House of the Dragon 1×5 Review: We Light The Way

We Light The Way - Alicent Hightower in Green

‘We Light The Way’ marks the end of this section of the story. It leaves us with festering resentment between numerous characters, a King that is literally rotting to death, and a new King Consort in waiting.

This show continues to deliver incredible production value, marvelous acting, and a generally faithful adaption of the source material. Now that we’re five episodes in, I do have some minor complaints, but they pale in comparison to the disappointing finale of Game of Thrones. This show isn’t perfect – no show ever will be – but it’s a high enough quality overall that I can move past the problems and still enjoy the show for what it is.

This week’s episode is titled ‘We Light the Way,’ which are the words of House Hightower of Oldtown. As this episode marks a dramatic shift for both Otto and Alicent Hightower, the title is apt. Their house is one of the oldest in Westeros, and their seat in Oldtown is also the home of the Citadel. As such, they are known for incredibly close ties with the Faith of the Seven, which can be a powerful political body in Westeros in and of itself.

This means this house can be fairly formidable while still remaining outwardly pious in appearance. Otto has mastered this skill, until Viserys finally caught onto it many years too late. And now Alicent is taking up this manipulative charm. 

Alicent the Victim

They’ve really set up Alicent to be a manipulated victim of the patriarchy, and it’s difficult to hate her overall. She married her best friend’s father without any warning, but she was essentially forced to do so. I still think she should have talked to Rhaenyra about it, but that was the only part that was under her control. She also gave birth to a male heir, but seemed willing to support Rhaenyra’s claim until her father pushed her to defend her children against a perceived threat to their lives. She hasn’t been truly malicious of her own free will, but used as a tool by the men around her.

At the end of the day, these are fictional characters and we can choose to hate anyone for any minor error. We can also choose to love characters who have committed horrible crimes. By saddling the protagonists with massive character flaws, and positioning the main antagonist as a victim, it causes a great deal of internal conflict for the viewers.  I support the Targaryens, but I’m not going to sit around and make moral justifications for it. I just support them because they have dragons and do cool things, and it’s truly just that simple.

In a way, I feel like this moral ambiguity is the point. The writers want us to sit here and feel conflicted about what side we’ve chosen. I’ve watched fights break out online about this already, and it’s only going to get worse as the story progresses. You better get used to having conflicting emotions about everyone, because it seems that was very much by design.

Enter: Team Green

Fans of the books have been going on and on about ‘Team Green’ and ‘Team Black’ for a while. The show-only people haven’t had much context for this unless they chose to spoil themselves. If they’re lucky they’ve managed to parse that Team Green is Alicent and Team Black is Rhaenyra, but they haven’t had the infamous green dress to explain this color indicator. 

Now, however, we have the green dress and a bit of exposition from a minor character to explain the significance. When House Hightower goes to war, the beacon at the top of the tower (the literal High Tower) on their sigil turns green instead of the usual flame red. The emergence of Alicent in the green dress marks a dramatic shift in the character. 

Her father and Larys Royce presented enough of a compelling argument to fundamentally change her position on Rhaenyra. Otto used her protective instinct for her children to manipulate her while Larys broke her trust about Rhaenyra’s honor. These two things combined put her into war-mode, and I don’t think she’s ever going to waver.  

We haven’t seen Rhaenyra wear a black dress yet, but there are plenty of pictures in the promotional material that shows this. With that in mind, her supporters are Team Black. Which side are you on?

Who Is House Strong?

House Strong has been mostly living on the sidelines of this story so far. But they are fairly significant. At the time that this story is being told, House Strong holds Harrenhal. Yes, that Harrenhal from Game of Thrones. The one that Arya is imprisoned in by the Lannisters after she escapes King’s Landing. Yep, that one.

Harrenhal is thought to be cursed. Due to its ridiculously large size, it’s almost impossible to manage financially. Almost every house that is given this seat of power ends up dying out or otherwise coming to ruin. Even Harrenhal’s beginnings were cursed. It was burned by dragon fire not long after its completion. The residents were burned alive by Aegon the Conqueror and it’s been treated as a sort of white elephant gift in the Seven Kingdoms ever since.

