House of the Dragon Episode 3 review: A Song of Fire and Blood

Cameron Frew
Daemon in House of the Dragon Episode 3HBO

House of the Dragon Episode 3 lives up to its source material’s namesake, delivering a compelling cocktail of fire, blood, and “f**king politicking” in its best episode yet.

The first episode had an advantage, in hindsight: with all its spectacle, from cloud-piercing dragons to familiar hum of Ramin Djawadi’s theme, House of the Dragon had us before we knew it.

Episode 2 was a return to the same vital, in-between storytelling that made its ill-thought-of predecessor a television titan, making a necessary shift to cataclysmic dialogue over violence.

But the Dance of the Dragons has yet to take center stage, and with Episode 3, the cracks in the Targaryen deepen amid crab-feeding, fiery carnage, making for a mighty rewarding, thrilling chapter.

House of the Dragon Episode 3 takes a small time jump

While it appears to pick up right from where the last episode ended, Episode 3 takes a time jump. The Crabfeeder continues to nail pirates to crosses and lets crabs pick their rotting, sandy flesh apart, until Daemon (Matt Smith) arrives on the back of Caraxes, setting the shore alight with dragonflame. One man pledges his allegiance to the Targaryen prince as he blazes through the sky, only to get squished by the beast’s paw.

Overexposure to dragons could lessen their impact, but House of the Dragon has yet to lose their threatening majesty; Caraxes slips in and out of sight through plumes of smoke, with only its roar and the crackle of its flooding flames warning you of its arrival.

Meanwhile, Viserys (Paddy Considine) has laid out a feast, and everyone is rather taken with a new arrival: his son Aegon II, named after the Conqueror, following his marriage to Allicent Hightower (Emily Carey), daughter of the king’s hand, Otto (Rhys Ifans).

Viserys just wants to enjoy the celebrations, but he’s continually pestered about the Stepstones; more specifically, the war waged by Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) and Daemon against the Crabfeeder without his leave. Otto warns Viserys that he can’t intervene in a battle he didn’t permit, otherwise it’ll make him look weak.

Tensions rise between Viserys and Rhaenyra

The overriding theme of Episode 3 is disillusionment with the throne: Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) has distanced herself from all royal responsibilities after Allicent married her dad, creating conflict between them. In a brief scene, Rhaenyra orders a musician to stay by her side, but Allicent overrides her command.

She’s ordered to come along on a hunt with Viserys, Allicent, and Aegon, but has no interest in serving her duties. “No one’s here for me,” she tells Viserys.

When they arrive, you’re immersed in the atmosphere: mead, sizzling meat, wine, the neighing of clip-clopping of horses. Even these seemingly unimportant sets are given full attention in House of the Dragon, with the scene stretching hundreds of meters into a distance we never wander.

Rhaenyra in House of the Dragon Episode 3HBO
Rhaenyra isn’t quick to forgive Viserys or Allicent.

This camp quickly becomes its own hunting ground. While plans are made to kill the “White Hart”, an animal once considered the symbol of royalty prior to the Targaryen’s dragons, men like Jason Lannister (Jefferson Hall) make a bid for Rhaenyra’s hand in marriage, with offers of dragon pits and mountain strongholds.

Rhaenyra rages at her father for shopping her around for marriage and flees on her horse, complaining that she’s “the princess of Dragonstone” but “toothless.” She’s pursued by Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), who calms her down and keeps her company in the woods, where they’re attacked by a wild hog. Criston inflicts a wound but fails to kill it, so Rhaenyra viciously stabs it to death.

Viserys grows tired of “f**king politicking” and admits his deathly “obsession”

Viserys sits on his makeshift throne at the encampment, listening suggestion after suggestion about who Rhaenyra should marry. In perhaps his most transparent, horrid bid for the Hightower line of succession, Otto suggests she marries Aegon – aka, his two-year-old grandson.

Others say Rhaenyra should marry Laenor Velaryon (Theo Nate), the son of Corlys, as the same arguments presented for marrying Lady Laena apply: he’s a pureblood Velaryon, and it would bolster the Targaryen rule on the battlefield and in policy-making.

The sad reality is, Viserys is still struggling with the death of Aemma, which he admits to causing with his “obsession” of having an heir that’d live up to Aegon the Conqueror.

Viserys and Allicent in House of the Dragon Episode 3HBO
Viserys admits his “obsession” killed Aemma.

The next day, nursing a hangover, his troops catch the supposed “White Hart,” which is essentially a normal deer. He plunges a spear into it, and its wails echo through the forest. He stabs it again, and again, with its limbs flailing and its cries growing more strained until it eventually dies. It’s the toughest deer death since Bambi, that’s for sure.

Soon after, they return to King’s Landing, where he clashes with Rhaenyra once more. She’s sick of feeling like she’s just waiting to be replaced as his heir, but he promises he has no intention of doing so. She is his heir because he wants her to be, and Viserys even allows her to pick her own husband, so he can see her “contented, happy even” before he dies. It’s a rare moment of sweetness in the increasing fragility between the Targaryen clan.

House of the Episode 3 ends with carnage in the Stepstones

The episode pivots to Daemon and Corlys’ mission in the Stepstones. While initially refusing, Viserys sends aid and tells his brother in a letter that he doesn’t want him to die, nor does he want to see his campaign fail. This only angers Daemon, who beats the messenger to a pulp and rows himself away to the shore of the Crabfeeder. Wafting a white flag, it appears he’s surrendering out of spite.

It was never going to be that simple. The remorseful guise flips to anger, and he starts taking on the entire army. The direction in these moments is akin to Battle of the Bastards, though packed with a different sort of rush: we feared for Jon Snow standing alone against the horses, but here we don’t feel the same attachment to Daemon.

Daemon in House of the Dragon Episode 3HBO
Daemon takes on the Crabfeeder’s entire army in Episode 3.

So far, he’s been a petulant, brutal prince who wishes to rule with a dragon-scaled fist, but this is the first time we’ve seen him prove himself as a combatant beyond his highest peers. He slices throats and sprints under the rain of arrows, even taking one to the chest and marching on.

Just when all hope seems lost, with troops surrounding him in a beach hut while the Crabfeeder stands in the distance, Laenor arrives – and he’s riding his own dragon Seasmoke, commanding “Dracarys!” like a decades-old Targaryen. Bloody chaos ensues, even reaching the peak of Game of Thrones’ gore, with viscera splatting onto the sand in almost every second. One particularly nasty kill sees a sword plunged into a man’s stomach, only for it to be ripped down through his groin.

Daemon seizes the advantage of mayhem and ventures into the Crabfeeder’s lair. Not only does he emerge victorious, but he cuts him in half and pulls his limp torso – with hanging intestines, of course – out for everyone to see.

Some people may have found Episode 2 a bit “talky.” While those viewers need to grow up, this is a near-perfect mix of politicking and bloodshed; raised eyebrows, quiet gasps and wincing are to be expected.

House of the Dragon Episode 4 will be available on September 11 in the US and September 12 in the UK.

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