claimed by her rival, who presumably plans to turn him into a different kind of plaything.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/18/arts/television/house-of-the-dragon-season-1-episode-5-recap.html