House of the Dragon 1×6 Review: The Princess and the Queen

Alicent and Helaena - The Princess and the Queen

‘The Princess and the Queen’ did not shy away from brutal realities, but did not linger long enough on character development, either. While I enjoy the former, I very much wish it wouldn’t come at the cost of the latter.

For the most part, I appreciate seeing the fantasy genre stripped of its pleasantries. ‘The Princess and the Queen’ started off with a brutal birth scene, so it met this need of mine. Showing what reality would be like in these types of worlds is why I was so drawn to Game of Thrones in the first place. The first five episodes of House of the Dragon delivered on that while still providing space for character development and motivations, which are equally important to me.

This episode failed on that latter point. It felt like someone had sat on the fast-forward button. The lack of care for character development and realistic motivation for their actions is what doomed Game of Thrones seasons 7 and 8, so you can’t blame fans for being mildly concerned. We aren’t quite to the point where it can wreck the entire series. But if this pace persists, it might become a problem.

At this point, I’m willing to forgive the writers while making sure my criticisms of the pace are out in the universe as I hope for a course correction. Based on upcoming casting changes, I know we have some more time skips coming, but I’m hoping they are handled much better than this.

The New Rhaenyra

Emma D’Arcy’s first scene was a fantastic introduction to their acting ability and take on Rhaenyra as a character. The birth of her third son, Joffrey, was the exact type of brutally honest look at these issues that I tend to appreciate. Birth isn’t pleasant. It’s not sunshine and rainbows. It’s sweat and blood and tears. The reality of such a situation for women, even from incredibly privileged houses, is that they do not have a pleasant job. D’arcy conveyed this spectacularly.

This immediately contrasts with Laenor, who is enjoying life while his wife goes through the hell of birth. They do bicker about this, but at the end of the day, their relationship weirdly works. Their agreement to have their own lovers had a second chance to flourish in the ten years since Joffrey was killed. Their partners are part of the family and they support each other at the end of the day.

When compared to all the other drama going on, a wife being mad that her husband partying after she just gave birth seems like a pretty normal thing to be mad about. She’s justified in her feelings. He listens. Then he helps care for the kids. In fact, this feels like the healthiest family on the whole show so far. That’s a bold statement, I know, but I stand by it.

I’m firmly on Team Black.

I know that Rhaenyra has a lot of entitlement and that makes her a bit difficult for some people to like, but I’m still on her side in all of this.  She made a genuine effort to heal the wounds between her and Alicent by offering to betroth their children. But she was firmly rejected. I wouldn’t call her an innocent party in this mess, of course, but she’s not an outright villain either. We are once left in the dubious middle space between light and dark. This space is always difficult to navigate, but it’s where all the characters in this story seem to live.

Like Daemon, Rhaenyra is determined to prove her strength, brushing off Laenor’s offer to help carry the child. It’s just a Targaryen thing, I guess. And, honestly, it’s why I love them. They are capable and they know it. But sometimes that stubbornness leads to their downfall. Finding the balance between their strength and humility is a constant struggle for the Targaryens. And it’s one I immensely enjoy seeing play out on screen.

I do have to remind myself once again to not try to come up with moral arguments for why I’ve chosen Team Black, though. Showing the good and the bad in everyone is the point. People who blindly defend Team Green are no better. We just like who we like and we need to accept that these characters are all messy and flawed.

The Strong Boys

Ser Harwin - The Princess and the QueenRhaenyra’s three sons seem to be raised with more love than most highborn children seem to get. They have their mother’s love, the caring hand of their ‘father’ Laenor, and the guidance and adoration of their secret biological father, Ser Harwin. Even Viserys seems to dote on them, and side with them against his own sons when they are accused of masterminding the Pink Dread prank.

Alicent’s hatred for these children seems twofold. The most obvious source of hatred comes from their threat to her own children, which was a thought planted in her head by her father and Larys. She was blatantly manipulated. In her mind, she needs her son on the throne in order for them to survive.

But Alicent is also from Oldtown, which means she has a strong relationship to the Faith of the Seven. Having bastard children is a horrific sin in her eyes, and I’m sure that makes hating Rhaenyra much easier. That seemed to be the initial pebble that tipped the scale early on. It continues to press on her as Rhaenyra’s defiance carries on. Would it have been enough if her father and Larys hadn’t manipulated her? I honestly don’t know.

The one thing about Alicent’s hatred of these children that I don’t understand, though, is her quipping that she’s surprised their eggs hatched. Her children are also only half Targaryen. I suppose they have slightly more Targaryen blood as Rhaenyra had one grandparent from House Arryn. But that’s a marginal difference at best. Besides, it is her son who hasn’t been able to hatch a dragon egg. The Strong boys are doing fine.

