House of the Dragon episode 4 review: Incest, betrayal and wedding plans - 5 burning questions from King of the Narrow Sea

In an episode dominated by sex, Rhaenyra, Viserys and Daemon cause more problems for the future of the Targaryen dynasty.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 14 September 2022 - 9.45am
Emily Carey as Alicent Hightower in House of the Dragon

Stream House of the Dragon weekly on Sky Atlantic with NOW on Mondays.

If last week’s episode at the Stepstones was a reminder of the dragon-squashing, blood-splattering violence of George R.R. Martin’s universe, this week’s House of the Dragon was riddled with the other passion that appears frequently in his books. Sex.

War at the Stepstones could have left you wondering how the Targaryens would ever lose power. They’ve got dragons, ships and crazy Daemon leading them into battle. But episode 4 revealed how the power dynamics behind bedroom doors are just as important as any sword slashing on the battlefield.

Here are five burning questions after the latest incest and sex-filled episode of House of the Dragon, King of the Narrow Sea…

1. Is Prince Daemon manipulative or just pathetic?

Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen in House of the Dragon episode 4

Whether he’s charging into war with the Crab Feeder or dragging his niece around the brothels and other sordid corners of King’s Landing, Prince Daemon gives the impression he's a man more than happy to burn House Targaryen down for his own entertainment.

He’s a man who craves his brother’s love and attention, but when he gets what he wants, he just responds with further violence and depravity.

Bowing for King Viserys after his victory at the Steptones, Daemon is hailed a hero and warmly welcomed home by his brother. How does Daemon celebrate the news? By taking his brother’s daughter on a tour of the darkest corners of Flea Bottom and grabbing her for a gross kiss (and possibly more), before fleeing. Obviously.

The incestuous relationship between Daemon and Rhaenyra had been hinted at since episode 1, but it didn’t make their moment together any less disturbing.

As Daemon lay on the floor by the Kings Throne, getting a boot in the stomach from Viserys for his antics, he proposed a marriage between himself and Rhaenyra to resolve the issue of succession.

Was this Daemon’s plan all along? Does he have any real feelings for Rhaenyra? Does he care about the Iron Throne or does he just enjoy seeing chaos reign?

We don’t know at this stage whether the prince is a manipulator or just a bit of a pathetic weasel, but we’re leaning towards the answer being... both.

2. Which way did the coin land with Princess Rhaenyra?

“Every time a new Targaryen is born, he said, the gods toss the coin in the air and the world holds its breath to see how it will land.”

The famous Game of Thrones quote about House Targaryen felt pertinent this week.

It’s safe to say we knew early on which side the coin landed with Prince Daemon. But with Princess Rhaenyra, it's been a little harder to read.

She's a classic rebellious teen, who despite being next in line to the throne with all the wealth and power that it brings, is simmering with resentment. Men (and boys) stand in line to try win her hand in marriage, but she dreams of a world beyond traditions, arranged marriages and politics.

Milly Alcock portrays young Rhaenyra Targaryen with Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen

We see her tempted into an incestuous moment of passion with Daemon, and then when she is left abandoned with her clothes around her ankles, she returns to King’s Landing with a new attitude. She finds Ser Criston Cole, with little concern what the consequences might be for her friend, and seduces him.

And at the end of the episode, she is ordered by Viserys to wed Laenor Velaryon to reunite House Targaryen and House Velaryon (What could possibly go wrong?).

Rhaenyra agrees, on the condition that Viserys also does his bit for House Targaryen and fires Otto Hightower. The princess's ability to wield power, even when she's on the back foot, suggests she will be a force to be reckoned with in Westeros.

3.  How will Otto Hightower respond?

What is the only thing worse than having a snivelling, scheming Hand of the King? Probably firing a snivelling, scheming Hand of the King and making an enemy of him.

Otto tends to not show his cards, but it feels like a bad decision from the King to dispense with his ‘loyal’ Hand in such a cavalier fashion. It can’t possibly end well.

Did Viserys always know what Otto was plotting by setting up his daughter Alicent to comfort him? Perhaps Viserys did, but he was happy to run along with it because there appears to be a genuine bond of friendship between the pair.

Although judging by Viserys and Alicent’s bedroom scene this week, it truly is a marriage based on convenience and friendship. It was about as hot and steamy as a bowl of cold custard.

Talking of Alicent…

4. Is Alicent Hightower the best character so far in House of the Dragon?

Emily Carey as young Alicent Hightower in House of the Dragon

While the motivations of Daemon, Otto, Rhaenyra and the rest have been fairly easy to read, Queen Alicent remains a bit of an enigma.

We’ve seen her pulling at her nails with anxiety, attempting to hold together her friendship with Rhaenyra and tread the line with her father and husband, but Emily Carey has done a brilliant job of keeping us guessing over Alicent’s true feelings and motivations.

It feels like she has genuine fury with Rhaenyra for abandoning rules and traditional order for an evening of debauchery, but whether it comes from envy or a rigid belief system is unclear.

“Every knight fawning over you – what misery,” says Alicent sarcastically, when she listens to her old friend protest about being forced to choose a husband.

But when Rhaenyra complains about a future in which she will be “imprisoned in a castle and made to squeeze out heirs”, it stings Alicent.

Everything that Rhaenyra fears and dreads, Alicent has stomached and taken on. Whether Alicent will eventually crack under the pressure remains to be seen, but it feels like her willingness to follow tradition and duty will eventually bubble over into resentment for those such as Rhaenyra who do all they can to not play by the rules.

5. What next for Ser Criston Cole?

Fabien Frankel as Ser Criston Cole in House of the Dragon

Inspired by Daemon’s “take what you want and pfft to consequences” attitude, Princess Rhaenyra decided to use what she learned on her trip beyond the castle walls.

When she returned, she played a game of ‘hide the helmet’ with her dashing Dornish guard Ser Criston Cole. Yes, you guessed it, there was more even sex.

Ser Criston barely resisted – hey, who is he to deny the desires of his future Queen – but he was also put in an impossible position by the Princess.

How Ser Criston reacts to Rhaenyra’s wedding plans and any revelations about her ‘special bond’ with Daemon will be fascinating to watch unfold. Is there any anger brewing underneath that armour and fabulous Dornish hair?

Stream House of the Dragon weekly on Sky Atlantic with NOW on Mondays.

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