Season 1, Episode 4, “The King of the Narrow Sea”

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Matt Smith

Matt Smith
Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO

Beware of gift-carrying demons. It’s the takeaway from “King Of The Narrow Sea,” in which the prodigal son returns to King’s Landing in triumph, ready to make peace, then wreak twice as much mayhem.

Last week, the prince refused his brother’s offer to help him fight a losing war in the Stepstones against invaders from the Free Cities. Instead, Daemon used himself as bait to lure his enemies; and as he and Lord Corlys’ forces went on the offensive, the prince split the Crabfeeder in two.

Now he’s back at King’s Landing with a new title and an even cooler haircut (which, by the way, looks like much better on Matt Smith than that terrible Legolas wig). He was made King of the Straits, an honorary title that would seem as fleeting as his driftwood crown. But given that the naval power of the Velaryons could make or break the Seven Kingdoms, having its name written in water might be worth more than it seems.

And early appearances are exactly what Daemon is counting on. With trademark theatrics, he wanders into a throne room, drops his battle ax like it’s a hot mic (“Add Him to the Chair”), and bends the knee to King Viserys in front of the entire court. . Confident as always, the king embraces his brother and the hall erupts in applause, including Rhaenyra.

The princess has just returned from a visit to the kingdom to meet potential suitors, all totally sucked in. She says the same to her best friend-turned-mother-in-law Alicent: For Rhaenyra, marriage is a one-way ticket to being “imprisoned in a castle and forced to oust the heirs” – which is exactly what Alicent has been doing ever since. she tied the knot with Viserys.

Meanwhile, the princess is more than happy to see her uncle again. Over wine and apps in Godswood, Daemon counsels her about the marriage she doesn’t want to have. According to him, it doesn’t matter if she doesn’t As her future husband; marriage is purely a “political arrangement” that frees you up for other activities. “For men, marriage could be a political arrangement,” she replies. “For women, it’s a death sentence.”

Written by Ira Parker and directed by Claire Kilner, both newcomers to the thrones-verse, “King Of Ta Narrow Sea” has a narrative and emotional dynamic that Dragon House was sorely lacking. It’s taut, sexy, smart, and even, dare I say it, fun. It’s like a match against wildfire every time Smith and Milly Alcock’s characters come together, and this episode is banking on viewers enjoying playing with their dynamic. a brilliantly nasty little spin on us.

That night, Rhaenyra finds her own hookah kit in her chambers: peasant clothes and a map to a secret backdoor to the Red Keep. Daemon waits, ready to take her to visit King’s Landing at street level. Just a cool uncle and his cool niece hanging out!

Kilner’s camera takes us on a dizzying and sensual tour of the city. Opposite the resonant rooms of the castle, the streets and alleys teem with life: fireworks, tightrope walkers, fortune tellers, and fornicators. The disguised royals witness a mime prank on – what else? – their own bullshit. “And now we come to the question of the great iron chair, and whose buttocks it could support,” an actor recites, while the fake Rhaenyra lets out a loud fart on the iron throne, the fake Alicent gives birth to the false Aegon and the false Daemon pulls out a string effigy of a penis.

It’s Daemon’s way of showing her that even though they live in an absolute monarchy, the opinion of the little people matters more than she thinks – and it’s surprisingly obvious how badly they want a woman. or in command. It’s a lesson Rhaenyra fails to learn, but her descendant Daenerys will take to heart and use to her advantage.

Afterwards, the prince leads his freedom-drunk (and just plain drunk) niece to his favorite brothel, stripping off both of their disguises like the calculating maniac that he is. The sheltered princess is by turns fascinated and upset, and Daemon watches her reactions like a hawk.

Then the episode takes us to where it’s always been headed: two Targaryens doing incest together. game of thrones viewers have already been primed to enjoy seeing this particular taboo exposed while also being disturbed by their pleasure, and “King of the Narrow Sea” walks that line expertly.

Emily Carey and Milly Alcock

Emily Carey and Milly Alcock
Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO

Kilner juxtaposes Rhaenyra taking obvious (if unsettling) delight in Daemon with Alicent staring at the ceiling with dead eyes as Viserys has his way with her, his bare back covered in throne-inflicted wounds. The sequence draws a sharp line between their experiences – one of a woman as the subject of her own sexual desire, and the other of a woman as the object of someone else’s.