We’ve seen Harrenhal once already on this show. The very first scene where Viserys is chosen as Jaehaerys’ heir takes place inside that castle. It was gifted to House Strong by King Jaehaerys after the previous resident, Queen Rhaena Targaryen (Jaehaerys’ widowed sister) passed away. They wanted to hold it there because they weren’t sure how many people would show up to the meeting, and it is the largest castle in Westeros by far.

  • Lord Lyonel Strong

Lord Lyonel Strong started the show off as the Master of Laws on the Small Council. He’s the only guy on the council that seems to be willing to give the King honest advice. He didn’t offer up his sons for marriage to Rhaenyra, and he took a very practical position on who the King should marry. Viserys didn’t listen to him, of course, but the man tried. Everyone tried. Viserys is just an idiot.

Once Otto was dismissed, Lord Lyonel Strong became the Hand of the King. In my view, he’s incredibly worthy of this position. He seems to be the only person around the King that actually gives a damn about him and doesn’t want to use him. The man seems like he just wants to do his job to the best of his abilities and not make himself the center of anything. I respect that.

We Light The Way - Lyonel Strong
Lord Lyonel Strong
  • Ser Harwin Strong

Lord Lyonel Strong’s eldest son, Ser Harwin Strong, is known as ‘Breakbones.’ He’s the guy who smiled when Rhaenyra returned to camp all bloodied from the boar hunt. It’s clear he respects her wild spirit. He also pulled Rhaenyra from the chaos that happens during the pre-wedding dinner, throwing her over his shoulder and fleeing the scene as fast as he could. 

Harwin is important, so make note of him. Assuming that they stick to the books, anyway. There’s always the possibility that they won’t stick exactly to his plot, but if they do, it’s good to have him on your radar.

We Light The Way - Harwin Strong
Ser Herwin Strong
  • Larys Strong

Then we have Larys Strong, who helped manipulate Alicent and provoke her into her ultimate antagonist status. He’s known as “Larys, the clubfoot.” He walks with a cane, so you can easily deduce the origin of that nickname. Larys is obviously quite different from his father and older brother. He’s sly and calculating and not very honest. This is probably due to a mix of him being the younger son and disabled in a society that devalues people for both of these traits. 

Two hundred years down the line, Tyrion Lannister is also a second son with a disability, but for some reason that just makes him sarcastic, and not bitter as Larys seems to be. Truly amazing what different paths these characters took when presented with similar challenges. Perhaps Tyrion’s position as a Lannister helped soften the blow of his status in this society. The Strongs are not nearly as powerful. They are bannermen to the Tullys, so they aren’t even one of the great houses.

We Light The Way
Larys Strong

I don’t think any of these characters will be recast after the time jump, but just in case, be sure to listen for their names going forward.

A Wedding Forged by Men

Upon arriving at Driftmark, King Viserys is led to Lord Corlys Velaryon to discuss the betrothal between their two children. Rhaenyra is pointedly shut out of the meeting, leaving her fate to the men. Rhaenys, however, barges into the meeting room, disregarding any patriarchal limitations that would be imposed on her. I can hope that as Rhaenys’ influence on Rhaenyra grows, Rhaenyra will also assert her right to take part in these types of discussions.

It is quite ironic that King Viserys is insistent that his female heir should have the same rights as any male heir would, but he still lets her get shut out. He also accuses Lord Corlys of misogyny in regards to the last name of Rhaenyra’s future children, which Rhaenys pointedly laughs at. His desire for his daughter to take the throne after his passing hasn’t led him to any sort of consistent feminism in the slightest.

I suppose rejecting the patriarchal traditions of Westeros can’t happen all at once as much as we wish that could be the case. We got the King openly supporting a female heir, but other institutions are still in place for the time being. And it’s no spoiler to state that things aren’t much better two hundred years later. Daenerys, Cersei, and Sansa all faced misogynistic challenges to their authority. And Arya was initially forced into tasks delegated to the women instead of the hobbies she actually wants to pursue. 

