Targaryens might come from a protracted line of warriors, but not all of them seem so comfortable with the nastiness of bloodshed. Episode 3 of House of the Dragon is essentially about brutality, and the way wherein various members of House Targaryen wield it. At different points throughout “Second of His Name,” we watch Rhaenyra defend herself against a wild boar, stabbing it with a wild frustration finally released; Viserys slay a stag, his jabs lacking precision, his winces a humiliation to the gang applauding him; and Daemon defeat the Crabfeeder, tricking the would-be usurper right into a weakened position before slicing him in half along with his sword Dark Sister.
All three kills represent their characters well: Rhaenyra is a well of (barely) restrained power. Viserys is an affable but uneasy ruler. Daemon is a dishonorable cutthroat. And, as House of the Dragon moves closer to its second act, we’re falling in love with all three of them—regardless of how ugly or unwise their actions.
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Happening three years after the events of “The Rogue Prince,” two key settings are smartly juxtaposed in “Second of His Name”: the war within the Stepstones and a hunt within the Kingswood. One is violent, and one is quaint. One features Daemon, fighting the Triarchy and glowing in the sunshine forged by his dragon’s gasps of fireplace, while the opposite features Viserys, honoring his son’s name day in a genteel forest celebration. Rhaenyra is dragged along to the Kingswood, though not by selection. She’s—let’s put this gently—malcontent, having all but stopped talking to her former best friend, Alicent, who’s birthed the king a son and is now heavily pregnant with a second child. (I’m begging you to observe this TikTok recounting the chums’ fallout.)
Alicent’s in an intriguing position here. She’s a recent mother, toting around a pregnant belly on the ripe age of 17. She’s a recent queen, still growing accustomed to her authority. And he or she’s hesitant to check out that authority on Rhaenyra, who’s resentful that a towheaded toddler seems prone to steal her claim to the throne. Alicent has little opportunity to talk her mind in episode 3, but her influence is nevertheless felt in a pivotal way: She is the one to persuade Viserys to send aid to the Stepstones, setting in motion the events that result in the Crabfeeder’s defeat.
But, before we get there, allow us to first feast. Within the Kingswood, the Targaryen relations gather with the lords and ladies of Westeros, the wine and the gossip flowing. Whispers of Viserys’s inaction within the Stepstones gives option to outright insults, but some produce other types of conquest on the brain. Jason Lannister (Jefferson Hall) spends little time romancing before he proposes marriage to Rhaenyra, desirous to construct House Lannister’s status and strut a Targaryen through the halls of Casterly Rock. But Rhaenyra shouldn’t be such a fan of peacocking, and is so insulted that she initiates a public shouting match together with her father. She’s not the just one trying Viserys’s patience: Otto Hightower is eager to persuade the king that Otto’s grandson, Prince Aegon, needs to be the brand new heir, and a haughty Jason takes his marriage proposal straight to the king’s feet. Disgruntled, Viserys tells them each off and gets wildly drunk, only later confessing to Alicent that he worries he made the mistaken selection by naming Rhaenyra heir. He did so out of guilt over Aemma’s death, but additionally out of affection for his daughter, and now he fears he’s endangering the vision he saw so clearly as a younger man: of placing a son upon the Iron Throne.
When word of the hunt’s sought-after white hart arrives, Rhaenyra takes it as her cue to vanish, racing her horse deep into the Kingswood. Ser Criston Cole, hot on her trail, stops her long enough to indulge her in a couple of slow-simmering conversations, wherein he reveals that he owes “all that I even have” to her. The son of a steward, Criston had little standing before his rise as a tourney knight—and now, he’s a member of the Kingsguard. His respect for the princess warms her to him, though I’m sure his handsome smile didn’t hurt.
The 2 spend the night within the forest—I’m surprised that didn’t send more tongues wagging back at camp—but not without incident. A wild boar attacks as they rest, nearly gouging Rhaenyra with its tusk before Criston stabs it through the chest, but then Rhaenyra finishes the job, her face contorting into something unrecognizable as blood splatters her cheeks and soaks her hair. The following morning, gore still crusted along her neck, she and Criston spot the white hart. Her knight readies himself for the kill, but she commands him to remain his sword; this morning, she is going to exhibit restraint. After her display of desperation the evening prior, she recognizes something within the hart’s stare, and it quells her worst instincts.
Viserys, meanwhile, shouldn’t be so able to ignoring what’s expected from him. His servants drag a roped stag before him, and so he kills it with Jason Lannister’s (ugly) spear, closing his eyes to steel himself against the beast’s pitiful, horrific shrieks. His stabs are imprecise, prolonging the stag’s suffering in addition to the scene’s longevity, forcing the audience to observe and listen because the innocent creature writhes in agony. Such violence is nothing in comparison with what Game of Thrones portrayed any given Sunday, but its intensity is nevertheless stomach-twisting. House of the Dragon seems keen to emphasise that Viserys is a superb man but a wavering ruler, and his indecision will beget its own horrors.
He later swears to Rhaenyra that her claim to the throne stays uncontested, and that she may marry a person of her selecting. But when it were to be that easy, we wouldn’t have a prequel series to observe, now would we?
Finally, we get our first real battle sequence, and it’s an improbable, if well-choreographed one. After reading Viserys’s letter promising aid to the Stepstones, Daemon is royally pissed-off, so he pulls a classic Daemon and does exactly what he wants. Waving a white flag before the Triarchy forces, he draws the Crabfeeder and his men out into the open, kneeling before them along with his sword held open-palmed. An honorable man would follow the foundations of war, but…well, you already know what they are saying about what’s fair in war.
On the last second, Daemon rips a dagger from his hip and ignites a vicious sword fight, wherein he dodges roughly 300 arrows and single-handedly takes down quite a few would-be prince-killers. Corlys and his forces show up eventually, which begs the questions: Why is the Sea Snake running so late? Did he log out on this little act of trickery, after his son suggested using Daemon as crab bait? Anyway, we because the audience are forced to suspend our disbelief as Daemon carves his way through a protracted line of attackers, until he’s finally struck with a couple of arrows. Thankfully, his dragon Ceraxes makes his belated appearance, roasting the Triarchy forces alive while Daemon pursues the Crabfeeder into his cave.
We never get to see their battle, which I find concurrently disappointing and intriguing. It’s a shame, given the Crabfeeder’s stupendous character design and his unexplored backstory. However it’s also an indication from House of the Dragon that this character shouldn’t be an actual character but a logo. He shouldn’t be meant to face apart as his own person, but merely as an entity in opposition to Daemon, as an indication of what the prince is willing to do to his opposition. The indisputable fact that the Crabfeeder is torn literally in two, his intestines spilling out onto the shore beneath him, is a chilling reminder that House Targaryen cares not about who its enemies are—only what threat they represent. That sentiment, after all, extends even to those inside its own house. And so, after we watch Daemon emerge from the Crabfeeder’s cave along with his hair doused in blood, we are supposed to see the parallel with Rhaenyra—and to fear what it forewarns.
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Lauren Puckett-Pope is an associate editor at ELLE, where she covers news and culture.