It’s the kind of scene you would hardly ever see thrones, who primarily used sex as a way to spice up explanatory scenes or commit acts of brutality; in almost all cases, women were objects of men’s lust, subjugation, or both. This trend probably has a lot to do with the series’ lack of women in creative roles. During its eight seasons, thrones only had one director and two screenwriters. It remains to be seen whether Dragon House will follow.

Though he ultimately uses her for his own machinations, Daemon gives Rhaenyra valuable wisdom before abandoning her: “Kissing is pleasure, you see, for woman as it is for man. The princess takes his words to heart, orchestrating her own seduction of Ser Criston Cole at the palace. It is a scene that is both tender and unnerving; the pair are clearly into each other, but Criston’s initial reluctance highlights the very real power imbalance between them.

The debauchery of the night explodes in everyone’s face in the light of day. A boy who spotted Rhaenyra and Daemon in the very public act gossips Otto – and he immediately turns around and tells Viserys while Alice listens. (They really need to stop putting so many curtains and secret doors in the Red Keep if they want to keep the plot at bay.)

When the queen confronts Rhaenyra with Otto’s accusation, she goes into crisis management mode. Yes, she and Daemon shot a Princess Jasmine last night, but she swears on her mother’s memory that too much alcohol has passed between them. As Rhaenyra tests the limits of her power, she also meddles in perjury at the expense of Alicent and Aemma, the two people she used to worry about most.

Then it’s time for Viserys to figure out what to do with this mess, caused by him being too permissive as a brother, father, and king. It begins with Daemon lying face down and drunk in front of the Iron Throne. A justly angry Viserys reproaches him for defiling his daughter and betraying her trust, and Daemon plays his hand: in the bigamous and incestuous tradition of the Targaryen family, he wants to take his niece as his second wife, which the king can to agree. as a godsend to return the Stepstones. But he miscalculated: Viserys is too decent a man to ever agree to this proposal, and he orders Daemon to return to his wife in the Vale and never darken her door again.

Next comes Rhaenyra. She denies having slept with her uncle, but the king says the truth doesn’t matter, only what is perceived. The princess points out that if she were a male heir, she could father a million bastards and no one would flinch. She’s right, of course, but it’s a bad sign that she hasn’t yet figured out that being sensible about equality won’t get her anywhere in this fake-medieval world. Viserys tells Rhaenyra that the search for her idle husband is over. she is going to marry Corlys’ son, Laenor, so that the crown can rebuild its alliance with House Velaryon.

Rhaenyra agrees, but with her own stipulation: Viserys must abandon Otto, whom she believes is trying to undermine his claim to the throne in favor of his own grandson, Aegon. The King confronts his hand, only just realizing what everyone has probably already figured out – that Otto pushed Alicent towards him so that a little scion of Hightower could eventually become king. Otto claims he’s only ever worked in the best interests of the crown, but for once in his life, Viserys isn’t backing down. He strips his longtime adviser of his Hand badge, and the moment is clearly costing both men. IIt remains to be seen how much this will cost the kingdom.

And if Rhaenyra still thought she had a say in her life, Grand Maester Mellos arrives with a vial of tea Viserys sent to rid her of “any undesirable consequences.” Her body, the king’s choice.

Spurious observations

  • Rhaenyra’s audience with her suitors play like one Parks and recreation city ​​council meeting, only with swords. When a preteen suitor from House Blackwood challenges a heckler on the fringes to a duel, the princess is overwhelmed.
  • The way Daemon’s dragon casually bombards the mast of Rhaenyra’s ship, both defiant and flirtatious, perfectly encapsulates what’s to come between them.
  • The Princess has graduated as a cupbearer at Viserys Small Council meetings – she now has a literal seat at the table.
  • Ramin Djawadi’s score to this episode, all discordant strings and primal drumbeats, is a study in how to increase tension.
  • It should be noted that during game of thrones did not have an intimacy coordinator, Dragon House done and it shows. (thrones star Gemma Whelan once says that when it came to filming sex scenes on the show, the directors would simply tell the actors, “When we scream for action, go for it!”)
  • Otto gets his gossip from an anonymous source he calls the Blank Worm. Does this person Dragon HouseThe Master of Whisperers version?
  • Given the content of this episode, the title “King Of Ta Narrow Sea” is certainly a double meaning.
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