An Open Marriage and a Buried Gay

Ser Laenor is confirmed to be gay on the show, whereas it was framed as a rumor in the books. He and Rhaenyra came to an equitable arrangement between them regarding this issue. They can each have their own paramours as long as they perform their expected duties and produce an heir. 

In Westeros, this is the second best arrangement a highborn person can get. The first is, of course, actually being romantically and sexually attracted to your spouse. That can’t happen when one is gay, though, so they make this work the best they can. And it genuinely seemed like it might work for a minute, until it very suddenly… didn’t.

This arrangement doesn’t please Ser Criston Cole. He wants to run away with Rhaenyra. As he broke his oath, he feels he has to leave in order to restore his honor and he has the romantic notion that he can take Rhaenyra with him. This is an understandable reaction, and a solid motivation for having his fit of rage at the pre-wedding dinner. 

Unfortunately, that fit of rage leads to the death of Ser Laenor’s paramour, completely sinking the arrangement that the betrothed couple had agreed to. It also, unfortunately, leans into the ‘bury your gay‘ trope. I don’t blame the show for this. George RR Martin killed him in the book at about this point, too. And he kills everyone

It’s still an unfortunate trope, however. Gays can’t have happy endings. But does anyone in this universe have a happy ending? Some of the Starks, maybe. But that’s it. 

Changes From The Book

The way they changed Joffrey’s death from the books is a bit baffling to me. In the book, Ser Criston kills Joffrey at a tournament, which gives him some element of cover. Deaths at a tournament are common. We’ve seen this happen multiple times across both shows. The death could have been excused as either an accident or a challenge gone too far.

On the show, however, Ser Criston blatantly murdered Joffrey at the pre-wedding dinner. There was no reason given for this other than a random fit of rage. Most people don’t know that his motivations for this come from a broken heart and, possibly, hatred of his lover’s husband’s paramour. And maybe there’s a bit of homophobia, too. It’s hard to say.

There was no resolution to this by the time the episode ends. All we see is that Alicent stops him from killing himself. Based on social media posts from the actors and the preview for the next episode, we’re going to have a significant time jump next week. We may not actually see the reason why he’s allowed to get away with it. All we’ll be left with is that the Queen saved him and her word is final. They may not even try to find an excuse. It just is.

The Test of My Love of Daemon Targaryen

Every week the writers of this show seem determined to test my love of Daemon Targaryen. They make him commit atrocities, but I’m still here cheering him on. I love this character and I have zero excuses for the crimes he’s committed, nor will I even attempt to make any. 

The only minor thing I can say about this particular incident is that he was going to leave the death as the primary fault of the frightened horse (which he frightened, I know) until Rhea Royce egged him on. He picked up the rock and killed her only after having his honor challenged. No, I’m not excusing it! I swear to both the Old Gods and the new that I acknowledge that he murdered her. It is, however, a little detail in the writing that absolutely fascinates me. 

Daemon’s ego is surprisingly fragile, and he can’t pass up a threat to his ability to be ruthless and capable. He did it in the Stepstones when Viserys was about to send a rescue crew to save him. He’s too stubborn to have his ability questioned, and I get that. I’m similar. But oh God, I haven’t killed anyone. Please don’t assume I understand that part. But there’s part of the character psychology here that I relate to on some level despite the atrocities it inspires.

Farewell, Milly Alcock and Emily Carey

This was the last of Milly Alcock and Emily Carey in the roles of Rhaenyra and Alicent. Next week we’ll have Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke in these roles. These two young actresses absolutely killed it and I’ll be sad to see them go, but I’ve heard incredible things about D’Arcy and Cooke. D’Arcy’s chemistry with Matt Smith looks particularly intriguing, and I’m excited to see what they bring to the role.

Until next week, your resident Daemon Targaryen defender is signing off. I truly fear what I’ll have to cope with next week when it comes to my favorite problematic dragon rider, but if I can get past him killing his wife, I can probably deal with anything. Team Black forever.

Author: Angel Wilson

Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.

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