House of the Dragon S01E04 Review: Rhaenyra Rises Above Convention
This week's episode of House of the Dragon is all about Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) and her own awakenings and awareness as a growing woman. The "King of the Narrow Sea" starts her engaging with a long line of potential suitors to wed from the realm as much as the idea of arranged marriage disgusts her. She scoffs at an older man and a pubescent teen before heading off back to King's Landing. The following does contain some minor spoilers.
Upon their return, we see King Viserys (Paddy Considine) at a gathering at the iron throne when we see Daemon (Matt Smith) coming home with a wooden crown and the hammer from his fallen foe, the Crabfeeder. While there's a tension that's built up from their last encounter, it appears to have dissipated as Daemon shows his brother humility and bows before his king, informing him of the spoils. Viserys offers praise for Daemon's gallantry. Daemon also appears to have gotten over being passed over being the heir to the crown, talking with his niece Rhaenrya about how she hates the inherent patriarchy and doesn't really care about the current line of succession as there are those including Viserys' Hand in Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), who'd rather see her infant half-brother become heir as per tradition. Rather than dwell on their depression about destiny, the two set out incognito under hoods outside of typical royal grounds to partake in a night out on the town. "A night out on the town" in the realm of Game of Thrones is most likely a night of debauchery.
Alcock and Smith have such great chemistry in every scene they share together. It's wonderful for Smith because he's able to exhibit this range and nuance to Daemon that makes him such a great casting for the role. Alcock's actions in the episode are about as liberating and layered as it gets because the character is so self-aware of her surroundings and takes every opportunity to rebel against them. As an audience, her Rhaenyra has drawn us in as a figure of empathy at a level that exceeds even Emilia Clarke's Daenerys because she's bucking conventions early on that everyone else around her blindly accepts. There isn't some revenge or bitterness subplot from trauma that too many female protagonists are often relegated to. It's something that director Clare Kilner and writer Ira Parker do such an impressive job of pulling off.
It's not just Rhaenyra's story that contrasts since we also see Emily Carey's Alicent Hightower's sad acceptance of her own situation. While Rhaenyra's having the best of time, we see Alicent's expressionless face as Viserys performs his royal "duty" in bed. "Duty" is largely the key word here because Alicent is playing the part of Queen to her husband's satisfaction. Unfortunately, like most arranged marriages, she only accepts her role purely out of obligation than actual love. By the end of the episode, you can a real sense of how Rhaenyra will look to try to break her own wheel.