Alicent’s Children

Alicent’s three children all seem to have various issues that she only seems to be making worse with each interaction. She seems to be quite good at perpetuating generational trauma. Which is rather unfortunate for her children.

Aegon seems apathetic to power and lacks a moral compass. This means he wouldn’t really challenge Rhaenyra on his own because he simply does not care. Alicent steers him towards hatred, though. She forces her own fears on him, which he is clearly not equipped to sort through. Aegon doesn’t have leadership qualities at all, but Alicent doesn’t seem to notice.

Aemond seems to be the bullied child of the bunch, but her pep talk with him was far from comforting. If anything, it puts even more pressure on him to prove himself. Being born with the Targaryen traits, but being unable to hatch a dragon egg, has really gotten to the child. Seeing his nephews, who don’t at all look like Targaryens, having a much easier time with dragons is clearly damaging this kid’s self-worth.  

And then we have Helaena…

Helaena seems to be rather innocent compared to her two brothers. Like her ancestor, Daenys, it seems she may have some sort of foresight. This detail may not be picked up on by people who haven’t read the books, but if you revisit the episode in a few weeks, her random rambling quips may make more sense. I try very hard to provide context for things without spoilers, though, so I’m going to leave my explanation there for now.

I kind of enjoy this detail. It makes her stand out even more against her brothers, who are being severely damaged by their mother’s fears and drive for power. Helaena just wants to play with her little animals and talk about whatever visions pop up in her head. I feel bad that she was born into such a toxic household. She deserves parents who care for her well-being and notice that she’s spouting off weird prophetic stuff all the time. Like most highborn women, she’s largely ignored unless someone wants to talk about marrying her off.

Laena and Daemon

Laena and Vhagar - The Princess and the QueenOne of the worst crimes of this fast-paced episode was how quickly Laena met her demise. I understand that it was likely included here to contrast with Rhaenyra’s successful birth at the start of the episode. It also showed an alternative path for a woman facing death in childbirth. But there’s so much of her story we didn’t see.

We didn’t get to see her claim Vhagar or even see her exit the room when she chose to go take her own life and her breeched baby. They needed to slow this entire plot down. We deserved two or three episodes of this family at the very least. Her story was probably the most poorly condensed of them all.

Daemon was also done a disservice this week. There were promotional images between him and his daughters that never happened in the episode. They would have gone a long way in developing the family dynamic. At the very least, I don’t have any Daemon-inspired crimes to apologize for this week. He didn’t order the death of his wife like King Viserys did. She made her own choice. But I’d have loved more from them all so I could be more emotionally invested in their journey.

Laena’s death was sloppy. I don’t think I would have been upset with the method if they had slowed the plot down and given us some more space with her. This is the same issue I had with Daenrys’ fast-paced change in the last season of Game of Thrones. I hope this doesn’t become a pattern. For now, this is my least favorite decision on the show and it would be nice if it was just a one-time rushed plot to get to the Dance.

House Strong and the Curse of Harrenhal

Last week I decided to do a little run down of House Strong because I knew their importance but didn’t feel like they were getting the screen time they deserved. Unfortunately, that theme continued this week, with both Lyonel and Harwin being killed at Harrenhal. I genuinely didn’t expect us to get to that so fast, but, again, someone seemed to have sat down on the fast-forward button and we get what we get.

I’m incredibly grateful we got the scenes of Harwin doting over his sons, though. That went a long way to humanize him – something which they cut for our poor Daemon. The few scenes with him, Rhaenyra, and the children were quality and I appreciate them. I still would have liked their plot to have been slowed down a bit. In order to mourn the loss of characters, we need to fall in love with them. Please let us love them! 

Despite being the setting of so much death and destruction, Harrenhal is my favorite setting in all of Westeros. The creepy vibes and cursed history give it a gloomy foreboding atmosphere and I absolutely love it. I’m glad they gave us Larys’ exposition to explain how cursed it is, though, because I don’t think Game of Thrones made it quite so clear. Every house that is given this seat of power is doomed, making it a sort of White Elephant gift among the houses.

Overall, this was the weakest episode.

I’ve been very favorable in my reviews of this show so far, but I can’t ignore the major missteps in this episode. They are the same missteps that doomed its predecessor, and I’m hoping I don’t have to eat my words later. We had to hit the fast-forward button on Laena and Harwin to get to the Dance quickly. I get that. But I would like the Targaryen spouses/lovers to be more than stopovers to the end of the story. They both deserved better than that.

Now we’ve positioned Rhaenyra’s family at Dragonstone, Daemon genuinely bereft at the loss of his second wife, and toxicity boiling over in King’s Landing. The biggest dragon, Vhagar, is now unclaimed. And Viserys isn’t looking so great. Now that we’ve sped up to this point, let’s sink into this situation for a few episodes and have a chance to enjoy the characters. Please!

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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