House of the Dragon 1×7 Review: Driftmark

Daemon and Rhaenyra Wedding - Driftmark

‘Driftmark’ was much better than last week’s rushed installment of House of the Dragon.  It wasn’t without its issues, though.  This episode was dark and full of terrors.

‘Driftmark’ slowed the pace down and actually let us enjoy these characters for a moment.  The frantically fast pace of the last episode was largely its downfall, and why so many of us had issues with it.  We didn’t get to love adult Laena before she took her own life.  We didn’t get to see that family evolve and care for each other.  These adult characters were just thrown at us and we were told we needed to care about them. It didn’t feel genuine.

Sadly, it seems we’ll have another time skip soon, so this more pleasing pace will not last.  Still, it goes to show that when you let the characters breathe, the show is better for it.  I hope Condal takes note and sticks to this pacing for the second season.  Based on what I know from the books, that’ll likely be the case.  The Dance of Dragons is a larger story and if we can just slow the heck down and tell it properly, the second season should be fairly good.

It’s up to Condal, now. Please, sir.  Let us love these characters.  We need to love these characters.

Good Lighting: Miguel Sapochnik’s Greatest Weakness

Speaking of showrunners, it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Miguel Sapaochnik.  I think his directing talent is particularly strong when it comes to action sequences.  ‘Hardhome’ was absolute perfection. However, this episode brings up one of his biggest weaknesses: shooting night scenes.  As much as I love the man’s action scenes, he can’t shoot night scenes to save his life.

Sapochnik also directed ‘The Long Night,’ which has since grown infamous for its terrible lighting.  Unfortunately, he learned absolutely nothing between then and now.  I did my best to shield my screen from any light (difficult to do when this show airs at 3:00pm in my time zone), and I still couldn’t see anything.  I hid under a blanket and cupped my hands around the screen and it did nothing.

Extremely annoying people keep saying people like me should buy better televisions or blackout curtains.  If that’s your solution, please do get in touch with me so I can give you my PayPal address.  I’ll gladly accept your financial assistance.  If you aren’t willing to buy me these things, though, kindly shush.  I have what I have right now and these scenes are inaccessible to me.  We shouldn’t have to buy top-of-the-line equipment to watch a TV show.

It’s a shame, too, because the actor playing Aemond absolutely killed it here.  I would have loved to properly enjoy all of that.

Aemond is Complex

I’m firmly on Team Black, but Aemond’s character is incredibly complex and interesting.  He’s far more sympathetic than he was in the book, at least.  This is probably due to the actor, Leo Ashton.  I’ll be sad that he only got two episodes to portray this character, because he’s shockingly good for a kid.  It’s difficult to find out exactly how old he is.  Googling says he’s ten, but I think that perhaps that’s not entirely true.  He’s young, though, and extremely talented for his age.

Being the second son in a world that only views the eldest son as valuable can lead to some pretty severe trauma.  We see this playing out with Larys, and we saw it repeatedly in Game of Thrones, too.  Aemond’s psychological damage from this is amplified by the fact he’s the second son of a King, him being even further down the line of succession than he would be due to Rhaenyra being named as heir, and from the fact that his mother seems to love pushing all of her trauma onto her children.  If Aemond had proper love and support, he might have turned out to be a great man. 

Thanks to Leo’s acting, I now view him as a victim of circumstances and not just a psychopath, like I felt he was in the books.  I’m prepared to hate adult Aemond very much, so I don’t be afraid that I’m about to switch to Team Green or anything.  But cheers to Leo Ashton. I hope I see him in more things soon.

Vhagar is Amazing

The entire sequence with Aemond claiming Vhagar was absolutely amazing.  Yes, it was dark and I could hardly see it, but what I could make out was impressive.  Vhagar is the biggest dragon alive at the moment, and every bit of action during this sequence highlighted that to perfection.

I’ve seen a lot of criticism thrown at Vhagar for letting another rider claim her so shortly after Laena died, but dude, she’s a dragon.  She doesn’t understand politics.  Vhagar isn’t on Team Black or Team Green.  She’s just a dragon doing dragon things and has chosen to let Aemond be her rider.  Based on the bravery and determination Aemond showed in this scene, he was worthy.  Vhagar has no concept of who ‘should’ have her.  She just chooses based on what’s presented to her at that moment.

I also want to give a shout out to Ramin Djawadi for using a familiar dragon musical cue during this scene.  It brought back memories of Daenerys and all the things I loved about her from Game of Thrones.  I may not have liked how condensed the final seasons were and how rushed they felt (criticisms I’ve had for the past couple episodes of this show as well), but Djawadi was always on point.  He continues to be on point here as well.

Alicent: Still a Victim?

Rhaenyra and Alicent - DriftmarkI feel that Olivia Cooke and Emily Carey are playing fairly different characters.  Both are talented actresses, so I’m not knocking their skills. The fault may be in the writing or directing, if anything.  I can see how Carey’s Alicent could become Cooke’s, but we weren’t given enough time for it to make sense.  We just leapt forward in time and were given this new character.  We have to fill in the gaps ourselves.

