At long last, with its fifth episode House of the Dragon delivers its She’s All That moment: Emily Carey‘s Queen Alicent showing up at the proverbial prom known as Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) and Ser Laenor’s (Theo Nate) wedding week, radically transformed. But with all due respect to Rachel Leigh Cook’s glasses-free makeover, Alicent’s astounding green gown sends a more significant signal—and a deadlier one, too.
“The beacon on the Hightower,” says Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), observing Alicent’s ascent, speaking with his brother Breakbones (Ryan Corr). “Do you know what color it glows when Oldtown calls its banner to war?”
Alicent wears the answer proudly, cutting her way through a celebration meant for Rhaenyra, the young woman who was once her best friend, and is now on her way toward becoming her most bitter foe. It’s a transformative moment not just for the young queen, long a pawn in the so-called game of thrones, but for the game of Thrones prequel write large. Taking its name from the Hightower family’s house motto, “We Light the Way” closes the book on House of the Dragon‘s first era, and begins its dark dance toward the bloody heart of the tale.
But how did we get to this wedding in the first place? Four episodes built to this moment in the fifth, of course, but more pointedly, a voyage from King’s Landing to House Velaryon’s seat on Driftmark did the trick. As “We Light the Way” begins, a weary King Viserys (Paddy Considine) sets sail for a meeting with Lord Corlys (Steve Toussaint), hoping to repair their rift by offering Rhaenyra’s hand to the Sea Snake’s son.
It’s a taxing journey for the sickly king, but ultimately, a fruitful one. The Sea Snake puts Viserys through his paces, literally forcing him to travel further than necessary and also engaging him in a perhaps stiffer-than-expected negotiation, but the two men agree to terms: Rhaenyra and Laenor will marry, standing tall as the future queen and king of the Seven Kingdoms, with their children keeping the Velaryon family name, before their firstborn ascends to the Iron Throne as a proudly renamed Targaryen.
For their part, the cousins Rhaenyra and Laenor are able to make peace with the arrangement. Recognizing her future husband’s interest in men, Rhaenyra pitches Laenor on a deal where they will both be allowed to love whoever and however they want outside of their marriage: “We’ll perform our duties to our families and the realm, and when it’s done , each of us dines as we see fit.” This pleases Laenor, who wants nothing more than to continue onward with his beloved Joffrey Lonmouth (Solly McLeod), the Knight of Kisses. When they’re alone, Laenor and Joff share a tender moment, wistfully dreaming about their future together—a future that, alas, will be tragically short.
Not everyone’s blindsided by the upcoming tragedy, of course, as at least one person smells blood in the air: Laenor’s mother Rhaenys (Eve Best), the Queen Who Never Was. “We are placing our son in danger,” she insists when alone with her husband, the Sea Snake. “Rhaenyra’s succession will be challenged, and knives will come out for her husband and their heirs.” But Lord Corlys, the man who once said you should never ignore a storm and yet willfully ignore his son’s sexuality, refuses once again to listen to his wife. Where he stands, Rhaenys should be queen of Westeros, and he won’t rest until he gets the chance to right that wrong, consequences be damned.
Alas, the first of those consequences is swiftly on its way, in the form of another man displeased with the arrangement: Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), who has fallen hard for Rhaenyra following their recent tryst. He implores the princess to reject her planned match dela and abscond with him across the Narrow Sea and disappear in Essos, to choose love over duty. Rhaenyra all but laughs in her face.
“I am the crown, Ser Criston, or I will be,” she says. “I may chafe at my duties, but do you think I would choose infamy in exchange for a bushel of oranges and a ship to Asshai?”
The rejection rocks Criston, who internalizes it as if it’s a mortal wound. Not that this man warrants much defense, but when Criston is later summoned by Alicent to further investigate rumors of Rhaenyra’s sexual exploits, he’s not wrong to immediately think his life is forfeit; Kingsguard knights have been dismembered, mutilated and otherwise grotesquely killed for far less prominent crimes than “engaging in behaviors” with the princess. With that on his mind, Criston confesses to sleeping with Rhaenyra, despite never being asked that question, and asks only for a merciful death over a gelding. Choices in Westeros, folks: They’re not great!