House of the Dragon does not root for its children

House of the Dragon does not root for its children

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“Driftmark”, this week’s episode of House of the Dragon, featured arguably the most intense battle on the show to date: a brawl between children. What initially looks like a rerun of a scuffle in the previous episode suddenly takes a sinister turn as it continues until a terrible boy loses an eye after a sweet little boy defends his brother with a knife. And because of this, the entire royal court is stuck in an R-rated speedrun of the NBC series the blow as they spend most of the episode in the same room, trying to figure out what to do about it.

Part of what makes this fight so shocking is that we just met these kids, so when Aemond and Aegon Targaryen confront Jacaerys and Lucerys Velayron in a tunnel, we’re not quite sure how things will turn out — and House of the Dragon is not a show where nice things happen. The fight goes shockingly far, as Aemond grabs a rock and appears intent on killing Jacaerys before Lucerys leaps to defend him with a knife, blinding Aemond in one eye.

The consequences of this are the majority of ‘Driftmark’ as King Viserys must mediate the resulting conflict between Queen Alicent, Princess Rhaenyra and all other offended parties. The dispute soon ceases to be about the children and is clearly about the growing rift between Alicent and Rhaenyra, to the point that Alicent, eye for an eye, threatens to cut Lucerys out himself.

Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO

In some ways “Driftmark” is very similar to “The Kingsroad”, the second episode of Game of Thrones. In it, the young heroine Arya Stark makes a new friend, Mycah, a baker’s son, who is then bullied by the petulant and cruel Prince Joffrey. When Arya stands up to Joffrey, he knocks her down and her direwolf, Nymeria, bites his arm to defend her. The end result is a scene like the one in “Driftmark”, where the royal family and other involved parties try to resolve the dispute between the children in a way that reminds the adults of their place as well.

But while the premise is similar, what follows differs in significant ways that further illustrate how House of the Dragon is a different kind of show than its predecessor. “The Kingsroad” eventually comes to a resolution with Arya’s father, Ned Stark, who is forced to repay by killing his daughter’s direwolf. It’s a humiliating conclusion to a conflict that was effective Game of Thrones in miniature, where good people are often devoured as long as they continue to conform to an unjust system that rewards cold self-preservation that is indifferent to honor, no matter how much lip service it pays to it. But despite his constant grimness, Game of Thrones had a tinge of optimism about it, believing that some of these children would survive the horrors and maybe even change the world for the better.

the kids inside House of the Dragon do not have such a rosy picture. These kids have been fucked. Aegon and Aemond are cruel, and although Rhaenyra is the protagonist of the show and her children seem like sweet boys who won’t grow up to be little faces, there is no room for the optimism of the previous series. As far as anyone in that room is concerned, the throne is now empty, and there must be sides with what comes next – and they are not above using children or murder to get it. Things don’t go well when they all arrive at King’s Landing, and even if little Jacaerys and Lucerys make it through with their goodness intact, it’s their destiny to be at the center of a power struggle with no real good result, where none one has everything but selfish interests in mind.

By the end of “Driftmark”, Viserys is unable to come to a judgment that makes anyone happy, hoping everyone will just make peace. By doing so, he only deepens the chasm that has been created before him, and ensures that his children (and theirs) are doomed to war.

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