Carey’s Alicent seemed very conflicted.  In her first episode, she seemed to not care much about Rhaenyra, but over the course of the following episodes her motivations were more fleshed out.  She seemed to care for her, but also have a firm loyalty to her own family.  When you compound that on top of the fact that she basically comes from the most conservative religious region in Westeros and was manipulated by powerful men around her, she’s bound to have some resentment towards the free spirited Rhaenyra.  It made sense.

Cooke’s Alicent has a viciousness in her that we didn’t see in Carey’s.  It’s possible that she could have grown more hardened and vicious over the years, but we aren’t shown this.  The time skip did her character a major disservice.  It’s a shame.

Emma and Matt’s Chemistry is Of the Charts

Look.  We all know the Targaryen’s have some super iffy marriage customs.  There’s the incest and the young betrothals (though that latter part seems common for all Westerosi people, to be honest).  As such, I was fully prepared for Daemon and Rhaenyra’s inevitable romance to be super icky.  But oh no! Emma D’Arcy and Matt Smith have incredibly good chemistry and I’m feeling guilty as hell.  Why do they have to make it so appealing? Ugh!

Their sex scene was probably the most PG sex scene I’ve ever seen on HBO, though.  This is a network that will drop nudity into anything it can just because it’s allowed to.  But we really didn’t see much of their love making.   It spent most of it focusing on fingers on skin, facial expressions, and the slow removal of clothing.  It’s a far cry from the usual gratuitous HBO sex scene.  

Or maybe we were supposed to see more but it was too dark? Someone please help.  I can’t see anything!

(Again, tips to buy a better TV and blackout curtains are greatly accepted.  Send me a tweet!)

The Changes Regarding Laenor’s Fate

Laenor dies in the book.  I wasn’t looking forward to another gay character getting the ax.  It’s my least favorite trope.  The writers, perhaps sensing the type of blowback killing two thirds of the gay characters within three episodes would get (and having the lover of one of them be the culprit of his death), changed this.  Laenor can now go off and live life in Essos with his lover.  Bless!  Rhaenyra Targaryen is true LGBTQ+ ally!

This change hasn’t gone over well with everyone.  Some feel that in a show where almost everyone dies, gay characters shouldn’t get a pass.  But there are so few gay characters that it really stands out when they get wiped out.   Honestly, it’s a numbers game. And the gays almost always lose.

Others are saying that shipping the gays offscreen isn’t much better. I agree that it’s not ideal, but it is better than death.  Laenor wasn’t written as part of the story beyond this, so if we’re going to send him off screen, this is the best option. It leaves the door open for a return, too.  I’m not sure if he will, be he could.

Besides, it would make no sense for Qarl to kill him. The few scenes we’ve seen of them haven’t shown any sort of feud like this.  They’ve been generally happy and part of the wider Targaryen family for two episodes. It would have been out of left field.

It’s Not a Perfect Change

This does present a small problem as dragons can only have one rider at a time.  Poor Seasmoke has been abandoned and should theoretically not be able to take another rider.  This can be fixed with a few lines of dialogue, though, so it’s a pretty small hurdle.  I think an easily fixed plot hole is worth letting Laenor live.

One aspect of this change that isn’t redeemable, however, is that some random guy was killed to fake Laenor’s death.  I’ve been pretty firm with the fact I don’t need to defend my love of Team Black.  Everyone on this show does terrible things.  But man, this death is hard to ignore.  I will continue to enjoy the Targaryens, but this was a pretty brutal thing to do.  I suppose if I can get over Daemon crushing a random soldier in the Stepstones with his dragon, I can get over this too.

Daemon's Hoodie of Crime - Driftmark
The Hoodie of Crime

Remember, we don’t have to agree with these characters on a moral level to enjoy them. Am I becoming a broken record on this point? Probably. But the writers are determined to test me on this every week, especially with Daemon, so I’ve got to keep saying this to myself to believe it.  I’m fine! Everything is fine!  This is just Daemon’s Crime of the Week. We’ll get over it.

I am, however, enjoying Daemon’s Hoodie of Crimes.  Whenever he needs to do something shady, he grabs his hoodie and heads out. Love that for him.

Brace Yourself for a Time Jump

As I alluded to at the start of this review, we’re going to have to suffer through another time jump.  It’s unfortunate because I really enjoy this particular cast of kids.  The shift from Milly Alcock to Emma D’Arcy went pretty smoothly for me, but the Carey to Cooke change feels jarring.  Which of these children will have a smooth transition and which will hit some bumps? I don’t know for sure.  I’m already mourning the loss of Leo Ashton, though.

We have three episodes left of this season and I’m not entirely sure where we’re going to leave off in the story.  At the rate we’re going, they could conclude the entire Dance of Dragons in three episodes and move on to another Targaryen story.  Remember that this is called House of the Dragon and not the Dance of Dragons.  Other Targaryens will be explored, and it could very well be completely new story similar to how American Horror Story switches things up every season.

I think we’re going to slow down a bit after this time jump, though.  I think the Dance could very well last through all of the second season and the series will be all the better for it.  That’s my hope, at least.  But anything is possible, I suppose.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

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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