A creative decision was imminent house of the dragon since the show premiered in August: A 10-year time jump right in the middle of the show’s first season, one that would mark new actors taking on the lead roles of Rhaenyra Targaryen and Alicent Hightower. With a few exceptions — like those playing the children of Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), who are each portrayed by three pairs of actors throughout the season — Rhaenyra and Alicent are the only two leads to swap cast members after the time warp. This has made leaping forward in midseason feel unusually weighty — and for the most part house of the dragon it doesn’t make a big deal.
This corresponds to established habits. The epic swing of house of the dragon was only signaled subtly in the broadcast. After the screen text in the premiere shows that the events of the series take place “172 years before the birth of Daenerys Targaryen”. house of the dragon never bluntly nods to the timeline again. Characters denote the passage of time and say how many years it has been – often for the benefit of the audience – but as in mad Men, Time jumps on this show were frequent and unobtrusive. The time between one episode and the next is simply how long it takes for another interesting thing to happen, be it four days or four years.
So it’s a little underwhelming when it’s consistent to see house of the dragon launching the new versions of Rhaenyra and Alicent under relatively mundane circumstances. We first meet Rhaenyra (now played by Emma D’Arcy after Milly Alcock’s tenure as young Rhaenyra) in the midst of childbirth. The arrival of her son Joffrey is what “The Princess and the Queen” hangs its structure around, as Rhaenyra chooses to forego rest to parade her newborn son around the court.
This is how we get to know the new status quo, which is amazingly similar to the old one. Viserys (Paddy Considine) survived his horrific meltdown last week and still reigns as king, and Alicent (Olivia Cooke takes on Emily Carey) has settled into her role as queen. The place is full of children as Rhaenyra has two other sons alongside Joffrey – neither of whom Alicent notes look like her husband Laenor Velaryon (now played by John Macmillan). Now a punk teenager, Alicent’s son Aegon is still at the heart of Alicent’s long-simmering silent conflict with Rhaenyra, who remains heir in her son’s place.
With no prior knowledge of Targaryen history house of the dragon dramatized, which feels a bit repetitive. “The Princess and the Queen” acts like a second pilot that builds up the actual show. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it just means the rest of the series must now prove that those final five episodes were crucial to what’s to come, which puts perhaps undue weight on things like this cast change.
Those existing concerns aside, The Princess and the Queen feels like a quiet stage play built to increase suspense. Conflicts rooted in previous episodes begin to boil over: Ser Criston (Fabien Frankel) is now Alicent’s trusty henchman, consumed by anger and jealousy after Rhaenyra spurns him and has children with another Kingsguard knight, Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr ). These children were then passed off as Rhaenyra’s legitimate sons with Laenor, a royal scandal smoldering right under everyone’s nose and becoming public when Criston insults Harwin and the two clash.
At the end of the episode, Alicent’s Cold War is heating up. Conversing with the wily and manipulative Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), Harwin’s brother and son of the current Hand, Lord Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes), Alicent rages at Rhaenyra’s disregard for the propriety that has so strongly guided her, with seemingly no consequence . Larys takes this as an indirect instruction to create some, offering to spare the lives of convicted criminals if they agree to lose their tongue and do his dirty work – setting his family home on fire to save his father and his killing brother.
In this new version of house of the dragon, palace intrigues are still paramount, but their waves outside of King’s Landing could soon be hard to ignore. As new leads, Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke take on their predecessors almost seamlessly — though Cooke’s resemblance to Emily Carey is so uncanny that a rewrite of Alicent feels redundant. As the older Rhaenyra, Emma D’Arcy portrays a more resigned version of the Crown Princess who tries to maintain a presence on the Small Council while at the same time – in her own scandalous way – fulfilling her duty of producing heirs. In that regard, Rhaenyra’s recast feels justified, as the girl who came so close to the power she wanted at a frighteningly young age is forced well into her womanhood to wait and endure threats of that power.
Around these two new versions of the central characters, new and old players are reshuffled in a somewhat confusing but also animating way. Even across the sea in Pentos, Daemon (Matt Smith) is upset at his self-imposed exile when his new wife Laena Velaryon (now played by Nanna Blondell) immolates herself with dragon fire after losing her baby in childbirth. house of the dragon doesn’t seem subtle here: we’re watching versions of all these characters about to implode and reshape the map of Westeros for the next century.
The Princess and the Queen is the kind of TV episode that feels less to watch but gains depth with some distance. It’s an hour of television, more than most house of the dragon Episodes so far, clearly trades game of Thrones‘ for a more focused study of entropy and the ways in which royal self-preservation is at odds with familial ties. And it explores this in a fairly nuanced way, as its core conflicts are all the same, only soured over time until presumably everyone will be caught up in a war they have no hope of understanding. Even the simplest arguments have an edge when there are dragons lurking beneath everyone’s feet.