I hope you’re in the mood for seafood, because House of the Dragon’s second episode opens with a hefty serving of crab. The visual is unappetizing, however: swarms of tiny crustaceans are feeding on dying and decaying bodies on the shores of the Stepstones, a set of rocky islands in the sea between Westeros and Essos. (“The Crabfeeder” (a.k.a. Craghas Drahar), and his men have taken over the area and reduced its inhabitants to fish bait.) The violent beginning to Dragon’s second entry in the Game of Thrones prequel’s universe sets the tone for the entire episode: foreboding and, well, disgusting.
The Crabfeeder’s latest move doesn’t bode well for the Seven Kingdoms, nor for House Velaryon, led by renowned and wealthy seafarer Lord Corlys, who wields one of the strongest navies in the realm. The kingdom can’t afford to lose valuable trading ports to a foreign power, so Corlys storms into a meeting of the Small Council. Four more ships have fallen to the Crabfeeder, including one of his own. He’s had enough; he wants to seize the Stepstones by force and get the Crabfeeder out of his territory. But King Viserys doesn’t want to start a war with the free cities (who are presumably funding these “pirates”). Rhaenyra, the king’s daughter, heir, and cupbearer, interjects. Why not send dragonriders to scare the pirates off? Sounds like a brilliant idea, but the council shoos her away so the big boys can talk business.
Instead, Rhaenyra has the distinct pleasure of examining the new candidates for the Kingsguard. A spot has opened up following Lord Commander Ser Ryam’s passing, and his successor, Ser Harrold Westerling, has gathered contenders from across the realm. Rhaenyra asks the important question: Which of these dudes has actual combat experience? That would be Ser Criston Cole, the hottie she met at the tournament last episode. Though not high-born, Criston was a soldier in The Stormlands, and Rhaenyra believes a strong fighter like him is what her family needs for protection. She ignores the objections of Otto Hightower, the Hand of the King, who urges her to prioritize political allies or defensive strongholds. She prefers literal, physical strength. (I can almost hear Cersei Lannister saying, “Power is power” here.)
Meanwhile, Alicent Hightower and Viserys are still hanging out too much. (If you think this is getting creepy, buckle up, sweet summer children.) Her own father planted the seed for this relationship after the death of Viserys’ first wife, Queen Aemma. Otto ordered Alicent keep the king company in his chambers while he grieves, and so far, they’ve been bonding over the history of Westeros. (Viserys is such a history buff that he’s had the stonemasons build a miniature replica of Old Valyria, which he keeps in his room. Unfortunately, during their meeting, one of the dragon figures falls to the floor and breaks. Symbolism!)
Viserys—who’s apparently been too busy building the Targaryen equivalent of a Lego model of the Death Star—hasn’t had a real conversation with his daughter since her mother died almost half a year ago. Worse, he’s scared to approach the 15-year-old Rhaenyra to talk. He asks Alicent for advice. Maybe if he invited Rhaenyra for some quality time, she’d be inclined to open up to him? Viserys offers Alicent some advice of his own: Don’t tell Rhaenrya about our little get-togethers.
Down in the sept, Rhaenyra vents to Alicent about her father and the council not taking her seriously. Alicent invites Rhaenyra to kneel in prayer—that’s what she does to feel close to her own late mother. Rhaenyra gives it a try and wells up thinking about Aemma, as well as her dad. “I want him to see me as more than his little girl,” she admits. Alicent gets it; her dad doesn’t understand her either. These girls deserve better!
Speaking of fathers who don’t get their daughters, Corlys and his wife, Rhaenys (Viserys’ cousin), make a proposal to Viserys: The crown is vulnerable—Daemon fled to Dragonstone; a girl is in line for the throne for the first time in history; and a foreign colony occupies one of their strongest shipping lanes—so Viserys should marry Laena Velaryon, Corlys and Rhaenys’ daughter. Join their two houses, the royal Targaryens with the wealthy Velaryons, as a display of power to their potential foes.
Viserys asks Otto for his thoughts (while maggots eat away at the festering sword wound on his pinky). Otto suspiciously disapproves of this union, but, as a widower himself, he empathizes with Viserys on the prospect of “replacing” his wife.
Another problem? The potential bride is 12 years old.
As Laena and Viserys take a walk in the gardens together, the king is visibly uncomfortable. He’s aware that he looms over her in both size and age. Couples with questionable age gaps have wed on Game of Thrones before, like Sansa and Tyrion, or Margaery and Tommen (or Margaery and Joffrey), but still, the visual of Laena and Viserys ambling beside each other in a vaguely romantic setting is enough to provoke gagging. Laena is an obedient daughter, though, doing her best to convince Viserys that joining their houses would form a very strong union indeed. But the king isn’t swayed; he knows she’s just reciting talking points her father taught her. As for what her mother, Rhaenys, thinks? “I wouldn’t have to bed you until I turn 14,” Laena says. (Cue more shudders.)
Rhaenyra and Rhaenys—totally not confusing at all—look on from a balcony. Rhaenys can sense that Rhaenyra is anxious. Does she worry that Viserys might remarry and have a son that would take over as heir? Rhaenys gets it, but instead of comforting Rhaenyra or offering guidance, Rhaenys puts her in her place with the cold, hard truth: “Men would sooner put the realm to a torch than see a woman ascend the Iron Throne. And your father is no fool.” Translation: You’ll lose your place as heir too, dear.
Alicent, for one, supports Viserys’ potential marriage with Laena. During another one of their meetings, she gives him a gift: a repaired dragon piece for his stone model. He appreciates the gesture.
Meanwhile, Daemon, our Petty Prince, continues to wreak havoc. He stole a dragon’s egg from the castle, specifically the one that Rhaenyra picked out for her late baby brother Baelon’s cradle. Daemon reveals in a letter that his mistress, Mysaria, is pregnant and he plans to take her as a second wife. Of course, Viserys is seething, but Otto offers to retrieve the egg from Dragonstone in his place, escorted by the Kingsguard.
Daemon, joined by the gold-cloaked City Watch, refuses to back down once Otto arrives. After trash talking escalates on both sides, all men draw their swords, ready to spar. Suddenly, Rhaenyra emerges from the fog on dragonback, ready to take care of business. (Such a Daenerys move.) She knows her uncle Daemon resents her for replacing him as Viserys’ heir. So, she challenges him: If you want to be heir so badly, kill me then. I’m right here. Daemon retreats and returns back the egg. Later, he faces the wrath of Mysaria, who is not pregnant and not betrothed to him but is angry Daemon would use her as a pawn. She scolds him with an accent that’s hard to place.
Rhaenyra returns to King’s Landing to find her father upset that she flew off without warning, but he’s soon comforted by the news that she took care of Daemon’s mess sans bloodshed. Their confrontation evolves into a long overdue heart-to-heart about missing and grieving Aemma. Viserys also puts Rhaenyra’s worries at ease: Although he must remarry for the sake of the realm, he does not intend to replace her as his heir.
The next morning, Viserys announces his marital plans to the council like it’s the finale of The Bachelor. He will not marry Laena Velaryon, but instead Alicent Hightower (who’s only a few years older). Unsurprisingly, this angers Lord Corlys, whose matchmaking attempts have failed and whose fleet remains vulnerable in the Stepstones. He stomps away, but the one who’s really hurt here is Rhaenyra. Her eyes flit between her best friend and her father. She didn’t even know they were a thing! As Otto smiles proudly at Alicent, it’s clear he got what he wanted.
Corlys takes matters into his own hands and secretly meets with Daemon in Dragonstone. He suggests they form an alliance and re-claim the Stepstones together. War may be brewing overseas, but a bigger one is simmering within House Targaryen.
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Erica Gonzales is the Senior Culture Editor at ELLE.com, where she oversees coverage on TV, movies, music, books, and more. She was previously an editor at HarpersBAZAAR.com. There is a 75 percent chance she’s listening to Lorde right now.